Manga and anime can be known for having some plot arcs that seem to go on forever.
Namek? Probably the most notorious long arc ever in anime and manga.
Soul Society? Hueco Mundo? Also pretty long.
But none of them are any match for Akagi‘s “Washizu Mahjong.”
For those of you who’ve never read the manga or watched its anime adaptation, Akagi is the story of a genius/psycho who risks his life in high-stakes games of mahjong, where his superior gambling ability, keen perception of the psychological, and his blatant disregard for his own life make him a legend from as young an age as 14. Eventually, he ends up playing an extremely wealthy and sadistic man named Washizu Iwao, pitting his own blood (literally) against Washizu’s vast fortunes. To top it all off, the game is played with 75% of the tiles transparent. Imagine playing Poker or Yu-Gi-Oh! with 75% of your hand showing at all times.
The anime devotes its entire second half to Washizu. That’s 13 episodes, or 1/4 of a year. When you look at the manga though, the Washizu arc began in 1997, and it still hasn’t concluded even to this day. That’s 15 years on the Same. Exact. Opponent.
While it’s easy to call this filler, it’s probably not so simple. One rumor I’ve heard is that Akagi is so popular that it’s the main reason the magazine it runs in (Kindai Mahjong, home to many, many other mahjong-related titles) is able to stay afloat. Also, when your long arc is one and a half decades, it goes from being a stalling tactic to probably what the readers actually want.
Now what I find kind of amazing about this is that Akagi actually does quite a good job of keeping the Washizu mahjong interesting. It probably shouldn’t, but like Akagi and the magical sands of hell, it can reverse fortune in an instant. And I think the reason why it’s able to stay readable far longer than any single arc probably has any right to is that the manga can rely on the rules of mahjong (albeit modified with transparent tiles) to keep it grounded in some sense.
Bleach can come up with an ultra final bankai, and Yu-Gi-Oh! can make up cards on the spot with never-before-seen abilities. There’s no such thing as inventing new hands in mahjong. Akagi can play somewhat fast and loose with how the game turns out due to the luck factor (just like when Yugi pulls out the Black Magician at the right moment), but he can’t pull out something which doesn’t exist in the game of mahjong, otherwise it would ruin the integrity of it. Keep in mind though that this is the type of “integrity” where cheating is A-OK, as I think that also explains the appeal. Even in a never-ending game of mahjong, the thrill of Akagi the deceiver is still ripe.