Recently, I had the quite surprising pleasure of sitting down and making my way through the Netflix dub of Kakegurui. After listening to certain sources, I had initially decided to give the series a pass – writing it off without even really knowing anything about it. Admittedly, it’s not the first time I’ve done this with a series. As an adult in the working world, even when I have the physical time to sit down and watch an anime series, I often don’t have the mental energy. Not only can the actual task of sitting down and putting the effort in to focus on a story for an extended period of time be somewhat exhausting for me, I find it very easy to become attached to characters, or obsess over specific plot points, and that can often clog my thought process up a little.
Aside from a couple of specific moments, I can’t say that I actually really had that problem with Kakegurui – Compulsive Gambler.
If you’re not familiar – Kakegurui is the story of a transfer student named Yumeko Jabami – arriving, and starting her new life at a peculiar school with a social structure centered entirely around high stakes gambling. Yumeko – not to be confused with Yukiko Amagi (or Lucifer or Maki Harukawa, for that matter) – arrives at the school with no real backstory. You’re told her name, and that she’s apparently quite wealthy, and that’s about it. Before I talk about the parts of Kakegurui that I enjoyed, I feel I should get what I feel to be the main negative out of the way first – and that’s that whilst Kakegurui packs a lot in, not nearly enough of it is given legitimate substance.
We’ve got a run of 12 episodes, and a story that arguably could be told within them. Girl arrives at school, and seeks to challenge skilled gamblers (with ever increasing odds) for her own hedonistic desires. That’s fine – and possible – but Kakegurui isn’t just about Yumeko Jabami, it’s about her friends, and every member of the student council, too. Characters that could be seen as minor are given far more characterisation than even Yumeko herself – which is not only an arguable fault (with her being the central character), but also very hard to fit in to 12 episodes. These aren’t Game Of Thrones, hour long epics, these are about 20 minutes once you cut the titles and credits.
I’m really glad that we got to know Midari as well as we did, but there are other characters, such as Runa, that we were left knowing little to nothing about. Kakegurui has thankfully begun a second season – and will hopefully be given plenty of time to try and flesh out some of underused characters, and continue forward with the established plot (rather than going on a tangent). This said, the characters that we did get to know, were great. Kakegurui uses high-stakes gambling not only as a device to push the plot forward, but also as a very clever way of developing characters. People tend to show their true colours when they are threatened, or at great risk – and introducing us to characters by forcing them to put their lives on the line (sometimes literally), we get a shortcut to seeing who they really are, rather than spending an entire season doing that.
Yes, this could have all gone horribly wrong, seeming both rushed and forced, but Kakegurui hits the nail on the head and paces itself by mixing in exposition with the actual gambling action. Yes, the characters may not always be showing, rather than telling, but they’re doing it in conversation that would arguably be expected when betting obscene amounts of cash against a near-stranger. You’d want to chat to them, get a feel for them, see what makes them tick. It’s all within the strategy of gambling, and more importantly, reading your opponent and bluffing.
Midari – a one eyed girl with a penchant for Russian roulette, and Itsuki – a fashionable first year with an ‘interest’ in fingernails see a good amount of both backstory and character development respectively. Other characters such as Kaede and Yumemi aren’t focused on quite as heavily, but all have their own miniature arcs that tell their stories as they need to be told. All the while, Yumeko, and her really quite forgettable male friend often seem like nothing but a vehicle to drive the plot along.
Of course, what would Kakegurui be without the actual gambling? I’m happy to report that it is in fact both interesting, and exciting – which would of course been a bit of a problem if not. I don’t claim to be a pro gambler myself, and in fact, I’ve barely played a round of poker in my entire life – but the majority of the time, the rules of each game are broken down and simplified so that the majority of viewers could understand them with no trouble.
The games are kept varied, and whilst yes, cards do feature fairly heavily – they’re not always the focus. Even when they are present, they’re used in really nice, varied ways, that prevent you from mentally expiring after the 76th round of Texas Hold’Em. Unlike classical shonen anime, that can see battles rage on for several episodes at a time, the ‘battles’ in Kakegurui are generally fast and to the point – and aside from one notable moment (that we’ll refrain from discussing as not to venture in to spoiler territory) – generally paced in such a way that it gives the viewer a moment to breathe in-between.
Kakegurui is certainly enjoyable, if slightly unspectacular. It’s far from without it’s faults – and sometimes, things just happen – and those things don’t always make a lot of sense. To really get the most out of this series, you’re going to need to suspend your disbelief a little, and not ask too many questions. There’s every chance that all these little matters will be cleared up as the second season unfolds, but at the time of the first season airing, they were a little strange indeed. Kakegurui is definitely a series that’s worth your time, but only if the themes appeal to you. It’s no game changer, but despite it’s faults, manages to quite pleasantly bluff it’s way through a 12 episode run time. Give it a try – it’s not as if you’ve got anything to lose.
Kakegurui is available to stream now on Netflix. Check out the trailer below.