Many anime protagonists begin as the underdog, amateurs who must experience various trials and tribulations before overcoming a heavy obstacle in the climax. This is what I would call the default setup for a series, simply because this approach works. Viewers love rooting for hardworking characters who begin at some type of disadvantage. In fact, my favorite anime Hunter x Hunter follows this precise setup with the audience watching Gon’s journey of becoming a hunter and his adventures afterward.
Akagi is different. I recall the explosive popularity of Death Note because its main character Light Yagami was so confident, ambitious, and powerful from the beginning of the series. In a similar vein, Akagi is just as brilliant, a mahjong prodigy from Episode 1. He appears arrogant, but this confidence arises from his unwavering trust in his instinct and judgement. These types of protagonists are also relatively easy to root for, or at least admirable, as they command an awe-inspiring presence on screen, demanding full attention from the audience.
Such characters are entertaining to watch, not just because of their early-established brilliance, but also because their sense of justice is atypical. Gon’s ideals of justice are quite mainstream, as he seeks to destroy villains and abides by heroic principles of righteousness. On the other hand, Akagi or Light resemble anti-heroes, with questionable morals. These motives, which lead to their surprising actions, are interesting case studies presented to the audience.
However, despite an unique approach to character development in Akagi, I am still unable to fully appreciate the series because it requires a certain level of knowledge regarding mahjong. Though I am acquainted with the basic rules of the game, some moves in the anime are just too complex for me to understand, so I can only rely on other characters saying things like “What reckless luck!” to determine the progress of the game. Even after trying this series for a second time, I can’t seem to watch past Episode 5.