Random Musings: Mahjong Manga

“Luncheon of Tears Diary (Vagabond Shoujo Manga-ka)”
by Hiroaki Samura

Since December 2012’s Manga Moveable Feast featured Hikaru no Go as well as other game manga, I figured I would take the opportunity to ramble on a bit about one of my favorite games: mahjong. When mahjong is encountered in manga, it’s usually riichi that is being referred to or played. I’ve been playing riichi mahjong for about two and a half years now. I’m not a very strong player at all, but I enjoy playing the game immensely. I’m envious of all of the mahjong manga that is available in Japan and would love to read it for myself.

There are three mahjong manga that seem to be particularly well known even outside of Japan: Ritz Kobayashi’s ongoing series Saki, the six-volume The Legend Koizumi by Hideki Ohwada (Jason Thompson wrote a great article about the series last year), and Nobuyuki Fukumoto’s Akagi, which is also ongoing. Except for the anime adaptation of Saki (which is available streaming through Crunchyroll), none of these series have been licensed in English. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that they ever will be licensed. Even in Japan mahjong manga is a niche genre. Despite mahjong’s popularity in some areas (there’s the United States Professional Mahjong League based in New York, for example), mahjong would largely be considered esoteric in the West.

Probably the Western game that would come closest to mahjong in terms of social context (at least in the United States) would be poker. Both mahjong and poker are gambling games and are occasionally associated with organized crime. Skilled players are admired, but playing either game can also bring with it connotations of delinquency. But at the same time, a large number of people know how to play the games. It’s fairly easy to get together a group of people to play—families and/or friends—or to find a place to play, either online or in a salon. Both mahjong and poker can be played casually for fun or more competitively in established or even professional tournaments.

Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga
by Koji Aihara and Kentaro Takekuma

Because of my love of mahjong, I’m always on the lookout for references to the game in the manga that I read. And once I started looking, I discovered that there were references almost everywhere. It doesn’t seem to matter what the manga’s intended audience is, either. I’ve found references to mahjong in shoujo, shounen, seinen, and in josei. Often it’s just a brief mention in a conversation, but there are plenty of manga in which a game of mahjong can be seen in progress. Sometimes mahjong even plays an important role in the plot of a manga or in the development of a character. I’ve actually made a note of all of the references to mahjong that I’ve come across in my reading. I’m not sure if anyone else will really be interested in it, but I do plan on eventually pulling all of my notes together at some point in a more coherent and comprehensive fashion in order to make them available to others.

In addition to collecting mahjong references when I come across them, I also make a deliberate point to track down manga that has been licensed in English that incorporate mahjong in some way. I’ve discovered some great series because of this. Take Kazuya Minekura’s Wild Adapter as one example. (I’ve actually written about Wild Adapter‘s mahjong connection before—Random Musings: Mahjong, Kubota, and Wild Adapter.) Makoto Kubota in Wild Adapter and Shinichi Gotō in Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi’s Old Boy both get by in the world in part due to their mahjong skills. Although mahjong plays a very minor role, the reason I got around to picking up Dengeki Daisy by Kyousuke Motomi was because one of the main characters, Tasuku Kurosaki, was described as a slacker who plays mahjong online.

So, where can you find manga in English with mahjong as a prominent element? I’ve already mentioned Wild Adapter—mahjong is particularly important at the start of the series. Shiuko Kano’s boys’ love anthology Affair includes the story “One Lucky Guy” in which a game of mahjong costs a man his job, but also gives him an excuse to move in with one of his ex-coworkers. One of the chapters in Koji Aihara and Kentaro Takekuma’s parody manga Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga features a lesson on “How to Draw Mahjong Manga” which is hilarious. Hiroaki Samura (best known for his series Blade of the Immortal) plays mahjong and there are plenty of references to the game in his collection Ohikkoshi, including in the story “Luncheon of Tears Diary (Vagabond Shoujo Manga-ka)” in which a female shoujo artist briefly becomes the foremost mahjong player in Kanto (among other things.) Samura’s soon to be released collection Emerald and Other Stories also includes the four-page mahjong manga “Low-Grade Strategy: The Mirror Play.” Finally, Taiyo Matsumoto’s short manga “Mahjong Summer,” included in Blue Spring, is a brilliant piece which juxtaposes and overlaps mahjong with a baseball game.

“Mahjong Summer” by Taiyo Matsumoto

I would love to see more mahjong manga available in English, but I know that that is very unlikely to happen. Still, I will continue to seek it out in the manga that I read and will continue to keep track of all the mentions of mahjong that I happen find. It’s a bit of a silly hobby, but I get a kick out of it.

This post is a part of the Hikaru no Go/Game Manga Manga Moveable Feast.

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