Akagi: Yami ni Oritatta Tensai (アカギ 〜闇に降り立った天才〜, lit. “Akagi: The Genius Who Landed in Darkness”) is a Japanese manga written and illustrated by Nobuyuki Fukumoto. First published in 1992 in the weekly magazine Kindai Mahjong, it is a spin-off of the author’s previous work, Ten. It revolves around Shigeru Akagi, a boy who defeats yakuza members well versed in mahjong at 13. He returns to the game six years later, carrying a mythical status and still impresses his opponents. In Japan, Akagi has sold over 10 million copies. It was adapted as two V-Cinema live action films in 1995 and 1997. A 26-episode anime television series was produced by Madhouse and broadcast on Japanese television network Nippon Television from October 2005 to March 2006. A live-action television drama aired on BS SKY PerfecTV! between July and September 2015. The series has also spawned several companion books, spin-off manga, video games, and other merchandise.
While mahjong is a game that is often played with family and friends, it is also a game that is played in the darkest corners of society. Nangou is a compulsive gambler who has accumulated debt over three million yen. In a last ditch attempt to clear his record, he decides to wager his life on a game of mahjong with the mafia. Unfortunately, as the game progresses, Nangou only moves further from the prize and closer to death.
When all hope seems lost, the game parlor is suddenly intruded upon by Shigeru Akagi, a young boy on the run from the police. Desperate to turn the game around, Nangou hands the game over to Akagi after teaching him a few of the rules. The mafia can only smirk as Akagi sits down to play. However, they soon come to learn that Akagi is a natural-born gambler. An imposing figure who does not fear death. One who is destined to become a legend.
I have to admit that when I first started watching this anime I knew nothing about mahjong in general, let alone the Japanese version. The good news is that it doesn’t really matter. The basic goal of the game and the rules are subtly explained as the anime progresses, and while it does help learn a bit about the different ‘hands’ everyone is going for it is definitely not a per-requisite. You see, mahjong is game based on points so it is always pretty obvious who is in the lead, what kind of a hand Akagi needs to win the game etc. The finer points of mahjong all seem to come in to place as the games progress. The anime’s direction involves a lot of internal dialogue. The audience is always privy to each characters’ thoughts, allowing them to (conveniently) tell the viewer what kind of tile the character in question is waiting for, the number of points the hand they are going for will land them etc