The Greater Good Game and Other Topics (Kakegurui xx)

This is a continuation of my post about the interesting themes and story elements hidden in the general absurdity of the ecchi anime Kakegurui. This time, we’ll look at the second season.

Here are some entertaining elements from season two. the Greater Good Game in episodes 7 and 8 explores the themes of society, economics, and human psychology. Another thing I liked was the setup for the next student council president becoming the heir and future head of the -Bami clan. I loved the inclusion of a canon lesbian or yuri couple, Kirari and Sayaka. The series did a great job exploring Sayaka’s personality. There was also funny yuri, with Ikishimi trying to win the affection of Yumeko, and losing terribly. The story of Rei (Batsubami) was moving and thought-provoking. It was also nice to see the character development of Yumemi (the idol).

The Greater Good Game

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In the Greater Good Game, each of the five players is given 5 coins at the start of the first round. One at a time, they enter a closed room where they choose to put their coins into one of two boxes (or divide them between the two). The first option is the “personal bank” box, and the other is the “tax deposit box.” The coins in the bank box will be counted toward each player’s overall coin total. Those in the tax deposit box will be doubled and evenly distributed between all five players. Contestants must reach an overall total of forty coins to win. For anyone who makes more than forty coins, there are prizes in the form of election vote chips. The players are Obami Ibara, Honebami Miroslava, Sumeragi-san, Manyuda-senpai, and Yumeko.

This game is reflective of society in the real world. As Yumeko points out, everyone could win quickly if they each put all five coins into the tax box for 4 rounds in a row. This would be the ideal scenario in reality, too: everyone pays all their taxes. Inevitably, though, someone doesn’t pay their taxes, leading to only one of them getting ahead, and the rest falling behind. In the next round, a second person avoids their taxes, too. The Greater Good Game gives players a chance to have a discussion before each round, and as a one-time advantage, they can agree to banish one player from the game. The idea is reject the traitor who isn’t playing for the good of all.

Here is where we get into the human psychology aspect as well as reflecting society. It’s the natural thing to want to “win,” for starters. Furthermore, after one or more players didn’t stick to the agreed strategy, everyone becomes suspicious of each other. It’s natural to doubt and resent others when you believe they are not being fair or part of an unjust system. People who are wronged or are experiencing a loss feel bitter and desperate. The amused game supervisor voices the thoughts of the players: “How can this be allowed? Am I going to lose? I won’t believe it. I can’t forgive this. It’s unfair! Yes, this is the true nature of the Greater Good Game. When a person feels something is unfair, they can’t even trust their neighbors.” As the arguing among players becomes more intense, she adds, “This, too, is society.”

These are my thoughts. First, the game can teach you something about how economics works. Second, it’s about society, where some people will always lie and betray the greater good for their own personal benefit. Thirdly, the Greater Good Game game shows pieces of human nature and how the mind works. People will lash out when they are cheated, for example, yet people will also readily cheat if they think they can come out stronger or better than the rest. People speak up and create a scene when something is unfair, which can be a good thing, but also leads to division and negative feelings.

Toutoubami Terano says this game is also a microcosm of the student council election, where you team up with others to achieve your goal, all the while thinking of how to outwit your partners. I would add that it’s a micocosm of human social dynamics a whole. Everyone needs to work with others to accomplish important goals; human nature is social. Yet human nature is also selfish, and it’s part of everyone’s psyche to want to win, even if it costs others. That’s not to say people have no morals, but that ethics and fair play are constantly battling with innate selfishness.

The Grand Schemes of Kirari and Ririka

In one of the last episodes of season one, we saw Kirari’s twin, Ririka, trade places with her sister long enough to meet with the heads of the -Bami clan, who also control the school. She told them she rejected everything they were doing and what they stood for. It’s not clear in the anime if Ririka was following Kirari’s orders in doing this, or if those were her own true thoughts. If it was Kirari’s idea to diss the entire -Bami Clan, I have an idea why. It’s because she wanted to be challenged in a new way. She got her wish.

In Kakegurui xx, nine members from nine -Bami families showed up to compete with Kirari for the positions of student council president and heir to the entire -Bami Clan. The “election,” of course, will be done with gambling. Every student in Hyakkao Academy is given one vote chip to start with, and students who are good gamblers and serious contenders for president will rise to the top. Though she never loses her cool, the current president clearly cares a lot about keeping her position– evidenced by the fact that she’s the one with the most chips at every count. Hyakkaou Academy is Kirari’s “flower garden, isolated from the rules of the outside world,” an empire where she rules over all, and a grand social experiment. Though she likes a little risk, Kirari cannot afford to lose.

Suppose that the vice president, Ririka, made the decision herself to talk the way she did to the school-and-clan leaders. What does she have in mind, and who is she really? Mary bumps into the vice president in the hallway in Kakegurui xx, and it’s a fateful meeting. Much to Mary’s surprise, the girl behind the mask and voice-scrambler is Kirari’s identical twin, and yet she’s completely different in terms of attitude. Ririka is introverted, concerned with the feelings of others, and less organized than her sister, with a strong desire for harmony. She and Mary are frequently seen together over the course of Kakegurui xx, as the latter climbs the ranks and wins more vote chips. In the last scene of episode 12, Ririka challenges one of the ten Bami clan visitors to a high-stakes game, and Mary is there cooperating.

So what does all this mean? What I’m about to say is speculation and isn’t confirmed in the anime, though for all I know, it could be common knowlegde to those who read/ are reading the manga. I’m betting Mary wants to be student president to reform the school and its inhumane Housepet system. She knows she can’t win on her own, so she’s colluding with Ririka, who I imagine would be all for such a plan. As Mary must have realized, there are numerous perks and advantages to having the vice president and the twin of Kirari on her side. For one thing, she can challenge anyone she wants under Ririka’s name, versus being denied under her own name because of her status as a “commoner.” I’m thrilled and fascinated by this development!

Igarashi Sayaka’s Love Story

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Allow me to review the story of Igarashi Sayaka and her bond with Momobami Kirari. Prior to season one, Sayaka was a normal, mid-ranking student, more logically minded than most; and though she was socially reserved, she was known to speak her mind powerfully sometimes. All this caught the attention of Kirari. She approached Sayaka in class and said she loved people like her and found her personality fascinating and amusing. That’s when Sayaka started to fall in love with the but beautiful and charismatic president. Soon Kirari offered her the position of student council secretary. When Sayaka stammered from surprise, Kirari modified her offer and said Sayaka could be her personal secretary. The lovestruck Miss Igarashi accepted at once.

Throughout Kakegurui‘s first season, there are suggestions that Sayaka is romantically in love with the president. For one thing, when Kirari is gone, Sayaka blushes and nuzzles the chair that the president usually sits on. (lol) More than any other student council member, she is concerned with following the president’s directions, honoring her wishes, and winning her approval. When Kirari leaves to go talk to the clan leaders, Sayaka acts distraught, claiming that the school needs the president right now, but obviously impying that she needs her. Kirari coldly tells Sayaka that she’s being improper. Though she tries to be logical, Sayaka can’t help losing her cool again when the president gambles with Yumeko and wagers her right to set foot in Hyakkaou Academy. After the game ends in a draw, and Sayaka falls from the relief, Kirari catches her and embraces her.

In Kakegurui xx, Sayaka shows the same patterns of being attached, carrying out every order, and acting jealous when anyone insults or acts too friendly with the president. Then, in episodes 10 and 11, the Tower Game begins. This is a complex game between Sayaka and Yumeko. If the former loses, she forfeits her relationship with Kirari and hence her life. If the latter loses, she must agree to never gamble again, which of course also means she gives up her life. It’s close, but Sayaka loses, and Kirari tells her jump from the fifth floor of the tower she had constructed for this game. Before jumping, Sayaka says that the president is her one true love.

It turns out there is a safety matt below that saves her, but she still might have been seriously injured because of the way she was falling. Kirari jumps right after, romantically catches Sayaka in the air, and protects her as they fall onto the matt. Both are unharmed. Kirari asks Sayaka again to be her personal secretary, and shares a sensual moment with her amidst the white lilies that disguise the net. (By the way, yuri can be a name that means lily. White lilies symbolize purity, but have also come to be a symbol of yuri love and shoujo ai in anime.) After the president stands up, Igarashi Sayaka takes her hand and kisses it fervently.

As I discussed in my analysis of Kakegurui season one, Kirari most likely has APD, Antisocial Personality Disorder, which is commonly called sociopathy. Usually, she does not or cannot truly empathize with other human beings. So, can we really say that she loves Sayaka? Certainly. Even if she loves Sayaka as a possession, that’s still a form of love, albeit a twisted one from the point of view of those who can feel empathy and remorse. At any rate, you can’t dent Kirari is fascinated and emotionally invested in Sayaka. Even in the Tower Game, she had no intention of letting Sayaka die or breaking up with her. Kirari acted sadistic to manipulate Sayaka into sharing the experience of jumping from the tower together with her.

The lily tower scene is an important development not just because it makes yuri fans like me squeal and get excited; it’s also a powerful statement from the makers of Kakegurui xx. When she looks down at them from the tower, Yumeko thinks in her head, “In the end, you had the same thought I did. One’s feelings for another person are not something that can be outlawed.” LGBTQ rights are still an issue in the U.S., but they’re a far bigger issue in Japan, where lesbian, gay, and gender noncomforming individuals are still oppressed.

It’s not that rare for an anime to hint at or show a lesbian or gay couple, but it’s rare for an anime to say something about the law. Gay marriage is still outlawed in Japan (or most of it). Kakegurui xx is an incredibly bold production for a) stating that romantic feelings cannot be shut down by the law, and b) suggesting that such feelings should not be interfered with by the law.

A Comical but Heartfelt Infatuation

If you’ve seen anything more than the first 3 episodes of Kakegurui, you know very well who Ikishima Midari is. Wait, you don’t know which one she is? Well then, remember that scene where she makes love to a gun and jerks off in the school restroom? How about that lovely time when she gouged out her own eye? Yes, I mean that girl. I just want to make a quick note about her. Ryouta said at the end of Kakegurui that some people at Hyakkaou “found faith” from gambling with Yumeko, and the scene shows Midari fawning over a photo of her. In the first episode of Kakegurui xx, Miss Ikishima shamelessly announces that Yumeko is her goddess.

Midari was rather scary in Kakegurui, but I felt sympathetic, since she has major mental issues. The core problem are her perpetual feelings of emptiness, which she can only relieve by risking harm to her body– or risking violent death. At least, that was the case in season one. In season two, Miss Ikishima is more obsessed with Yumeko and her approval than with death and violence. (Well, after the finger-chopping game in episodes 1-2, anyway.) It’s humorous seeing Midari doting on Yumeko and trying to win her affection no matter how many times Yumeko rejects her or tries to ignore her existence. Even though it was mostly for laughs, I was happy seeing the masochistic girl improving. Falling in love with Yumeko is far preferable to looking for a thrilling death.

The Invisible Chains of Batsumi Rei

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The Batsubami family has served the richer families of the -Bami clan for generations and must continue to do so, at least according to whoever raised Rei, tattooing her hands with the brand of the family and making her work like a servant. Though she was lonely and depressed, feeling less than human, Rei kept working hard because she was attached to the mistress who on occasion came home to the estate where Rei worked. (That young lady was Yumeko’s older sister, but Rei and Yumeko don’t seem to know this.) The mistress broke down mentally and was hospitalized after dealing with too much intensity in the gambling and mind games with other Bami familes. Rei was distraught because she had idolized and loved the young mistress so much.

So Rei made it her purpose in life to one day exact revenge upon revenge on the Bami Clan. What with the type of people who make up the Bami clan– gamblers whose money and status fluctuate — it would have been feasible for Rei to declare herself no longer a servant once she was about highschool age and becoming independent. Yumeko’s older sister told her that it wasn’t her heart but her hands that were tattooed with Batsumi’s seal; in other words, she should be herself. As long as individuals are interesting and strong-willed, the Bami clan welcomes them to be who they are, even if they come from a servant family. Momobami Kirari is especially accepting– she wants to make everyone a part of the school where she rules, her “aquarium” or “flower garden.” And for Yumeko, it isn’t fun to gamble with someone who hides their true face.

Despite growing up around people like this, and being treated just like one of the rich Bami heirs in Kakegurui xx, Rei insists that she is still a mere servant, and privately, she continues to resent the others of the clan. Nothing besides her revenge scheme holds any meaning for Rei. This is part of why the characters say that Rei is tied down by “invisible chains,” or chains of her own making that she doesn’t even see. Miss Batsumi gets a fairly happy ending at the close of the series. Having lost a gamble with Yumeko and having failed in her revenge plan, she agrees to find a new purpose in life and start everything over as a normal student. She doesn’t have to act like a servant, either, and she chooses to start dressing as a girl to feel happier with herself.

All that to say, it’s interesting how people can create their own chains, convinced that they are less than they are, or that others will never accept them. Having one single, obsessive purpose in life is also a form of chaining yourself. Hopefully, Rei will find a more moderate lifestyle from here on.

The Idol of the Idol: Yumemi’s Dilemma

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In episodes 9 and 10, Yumemi and Yumeko go up against Hollywood actress Natari Kawaru. It’s a contest of several performance arts games with a ton of money and student council votes on the line. For many years, Yumemi has idolized and admired Natari. She fights bravely for the first half of the games, believing she has a chance. Then, several overwhelming victories for Natari leave her in a strange state. Yumemi is distraught, but at the same time, she’s enchanted: she is so overwhelmed by Natari’s superior skills that she actually wants to lose. “I really don’t want to win!” she shouts at Yumeko. “I want to lose to the woman I most admire, Natari Kawaru! And I want her to comfort me and tell me I did a good job!”

Some people, like myself, truly understand this sentiment– if it really were the creator/artist I admired most in all the world, of course I’d lose to them rather than having them think I have a bad attitude toward them. Others don’t understand at all, like Yumeko. She urges Yumemi to play to win, regardless of who she’s fighting. Both of them know they have another chance of winning, but not through the performance of Yumemi. Natari, sensing her junior’s indecision, tells her there is no meaning in winning against your idol unless it’s with your own talent. In the end, Yumemi fights her instincts to throw the game, and she wins with Yumeko’s help. At one point, when she’s conflicted about making the move to win, Yumemi says something interesting about meaning.

“At first, I didn’t think there was any point in being an idol. … But singing, dancing, and playing this character turned out to be fun. There were people who loved me as an idol more than I ever imagined. I took pride in meeting and exceeding their expectations. For the first time, I found meaning in being an idol. …I still don’t know if there’s any meaning in beating you without talent. But, someday, I might understand! If I just keep thinking of a meaning!” (The voice-acting performance of Yumemi’s seiyuu, Yuu Serizawa, is stupendous.) Natari says that Yumemi is walking a path full of continuous thinking, the opposite of her own path, which is unconcerned with finding meaning.

This is all very intriguing to me because it presents the theme of personal meaning. Humans have a profound attachment to the concept of deeper meaning, one which I believe was important in the evolution of our species. Nihilists and existenstialists both acknowlegde the universe has no objective meaning. The former believes it’s a waste of time to look for personal meaning, but the latter believes searching for subjective significance in life is crucial. In the example from Kakegurui xx, Natari Kawaru is the nihilist and Yumemi is the existentialist.

Closing Thoughts

Isn’t it odd that I wrote that amount of content about a show like Kakegurui xx? Admittedly, the series doesn’t seem to have much depth at first glance, or even the entire first watch. It took 3 wacthes to finally make me understand the sagacity hidden in the otherwise absurd Kakegurui. However, once I had caught on to all that, a single watch of Kakegurui xx was enough to inspire the content for this post. I recommend this series. Look for deep story or character factors that speak to you. If there are none, enjoy the series as a bombastic, semi-sexual comedy.

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