Dramatic Gestures. Liptastic laughs. Eyeballistic expressions. Gamble-gasms. Screaming girls, derranged girls, strong girls, and cool girls. “Crazy bitches.” Yuri teases. Bouncing boobs. Sexualization of literally everything, in a strange form of fanservice meant to get viewers hard and/ or wet. That’s what I think of when someone brings up Kakegurui. The kake part means gamble but the gurui part means to go mad. Kakegurui is about madness, and people who are mad. It just so happens that what Jabami Yumeko is insane about is gambling. This has never actually been a show about gambling itself, or what compulsive gamblers are like in real life.
When I first watched Kakegurui in midsummer 2017, I put it down as a 4/10 on myanimelist.net. A few days ago, I rewatched it, inspired to rate it not based solely on whether I personally liked it. To my surprise, I enjoyed it this time! I came up with a score of 7.0/10. But now listen– I just watched the 2nd season last week, and decided it was worthy of a 7.6/10. Clearly, personal enjoyment plus story improvement can make a big difference in ranking. In this (long) post, we shall discuss and analyze many elements of Kakegurui and Kakegurui xx, how they compare to each other, and the interesting topics and themes hidden in both. Let us begin with examining the art, sound, and characters in this surprisingly interesting anime series.
The Art of Ugly
The art in Kakegurui is something else. It’s known for hugely exaggerated, extreme face expressions, and showing its characters in all larger-than-life ugliness. That said, it’s not poor-quality artwork at all. A lot of detail goes into the shots of face expressions and features, and the eyes of the characters look amazing in their own way. Though this is a hit-or-miss element, the red and checkered gray school uniform in Kakegurui was something I adored. The body designs for the characters are fairly realistic, with girls actually having varying body types, unlike in many anime. In general, the designs were good.
Few backgrounds or anime aesthetic shots are used in the series, but when they are, they’re great. The majority of scenes happen inside closed rooms, so the focus of art is completely on character interactions and reactions, plus the shots of how the gambling game is being played. The only true complaint I have about the animation in Kakegurui is the way that all shots of people’s hands rolling dice or dealing cards, etc., are done with CGI. However, use of CGI in anime only significantly annoys me when it’s used for full body shots of characters or vehicles. There’s none of that in Kakegurui.
The uniqueness of the art alone is enough to earn a 7/10, and the overall good quality of everything and the memorable character designs brings it to 8/10. It’s much the same for Kakegurui xx, the second season. The art is pretty much the same. It lives up to its successor in all its beautiful insanity. I think the visuals in both installments were equally excellent. I also want to note two things I love about the “ugliness” in this series. First, drawing the characters as ugly with absurd expressions is refreshing in an industry where characters are usually made to look ridiculously cute or cool instead. Second, the ludicrousness of the art can be hilarious if you have the right sense of humor.
The Sound of Insanity
The openings and endings for both seasons of Kakegurui were lof of fun. The most popular is the season 1 OP, “Deal with the Devil” by Tia. My favorite is probably the opening of season 2, “Kono Yubi Tomare” by Junna. The OST instrumental music used throughout the series was a perfect fit, full of jazzy tunes, trumpets, and percussion. Season two had scarier music that reminded me of some tracks from Mirai Nikki. I love going back and listening to the OST. Now that those factors are out of the way, let’s look at the seiyuu or voice acting cast, which I absolutely adore. Note: I’ll only be talking about the Japanese VAs, since I think the English dub of Kakegurui was bad if not horrible. I definitely recommend the sub over the sub in this case.
Tanaka Minami played Saotome Mary, Wajai Yuki played Sumeragi Itsuki, and Fukuhara Ayaka played Igarashi Sayaka. I don’t recognize these seiyuu from anywhere, but I was impressed with the performances of all of them in Kakegurui. My favorite of those three is the voice of Sayaka. She did a fantastic job, especially in season two, when she got more character development.
Sugita Tomokazu is the voice of student council treasurer Manyuda Kaede. He is known for roles like Gintoki in Gintama, Karasuma in Assassination Classroom, Joseph Joestar in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, and numerous comical roles. Ise Mariya plays the sexually deranged student council beautification officer Ikishima Midari. She is a favorite of mine because she played Killua in Hunter x Hunter (2011), and just recently, Ray in Promised Neverland.
I’m a big fan of Romi Park, who played Rei Batsubami in Kakegurui xx, but some people are annoyed by her deep voice and flamboyant style of acting. Recently, she played Ragyo in Kill la Kill and Zoe Hanji in Attack on Titan. When she was younger, she did a great job playing young teen boys, such as Edward Elric in Full Metal Alchemist. Sawashiro Miyuki is another one of my favorite seiyuu, whose talent and unique voice is generally recognized and appreciated. She voiced student council president Momobami Kirari, as well as her twin sister the vice-president. I know her mostly from coemdies like Arakawa Under the Bridge and dramas like Kokoro Connect, but one role Sawashiro is famous for is Kurapika in Hunter x Hunter (2011).
Hayami Saori plays lead character Yumeko Jabami. She has a light, pleasant, and musical voice and is also very capable of lowering the pitch of her voice and throwing aside her “sweetness” to sound intimidating or just plain crazy. You might know Hayami from these roles: the little sister in The Irregular at Magic Highschool, Shirayuki from Snow White with Red Hair, Kokoro from Darling in the Franxx, and Yukino from My Teenage Romance SNAFU. Nobody but Hayami Saori could be better suited for playing the fascinating, beautiful, and mentally abnormal Yumeko.
Crazy, Conniving, and Courageous Characters
The characters were great in Kakegurui. In the first season, I had a harder time understanding and appreciating them, but in the second season, the characters were so interesting and well developed that they are the highest-ranking aspect of the show. There are crazy characters like Ikishima Midari, conniving characters like Sumeragi, and courageous characters like Saotome Mary (and in fact, most of the cast). Let’s look at just a few of them: Jabami Yumeko, Suzui Ryouta, and Momobami Kirari. Facts and insights are from both seasons.
Jabami Yumeko starts gambling at Hyakkao Academy on her very first day. She is bets millions of yen right off the bat, and though she is incredibly smart and perceptive, she is also capricious, and leaves crucial things up to luck. Her perspectives are always interesting but peculiar, as is the way she gets so animated (and sometimes sexually excited) over taking a risk. Since Yumeko has little natural shame and doesn’t feel remorse, it’s likely that she is a “socially acceptable sociopath,” or someone with Antisocial Personality Disorder who does not resort to crime or violence. While she can easily become infatuated with people, and loves to interact with them, Yumeko never shows the ability to feel empathy. I couldn’t think of a more intriguing main character.
Suzui Ryouta is one of the relatively few male characters in the show. Yumeko rescues him from being a treated as a housepet by the academy. There’s a mistaken idea among some people that Suzui was supposed to be the main character, but he’s not. For most of the series, both seasons, Suzui Ryouta is what’s known as an audience surrogate. He is the character who voices the thoughts and reactions of the audience at key moments. However, Ryouta is also his own person, one who is quietly supportive and does best by helping “in the background.” He falls hard for Yumeko, despite being frequently baffled by her behavior, and bravely declares his attachment to her in the last episode of season one. In season two, Suzui doesn’t get much more development, and his friendly but unromantic relationship with Yumeko doesn’t really change.
The president of the student council, who rules over the students with an iron fist, is Momobami Kirari. She is extremely gifted with knowing how to deal with people, and she performs best and is happiest as a leader. Momobami commands a lot of respect and charisma. She is cold and calculated most of the time, yet also acts cool, poised, and polite, both feared and loved by the student body. It’s possible to claim that Momobami is a sociopath like Yumeko, but she’s much harder to read, so it’s difficult to tell. It’s debatable, for instance, if she thinks of Sayaka as an amusing, fascinating plaything or object, or if she really loves Sayaka as a person. I ship Kirari x Sayaka (Kirarika), so I think the president can love others and empathize sometimes.
This is not a masterpiece of character development; there are some problems. Some characters are developed more than others. Because of the way things are presented, it can be difficult to take characters seriously or see them as anything other than crazy bitches. If you can look past the show’s way of making everything into a bombastic and sometimes sexual spectacle, you’ll see that the girls have their own distinct personalities and individual thoughts. (It also helps if you’ve wathced it 2 or 3 times, haha.) Some characters have overused types, like Yumemi, the supposedly perfectly cute idol girl who is hiding a nasty streak. Characters like her, however, bring enough individuality to balance out the tropes. The character aspects of Kakegurui earn a 7/10 Good from me, and thanks to further exploration, Kakegurui xx gets an 8/10 Excellent.
Stories: Summaries, Strengths, and Weaknesses
For her second year of high school, Jabami Yumeko transfers into Hyakkao Academy. There are numerous anime that take place in a “prestigious academy” where the sons and daughters of the country’s richest people or those with political power are the only ones permitted to attend. But Hyakkao is a little different from those other anime schools. Status, power, and everything else are decided through gambling. Everyone gambles after classes, and sometimes even during break at school. Many student falls deep into debt. The student council president, Momobami Kirari, designed all the systems in place and commands the whole school. With her on the student council are those who she has recognized as having either great minds or great wealth.
What happens to students who fall into debt and cannot pay it back? They become “housepets,” no longer treated as humans, but as animals and slaves. Nobody calls them by name anymore– they call male housepets “Poochi” as in dog, and female housepets “Mi-ke,” as in cat. Suzui Ryouta has become a housepet and hates every second of it, but when Yumeko transfers in, she gives him a million yen to thank him for being part of an interesting game. Suzui pays off his debt and befriends Yumeko. He always stays beside her and supports her, as she becomes crazier and crazier about gambling. Most of the story is Yumeko challenging or being challenged to gambling matches with members of the student council. Their games are always entertaining. Along the way, Yumeko and Ryouta become friends with Saotome Mary and Sumeragi Itsuki.
The concept of a school where everything is decided by gambling is very original for anime. It had the potential to be really great. Unfortunately, the story had some major problems. It was formulaic in pattern. The structuring makes it seem like the last episode is anti-climatic. The outcomes of the games were predictable if you watched carefully for hints. Important facts or themes were not made obvious enough or developed well enough. Then there is the massive fan pandering used in Kakegurui. The show makes everything sexual to entice the audience to keep watching. It makes everything absurdly over-the-top to appeal to viewers looking for a vicarious thrill. There are yuri teases, where close contact between girls occurs, but no relationships are explored (in season one, anyway).
The combination of all these things came together to make a negative impression on me. For having an original concept and a few very interesting themes and motifs in the story, Kakegurui should have earned an 8/10 good. I downgraded it to 6/10 because of the negative story factors I listed in the previous paragraph. Next let’s look at season two, Kakegurui xx.
With the student council dissolved at the end of season one, it’s time to elect a new student council president. The current president, Kirari, decides how it’s done. Each student gets a chip worth one vote. Gambling will take place for a week or so. At the end, whoever has won the most vote chips becomes president. In the world of Kakegurui, the richest and most powerful clan of families are those whose names end in a certain character read “bami.” Jabami (Yumeko) is a relative with lots of money but little influence, and Momobami (Kirari) is a member with both wealth and influence. Because Kirari gave the Bami clan a bad name by badmouthing them in season one, 10 members of prominent Bami families come to Hyakkao Acedemy. Each of them want a shot at being president, because whoever wins the title also becomes the heir to the Bami Clan.
Most of the story is simply Yumeko’s matches with others, who are gunning to be the leader. Unlike her opponents, however, Yumeko has no particular wish to be the president. That’s one factor that makes the story unique. Another interesting twist was the focus on Batsubami Rei, the servant of the -Bami clan who secretly aspires to tear down and reform the clan. What was really great about the story was how the important themes and messages came through clearly, and there was a confirmed yuri/ shoujo ai relationship (Kirari and Sayaka). Also, the outcomes of the game were less predictable, and a few of the games were more though-provoking than those last season. (For example, the Greater Good Game and the Tower Game involving hexadecimal problems.) But there were major misfires in the plot, too.
The story was again pretty formulaic in structure, but for a short series, I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. A bigger problem was the lack of conclusion. Instead of focusing on who would win as president, the plot was concentrated mostly on the escapades of Yumeko’s games, and the finale was about Batsubami Rei and her grandiose attempt to win hundreds of chips and take over the -Bami clan for revenge. Yumeko won all her important matches, but didn’t become president; in fact, there was no winner announced for president/ heir to the -Bami clan, because the election is still ongoing. In one of the last scenes, it’s revealed that Kirari’s twin Ririka is playing, too, challenging other -Bami members. Though Kirari was in the lead for the most vote chips in episode 11, we do not know where anyone’s numbers stand after the chip auction.
The story of Kakegurui xx was only better than its successor because of the interesting games, themes, and messages therein. It still had some pandering, over the top sexualization, and general absurdity. It lacked direction as a series. So I would rate the story as a 7/10.
Enjoyment and Themes
Personal enjoyment is always a key part of a review or a series analysis. The things I enjoyed most were some of the characters’ personalities and stories, the themes presented, and a few related elements. In season one, there’s is the interesting way the school is designed. The theme of survival of the fittest is strong. I’m fascinated by the way Momobami Kirari sees everything as an experiment. The theme of empowerment of women was great. So were the theme of people changing or not changing, and theme of the downtrodden rising up (like Ryouta and Nanami). I liked Mary’s personality, and Yumeko’s troll side. Finally, there’s the over-arching motif of the illogical nature of gambling.
In season two, themes about society, human psychology, and economics were explored in the Greater Good game. I loved the inclusion of a canon lesbian or yuri couple, and funny yuri elements too (like Ikishima Midari trying to win the affection of Yumeko). Igarashi Sayaka’s personality was explored so well, and the story of Batsubami Rei was extremely moving and intriguing. I’m excited by Mary’s suggested collusion with Ririka in the election. Plus, it was nice to see the character development of Yumemite and Manyuda of the student council.
To explore each of the examples I mentioned in detail might take a while, so I will address some them in a separate post in the future. (Probably. Maybe.) For now, let’s discuss just three of the examples from each season and go over them them briefly. For season one, we’ll look at why Hyakkao Academy is designed the way it is, the way the president views the people, and the theme of survival of the fittest. For season two, let’s look at the story of Batsubami Rei.
Hyakkao Academy is designed to prepare the students for a very harsh reality. As Ryouta says in episode 2, “A lot of the students are children of influential politicians and businessmen, so the school focuses on skills like negogiation, picking up on tells, and being able to perform under pressure for when they need to take advantage of others in the future.” That also ties into the theme of survival of the fittest. Momobami designed the current system of gambling and the hierarchy from student council to housepet. She has an aquarium full of different kinds of fish in the student council room, and she compares the fish to the student body, showing the way she doesn’t see them as precious human lives. Like the fish feeding on each other and creating a survival of the fittest world, Kirari wants to see the same thing happen in school.
The Batsumi family traditionally act as servants to the more powerful -Bami clan families– in particular, Jabami and Toutoubami. Rei is a girl who has always worked as a servant, and dresses as a guy most of the time in school. She acted innocent but was actually planning to win the election for student council president and heir to the -Bami clan for all of season 2. Her intention was to tear down the other families out of revenge, because they and their conflicts led to the complete and lasting mental breakdown of someone dear to Rei. Part of it probably also because she wants recompense for being treated like livestock by the richer -Bami families.
During her game with Yumeko and some serious contenders for council president, Yumeko convinces Rei to stop hiding her intentions and her “real face.” The result is Rei showing her true self, but still losing the game horribly. She declares that her life purpose is to get revenge on the -Bami clan, and if she fails, life will become pointless. That’s why the other characters say Rei has bound herself with invisible chains. She can’t move on. In the end, Yumeko helps her break those chains with a certain gamble. If she had won, she would have kept 3 billion yen and inherited the Jabami family name. Since she lost, though, Rei gives up the 3 billion and agrees to start a new life as her real self. She no longer binds herself to revenge and grudges, and she doesn’t have to act like a servant. Rei becomes an ordinary student, and also decides to dress as a girl.
The story of Rei was interesting because it’s about the way people bind themselves with invisible chains, what motivates and shapes people, and how people can change. Rei’s story is just one intriguing aspect among several in Kakegurui xx. Other notable aspects were the inclusion of a yuri couple (Kirari and Sayaka) and the themes about society in the Greater Good Game. My enjoyment for Kakeguriu xx ranked as 7/10, a little higher than 6/10 for season one.
Kakegurui. Story: 6/10. Art: 8/10. Sound: 8/10. Characters: 7/10. Enjoyment: 6/10. Total = 7.0
Kakegurui xx. Story: 7/10. Art: 8/10. Sound: 8/10. Characters: 8/10. Enjoyment: 7/10. Total= 7.6
Though not excellent, Kakegurui qualifies as a good or enjoyable show. The best things about the series are the themes and other story/character elements I mentioned in the njoyment section. Regardless of my rating, this is still a borderline ecchi series full of fan pandering. I don’t recommend watching unless you know you like weird anime and mentally atypical characters. As someone interested in psychology and edgy or dark shows, Kakegurui was enticing to me. It was well worth my time. You might try a few episodes and see if you like it.