Angular Nose, Suspenseful Prose
Nobuyuki Fukumoto truly is one of a kind.
Forget the fact that the man basically writes in a genre that he rules over: I am not aware of any manga artist who has been this prolific and successful at the highest level while writing about gambling and the resultant conflicts arising from it. No, Fukumoto, much like the titular character about the anime that I'm reviewing today, cares little about success if it doesn't come with having achieved what no one else has at what he is doing. No wonder, then, that Fukumoto is considered the godfather of zawa - the very word used to describe the creation of an eerie, otherwordly atmosphere in a written work.
This trademark of Fukumoto's is quite evident in Ten, one of his earliest works that became successful - essentially a slice-of-life manga with elements of Mahjong gambling, Ten was elevated to a higher plane solely because of how insanely well developed its characters were. Foremost among these was the wise old doyen of gambling - Akagi Shigeru, the Mahjong Legend.
Touhai Densetsu Akagi represents a quite novel aspect at the time it was released, back in 1991: it is a work that serves as a prequel to Ten but focuses entirely on one of its supporting cast. Chronicling Akagi's tryst with the murky world of gambling, it sheds light on what makes otherwise absolutely inscrutable man tick. I'm joking, it doesn't.
No, TDA is instead a vehicle for Fukumoto to wow fans with some more of Akagi's godly prowess - and boy, is it awesome.
We're given, throughout the 26 episodes of the show, a brief summary of the events that shaped Akagi's destiny irreparably. Throughout all of this, the anime never fails in showcasing the same steely-eyed resolve and immeasurable genius that Akagi possesses from the very beginning. Akagi was no typical innocent boy who got caught up in a sequence of events beyond his control. He is a gambling monster from birth, a freak of nature whose talents and absolute fearlessness suit mahjong perfectly.
The battles - indeed, I don't know a better word to describe them - between Akagi and the stalwarts of the gambling underworld are fascinating to see. One wonders how something as cut and dry as Mahjong could be so consistently engaging, yet Fukumoto's deep insight into human psychology lets the show employ a ton of mind games that leave the viewers absolutely enthralled, wanting for more.
And that is all there is to it.
It's funny how TDA, as both an anime and a manga, was never meant to be anything more than a homage to an indubitably great man. Yet, with how excellently the characters have been fleshed out, and above all, the top notch recreation of that very zawa, leads me to rate this show as a masterpiece. Not one bereft of flaws, but rather one that comes off as even more impressive because of them.
Much like Akagi Shigeru-kun himself, eh?
Light Nine. I'm going to be blunt with you people: TDA had been the closest to getting a ten from me in this aspect among all the shows we've reviewed so far. Then the conclusion of the Washizu arc happened. My disappointment is immeasurable and my entire viewing experience has been ruined.
(Japanese): Strong Eight. What absolute brilliance. And Akagi didn't even steal the show; Washizu was stellar in his vocalization. With everyone having to be terse all the time, the actors never felt out of character even once, their voices were very fitting. Washizu Iwao's mania was truly unsettling and a standout.
Nine. As with the VA, the ability to maintain a suspenseful atmosphere, building on the plot, largely rests on the calibre of your characters. Fukumoto is spectacular in this regard, and the anime faithfully adapts his creations.
Decent Eight. Yeah, it isn't much of a surprise that this is one of the more contentious topics. Personally though, I loved the character designs, which are almost never seen before or again, as with all of Fukumoto's works. What actually put me off, however, were the environments - they look like very cliched additions to the 'period pieces' art style and were dated even back in 2005.
Light Seven. While there really isn't much animation to speak of, the feverish imagination driven sequences really do awe you, especially in combination with that godly score.
Nine. This soundtrack? It's getting a chef's kiss from me. Death Note levels of suspense, and that isn't a compliment to be taken lightly. Some generic rock in the EDs lets it down though.
Overall Weighted Score: 8.90
At its best, Touhai Densetsu Akagi is a cerebral piece of work while never once coming off as facetious. The script and the characters make sure that the anime possesses a natural sense of intelligence, one that seeks to amaze the viewer, not spout a bunch of spiel and overwhelm them.
Binge-worthy? Oh hell yeah.