Fukumoto Tries to Write a Girl Protagonist: Yamima no Mamiya

Two years ago, I found out about Akagi author Fukumoto Nobuyuki’s newest mahjong manga: Yamima no Mamiya, also known as Yami-Mahjong Fighter: Mamiya. Set 20 years after Akagi Shigeru’s death in the series Ten: Tenhoudoori no Kaidanji, the latest series aims to change things up in the well-worn mahjong manga genre by introducing in its title both a new way to play (“yamima” or “darkness mahjong”) and an uncommon protagonist for Fukumoto: a 17-year-old girl named Mamiya.

Due to the initial lack of digital releases of Yamima no Mamiya, I put off checking it out, but since early 2021, the series has started to appear in Japanese ebook shops. Now having read Volumes 1 and 2, my main takeaways from the manga are 1) It has that reliably strange Fukumoto style, and 2) Fukumoto doesn’t exactly know how to write female characters.

The Latest Gimmick: Darkness Mahjong

Yamima no Mamiya’s titular “darkness mahjong” is sort of the polar opposite of the Washizu mahjong first featured in the pages of Akagi. But whereas the latter involves playing with clear tiles that can reveal parts of your hand that would normally be concealed from view, darkness mahjong allows players to hide discarded tiles from view. However, should a player who hid tiles still manage to lose, they’ll lose much more than if they had played normally—and getting your “dark tile” claimed for a win results in an even steeper penalty. Mamiya is an expert in this style of play, and she shows sharp gambling instincts.

Mamiya and the Male Gaze

Character-wise, Mamiya’s androgynous appearance and youthful attitude give me the impression that she’s designed to come across as a product of a new era unlike what we’ve seen in the Akagi universe. However, she doesn’t feel like a character to whom the presumed Kindai Mahjong-reading audience of older men are meant to relate. Whereas Akagi Shigeru appeals by a badass power fantasy and Itou Kaiji has the charm of being a perpetual underdog, Mamiya is treated with a certain kind of distance that I presume is by virtue of her gender, like she’s a female side character in a salaryman manga who abruptly got the starring role.

Because of this, Mamiya’s presentation feels like a very conscious and intentional use of male gaze, though any sort of gratuitous sexual objectification is heavily limited by Fukumoto’s artwork. While Mamiya offers her body in a gamble with her first major opponent, a 70-year-old entertainment mogul named Onigashira Kanji, he bawks at the age gap—which then results in a running joke where Mamiya accuses Onigashira of being a perverted old man despite him trying his best not to make it happen. It’s humor by an old dude, for old dudes. 

Another Genius who Descended from the Darkness?

Given that Mamiya is presented in the manga as “Akagi’s legacy,” the big question that has yet to be revealed is if that’s simply due to her mahjong skills or if there’s some familial connection. Could she be his daughter? She does occasionally have a very Akagi-esque smirk. Perhaps she learned the game from her uncle Shigeru, and now she’s heir to his name. At the very least, she pals around with a now-gray-haired ramen shop-owning Osamu, who remains delightfully mediocre in every way possible—and like the past, he’s mainly there to be a Krillin to Mamiya’s Goku.

I’ll Keep Reading for Now

I don’t think it’s impossible for Mamiya to grow more interesting and robust over time, but Fukumoto’s heroes aren’t exactly about character development, so I’m not holding my breath. The series has also yet to finish its first big match, and without that final masterstroke moment where Mamiya’s presumed genius is on full display, it’s hard to make a solid judgment about the series. I’m going to keep following Yamima no Mamiya, hopeful that it’ll deliver.

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