Title: Akagi aka Mahjong Legend Akagi: The Genius who Descended into the Darkness aka Tohai Densetu Akagi ~Yamini Maiorita Tensai~
Company: Madhouse Studios
Format: 26 episodes
Dates: 4 Oct 2005 – 28 Mar 2006
Synopsis: The year is 1958. Nangou, a man in massive debt, sits at a Mahjong table and gambles with the yakuza, knowing that a loss would mean his death. Things are not going well for Nangou; as he loses more and more points, the situation becomes more desperate. All of a sudden a rain drenched boy bursts into the Mahjong parlour. Nangou decides to teach this boy, named Akagi Shigeru, the rules of the game so that he may play in Nangou’s stead…
Tension: Tone and atmosphere create the right amount of tension in almost every scene.
Music: Soundtrack features some of the best music in anime this year.
Characters: Some interesting and subtle methods in fleshing out antagonists.
Main character: Akagi’s personality is incredible.
Ending: Concludes abruptly.
Now this is how shounen anime should be. Akagi disposes of almost all the standard failings of a genre that can be accused of sinking into a rut recently, while keeping all that makes good shounen anime so compelling. Akagi has it all: the mind games, the tense battles, the colossal characters and a thick atmosphere. The tone remains deathly serious throughout, and not a single scene, let alone episode, is wasted. Akagi himself is a refreshing lead in this genre: fearless, merciless, cold-blooded and, on occasion, even willing to cheat to win.
Aesthetically, Akagi is in a class with elite company. The art style features variously thickened black lines and grotesque character designs, and while it’s unique and, arguably, an acquired taste, it works perfectly for the tone of the series. Ever fluid, the animation is of a superb quality, exactly what one comes to expect from Madhouse Studios. The choice of camera angles and segueing almost always perfectly highlights the mood of the scenes. All of these elements add to the atmosphere, but what enhances it the greatest is a soundtrack that ranks among the most dazzling of the year.
Akagi is about psychological tension, pitting the title character and his adversary into an intense mind battle where no quarter is given. Every fight features frequent, turbulent changes in fortune as the state of the battle twists and turns with every move and every choice the players make. This is highlighted spectacularly in Akagi by taking time to explain every situation and the mindset of all involved players. This aspect of Akagi becomes particularly apparent in the final arc, where characters descend to the brink of insanity, and beyond; no storytelling technique or opportunity is wasted in showing the psyche of the characters as they journey there.
Akagi does lack in a few aspects. In breaking down his opponents, Akagi’s matches allow the audience an insight into numerous different aspects of the story’s antagonists, which adds an amount of depth to these characters, but we never learn a great deal about Akagi himself. Granted, he is a larger-than-life character, virtually impossible not to respect and admire, but he never undergoes what I’d call character development. As is the case with most shounen series, Akagi’s plot does follow a predictable pattern, in which he has to overcome increasingly more threatening adversaries in each new arc. Akagi also unfortunately ends very abruptly. Though we are shown the result of the final battle, we are never shown how it completely transpired, which I think is rather disappointing, considering the plot was still building towards a climax at the time.
Though an understanding of Mahjong would undoubtedly help, one does not need it to enjoy Akagi. This series is less about the game on the table, and more about the state-of-mind of the characters involved, which is highlighted incredibly well. Technically, this anime is almost flawless, and the tension created by the atmosphere is layered and dense. I love a good shounen series, particularly when they are as sharp and gripping as this. I just wish there were more like it.
The Rating: 8
Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun