• Year: 2005
  • Number of Episodes: 26
  • Studio: Madhouse
  • Duration: 1 year
  • Status: Finished Airing

If you’re a big fan of traditional Asian games and anime, Akagi is the one you should watch by all means. This gambling anime is all about Mahjong, a seemingly dull yet very intense game.

Gambling Anime: Akagi

If you’re into gambling anime, then you’ve definitely seen Kaiji The Ultimate Survivor and Kakegurui. Both of these anime talk about gamblers, how dark and scary this world can be, and the price one needs to pay to become a top gambler. But before both of these shows appeared on the scene, there was one anime that stole the spotlight first — Akagi.

Unlike Kaiji and Kakegurui, both of which included a lot of gambling games, real and made-up, Akagi focuses exclusively on Mahjong. It is an old Japanese tile game that usually lasts quite a long time due to its many rules. Moreover, a Mahjong player needs to be very smart and to strategize. Your goal is to get all of your 14 tiles into 4 sets and 1 pair — trust me, it is more complicated than it sounds. Although the game may seem boring when you first look at it, it’s actually quite fun and intense. This is something that Akagi, the gambling anime, proves in a very entertaining way.

Don’t Get Confused

If you decide to watch Akagi, try not to get too confused. Although the anime itself isn’t boring if you don’t know Mahjong, you should try to learn the basics of the game first. Mostly because you will probably be baffled by the plot and the main character. Also, one game or even one round of Mahjong in this anime can go on for 2 or 3 episodes. If you don’t know a single thing about the game, it can get quite boring for you.

If you do know anything about this old Asian game, then Akagi will be exceptionally entertaining. The oddest thing about the show is that our main character, Akagi, is actually only 13 years old — so he’s a minor who gambles. Obviously, in the real world, this would be completely illegal and would probably send his parents to jail — but this is anime we’re speaking of. What I always tell my friends who are just embarking on this new anime journey is to leave logic and reason at the door. They won’t help them once they start watching all the fantasy Shounen-produced shows.

One night, as a couple of random strangers are playing a game of Mahjong, Akagi appears out of nowhere. He’s just a 13-year-old boy who is completely wet and at first glance, has no idea what is going on. The random strangers who are playing the game are the members of the Yakuza clan. Although they think Akagi is entirely oblivious to this fact, that isn’t the case. For a young boy, he is maybe a bit too brilliant.

Who Is Akagi?

Akagi anime

I’m not going to lie — out of all the gambling anime that I’ve watched, Akagi was the one that confused me the most. I even dare say that he just might be one of the most complex characters I have yet seen. Let’s compare him to Kaiji and Yumeko and see how these characters are different from Akagi.

Kaiji is a man who doesn’t really want to gamble in the first place — he is in it for his friends and their families. He doesn’t find any particular joy in betting; moreover, he hates it quite a lot. In this anime, stress and horrible emotions continually show up on Kaiji’s face. Each time one of his friends die, agony is written all over his face.

Yumeko from Kakegurui, on the other hand, is portrayed as a pure gambling addict. Most of the other characters from the show go as far as calling her crazy. This is mostly due to her ecstatic behavior whenever she wins or loses. To her, it doesn’t really mean anything if she loses too much money — if anything, it brings her pleasure. She only wishes to gamble and try to outsmart other people. Her goal is not to destroy anyone or ruin anyone’s life — she merely wants the thrill. We can see this even when she finds out her opponents are cheating. She doesn’t get angry, nor does she end the game. She continues to bet with even more thrill — in her words, it’s a pure game of bluff and psychology at that point.

What Makes Akagi So Different?

If Kaiji and Kakegurui are two extremes, then Akagi is definitely close to Kakegurui — but he’s still not the same. Kakegurui gets her excitement from gambling itself — she loves the adrenaline and the atmosphere. However, Akagi bears no emotions whatsoever. Kakegurui cares about her friends dearly; she even makes a few new ones that she tries to help throughout the entire anime.

And this is the main thing that sets Akagi apart — he doesn’t care about anyone or anything. Moreover, it seems like Akagi is gambling only to torture his opponents in most rounds of Mahjong.

He tortures his opponents by mentally pushing them towards breakdown. While most of the audience sees Akagi as a sadist because of this, I think there’s a deeper meaning behind this. He is not genuinely pushing his opponents into mental demise because he hates them or feeds on their agony — he simply wants a challenge.

Every time an opponent breaks down, Akagi appears to be disappointed. So he has to move on to an even stronger opponent in order to find someone who can intellectually par him. Which in the end leads him to play a game of Mahjong against the most notorious member of the Yakuza clan.

To me, it appears that Akagi is the embodiment of reason, and reason has no emotions. Reason is there to help us at our most critical times where emotions can often lead us astray. In the entire anime, I think I have seen genuine emotion on his face only once — and it was fear. But even that lasted only a brief moment. It was at that point that I realized that Akagi drowns his emotions on purpose. After all, isn’t that the only way to win a gambling game?

What Can You Learn?

Unlike most Western cartoon shows, anime always comes with a profound message — it has become a tradition in a way. And Akagi has some fundamental lessons to teach you, even more so if you’re a gambler.

It is because he bears no emotions and tries his best not to feel any emotions as he gambles that he wins so much. We don’t know much about his personal life. We don’t even know the reason he became so cold-blooded. The message here is that to be a good gambler, you don’t need to become an emotionless sociopath. You need to contain your fear and anger as you lose and your excitement and enthusiasm as you win. Gambling is a game of psychology and reading others — the moment your opponents find out how you feel, you’ve already lost.

The Quality of the Anime

Moving on to the anime itself — is it any good visually? It actually is. Although it is not the most typical style that you can see in mainstream animes such as Naruto, Dragon Ball Z, and Fairy Tail, it is still good. Akagi has a very unique style that’s very rough around the edges. This is similar to Kaiji, which, I suppose, is a brilliant way to accompany the overall dark and negative vibe the anime carries.

The sound effects are fantastic as they enhance the tense atmosphere during most of the Mahjong games.

Overall, this anime is quite amazing and popular in its field. The only negative thing I can see is that it didn’t go hand in hand with its manga version. The creators started with the show too early, which means they had to cut the episodes and wait for the plot to move on. This would often leave fans with a bittersweet taste in their mouth. It even messed up the last episode a little bit as well — which made some people angry.

Either way, I definitely recommend this anime to anyone who has some time to spare. At times, it is edgy and stressful, but it can also be very relaxing at the same time. There is a lot of dialogue and mind games, so it can be a perfect way to relax after a long day of work. Additionally, you might learn how to play Mahjong. Not that many people can say they know how to play this amazing game. Most importantly, try to understand the message all these anime shows are trying to convey — gambling is fun, but only if it remains a hobby.

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