Oh, Kakegurui… that show full of powerful and crazy women, absurd gambling games, bizarre art, ecchi tones, sexualization of everything, and yuri teases. They say the show is like Food Wars but with gambling instead of cooking. I’ve only seen a few episodes of Food Wars, but I think Kakegurui is a lot better. That’s because, despite the sometimes digusting levels of fan pandering and melodrama, the show touches on some fascinating topics, including deep themes, unusual character personalities, and beautiful story elements. If you’d like to read my review for Kakegurui both seasons, please click here. The discussions herein will be about both seasons.
In season one, there is the interesting way the school is designed. The theme of survival of the fittest is prominent. I’m fascinated by the way Momobami Kirari, the student council president, sees everything as an experiment. The theme of empowerment of women is great, and empowerment of the underdogs in general. There were also the themes of what motivates people, how people change, and the illogical nature of gambling. I also liked Mary’s personality. All of these elements from Kakegurui will be expounded on shortly.
How Hyakkaou Academy Works
Most students are filthy rich. They are allowed and encouraged to gamble after school, and even during school breaks. Those who excel at gambling and those who are wise and lucky rise to the top and become the “the big fish.” There are also those “small fry” who fall so deep into debt they cannot possibly pay up. Once they reach that stage, they are made to wear a collar tag and are treated like servants. “Housepets,” is what they’re called. People stop calling them by name, but instead refer to all the males as “Pochi” (a dog’s name, the equaivalent of Spot or Fido), and all the females “Mike” (a cat’s name, the equivalent of Mittens or Coco).
The people at the very top of the totem pole are those on the student council. The president, Kirari, was “elected” through a form of gambling after she beat the former president in a gambling match. Then she set up three systems. First, the donation system, wherein those who make the most donations to the student council (ideally with money made from gambling) become the top class, and those who can’t donate are the low class. The other members of the student council besides Kirari were selected because of their vast donations and their skill with games. The second system was the Housepet system.
As for the third system, Housepets and others who are deemed to have uncooperate tendencies are given a Life Plan by the student council. Like the name implies, a Life Plan is a predetermined outline of your life, from whom you will marry and what career you will have to the number of children you must have and what politcians you will align with. Hyakkaou Academy sounds cruel, right? But was the system made out of cruelty to the less rich students? We shall see.
Kirari’s Grand Experiment
Hyakkaou Academy was designed as a gambling school not to be cruel, but to prepare students of influential families for the cruel reality to come. Suzui (Ryouta) explains this in episode two, saying, “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.” However, Hyakkaou wasn’t always as bad as it is currently– the Housepet and Life Plan systems were organized by Momobami Kirari, the new student council president.
Rather than arranging things the way she did out of cruelty, Kirari did it because it’s all a fun experiment to her. To understand more, I’ll need to help get you into Kirari’s headspace.
Kakegurui had good character development methods like comparing and contrasting Yumeko’s personality with the other girls. Yumeko is driven by her addiction to thrill, and is neither a total masochist like Midari, nor a totally cold-hearted sadist like Kirari. However, the president and Yumeko definitely have a lot in common, including sociopathy, or what’s known to psychiatrists as Antisocial Personality Disorder. Generally, sociopath refers to someone who does not or cannot feel empathy for others, and does not or cannot feel shame or remorse.
The main criterion for Antisocial Personality Disorder is disregard for the rights of others, manifested in one (or more) of seven possible ways. There are those who break the law, those who are aggressive and violent, and those ruled by impulses. The other types are those who engage in “Lying, deception, and manipulation, for profit or self-amusement,” those who “Blatantly disregard safety of self and others,” those who have a “A pattern of irresponsibility,” and those who have a “Lack of remorse for actions.” Yumeko and Kirari are both socially acceptable sociopaths who exemplify the latter four patterns, but do not resort to violence or criminal behavior and are not primarily ruled by impulsivity.
All this was meant to communicate that Kirari is a sociopath. Thus, most of the time, she doesn’t empathize with others or see them as human. That’s why she views the students as pretty much equivalent to the fish in her large aquarium. In episode 6, Kirari explains things to Mary. “Aren’t they pretty? But it’s survival of the fittest for these adorable fishies. What do you think would happen if I only gathered the strongest fish? One would still end up stronger than the rest, and sometimes, the weak fish would steal the food of the stronger fish. Well then, what if these were humans? I want to see that. It is very intriguing.”
We have a cool-headed sociopath with too much time on her hands and a love for being in charge. Combine that with the control she is given over the school, thanks to her status as heir to the -Bami clan. The result is Kirari making Hyakkaou Academy her grand experiment, a miniature empire built to alleviate her boredom and satisfy her craving for “studying” people. (She’s especially interested in people she doesn’t understand, like Sayaka and Mary.)
Women’s Empowerment: Kakegurui‘s “Femdom”
Kakegurui isn’t just about women being mentally atypical, but also about women being strong, assertive, and in charge. Sometimes, the characters must stand up to men who act superior or aggressive. For example, Sumeragi stands up to Manyuda Kaede, and helps beat him in a gamble that costs him 3 billion yen. In fact, the battle that Yumeko and Sumeragi fight with Manyuda could be construed as a metaphor for women fighting patriatrchal power. Manyuda is set on becoming the next president and controlling the whole school. He is the son Japan’s Minister of Finance and considers himself higher-class than all other students. He is one of the few male characters. Yet, Manyuda was soundly beaten by two women he considered beneath him.
In other instances, the girls stand up to fellow women (like Kirari) who try to control them. Saotome Mary is a great example, defying the student council at least twice. We’ll discuss Mary further in another section. For now, let’s look at the case of Tsubomi Nanami.
She became a Housepet in her first year at Hyakkaou, and thus a target of bullies, but especially of one big, male bully named Kiwatari Jun. Kakegurui strongly suggests that female Housepets are often victims of sexual harrassment, violence, and even rape. The series doesn’t state that Nanami went through that, but it’s obvious Jun uses both mental and physical intimidation on her. Regardless, she had a traumatic experience when Jun cut off her long, beauitful hair, which she had been growing out since elementary school. Nanami had never been the bold or confident type, and without her gorgeous hair, she lost all self-worth and surrendered to her “fate.”
That is, until she met Yumeko Jabami. During the gambling event where student council debtors have a chance to win money and pay back what they owe, Nanami plays two-card “Indian” Poker with Jun, Yumeko, and Mary. She is forced to collude with Jun and help him cheat even though there’s no benefit to her. When Yumeko and Mary easily expose the cheating, and reveal their own superior cheat, Nanami is alarmed but impressed. Then, the chance comes for her to win a round, causing everyone else– including Jun– to take a loss. She’s supposed to fold when this happens, but after Yumeko’s inspiring, persuasive, and personal words, Nanami takes the win. Jun tries to punch her face, but is tasered unconscious by the game supervisor.
In the end, Nanami still only came in third place, and didn’t win quite enough to get out of being a Housepet. Still, she felt empowered and free. She managed to stand up to Jun, and was charmed by the beauitful and peculiar Yumeko. The story of Nanami Tsubomi is a great example of the theme of women’s ascendancy in Kakegurui.
In Kakegurui, Suzui Ryouta and Jabami Yumeko are good examples of underdogs who achieve personal victories. Ryouta was never one of the richer or more strategically-minded students at Hyakkaou. He quickly lost a high-stakes game to Saotome Mary and became branded as a Housepet. When Yumeko saved him from that status, which had seemed so inescapable, Ryouta at first has trouble accepting it. He likes Yumeko, though, and quickly becomes convinced that she isn’t trying to use him or make fun of him. In fact, she often depends on him.
As the show progresses, Ryouta slowly becomes a bolder person, calling Yumeko by her first name, and always protecting and looking out for her despite her superior social status and vast wealth. It all leads to the capstone of his character in episode 12. Ryouta declares that if Yumeko left the school (as a result of losing to Kirari in a gamble), it would be as tragic for him as for Yumeko, because he wants to always be with her. The brave boy makes Yumeko’s move for her in the game, saying it’s as much his wager as hers. And (spoiler) he plays Kirari to a draw! Ryouta saves Yumeko from being banished from the school she adores, and makes it clear he is in love with her. If that’s not a story of an underdog rising to the top, then nothing is.
Jabami Yumeko probably doesn’t think of herself as an underdog at all, but she is, from the point of view of Hyakkoau Academy. Nobody knew who she was or recognized her family name. She had great wealth, but nothing compared to the members of the student council. At first, she came across to others as naive and air-headed. Despite all this, Yumeko beat several members of the student council within a few days, and caught the attention of the entire school. They see her as some kind of messiah who might free them from Kirari, even though Yumeko actually has no interest in any such thing. Hyakkaou Academy is her beloved home, just the way it is.
The main story of Kakegurui follows Yumeko as she gambles, winning her way to the very top, and playing Kirari to a draw with the help of her friends. Occasionally, she takes losses– like when she became a Housepet– but even then, she used the defeat to her advantage, using the one exclusive right of the Housepet to challenge a student council member to an official match. With victory after impressive victory, Yumeko proves to everyone that even nobodies, transfer students, and Housepets can stand up to the arrogant student council. Yumeko just wants to gamble, and yet, she became the inspiration of all student underdogs. And, apparently just for fun, she encouraged and helped people like Ryouta, Mary, Sumeragi, and Nanami.
The Sentinel: Mary Saotome
Now we will take a look at Saotome Mary, because, to me, she’s one of the most interesting characters in Kakegurui. Plus, she’s another good example of an underdog who gives the finger to Kirari. In the MBTI (Myers-Briggs 16 personalities), Mary would be an ESTJ. This is the type known as Guardians or Executives. ESTJ types are extraverted, sensing, thinking, and judging. In other words, they’re people-oriented, practical, logical, and they prefer to plan situations and interactions in advance. Types with SJ are Sentinels. They have a reputation for being inflexible or too traditional. That’s because they usually have a strong sense of what it proper or right, and they are capable people who expect others to be competent and cooperative.
Putting aside terms not everyone will understand, we’ll examine Mary’s story and her attitudes in Kakegurui. In the beginning, Mary is concerned with her social standing more than anything. It’s imperative to win all her matches to keep her rank in the school. She also abides by and respects the way Hyakkaou works, at least at first. Beating Suzui (Ryouta) in a game of poker, Mary causes him to become a housepet. She thinks of him as her slave after that, bullying him by making him act as her footrest, and forcing him to help her cheat in the rock-paper-scissors card game. On Yumeko’s first day, Mary plays the same game against her with the goal of putting her into a little debt so she could understand the rules of Hykkaou.
Miss Saotome didn’t know what she was in for. Yumeko quickly exposed her cheating and put her in debt. It may seem like Mary is a little stupid for using an obvious cheat and thinking she could fool Yumeko, but really, she is intelligent enough, and a highly logical person. Because of her very practical and logical nature, however, Mary isn’t the best at understanding people right away, so she misjudged Yumeko as an ditz. Further, she was only focused on “teaching” how the school worked and keeping her position of superiority. Mary had the rug pulled out from under her when Yumeko turned the situation completely around and dominated the game.
Things change a bit after Mary becomes a Housepet. She experiences bullying for the first time. She is betrayed by her supposed friends. She suffers the bitterness of no longer being in charge, and the humiliation of having been so foolish. When Mary loses an official match with Yuriko of the student council, she is reduced to screaming and crying in rage and desperation. The climax of her experience is when she is given a Life Plan with her fate decided. Mary rejects it, throwing the papers at the student council. This is a key moment. It’s at this point that Mary realizes how wrong the Housepet system is. ESTJ types can be harsh and bossy, but they want to do what’s right, and can’t stand impropriety or or corruption. They are sentinels of upright behavior.
Mary standing up to the student council was also a good moment for the themes of underdog victory and strong women. But moving on, if Mary is an ESTJ, then Yumeko is an ENTP. They have almost exact opposite personality types. Despite her dislike for Jabami, though, Mary works with her at the debt repayment event, and they win back several hundred million yen. After paying back what she owed, Mary freed herself from the status of Housepet. Cases like Ryouta and Mary, where the Housepets go back to being human, are extremely rare. Naturally, Miss Saotome felt relieved and empowered, agreeing to be friends with Yumeko.
When her other “friends” apologize insincerely for treating her as a Housepet, Mary is obviously angry. Yet she puts on a cheerful face and says all is well. She is able to do so because she understands the logic behind those girls’ behavior; they were only following the Hyakkaou system like they were supposed to. Though not exactly warm or forgiving, ESTJs are “good citizens” who will try to be polite rather than causing an upset for a purely emotional reason. Another fact: ESTJs are always conscious of their social position, and love to be in charge, but they will even forsake this if standing up for ethics requires it. Thus, when she meets with Momobami Kirari and is offered a place on the student council, Mary refuses. Rejecting a special offer from the powerful, frightening president is a truly courageous act.
After this point, Mary doesn’t get much more character growth or development, at least in season one. However, her personality has been established extremely well. Also, the desire to correct the unjust school has been planted within her. In Kakegurui xx, Mary boldly competes to be the next Student Council president. The show hints that she is working together with Kirari’s twin, Ririka, who also wants to make Hyakkaou Academy a better place.
The Irrationality of Gambling
If the Kakegurui didn’t say something about the illogical nature of impulsive and compulsive gambling, it might be accused of being completely amoral. However, the show never once got preachy about things. It simply provided the insights of Yumeko and Kirari at key points.
In the first episode, Miss Jabami says, “The true essence of gambling is madness, is it not? In our world of Capitalism, money is as valuable as your life. Entrusting your life to a game of chance is no feat for the sane. And yet, people gather at casinos to experience the ecstasy of betting their lives. So with gambling, the crazier it is, the more fun!” This is a bit extreme, since there are many casual or occasional gamblers who aren’t trying to risk their lives. With sharp minds, some luck, and gaming in moderation, these gamblers are perfectly “sane.” However, the point remains that, for most, the fun part of gambling is to take a little bit of risk against chance.
Kirari makes this point again in the final episode, saying, “It is said that humans are irrational creatures, but this level of irrationality is rare. Gambling has no meaning. By partaking, you only lose. And yet, we still gamble, because taking risks is enjoyable.” Momobami isn’t saying that you never win anything literally– sometimes you get payback of all the money you invested with a grand victory. That’s rare for most people, though. Either way, gambling is a loss in the sense that it requires forsaking your sensible mind. It’s taking an unnecessary risk with little chance for payoff. It is irrational. Despite our highly evolved minds, humans are still silly creatures.
Kakegurui? Does a show like that really have the depth I’m talking about? Admittedly, the series is shallow at first glance, or for the first watch. It took me until the second watch to become interested in the story and characters. Then I saw season two and started to think, hmm, this is much more intriguing than I remember. It took a third watch of season one to finally make me understand the powerful motifs and characters hidden in the otherwise absurd Kakegurui. If you’d like to see my thoughts on themes and story elements in season two, Kakegurui xx, I have a blog post for that coming soon. It will, of course, include discussion of the Greater Good Game.
This has been 7mononoke of Anime Rants. Thanks for your time! Jya, nee!