GENRE: Shounen: Psychological Drama, Mystery, Thriller
DIRECTOR: Yuichiro Hayashi, Kiyoshi Matsuda
WRITER: Yasuko Kobayashi
MUSIC: TechnoBoys Pulcraft Green Fund
AIRING: Summer 2017 (12ep) and Spring 2019 (12ep)
Despite all the rave, Kakegurui or Compulsive Gambler seems to have rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. And while I don’t agree with most of the criticism, I do think this anime had a major problem that most people are ignoring because… you know… anime.
What is Kakegurui all about?
In Kakegurui, Yumeko Jabami – a second year transfer – joins the Hyakkaou Private Academy. This academy is for the high class and it is evident by the insane gambling rules through which hierarchies are made and the blatant absence of classes, let alone teachers. While other students gamble for money to gain a higher social status or to climb the hierarchal ladder, Yumeko does it for the thrill.
The great thing about Kakegurui: Yumeko
Yumeko is an interesting kind of character. She isn’t here to grow and realise that gambling is destructive or to spiral down into debt. She has a flat character and it is that constant which poses a challenge to the rest of the characters. On that front, I think she was well written, animated and voice acted; she is one of the strongest leads I’ve seen.
But that can’t save a show.
The problems with the games in Kakegurui
Some people have complained about the rules of the gambling games – which are many since many episodes introduce a new game – which, even if you know the real life version, they have been altered to make it higher stakes or throw us off balance. It was also said that the portrayal and nature of the games make catching cheaters harder for the audience but I don’t think any of that is true. The explanations are necessary but they don’t necessarily feel boring or anything like that. And if you can’t notice someone cheating, bruh, that sounds like a you problem.
In fact, the explanations got a lot of flack which… you can’t complain that things are complicated and then say there’s too much explanation. Perhaps another balance was needed but I didn’t see any such problem; I was never confused or bored.
Does Kakegurui have high enough stakes?
And then there is the claim that the stakes aren’t high enough… Without ruining the plot, I can assure you that isn’t true. Yes, who will win might seem inevitable but in actuality, it isn’t the case. In fact, if you watch Kakegurui with that mindset, you will most likely find yourself at the edge of your seat.
Funnily enough, some complained about Yumeko solving conflicts that come her way with pure luck. From a storytelling point of view, I can understand the knee jerk reaction. You might want characters to have more agency but… this is a gambling anime, what did you expect?
Is Kakegurui edgy for the sake of edge?
Last in this review, some think that Kakegurui was edgy for edge sake but with such extravagant stakes as betting your whole fortune or even your life, don’t you think tearing a few nails off your hands are worth it? Some of the scenes in Kakegurui are so beautifully rendered I completely understand why the original manga written by Homura Kawamoto and illustrated by Touru Naomura ran from 2014 and is still ongoing with 13 volumes printed in Gangon Joker and Yen Press in English. Actually, it even has 20 more volumes of spin-offs by other artists but with the same writer
At the end of the day, I think that if someone really wants to criticize Kakegurui they don’t need to look further than the characters. While their designs are simple yet easy to differentiate, they are children. They are children that are consistently being sexualized. Seriously, I don’t understand what is the fascination with anime and manga sexualizing children – especially when the cast could be aged up by a couple of years because honestly, this could be set in a university and you wouldn’t have to change anything. So why do we need weird upskirt shots or weird panning shots over girls’ torsos?
How would I rate it?
It really is such a pity that Kakegurui did such a good job of portraying a compulsive gambler through Yumeko. While she might seem fun at first, it is with a dawning horror that the reality of her addiction reveals itself. But they had to ruin it by sexualizing kids. Honestly, I don’t blame Rotten Tomatoes for giving it a 67% though I’d agree more with IMDb and My Anime List’s 7.2 and 7.4 out of 10, respectively – you know, if you don’t count the sexualising of children.
Want a psychological drama that doesn’t sexualize children AND is pretty interesting? Check out our review of Babylon.