I sense no life in you. I know. I was like that a second ago.
Tokyo, 1958. A 13-year-old kid, Shigeru Akagi, drives off a cliff in an rigged game of chicken, swims to safety and walks into a Mahjong parlor, where a man with heavy debts is gambling his life with the Yakuza. Despite having never played before, and given only a few minutes to learn the rules, he proceeds to crush his opponents. This becomes his modus operandi: breaking hardened gamblers into shells of their former selves with a deadly mix of intimidation, cunning, and monstrous luck. This is the start of the genius Akagi's legend in the underworld.It should be noted that this is a prequel to Ten, where an older Akagi is one of the major characters. See also Kaiji which so far is the only other manga by Nobuyuki Fukumoto to get an anime adaptation.
This show provides examples of:
Absurdly High-Stakes Game: Akagi actually refused to play unless Washizu increased the wager to ten times the usual rate. This meant each mistake was more fatal, as Akagi would lose ten times more blood than usual. Ohgi wagered an arm as well, indicating his faith in Akagi was unshakable.
On the flip side, that meant Washizu would lose money at ten times the usual rate as well, eventually being driven into bankruptcy and being forced to wager his own blood.
Most of Akagi's opponents, really. Not only they are professional gamblers who drive people into impossible debts without remorse, all of them, save Ichikawa, also are total assholes about this. And Ichikawa gets away from Akagi relatively lightly.
Awesomeness by Analysis: All the pro players are very good at reading people. Akagi is the undisputed master, and also very good at keeping his opponents from reading him.
Batman Gambit: Everybody uses them, usually in the form of cheating or bluffing. And when it fails, oh, does it royally screw them over.
Big Bad: Washizu, whose arc takes up half of the anime and three-quarters of the manga, more than all the other opponents combined. He's got no connection to them, though.
Black and Grey Morality: The story is focused on the criminal underground of Showa Era Japan, meaning most of the characters are either ambiguously evil, members of the Yakuza, purely evil, or decent (and completely ineffective) normal people.
Boring but Practical: Ichikawa's play style, which is lampshaded by everyone present. He gets Akagi on the ropes by consistently scoring with good hands over several rounds and is extremely difficult to Ron.
Fake Akagi plays by calculating the safest route to the quickest and beast-scoring hand, which is why the Yakuza head initially prefers him to the real thing. As a rep player he is a safe horse to back because he gains a consistent income, but being unwilling to gamble means he never wins big either.
Born Lucky: Akagi, Washizu, and Fake Akagi, to a lesser extent.
Butt Monkey: Yoshioka. Every time he shows concern for his boss, Washizu, he gets scolded and/or hurt.
Can't Get Away with Nuthin' : Averted. Akagi successfully cheats rather often. His opponents might notice, but won't call him out on it, possibly because they are cheating too.
Catch Phrase: The Akagi Chuckle. Oh yes. At least once per match, with a fan favorite being
Akagi: "*Akagi Chuckle* You're a retard, Yagi-san."
Crazy-Prepared: Prior to the match against Washizu, Akagi makes an innocuous stop along the way. Turns out he purchased some energy drinks, knowing that the Absurdly High-Stakes Game meant that Washizu's people might try to poison their food/drinks. Ohgi apologizes for not having considered this obvious point.
Much later, in the manga, we find out that Akagi also got a blood transfusion of 500cc's, having already deduced the true nature of Washizu Mahjong. See the CMoA below.
Darkest Hour: When Akagi dies in the match against Washizu. See the CMoA above.
Dark Messiah: During his battle with Washizu Iwao, a mural on the wall behind Akagi portrays the Crucifixion, but Akagi is probably as far from a conventional Messiah as you can get.
Death Seeker: Sort of: Akagi is looking for a worthy opponent that he can struggle with in a game until one of them drops dead. In the manga, after he discards his blood, Washizu starts to think of him as suicidal.
Down to the Last Play: The matches are usually close in the penultimate round, and Akagi barely comes out on top, point-wise. (For example, he barely won the first han-chan session against Washizu by 1000 points.)
Then we get to the (manga-only) fifth han-chan session against Washizu... and find that Akagi wins by an overwhelming 120,000+ points. Adding in the rank bonuses, that means Akagi wins over 200 MILLION yen in one session alone. The sixth han-chan session starts off with a reversal, with Washizu taking an early 99,000 point lead. However...
Foregone Conclusion: The author's earlier manga Ten, which takes place after Akagi, said he never lost a match. The timeskip to 1999 at the end of the last episode also spells out what the outcome of Washizu Mahjong will be.
Lonely at the Top: A variation of this is Washizu Iwao's Start of Darkness. After becoming the 'shadow king' of the Showa Era in Japan, he realizes that he has nothing left to accomplish before his eventual death. This causes him to slowly go insane, and develop a deep-seated envy of youths.
Inverted in the manga only fifth han-chan session; Washizu actually has a 3/8 (37.5%) chance of drawing the winning tile, which will result in Akagi losing 600cc's of blood at once. Washizu draws it, and Akagi loses a grand total of 2000cc's.
Nerves of Steel: Akagi. There is nothing you can do to intimidate him. He takes a sword to the shoulder and doesn't even flinch. He fights groups of five or more armed thugs with his bare hands and emerges unscathed. And lest we forget, he drove full speed off a cliff in a rigged game of Chicken when he was thirteen years old, and dared to blatantly cheat against members of the Yakuza. And he lived to tell about it.
Well, actually in the scene where Akagi gets a sword cut, he is seriously scared, because he knows that he will be killed if he refuses to back down (he lived through that due to a coincidence beyond his power to predict). You can see him sweating and hesitating, for the first time in the manga. Of course, this makes his decision to reject the demand of Yakuza who hold him at swordpoint even more Badass.
Ohgi. His response to being told to bet an arm on a game of Mahjong is simply, "I don't mind." His expression doesn't even change.
Washizu, if the prequel spinoff manga is considered canon by Fukumoto. Back in his earlier days, you could literally encase him in concrete, and he would still kick your ass.
Nominal Hero: Akagi could arguably be a straight up Villain Protagonist, considering he appears to have no morals of any kind. That being said, he never really does anything actively villainous either. At least not to people who weren't major bastards to begin with.
The sixth episode is titled "The Talent Of The Villain". This refers to Akagi.
Akagi has some standards, though - he despises people who try to gamble without risking anything, either by rigging the game or not intending to honor the outcome from the start.
Purple Prose: The Narrator uses some... interesting metaphors.
The sand in the depths of hell is magical sand!
Quit Your Whining: After Washizu gains an enormous lead of 99,000 points (each player starts with only 25,000; the game does not end early if a player's score is negative, unlike regular Mahjong rules), Yasuoka starts to think the situation is hopeless. Then Akagi tells him to snap out of it, and that victory will be theirs in the end.
Read 'Em and Weep: Whenever Akagi reveals his winning hand to his flabbergasted opponents.
Can't Screw the Rules, I Have No More Money: Washizu, at least, up until volume 22 of the manga. Washizu, not one to let Akagi get away with a victory by default (he's won ALL of Washizu's six hundred million yen at this point), keeps the last round going by agreeing to bet his own blood, like Akagi had been doing all along.
Uttered by Yasuoka, arguably one of the good guys, when Washizu suddenly accumulates twelve dora (bonus) tiles.
Two Plus Torture Equals Five: Invoked by the Yakuza during a Chō-Han session; the dice show an eight but they threaten to kill Akagi if he doesn't call it odd. He insists that it's even, and would have gotten his head chopped off if it wasn't for Yasuoka and Ohgi.
Weak, but Skilled: Subverted by Yukio Hirayama, the Fake Akagi. He has a photographic memory for the tiles and the ability to calculate probability and statistics immediately through training, allowing him to win games based entirely on mathematically calculating the soundest route to victory. However he lacks gambling instinct and psychology skills and is easily pushed, which lead to his defeat by Urabe and later being killed by Washizu in one of his games.
What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to Ryuuzaki and Yagi, Akagi's first opponents? Do they get their hands/fingers mangled (like Urabe), saddled with debt (Urabe again), outright killed (for life insurance money, just like what was going to happen to Nangou), or what?
Well, based on Ryuuzaki's thoughts, he probably gets saddled with Nangou's (cancelled) debt, and Yagi probably loses (several) fingers, based on the threats made towards Akagi.
Who Would Be Stupid Enough: Exactly what Urabe was thinking when he dealt the Pei (North Wind tile), knowing that everybody saw it by accident in the beginning, and that Akagi couldn't possibly be waiting for it. Guess what...
Who Wants to Live Forever?: Akagi puts emphasis on "living" before survival, while normal human beings put survival before living. By that he means that it's better to live a fulfilling life and die early if need be than living a long but empty life. Subverted with Washizu who does want to live forever.
Why Won't You Die: Washizu insists that Akagi should be dead by all accounts after drawing a total of 2300cc's (actually 1800cc's plus 500cc's of transfused blood. Akagi simply says that so long as the gamble is unfinished, he will remain alive.
Wise Beyond Their Years: Despite not knowing much about Akagi's background, it's obvious that he has experienced a lot for a 13-year old.
Worthy Opponent: After Akagi resurrects a second time, Washizu grudgingly admits that Akagi is "an emperor, just like me. We are the same."
Xanatos Speed Mahjong: His match against Ichikawa, where they both end up waiting on the same tiles, and Akagi has to constantly change his wait in order to avoid dealing into Ichikawa's hand, which also constantly changes in order to trap Akagi. Akagi fails, but manages to survive long enough to stage a comeback.
You Can Barely Stand: Go ahead, guess who says this to Akagi. See every single mention of the severe blood loss events on this page.
You Have Failed Me: What happens to Urabe after he loses, in part because he was the one who kept doubling the wager.
Younger Than They Look: Akagi in the anime, pre-Time Skip. When Akagi tells Nangou he's 13, Nangou's response is changed from "Yeah, you look it, too" in the manga to "Really? You don't look it" in the anime.
You're Insane!: Everyone thinks Akagi is insane for all the stunts he pulls. Washizu is also plenty insane, and he acknowledges it.
Washizu in particular thinks Akagi is insane for many reasons: upping the wager tenfold, all but signing his death warrant; passing on a winning dealt tile to win by tsumo (self-draw); not chasing a DaiSanGen hand (one of the biggest hands in Mahjong) and winning on a KoSanGen (a lesser variation) instead; throwing out his drawn blood and contaminating it, thereby making transfusions back into the body impossible; and many, many more instances.