In the year 1947, the people of Shinjuku are down on their luck. With little money to buy food or necessities, some resort to gambling in order to survive. Traveling Tetsuya chooses to spend his time at Mahjong parlors where he is wiping the floor clean with his adversaries. However, when Tetsuya meets the intensely skilled Boushu-san, he realizes that his skills are still lacking.
Legendary Gambler Tetsuya. This one of the anime I've been striving to watch for a long time. I first learned about it back in 2003 on an old anime site which doesn't even update anymore, and I've tried to watch it ever since. Up until a few months ago, I had only seen one episode. Now, of course, I've finished the series through a combination of subs and raws. I have to say it was worth the wait.
Story: As one might infer from the title, this show is about gambling. Gambling and gamblers (called bainin in the show) who
cheat at gambling for a living. The name of the game is Mahjong. For those of you who don't know what Mahjong is, look it up. The MAL Mahjong club has a section on Mahjong hands. The basic premise of the story is various "good" bainin (Tetsuya and pals) facing off against "bad" bainin in Mahjong matches where both sides blatantly cheat.
The interesting part of the story is the cleverness with which some of this cheating occours. Tetsuya runs up against several opponents, and they each practice a different method of cheating (hand switches, elevators, tile tossing, tile-holding rings, magic "x-ray vision", etc.) It's interesting, although the dialogue during the active cheating scenes sometimes seems a bit sluggishly shonen. The cheating is more of a sideshow, though, compared to what is arguably the main dynamic of the show - an almost classic yakuza-film-style way of portraying Mahjong conflicts, seeming like a more passioate underground odyssey. All is helped along by a rich cast (which I'll get to later).
Art: Really mostly normal. Some weird faces, but not so ugly as some other shows. The ugly mugs are pretty believable, actually, given the characters are supposed to be destitute gamblers. But not fun to look at. Moving on.
Sound: The instrumental OST sounds very old-school, with trumpets andwhat I think is a viola making up most of the sounds. I liked it, but I don't think too many will. The OP and ED are nice, traditional manly songs, sung by men with moderately low voices. Voice acting itself is nothing special, really. The highlight of the auditory ensemble is probably the insert song "All Last", which plays during many of the major arc endings and encapsulates the whole yakuza-film atmosphere.
Character: It's a man's world. Mostly, aside from 2 female players and 1 bar hostess. The main focus of the plot is the coming of age of a young cocky lad, name of Asada Tetsuya, as he acquires a sense of bainin ethics. The message Tetsuya sends varies from arc to arc, but the general theme is this: "It's a cold, hard, dirty world out there, and only the strong (a.k.a. cheaters) survive." It is a worldview that's been done before, but the setting of post-WWII Japan makes a lot of sense. there are many other notable characters, from an old man who teaches Tetsuya to survive bainin Mahjong to a partner with a pompadour who gets his own arc to a left-handed drug addict who challenges Tetsuya to a match in order to get drug money. Very developed ensemble, and their matches show as much.
Enjoyment: Tetsuya was fun to watch for me because of a number of factors, mostly the gritty realism mixed with some Mahjong (a very cool game) and badassed cheating and, some Mahjong situations I've never seen before - particularly a double open reach and a Dora 16 hand.
Overall: Tetsuya was great, fun viewing, but it didn't really connect with me in all the ways I expected it to. Definitely worth the 20 episodes, even in raw form. If anyone wants to better understand the finer aspects of cheating, this is your show. Good concept, great execution.
Legendary Gambler Tetsuya is an anime series that’s hard for me to recommend. Not because it’s bad mind you, it’s very, very, good; the problem lies in what it’s about; this show is about mahjong.
No, not that solitaire game you have preinstalled on your pc, the real mahjong, an ancient Chinese game for four players, which resembles modern rummy or gin. The Japanese variant, often known as Riichi Mahjong; takes this game to a whole new level of complexity, establishing a large list of hand combinations and situations you MUST make at least one of in order to win at all. All of a
sudden this is a massively deep, intricate game, like poker on steroids.
Why am I saying any of this, it’s very simple really, this anime won’t make any sense if you can’t play Mahjong on at least a low level, you need to know the rules, the tile names, the hands, ect in order to follow this show. Because you see, this anime is written for someone who already understands the game, as such it never gets bogged down trying to explain the rules it assumes you already know.
If you know the rules or are willing to take time to learn them, you’ll be greatly rewarded, now if you’ve made it this far, onto the actual review!
At the point of my writing this, I have seen three shows dedicated to mahjong, This, Akagi, and Saki. This show is by far the best of the three. This is a somewhat controversial statement I feel, since Akagi is quite well received on this site, but allow me to explain why this is the best show about mahjong I’ve seen.
It’s because this show cheats.
Everything this anime does is about cheating; some of the most well thought out, genius cheating I’ve ever seen. Akagi sometimes focuses on cheating at the game as well, but more often then not the game is resolved due to Akagi’s “monstrous luck”
In Akagi, and even more-so in Saki, I feel a disconnect from the game and the characters, these shows are about the characters and their insane luck that almost always makes games go their way, things that are statistically impossible are the more here, and for no good reason.
Tetsuya makes his own luck. You not only see why he gets the hands he does, you see how he forces the games to go his way, from skilled dice throws that always get your desired number to boldly switching tiles from your hand with those on the table.
Where Akagi’s narrator would simple tell us that he’s doing something crazy, it never feels justified, he’s just lucky, this leads to a problem many anime have, the protagonist can’t lose. Not so in this fine example here, Tetsuya loses and he loses hard, making his victories all the more gratifying when he finally wins.
This is not a show for anybody; the art is dated for one, and features none of modern Anime’s “moe” sensibilities, if you’re looking for that, try Saki. Characters are never off model and every character has a distinct design, since it focuses on characters sitting and playing a game most of the time there’s minimal motion, but what is there is well executed.
The sound is nothing to write home about, the OST is unmemorable, but the character voices all fit well. As I can’t speak Japanese I can’t pass judgment on the acting level but it seemed to par with shows of the time.
But where this show shines is its story and characters, every character we meet is either likable or satisfyingly detestable, Tetsuya himself is a great character, who unlike Akagi actually grows and changes as it goes on.
The story is fairly straight forward and mostly involves escalating battles in gambling between our main characters and an assortment of colorful “villains”, with each game essentially being standalone. That’s not to say there are no twists, there are a decent many turns in this story that all lead up to an emotional, satisfying conclusion despite being an incomplete adaptation of a manga that as of now has no translation I can find anywhere, which is somewhat disappointing as I hear this anime only covered a small amount of it.
If you haven’t the faintest idea what mahjong is, you probably won’t like this show, but if you love mahjong or even just understand it on a beginner level, this is a hell of a hidden gem.