What's with the Kakegurui Hype?

Kakegurui - Compulsive Gambler, an intense gambling manga written by Homura Kawamoto and drawn by Tooru Naomura, is set to release as a 12-episode anime this summer 2017 season on Saturday July 1st at 10:00 pm, Japan Standard time. Excited for this hot and fresh anime, and with popular sources like Anime News Network and Gigguk already giving interesting reviews on the manga, this writer finds it interesting (and entertaining) to continue the appeal of why readers should literally stop what they are doing and watch cute girls make other cute girls fall into despair through gambling.

Before getting into the appeals of this anime, it’s important to set the figurative stage, or casino-like school in this case. The story of Kakegurui sets itself around the elite Hyakkaou Private Academy, an institution which uses “optional donations” to promote intense gambling habits for its 3,000 students. Enforced by the Student Council, the school figuratively and literally enslaves the students who don’t (or rather can’t) pay the funds, known as the “bottom 100th”, to the elite who rise within the rankings. This hierarchal system causes the smart and the brave to figuratively drown in cash and causes the bottom percentile to become “pets”, akin to human trash. “At Hyakkaou Private Academy, the winners live like kings, and the losers are put through the wringer. But when Yumeko Jabami enrolls, she's gonna teach these kids what a high roller really looks like!” (Yen Press Summary) The anime/manga then proceeds to go on an episodic tale of Yumeko Jyabami beating the figurative crap out of any nasty baddy of the week that stands in her way, as you do in a shonen series.

            Starting off this rollercoaster ride with an 11 out of 10, we have the series composer for the show, Kobayashi Yasuko (Attack On Titan, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, etc.) Coming off the western aesthetic that a European style academy with high-octane gamblingwould have, Kobayashi brings an intense jazz theme, like Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu & Persona 5, to the anime adaptation. The music, shown in both previews, will make sure that the audience is brought to as a high a climax as the battles in the show and Jyabami herself. The opening theme is befittingly named "Deal with devil" by Tia and the ending "LAYon-theLINE" by D-Selections. On top of the great music, we have director Hayashi Yuichiro (Code Gueass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, Hunter x Hunter 2011, Kill La Kill, etc.) on board, making sure this rollercoaster will be a fun ride.

One appeal for this series right off the bat is just how much fun it is as a shonen gambling anime. Gambling series such as Kakegurui, and Tobaku Mokushiroku Kaiji became as popular as they are due to their similarity with sports series, with interesting protagonists, intense scenes, and substantial (but not life-threatening) risks. In the second chapter of the manga for example, Yumeko Jyabami, the main character, is threatened that her finger and toe nails will be ripped off her if she loses. Jyabami and gambling anime protagonists like her, on the other hand, don’t need the physical strength or durability needed that the usual Taiga Kagami or Hinata Shoyo would. They can win through different aspects, like their bravery, luck, genius, and in this sexual and almost funny ahegao faces. Next, there’s the stupid and insane amount of gambling that appears in this series. In the first chapter alone, 10 million yen ($100,000 roughly) gets put on the line, doubling in the next chapter. Having these characters willing to bet such ridiculous amounts of money, their prides, and even parts of their bodies makes every episode a roller coaster of emotion. As Jyabami says on page 44 of Chapter 1, “Isn’t madness the essence of gambling?...gambling is fun because it’s insane”

The next interesting topic to bring in new viewers is the absurd system that builds up the world of Kakegurui. The hyper-capitalist society around Hyakkaou Private Academy brings forth the ideas of someone like Andrew Ryan of Bioshock, where those who wish to do whatever they please and have the willpower to do so can do whatever they want, with little to no consequences. Any person who fails in this system isn’t just unlucky. They simply don’t have the willpower to succeed, causing the other students in the school to bully and shame these “pets” like Ryota Suzui, voiced by Tatsuya Tokutake. Suzui himself says in chapter 1 page 10,“If you want to change over, you need to donate but… you can’t as you don’t have any more money” This hellhole can easily reflect on modern capitalist countries like USA and Japan. “In a capitalist world, money is life. The fate of your life isn’t dictated with order or fairness.” (Chapter 1, page 44) What makes this anime not go into something depressing like Perfect Blue or Welcome to the NHK, we have interesting characters to bring us on the time of our lives.

To counter a punishing society like Hyakkaou Private Academy, the audience gets to see the actions of the main character, Yumeko Jyabami, voiced by Saori Hayami (Ruby in the Japanese dub of RWBY, Meltlilith in Fate/Grand Order & Fate/ Extraa CC), as well as how she interacts with her odd and strange environment. Jyabami exists as a parody to the nadeshiko stereotype, the Japanese “perfect woman”, as well as a contrast to the caricatured student council, who all range from extremely proud to moneygrubbing and greedy. She herself views the gamblers in the school that she faces off against each episode as weak, not because they are bad at the sport, but because they lack the drive, the willingness to take risks as big as hers. Of course, they’re also not smart enough to cover up their cheating methods against her. She’s not only a parody on the Japanese nadeshiko, but to the male shonen hero, being the hot, yandere ohime-sama she is. “I hate, be it a game you can only win or a game you can only lose. Such can’t be happening in a gamble. It was all thanks to you that I could have had such an exciting game. Thank you so much. <3” (Chapter 1, pages 80-81)

Another point that makes Jyabami interesting is how she counters off Ryota Suzui, the actual protagonist. Suzui is a generic, weak male protagonist, so he’s not the most interesting character, but because the spotlight isn’t put on him most of the time, he becomes a Nick Carroway type of bystander protagonist, being the audience insert to look at these cute girls doing insane, evil and fun acts. He gets to see the morals of the society at large, how Jyabami’s viewpoints counter that, and how his own viewpoints bounce off the two, making for an interesting story. In this way, he’s more bearable than the standard kiritp. To add on top of that, he has the cathartic appeal of being a “pet” himself, being stuck in a horrible situation, with no one to help him out, giving him empathy from the audience.

This up-and-coming anime has everything a good seasonal anime needs: hot girls, a good cast list, a catchy opening, great visuals, hot girls, a generic audience insert protagonist, an interesting world, an interesting main character, hot girls and an interesting premise, being high-octane gambling. Also, it has cute girls. Hopefully, the audience won’t take after Yumeko Jyabami, but as she said:

~ T. Ngo

~ T. Ngo