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.