“You’re gonna have to die to save yourself… I can obviously sense that you are dying… you don’t want to win… you just want to stay alive… it’s the last thing people think when they gamble with their life… you’re just scared…”
The man, shocked and insulted at his words, takes the risk, and wins! He has managed to gain a foothold, a chance to turn it all around. Before the next hand is dealt, he turns and asks the youth his age and name.
That long, noir-like intro is the start of the Seinen manga Akagi. Written by Nobuyuki Fukumoto, also known for the “Kajii” Seinen series, Akagi follows the gambling exploits of Akagi Shigeru - a human who is decidedly not human. To understand Akagi and what it makes it so gripping to read you have to understand the author’s style. Like most seinen series, Fukumoto’s works are of an adult nature. His focus is that of the psychological reaction of humans, mainly in high pressure, desperate situations. It’s part of the reason why almost all of Fukumoto’ works prominently feature gambling in some form. In fact, Fukumoto is well known for his original gambling ideas and plots, essentially becoming part of his trademark.
Akagi Shigeru is an individual who can be described as one who is fed up with the normalcy of day-to-day life. Yet he has a desire for the ultimate thrill – that life and death situation that the rest of us would have nothing to do with. Could you call him a thrill junkie? Possibly. The thing that makes him truly frightening is that while a normal human would break down at such pressure, Akagi would approach with a calm detachment that is beyond comprehension. Look at his progression:at the age of thirteen, he participates in a game of chicken and instead of bailing out before the cliff; he takes the plunge and somehow survives. He then takes over a mahjong game that he barely knows how to play (even less knowledge than me!), run by the yakuza with hundreds of dollars on the line and wins without batting an eye. He then proceeds to nearly bankrupt the yakuza that were collecting on the original player’s debt, by going all in on the winnings and doubling the bet. At the end of that particular match, the yakuza were out 6 million yen.
And Akagi wanted to continue.
The fools agreed.
This man is probably Lady Luck’s sugar daddy. Look at that face. Its saying: “I dare you to make me lose, punks.”
Alas, nothing is perfect. The main flaw with Akagi is that you have to be well versed in Japanese Mahjong. There is no reader friendly introduction to the world of Mahjong when you start, so you are left with researching every move on your own or taking their word for it. In that aspect, it’s primarily for adults, since adults would have the most experience with Mahjong. Akagi’s luck, while awesome, can be somewhat grating on those who are a bit skeptical about the actual chances a real person would have in Akagi’s situations, with the numerous hands he works his magic with.
Finally, we are talking about Mahjong. As riveting as tabletop games can get, we are talking about a game that is similar to other gambling games like poker, where everyone is vying for the best hand. As a result, the story can get a bit text heavy. Furthermore, much of the emotion and action is portrayed by the reactions and expressions of the characters involved. Aside from these slight shortcomings, Akagi is still a thrilling read for those who need their gambling fix. The most recent translated chapter has started on the Washizu arc. I won’t spoil it, but things get serious - especially when the bets placed are the amounts of blood in your body.