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Saki is special to me. While I certainly was no stranger to anime and manga when it first aired, Saki (along with Akagi) formed the foundation of my interest in Japanese mahjong. As I learned and improved at the game, my experience with Saki also changed, going from not understanding the nonsense going on to realizing how much Saki mahjong is nonsense (fun, but nonsense nonetheless). I’ve had a lot of fun throwing panels about mahjong and analyzing the amazing powers that crop up in Saki. I also know I’m not alone in this respect: Saki is known for changing the genre of mahjong manga from the exclusive domain of yakuza narratives and hard-boiled intensity to girlish yuri and high school competition. They even made a tongue-in-cheek parody manga about the author!
With that in mind, I recently picked up the first two volumes of the English digital release of Saki by Yen Press. Had I realized the first volume was already out for two months I probably would’ve nabbed it sooner.
Saki is the story of a young girl named Miyanaga Saki who, similar to Takumi’s role in Initial D, has an immense talent for mahjong but is not a fan of the game. She gets roped into her school’s mahjong club, where the class president notices her absurd strength at the game despite Saki’s best efforts to hide it. She eventually joins the mahjong club and starts their path towards the high school championships.
Going over these early chapters (which I had really only seen in anime format), quite a few things strike me as noteworthy, all of which can be summed up by the fact that, at this starting point, Saki is still trying to find its way.
To say that the series did not have any basis in the yuri genre this early would be a baldfaced lie. In fact, the first thing that happens in Saki is Saki remarking on the beauty of her eventual teammate and best friend, buxom digital mahjong warrior Haramura Nodoka. One thing that does fade into the distant background, however, is the sole male club member Kyoushirou, who seems to start the series as a kind of male audience stand-in but eventually becomes all but fused with the background. I think at this point the series was trying to decide whether it would be more of a harem or more of a girls-only world, and it’s come to lean clearly in the direction of the latter.
Another aspect that’s changed significantly would be the artwork. As creator Kobayashi Ritz’ style has developed, the girls have gotten softer, their features more simplified yet pronounced, and I don’t even mean that only about Dragon Ball Z-esque chest size power creep that has occurred over the years. Some of the girls look very different here than they do in the current chapters of the manga, and both look quite different from the official anime character designs. I personally don’t have a preferred style for the characters.
I also noticed that the manga actually sets up one of the major opponents for Saki and the rest of Kiyosumi very early on. As seen in the page above, one of the players is clearly Tsujigaito Satoha from Rinkai, which is a really strong school from later in the manga. There are no details about how Satoha basically dismantles opponents with pure skill as opposed to mahjong magic, but she’s there nevertheless.
The last thing I want to say is, as someone who’s approaching Saki with a firm grasp of mahjong now, I can’t quite say how reliable the translation is for those who don’t have a clue. What’s notable is that it mixes official English terms from mahjong in general with a few Japanese-only terms, and I wonder if that helps or hurts, say, people who are only familiar with Chinese or even American-style mahjong. Does that matter at all? I certainly enjoyed the series in its anime incarnation despite a lack of knowledge, but do the still image flourishes of manga have the same impact as seeing the titles fall? Does the electricity of a riichi call work in panels as it does on screen? That’s something for a new generation of Saki readers to decide.
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In the competitive world of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, the Japanese player known as Earth is widely considered the best Pit main in the world. Over the past couple of months, he’s placed 13th at Genesis 3, one of the largest Smash tournaments ever, defeated Ranai (the best Japanese player) to take his first championship in Japan at KVO, and has even gotten engaged!
KVO Grand Finals Set: Earth vs. Ranai
It turns out that Earth’s not just a skilled Smash player, he’s also a competitive mahjong player and a fan of The iDOLM@STER! Given that his interests align quite a bit with my own, I decided to ask him a few questions over Twitter, which I’ve translated and transcribed below (with some small edits for flow). Remember to follow him on Twitter at @earth_tyt!
Why did you become a Pit user? What is Pit’s appeal to you?
Earth: I like characters with no glaring weaknesses and an orthodox style of play with plenty of possibilities, so that’s why I became a Pit user.
Pit appeals to me because he’s all about observing your opponent’s actions and exploiting their weaknesses in neutral. In this respect, he has good moves you can throw out such as dash attack and up smash. I also just like his visual style. :)
Do you have any advice for other Pit users?
Earth: I think that Pit is a character that rewards a player’s hard work and effort. That’s why I want more people to use Pit.
Earth vs. SlayerZ at Genesis 3
So you’re not only the best Pit player in the world, you’re also a mahjong player!
Earth: I love mahjong as much as I love Smash Bros.!
Where do you play mahjong online? Or do you prefer to play at mahjong parlors?
Earth: Tenhou! I also go to mahjong parlors! (* ‘-‘) b
What rank are you on Tenhou?
Earth: I haven’t played much as of late, but I’m a 5-dan* on Tenhou. (´△｀)
How has your experience with mahjong influenced your play in Smash Bros.?
Earth: I’ve competed in a lot of mahjong tournaments, and it’s taught me to have strong nerves. In a good way, it’s made me into someone who doesn’t get shaken emotionally. That’s something I’ve brought to Smash as well.
You’re also a fan of Yayoi from The iDOLM@STER. What do you like about her?
Earth: I like everything about her! But if I had to choose, it’s because Yayoi always tries her best and is always thinking about her friends and family. (´ｰ｀)
*NOTE: Ranks on the Tenhou ladder go from 9-kyuu to 1-kyuu, then from 1-dan to 10-dan. 5-dan is quite difficult to achieve and typically requires a great deal of skill, practice, and dedication.
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The question of how much technical skill or physical prowess should play a factor in competitive games is an on-going debate that really puts at the forefront the tension between “games” and “sports.” I’ve discussed this divide previously in reference to Super Smash Bros. with the intent to understand both sides, but a recent comment by Starcraft and Hearthstone community leader Day has me thinking about the extent to which technical refinement can contribute to the competitive viability of a game outside of the environment of competition itself.
While explaining why he believes that Counter Strike: Global Offensive is the best-designed competitive multiplayer game (emphasis on the word “design”), he organizes his argument into four key points that a lot of the best games tend to share: an engine that encourages interaction, room for strategy, variety of content, and some sort of execution skill with clear reward. In elaborating upon the idea of execution skill, Day explains that it can often be difficult for players to feel a sense of improvement if the goal or evidence of improvement is too abstract. In contrast to the difficulty of tracking your decision-making, getting a basketball into a hoop has a clear goal, and the actions you take towards achieving that goal are immediately noticeable (did this help me shoot more hoops successfully or not?).
The reason why I want to focus on this idea of a high technical or execution skill is, first, that I can totally understand what he means from my own experience playing competitive games, and second, that it really opens up the idea of competitive gaming as being about so much more than just “winners and losers.”
In my time playing Japanese mahjong, I’ve run into a number of hurdles that made it difficult to truly gauge whether or not I’d improved. As much as mahjong takes skill, it’s still a game where luck is a significant factor, and when playing opponents who are equal or better than you, it’s not uncommon to go on a serious losing streak that makes you question if your previous wins were due to luck of the draw or if you’ve indeed progressed as a player. It’s only over the course of many games, as well as by facing players of lesser skill, that it becomes more obvious if your skills have improved. You begin to see the mistakes that you made in the past in the actions of other players, and you understand on a more fundamental level what made those decisions mistakes in the first place.
The big issue is that this is a painful way to go about improvement, and it would not surprise me if most people were not this masochistic about finding out whether or not they have become better players. One has to claw in the dark, finding bits and pieces of light wherever they might appear, and eventually find out if they’re now standing on something stable or a worn-out rope bridge.
Abstract thinking and decision-making are difficult to quantify, which is why something like a Training Mode in a fighting game is so appealing to players. As Day mentions, even if you fall behind in terms of strategy, a game with a “high-variance execution skill band” can give players something to aim for (no Counter Strike pun intended) with very clear rights and wrongs. Compare trying to learn a high-damage combo to trying to understand intrinsically the concept of a “neutral game.” Some players are better at technical execution and others are better at grasping deep concepts, but I think both players would agree that the combo, the headshot, the waveshine are all much more tangible than what David Sirlin calls “yomi,” or reading the mind of the opponent.
This can be a problem, as explained by James Chen when he refers to fighting game players who try to master the art of complex attack patterns (mixups) that cause the opponent’s defense to falter (“opening up the opponent”) without actually understanding the fundamental goal is that you’re trying to psychologically intimidate the opponent into not blocking. James makes an important statement, which is that, while many people believe that the “neutral” (the game state where both players are fully in control and have equal dominance on the field) is all about the mixup, in fact the mixup is the reward you get out of winning the neutral. After all, what use is your amazing mixup and combo game if you never actually get to land it? It’s complex, I know, and it’s amazing that James is able to explain it so well.
Back to Day’s point, what I find to be the major significance of this idea of high execution skill is that improvement becomes almost like a salve, a way of reassuring yourself that you’re not that bad, or that you see a clear path towards getting better. Unlike blaming your teammates (common to DOTA 2 and League of Legends), this isn’t merely a placebo; you’ve still gotten better at your game on some level, and the best players marry brains with brawn. When looking at discussions of competitive games, certain communities such as Super Smash Bros. Melee and Starcraft will tout their games’ “high skill ceilings” with respect to technical skill as signs of their superiority as competitive games and as esports, but the presence of a high skill ceiling also becomes a comforting warm blanket. Even if you falter in terms of strategy and abstract thinking, you have the option to continually improve without needing it because you can advance your execution skill.
When I say that this idea seems to bring competitive gaming away from the competitive environment itself, what I mean is that, even though the improvement of skills (be they mental or physical) are generally supposed to accompany you to the moment of competition (whether it’s a tournament or a ladder), the ability to look back at your progress and declare yourself better than you once were is just as important. “I am not what I was yesterday.” Unlike strategy where the personal rewards can be distant and obscure, execution skill is both a short and long-term confidence booster, bringing the competitive game to be just as much about constructing pride as it is about victory or defeat.
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In a recent chapter of UQ Holder!, the main character Konoe Touta gets a lesson in how to mask one of his greatest weaknesses. To make a point, his teacher mentions a certain famous mahjong player who suffered from narcolepsy. That player is actually Kojima Takeo, the most well-known mahjong expert in Japan.
Nicknamed “Mr. Mahjong,” Kojima has been active for decades and even still plays today. Last year, he attended the World Riichi Championship in France along with his fellow players from the Japan Professional Mahjong League.
You can see him in action in this video:
And here he is showing you how to cheat at mahjong:
November 20 is the birthday of Ogiue Maniax, and while I’ve forgotten it before it was never quite to this extent. All I can say is, whoops! It’s not really that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, but an annual look back is one of the traditions of this blog, and it’s one I like to keep up. So, here we are.
Of course the biggest change this year for me and the blog has been moving back to the United States. In light of this, I’ve considered maybe doing something new for it. Perhaps a new banner? Maybe a new series of posts? Then again, the Gattai Girls and Fujoshi Files are still going on, and especially with the former I can only get a new post out once every few months. I also tend to drop a lot of ideas after bringing them up for no other reason than lack of inertia. Switching back to the old daily posting schedule is also a possibility, but at this point it might not be so feasible like it was four years ago.
At the same time, I’m still devoted to posting at least twice a week, though this has come with its own challenges. A few years back, in an effort to not fall behind when I was extremely busy, I started writing a number of posts in advance so I could keep up a consistent schedule. It’s worked, but one side effect is that often-times I’ll have ideas that I should be posting sooner when a show or whatever is fresh in people’s minds, but then I delay it because I have so many. What happens then, if I have a huge archive of drafts such that I don’t have to write anything for a while, is that I start to feel a bit disconnected from anime, manga, games, and even myself. It’s a weird feeling, like somehow I’m engaging less with this stuff (even though I’m still watching and reading plenty). However, if I start posting all of them at once, I get nervous about running out of a supply. I still have posts from like two years ago that I finished and just never published because the timing never seems right, and some I’ve gotten rid of because they just didn’t feel right.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get rid of this feeling, even if this blog magically became my job and I could live off of its profits (fat chance). In fact, that might make me feel even more pressured which might result in Ogiue Maniax losing some of its identity. That’s not always a bad thing, but still something I probably wouldn’t do. I know it sounds like I’m not enjoying the blog anymore, but that’s not the case at all. It’s still my favorite place for talking about the things I love.
To end off, I want to use this post to give a eulogy to my old Tenhou account. Though I managed to reach 4-dan a while back, my own neglect resulted in me failing to log in during the 3-month grace period, and so it’s been suspended with no way to bring it back. I now have to start again from the bottom, though of course that’s not actually the case, seeing as I’m re-starting with a lot more experience behind me.
Superhero revivals are a dime a dozen, but few are like The Shadow Hero by writer Gene Luen Yang and artist Sonny Liew. The basic idea behind the comic is that it provides an origin story to a hero who never had one, the golden age character known as the Green Turtle, but Yang and Liew take it further by essentially “reclaiming” the character for Asian-Americans.
Originally created by a man named Chu F. Hing, the publisher for The Green Turtle had tried to make its titular hero white. Hing, it is argued by Yang and Liew, appears to have defied this order by never showing the Green Turtle’s face, either having him face away from the reader or having his features obscured by a cape or something else. Yang and Liew take this further by actually making the Green Turtle undoubtedly Chinese-American, but what’s really remarkable about this series is that it manages to ground this character in both Chinese culture and that early 20th century United States in which they live so well that it actually made me realize I’ve been missing out on an important component of superhero comics all along.
While superheroes have been created since the beginning by people of practically every ethnicity (the most famous example being Superman’s Jewish creators), they have traditionally exuded predominantly a sense of whiteness. This does not make them bad stories or bad superheroes. Nor does it make them unrelatable. I don’t need to have my uncle shot and killed to understand why Peter Parker takes Uncle Ben’s famous great power, great responsibility line to heart. After all, I’m mostly a manga reader and I do not connect all that directly to Japanese culture, either. However, what’s amazing about The Shadow Hero is that, as an Asian-American, the relationship the protagonist Hank Chu has with his family hits so close to home that it makes me feel as if my own culture, that hybrid of my parents’ values and the values of the country I was born and raised in, is being expressed right there on the page.
The best example I can think of comes fairly early in the story, when Hank’s mom is rescued by a Superman-like hero and becomes enamored with the idea of superheroes in general. Wanting the best for her son, she decides Hank should be a superhero too, and goes above and beyond to try to make it happen. Whether it’s dragging him close to chemical spills or getting him to train in martial arts, the mother has her mind set on the idea that the best future for Hank is for him to don a cape and tights and fight crime.
When I replaced the word “superhero” with doctor, lawyer, engineer, pharmacist, or whatever is the most current profession that my parents and older relatives and their friends mention as being the most reliable path to success and prosperity, it all just clicked in my head. Here in The Shadow Hero was something my siblings and I, as well as many of the kids we knew growing up, would encounter on a regular basis. We knew their eagerness over this one thing could be a bit much, but we knew they meant well.
Other signs of Chinese culture can be found throughout. The main villain’s daughters are named after mahjong titles. When Hank first becomes a superhero, his mother makes him an outfit with the Chinese character for gold/money on it, because in Chinese culture it’s common to wish people well by saying that they’ll makes lots of money. This sounds like something you’d do to mock DC superhero Booster Gold, but here you can sense the mother’s earnestness, as well as Hank’s own conflicted feelings towards her.
For the longest time, I’ve felt that I do not look enough at comics that represent Asian American culture. Over the years, seeing David Brothers consistently question the marginalization of black characters in superhero comics and how this is reflective of the historic injustices done to the black community in the United States has made me aware of how little I look at my own culture in the mediums that I love. The Shadow Hero, and that sense of inherent cultural understanding I experienced, made me even more keenly aware that there is so much more I can do.
Four years ago I arrived in the Netherlands. In a few days, I return to the United States. I don’t know exactly where this post will go, but I feel it is important to say something about my time in Europe, both as a person and as a fan of anime and manga. I apologize for the rambling that’s about to ensue.
I’ve lived outside of the United States before, having spent a few months studying abroad in Japan (almost 10 years ago at this point!), but never had I been in a foreign country for so long. I can’t say I ever truly acclimated myself to this environment (I never even got fluent in the language, after all), but I managed a comfortable existence. Even putting aside amazing culinary cultures such as France and Germany, food has been an (often deep-fried) adventure. I’ll miss the Indonesian cuisine and the herring especially.
I could go on forever about food, though, so I’ll speak mainly about things that are more directly pertinent about being an otaku. One aspect that I had been somewhat aware of in the past but that had rarely entered my mind was that different countries have unique relationships with Japan, and this is certainly the case with the Netherlands. Famously the Dutch were the only foreigners allowed in Japan for a long time, and they stayed exclusively on the island of Deshima (or Dejima). So what does a Dutch group dedicated to bringing Japanese music to anime conventions in the Netherlands call itself? Deshima Sounds. It makes sense.
It was fascinating to see a different anime con culture compared to the US. The conventions certainly never even approach the massive attendances of an Otakon or an Anime Expo, but they have their own charm. From my first convention experience here, one aspect that really stood out to me was how the Artists’ Alleys greatly emphasized the production of full-on comics (one might even call them doujinshi) over individual images. While I don’t know if this is truly relevant, I do know that the Netherlands historically has been considered a strong country for book-publishing, allowing things that could get one in trouble in other countries (and I don’t mean pornography). It’s actually something I wouldn’t mind seeing more of in the US.
Speaking of fans, I must apologize to the folks over at Manga Kissa in Utrecht for never really going, but I am fully behind their endeavor to provide an actual manga cafe with a wide selection. If you’re ever in Utrecht, I recommend you check it out, as it’s a nice place to relax.
While my focus has been on anime and manga for a long time, I was also presently surprised to find out that the Netherlands has its own comics culture. Whenever I went to a new city, I often looked around for a comic store, and while many of the comics were simply French or Belgian comics translated into Dutch, even that was interesting because of how the Dutch preferred less expensive paperbacks over the elaborate hardcovers one would find elsewhere. It was actually amazing to be able to attend an event and just walk straight up to some of the biggest names in the industry and get a sketch at no cost and without a significant wait in line.
Around 2009 or so, I began to get into Japanese mahjong after having watched shows such as Akagi and Saki. Having originally played online, I eventually found a group to play with in real life, but it wasn’t until I lived in the Netherlands that I had the opportunity to actually attend tournaments and to compete for pride and glory (there were never any cash prizes but that’s okay). This country is small enough that even a tournament at a fairly obscure location was never too difficult to get to, and to find a fairly thriving riichi mahjong scene makes me incredibly grateful. I’ve met people from all over the world at these tournaments, gained some nice friends, and it’s even legitimately improved my mahjong to boot. Many of the Dutch players had originally come from a different style of mahjong, and so when playing them I had to learn that my style, which was built from playing the Tenhou online ladder, simply did not work. I had to re-evaluate how I looked at the game, and this experience is something I’ll never forget. I leave being fairly satisfied with my own performance, having attended three European tournaments and having placed 10th, 20th, and 6th.
Then there’s the rest of Europe to talk about! I wasn’t able to go to every country I had set my eyes on (Sweden, Luxembourg, and Switzerland I’ll perhaps regret not seeing most of all), but of the places I did have the pleasure of visiting I actually discovered quite a bit about geek fandom in general. I visit New York’s “Forbidden Planet” regularly, but it pales in comparison to the one in London. The comics museum in Belgium was a blast and made me want to read European comics more than ever.
Paris is, perhaps predictably, the most notable of all. While I had heard that the French were big into anime, it didn’t hit me until a simple trip from the hotel to the city center involved passing by not one, but multiple cosplay shops, in areas that didn’t even necessarily show signs of otakudom otherwise. Upon entering the toy and comic stores, I was continuously greeted by the ubiquitous presence of one UFO Robo Grendizer. I was already aware of the fact that Grendizer was a big deal for the French (and the Italian), that it was basically to them what Voltron was to the US, but in a way it was so much more. At the time, I suspected that the French benefited from the fact that Japan still continuously produced new Grendizer merchandise, and I think that theory still holds today.
I also got to attend a few Starcraft II events, which was wild.
Thank you to everyone who helped me out while I was living in a continent I had never even visited before. You’ve made my life that much richer, and I hope we can meet again someday. And yes, I am now aware of Alfred J. Kwak.
In a few days, I head to Otakon in Baltimore, which itself is undergoing a big transition with its eventual move to Washington, DC in 2016. Otakon is familiar territory at this point, yet I can’t help but feel that there will be some strange kind of culture shock for myself.
In December of 2010 I wrote a post about how I had finally achieved 3-Dan on the mahjong website Tenhou. Finally, after three and a half years, I have hit the next level and rose into 4-dan. The fact that it’s taken me this amount of time to get to 4-dan is either great or embarrassing depending on your own mahjong skills, but I realized that part of the reason I was finally able to break that barrier was that I had stepped away from the game for a while (unless you count posts about Saki or Akagi, I haven’t really posted much about mahjong lately), and that this has in some ways contributed to me being able to play better.
A few months ago someone asked me, “How do you not get angry when playing on Tenhou?” My answer was simple: I do get angry, all the time. Mahjong is a game that takes a lot of mental energy and so long sessions end up being quite taxing on the brain. Since about September of last year I’ve had to really focus on my work, so that risk that mental and emotional exhaustion that comes from playing mahjong wasn’t really worth it to me. During this time, I made occasional trips back to the table (virtual or otherwise) that reminded me of how rusty I become from playing less often, but also actually helped me to distance myself from mahjong and to improve my mental game immensely.
As with many things, one of the dangerous things about going on tilt in mahjong is that your “vision” in terms of what is possible or what is supposed to happen starts to narrow. When you’re not winning hands despite being in great positions, or when you feel like it’s totally “unfair” that you got screwed over in some way, it can cloud your judgment and cause you to make mistakes you may not have made otherwise. One sign I’ve learned to watch out for is when I get too desperate for pinfu. It may be the simplest hand in the game to achieve, but when I’m so obsessed with trying to win “anything at all” I realize I’m not actually playing mahjong. Stepping away from the game has helped me to realize this.
Another thing stepping away allows for, at least far as my relatively low level is concerned, is that it has helped me develop more versatility. Tenhou breeds a certain kind of mahjong player: someone who’s conservative in play, calculates risk extensively, and has a decent head for numbers. It’s the “proper” way to play mahjong, and so when on the Tenhou ladder you tend to learn to play against people like that. However, if thrown in a situation where others are playing “improperly,” doing the things that are suboptimal yet somehow winning anyway, I’ve noticed that a lot of better players have trouble dealing with this, including myself. What I realized eventually was that it was just as much my problem for not having the adaptability to deal with different types of players regardless of whether they pay no attention to theory and probability. It’s kind of like complaining about button mashers in fighting games or not being prepared for a Shedinja in Pokemon. “Nobody does that! You’ll lose more than you’ll win with that!” And yet, at the end of the day, you’re the one who couldn’t deal with it.
Speaking of fighting games, I recommend this video from fighting game community veteran James Chen on “reading your opponent.” I’ve skipped to the part where he talks about why “advanced” players tend to be kind of double-edged swords because they play too close to the theoretical optimal.
Perhaps the most significant if seemingly contradictory thing is that because I’ve distanced myself from mahjong, I’ve actually developed a better sense of my own style, how I want to play. Thus, when I managed to finally find not just some free time, but a week or two to where I could redirect my mental energy to other tasks again, I decided to get back on Tenhou and finally aim for 4-dan. There were of course many highs and lows, but I think that, as I explained to an extent above, trying to “make up for what you’ve lost” from one game to the next is the wrong way to look at it. The more you think, “I got 4th this one game, so I need to get 1st in the next two games!” the more likely you’re going to fall further down the hole. It happened to me quite a bit, as I hadn’t merely stayed in 3-dan the whole time, but actually moved between 1-dan and 3-dan as my own frustration got the better of me. Of course luck is a factor in this game, but not letting it get the better of you emotionally is also important.
In the end, if I can get hit by a chihou of all things (SERIOUSLY A CHIHOU) and still rebound, then I feel pretty good about my future prospects. That said, I still haven’t fully memorized the score chart. Oops.
Over yonder, beyond the horizon, is the Saki individuals tournament arc. It’s been referred to frequently throughout the series, and though at this point the manga is a long, long way from reaching it, it does give me the joy of speculating who might face whom as they go through the brackets (or round robin system, not sure which they’re using). One I’ve already mentioned before is Amae Koromo vs. Oohoshi Awai because of how their strengths lie at opposite ends of the game, but there are plenty of others.
Minor manga spoilers, by the way. Remember though, these are not actual matches but just ones (in no particular order) that I’d like to see.
1) Kataoka “Tacos” Yuuki vs. Usuzumi “Hell’s Gate” Hatsumi
I think this one is pretty obvious. Imagine Yuuki as dealer in the East round (meaning she’s double East) versus Hatsumi in the North position. To whom do the East tiles go?
2) Oohoshi “Double Riichi” Awai vs. Anetai “Undertaker” Toyone
Awai’s insane Double Riichi vs. Toyone’s Pursuit Riichi. Who overpowers who?
3) Matano “Fisherman” Seiko vs. Inoue “Strategic Pon” Jun
Both have a tendency to call for tiles but for very different reasons (winning vs. control). Seeing them in the same match would likely make for a very aggressive game.
4) Funakubo “Osaka Data Girl” Hiroko vs. Sawamura “Nagano Data Girl” Tomoki
Two characters who specialize in gathering information on their opponents. Who is the better strategist?
5) Aislinn “New Zealander” Wishart vs. Hao “Chinese-Style” Huiyu
Aislinn is capable of envisioning the perfect scenario in her mind and having it play out to her advantage. Mako ruined her day by disrupting the discard patterns that Aislinn had set out, but then Huiyu tends to prefer closed, quiet hands. At the same time, Huiyu’s Chinese-influenced play style is highly unorthodox and could disrupt Aislinn possibly without any effort on Huiyu’s part.
Akagi recently made its official English-language debut on Crunchyroll. In light of this, I’ve begun to think about the character of Akagi Shigeru and his peculiar sense of ethics.
For the most part everything about Akagi revolves around the “gamble,” experiencing that life or death scenario where not even your wits may be enough to save you. He cares little for the law, for love, or even money, and in his pursuit of death he’ll even run out in the middle of the night and beat thugs senseless without any regard for concepts like “justice.” What’s strange about Akagi (aside from the obvious) is on a few occasions he will actually come to the aid of some poor individual who’s usually stuck in some terrible gamble where they’re losing money to unscrupulous vultures. This seeming sense of compassion appears somewhat inconsistent with Akagi’s amorality, but I think there is a definite logic to the character.
In order to understand why Akagi will help others, I think it’s important to also understand why Akagi will go to great lengths to break someone’s spirit. When Akagi sees someone getting taken to the cleaners, he sees not only the man being grifted but the grifters themselves, and in those manipulators he sees people who think they’re guaranteed to win no matter what. The idea of a zero-risk wager goes completely against Akagi’s ideal for what gambling should be. In his eyes, something is only a gamble when everyone has to put their lives on the line either figuratively or literally. It’s why he’s so disgusted with Fake Akagi, who uses number-crunching and probability to take the safest route and minimize loss.
This is what drives his major matches throughout the series, as Akagi finishes his opponents when they’ve given up the gamble and are going for guaranteed scenarios. Against the blind man Ichikawa, Akagi sees how he is willing to swap tiles out to create a safety net, and so severs those ropes through mind-boggling moves. Urabe tries to find a point at which he could simply run away almost risk-free, so Akagi moves to topple him by making Urabe doubt his own discards. Washizu is blessed by the gods with both luck and wealth, and Akagi takes it upon himself to instill fear in him.
When I analyzed the other major Fukumoto hero Itou Kaiji, I said that Akagi would probably be a little jealous of Kaiji because Kaiji may be closer to the gambling ideal than Akagi can ever be. In that situation, you cannot even rely on your own strengths, and Akagi, with that pesky thing called talent, requires more effort to walk the tightrope between life and death. Getting back to the downtrodden sad sacks of the world, Akagi doesn’t need to teach them what it’s like to fear or suffer. Life has already given that lesson better than Akagi ever could. So instead Akagi tries to teach them what it’s like to stare death in the face, because being a gambler isn’t about guaranteed failure either, but the willingness to move ahead, even if it’s one small step.