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Manga / Akagi

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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 a 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.

Undoubtedly the most popular of Fukomoto's works, this series laid several of the tropes that would go on to be reused in Gambling Emperor Legend Zero and Kaiji. It's also well known for being almost entirely about the battle between two men: Akagi himself and the series' main villain, Washizu. The duel went on for over twenty real life years, and comprises over half of the manga. While it's an exhausting read, this mental battle is truly epic despite taking place in a dark room while huddled over a table.


The manga ran from 1991 to 2018, culminating in 36 volumes and 27 years of serialization.

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.
  • All or Nothing: Akagi invokes the "double or nothing" wager against Yagi/Ryuuzaki. And again after defeating Ichikawa, though his request is denied.
    • Urabe also goes the "double or nothing" route against Fake Akagi, but it backfires horribly once the real Akagi steps in.
  • And the Adventure Continues: While Ten spoils that Akagi survives the fatal duel between him and Washizu, what it doesn't show is that Washizu actually survives from his loss of blood and is now desperate to find Akagi to continue their duel. The younger Akagi at this point, has drifted to parts unknown.
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  • Ambition Is Evil: Washizu Iwao.
  • Asshole Victim: Akagi's co-workers, who try to con Osamu out of his pay, later fall victim to Akagi.
    • 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.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Washizu Arc, and the manga overall, ends with Akagi alive and having won the duel, but Washizu is still alive and both are dissatisfied with the conclusion. And if you've read Ten, then you'll know that this lack of challenge haunts Akagi for the rest of his life.
  • Black-and-Gray 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 and Washizu. The latter's luck is explicitly compared to a supernatural phenomena during the latter parts of their game.
  • 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.
  • Catchphrase: The Akagi Chuckle. Oh yes. At least once per match, with a fan favorite being
    Akagi: "*Akagi Chuckle* You're a retard, Yagi-san."
  • Cheaters Never Prosper: Oh yes they do.
    • Unless they are Nakai in the manga, who takes Akagi on with two other allies, uses signals to get them to support him, uses sleight of hand to push the match further in his favor, and STILL loses.
  • The Chessmaster: Or rather mahjong master. Take a wild guess.
  • Chromosome Casting: No female characters in the entire show.
  • Combat Commentator: The narrator and the onlookers. Since we never get a direct look into Akagi's thoughts, this is used instead.
  • Cool Old Guy: Ichikawa. He recognizes Akagi as special from right out the gate and doesn't cheat until Akagi does it first. While he does fall prey to overconfidence and an inability to go all out like Akagi does, he gets away relatively lightly and even makes a cameo in HERO, some 50 years later. This is notable because Ichikawa outlives Akagi.
  • 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 CMoA.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: See Faux Symbolism in the YMMV tab. (The image on that page in particular.)
  • Cymbal-Banging Monkey: Akagi works in a factory that makes these.
  • Darkest Hour: When Akagi dies in the match against Washizu. See the Awesome tab 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.
  • Demonic Possession: Washizu seems to get help by demons to get his desired tile, a 1 Pin.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Anytime Akagi is down in points or the opponent has a huge lead. Not for Akagi, though, but rather everyone else around him.
  • The Determinator: Since he lives for the challenge, Akagi will never back down from a challenging situation even if it might kill him — or should we say, especially if it might kill him. Washizu used to be this way in his youth, but it takes a lot of coaxing from Akagi during their match for him to finally throw caution to the wind and go all in.
  • Dirty Cop: Yasuoka. Akagi lampshades this fact early on, when Yasuoka agrees to setup a rematch, acting as the middleman.
  • Dirty Coward: Nakai.
  • Disposing of a Body: Fake Akagi's burial was interrupted and his corpse was discovered.
  • 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...
  • The Dragon: Suzuki to Washizu.
  • Duel to the Death: What Akagi vs Ichikawa was going to be, until Ichikawa suffered a Villainous Breakdown.
    • What Akagi vs Washizu literally is, due to the drawing of blood on both sides, following Washizu's bankruptcy. Despite this, it's a complete aversion- both of the players end up surviving the night in different ways.
    • This is Akagi's true goal. He wants a Duel to the Death with a Worthy Opponent of HIS credentials.
  • Easy Impersonation: Fake Akagi, who only has two things in common with the titular hero: white hair and a pointy nose.
  • Escaped from Hell: In the manga, Washizu seemingly dies from blood loss and goes to Hell. There he beats up King Enma and escapes. Turns out it was All Just a Dream.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Washizu is a clear and unrepentant monster but even he has personal rules he sticks by based on his outlook on life. Most notably, Washizu firmly believes in sticking to your agreements and the idea of going back on a deal is for him a betrayal of the self. He even stated before having an almost fatal amount of blood drawn that "A man who treats an agreement like trash would not be Washizu Iwao". This was said after Washizu's subordinates begged Akagi to just take the money but leave Washizu alive.
  • Evil Laugh: Urabe has a pretty unnerving one in his Villainous Breakdown.
  • Evil Gloating: Akagi's opponents always do this when they have the upper hand. And it always ends badly for the gloater, who really ought to wait until it's truly over.
  • False Roulette: Akagi pulls this on a group of punks out for revenge. After having actually shot them in the legs.
  • Faux Death: Akagi, during the Washizu arc. TWICE.
    • Washizu has one as well.
  • Fight Unscene: The final two han-chan sessions of the Washizu arc are not shown in the anime. The manga, which is still ongoing, does show these. And it is even crazier and more awesome than what the anime showed.
  • 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.
  • Gambit Roulette: Guess who pulls these off spectacularly?
  • Genius Thriller: Akagi solves all sorts of problems (often problems which involve him owing money to Yakuza) by being a gambling genius.
  • The Gambler: Duh.
  • Handicapped Badass: Ichikawa is blind. He can still play the game as long as people tell him what they drew, thanks to Photographic Memory.
  • Heroic Second Wind: Happens after Akagi loses a total 2000cc's of blood and again after losing a total of 2300cc's.
    • Also used in the Mahjong sense, as rounds are named after the cardinal directions (ie East Wind and East Round).
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: All of Akagi's opponents. ALL OF THEM. (Yagi, Ichikawa, his greedy co-workers, Fake Akagi, Urabe, Washizu, and the manga-only Nakai.)
  • House Rules: Mahjong has plenty, but Washizu Mahjong adds a slew of them. For instance, they play with an unusual set of tiles; three out of four are transparent.
  • Invincible Hero: Akagi never loses a game. He may lose a match now and then, but never a game. Ever. See Foregone Conclusion.
  • I See Dead People: Washizu, after Akagi comes back from the dead the second time. Fake Akagi and all of Washizu's previous opponents/victims appear.
  • Japanese Delinquents
  • Karma Houdini: Washizu avoids any consequences from his murders via blood loss, due to his not-so-unlimited amount of funds used to bribe everyone involved. Even during the life or death match against Akagi, he still manages to come back from beyond the grave twice and ends the duel alive.
  • The Lancer: Yasuoka to Akagi.
  • Large Ham: Washizu, increasingly so.
  • 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.
  • Loose Canon: Washizu -Lord of Mahjong Hell-.
  • Losing Is Worse Than Death: Played straight by Akagi. He even gloats over this point to Fake Akagi a few times.
  • Lost Him in a Mahjong Match: Fake Akagi dies during his match against Washizu. The discovery of his corpse sets the entire Washizu arc into motion.
  • The Magic Mahjong Equation
  • Mahjong: Duh.
  • Million-to-One Chance: Where the opponent's draws will seal Akagi's fate, but almost never come to pass. Washizu seems to be an exception.
    • 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.
      • This is actually played straight HARD this is a insane feat of luck while drawing the winning tile was a 3 in 8 chance. That is only one part Firstly, Yasuoka had to draw the tile to advance Washizu hand of which there is one in the pile of 18(1/18), Then to prevent Akagi from dealing into Yasuoka hand by drawing Dora tile to increase the value of the hand making it too expensive to deal into. 3 of the 17 would do that then he had to get the other tile he needed to advance his own hand with the draw of which there were only two left the 5-man which he drew(2/13). Then he need a tile that only two remain in the pile to create the wait. Then he had to draw a new Dora that would up yasuoka hand value of which there are two now (2/14). then he needs to draw the fourth and final tile to close kan again on his turn [[1/10]]. Just doing all of the that with the 3 in 8 chance shoots this from reasonable 3/8 to a insane one in 1,392,300 and it gets worse cause final dora is the one remaining 5 man that boost already insane hand which is a one in nine of happening. this shots those odds to an insane 1 in 8,353,800. and This is not counting Suzuki or Akagi final draws which could have thrown a wrench in by taking the last 5 man making Washizu's hand far weaker. Put simply this is god-like luck.
  • Mind Rape: Yagi, Urabe, and Washizu all fall victim to Akagi's mindgames and break down spectacularly Washizu is a subversion of this, however. While Akagi's mindgames do eventually ruin him, he soon comes back around and comes to see Akagi as a Worthy Opponent.
  • Mood-Swinger: Washizu swings between faux-affableness, cackling glee, rage and despair several times through his arc. Considering it's all supposed to take place in a single night, it's surprising that the emotional rollercoaster he goes on doesn't outright kill him at his age.
  • Narrator: The manga is written without access to Akagi's thought or viewpoint, except what he chooses to reveal to others. An omniscient narrator fills in these blanks instead.
  • Neck Snap: Following Akagi's second resurrection/revival after shock due to severe blood loss, Washizu attempts to finish him off for good, because he's running out of patience waiting for Akagi to die.
  • Nerves of Steel: Akagi, once he's in a gamble, is impossible to intimidate. The only two things that is shown to even temporarily unnerve him is Ichikawa sticking a gun in his mouth and having the yakuza attack him with a katana when he refused to take a dive. Neither of which makes him quit in the slightest.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • No One Should Survive That / Normally, I Would Be Dead Now: Used in conjunction with I Can Still Fight!.
  • Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught: Yagi's "caterpillar" technique, which Akagi figures out after the fact (by then it's too late to call him out on it).
    • Also Ichikawa's tile switching (from his unbroken wall) and Akagi's tile switching (from the discard pond).
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Urabe. Akagi immediately sees through it, and spends their entire match denying Urabe a similar outlook into his own psychology.
  • Oh, Crap!: There's a lot of them, but Urabe's is absolutely glorious.
  • One-Word Title: Also a Protagonist Title
  • Ordinary High-School Student: Averted. Akagi is anything but ordinary for a thirteen-year old.
    • He's not even a student.
  • Protagonist Title: Also a One-Word Title.
  • Purple Prose: The Narrator uses some... interesting metaphors.
    The sand in the depths of hell is magical sand!
  • Pyrrhic Victory: How Akagi sees the end of his match with Washizu. For most of the game, Akagi had been in an overwhelming lead, but the last round was when Washizu started to gain the upper hand and almost win before passing out due to blood loss. Because of that, Akagi felt like he didn't truly earn his win.
  • 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.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Akagi delivers one to Washizu after the infamous 1-pin scene.
    Akagi: You're just a coward, Washizu Iwao.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Washizu/Akagi are shown with Red/Blue auras, respectively. Later though, Akagi is portrayed as a Red devil.
    • In the scene after Fake Akagi is introduced, the real one is seen beating up some thugs. He is then shown in a split-screen with Fake Akagi, where Akagi's background is blue, and Fake Akagi's is red.
  • Relatively Flimsy Excuse: Nangou claims Akagi is his nephew who came to look for Nangou. Yasuoka is not fooled by this alibi one bit.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: During the Russian Roulette scene. To be fair, playing Russian Roulette with a semi-automatic is a bit of a losing proposition.
  • Russian Roulette: When Akagi first meets Ichikawa. Both survive the initial encounter, by means of skill (exceptional hearing), not luck.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Having money isn't enough to get the law off your back; Washizu has connections stemming from the end of World War II which allow him to get away with murder.
  • 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.
  • Serious Business: SO serious that failure to win means death or worse.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Akagi. in many instances it's clear that he doesn't care if he lives or dies and has no problems killing (Just ask the four steet punks that hassled him and got shot in the legs for their trouble) and shows very little in the way of emotion.
  • Sorting Algorithm of Evil: Akagi starts out playing a trio of yakuza, before facing the local gang's rep player and finally the nationally renowned rep player of the entire organization. After the Time Skip Akagi warms up by defeating a bunch of cheating (and cooperating) coworkers before moving on to another pro rep player and finally Washizu, the "shadow king" of Japan.
  • Speak of the Devil: When Nangou prays for a miracle, even if it's the devil, guess who finally shows up. Later, when facing Washizu, Akagi is portrayed as a literal red devil.
  • Spin-Off: Recently got its own prequel spin off in the form of Washizu: King of Mahjong Hell.
    • Even more recently, Ten got its own sequel spinoff in the form of HERO, taking place three years after Akagi's death in Ten.
    • Interestingly, neither spinoffs are written nor drawn by Fukumoto himself; he is credited as an assistant (what with all of the characters being his creations and all.)
  • Spot the Impostor: Fake Akagi and Akagi, natch.
  • Stone Wall: Ichikawa and Urabe are near impossible to strike directly when they play defensively. Akagi out-gambits and out-lucks the first and out-psyches the latter.
  • The Gambler: Pretty much every main character (it is a gambling manga). Akagi is hands down the best with his cunning and unique style that leaves his opponents as the shattered shells of the men they used to be.
  • This Cannot Be!: Usually coupled with The Reveal and a Villainous Breakdown.
    • Uttered by Yasuoka, arguably one of the good guys, when Washizu suddenly accumulates twelve dora (bonus) tiles.
  • 2 + Torture = 5: 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.
  • The Unfettered: Akagi. He wants to live (and die) on his own terms, going all out and finding someone who can match him.
  • Unsound Effect: ZAWA, indicating dramatic tension, and appearing in many of Fukumoto's other works, including Kaiji.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Every single opponent. Washizu is both the most satisfying and the most prolonged in the entire manga, as over half the final battle with him is dedicated to him slowly losing his mind over Akagi's antics. By the end, he's been reduced to a panicked, maddened mess. And he still almost wins!
  • 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.
  • Yakuza: The entire show is based around underground Mah Jong gambling for real money, so needless to say Yakuza feature heavily from start to finish. The only non-Yakuza game in the entire manga is the one against Nagai, and it's treated more as a speedbump than anything else.
  • 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 ShouSanGen (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.