I Thought We Liked Mahjong Series!

While Akagi and Saki were probably a lot of people’s introduction to the notion of manga based on the game mahjong, I don’t think I’m alone when I say that my first introduction to “mahjong manga” was from Frederik L. Schodt’s seminal book Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics.

In it, Schodt explores the burgeoning genre and talks about popular titles such as Mahjong Houroki (“Tales of a Wandering Mahjong Player”) and Jigoku Mahjong (“Mahjong Hell”), even citing the author of Mahjong Houroki, Kitano Eimei, as the sort of “father” of mahjong manga, who showed that a comic about dealing tiles could look and feel exciting.

Truth be told, while I was fascinated by the idea of mahjong manga back when I first read Manga! Manga! ten years ago, I am not so different than the people who discovered it through Akagi, as that was the first mahjong series which I actually had the privilege to see. And while I don’t expect mahjong manga to become a runaway success in even the scanlation community, it’s clear that it has its devoted followers.

Here’s the odd thing though: Where are the scans of Mahjong Hourouki? If Akagi and Saki have resulted in people from all over the fandom getting into mahjong even at a periphery level, why hasn’t anyone bothered to look into these significant works which established the genre that so many are enjoying now? And it can’t really be the case where fans of these newer series might not like the older series due to the artwork. After all, we’re talking about Akagi fans here, and I’ve never seen anyone proclaim, “If the characters don’t have ultra pointy faces and noses and everyone looks shocked all the time, then I refuse to read it!” And I see you considering making a comment where you reiterate what I just said. I’m watching you.

Oh, and of course the reason I’m talking about it in the realm of scanlations and such is that no sane company would license a mahjong series in the United States. The closest you’d get to one that could conceivably do well is Saki which is streamed on Crunchyroll, and even that is a bit of a stretch when you consider the not-internet.

The most likely culprit is probably scarcity. It’s no doubt difficult to find these old series in the first place, especially with a niche genre like mahjong. And I’m as guilty of not contributing to the pursuit as any other. This is the first post I’ve made about it, and it’s only because I was re-reading Schodt’s book today. But still, I’m making the call out. We have to find these old works, titles like Mahjong Fuunroku (“Mahjong Crises”) and Gambler no Uta (“The Son of the Gambler”), and bring them to the forefront of consciousness.

5 thoughts on “I Thought We Liked Mahjong Series!

  1. I for one watched the Akagi anime entirely for the pointy faces and shocked expressions. The mahjong was this completely opaque, abstract construct to me which made the amazement of the characters and the palpable tension all the more surreal, and hilarious. It was an oddly pure experience. All that mattered was that Akagi was a bad-ass who lived only to cheat death.

    You grown-ups can talk about tiles now.

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    • What I meant more specifically was, no one refuses to watch other shows because they don’t have Akagi-style character designs, whereas you have many fans who won’t watch original Gundam because the character designs look too old.

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  2. My impression was that for most viewers, the mahjong and interest in mahjong was kind of tangential in both of those series.

    I think it’s kind of like how people would like watch Rounders or WSOP on ESPN and want to play Texas Hold’em, but what they are considering Texas Hold’em means going around constantly bluffing and yelling like “I’M ALL IN!” every other hand. Not, I would guess, folding over and over again pre-flop.

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  3. Yeah, there’s a lot of untranslated mahjong manga out there, but I’d also like to see some more mahjong anime translated. With the popularity of Saki and Mudazumo these days, won’t someone fansub Mahjong Hishoden Naki no Ryu? And what about Super Zugan?

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  4. Super Zugan did at least get a DVD release that could be used as a master for fansubbing, back in 2002. Sadly, that’s gone out of print. I was sorely tempted by it at the time, but couldn’t justify it. :(

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