Every now and then I’ll pick up a series out of nowhere, which is different than how I usually watch things. Most of the time I plan things out like with my seasonal watches, or revisit a series I heard was good, or been meaning to get to watching. It is actually very rare for me to just randomly start watching an unknown anime. A little weird I know, but it’s just how I do things.
Yet when I do end up rolling the dice and taking a gamble (heh) on the unknown, I normally come up quite strong. Today’s series is another one of those. So join me after the cut as we take a dive into the anime series Kakegurui – Compulsive Gambler.
Kakegurui is at its heart, a sports anime. Yet instead of balls, the game is cards. Instead of championships or trophies, the prize is money, and instead of competitive athletics, it is instead about gambling. From top to bottom, Kakegurui is a show about gambling, the high-risk, adrenaline filled, soul-crushing world of gambling. That in of itself is fine, but what makes Kakegurui really something, is the way it is presented. This is a show, from the opening theme, to the ending and everything in between, is coated an atmosphere that is sexually raw, disturbingly creepy, and always, always cranked up to 11.
The story is simple, as we follow transfer student Yumeko Jabami as she enters into the illustrious Hyakkaou Private Academy where everything is decided by gambling. Winners get to bathe in power, prestige and money, while the losers become nothing short of slaves. While Yumeko may seem to be like the perfect little angel at first, attractive, soft spoke and friendly, that lasts a grand total of five minutes before people realize what she really is: A relentlessly obsessed gambling addict, who seeks the thrill of the game any chance she can get, something that can literally drive her wild with orgasmic passion. What follows is 12 episodes of Yumeko and friends navigating the world of gambling, with each game becoming more intense than the next.
Now I’ve said, time after time, after time. That I really love series that commit whole-hog to their premise, in that they don’t try to drop their central premise halfway through a story. Date A Live and Ishuzoku Reviewers are examples I’ve used before, and Kakegurui is absolutely in that mold. When they say that this show is about gambling, it is 110% about that, acting as a mostly episodic series with a ‘gamble of the week’ that keeps things relatively straightforward. Everything about this world and show is about gambling, and little time is spent on anything else. Thankfully coupled with the show’s absolutely gorgeous animation, this is able to carry Kakegurui exceptionally far.
As much as I bang the drum of ‘committing to her premise’ I do acknowledge that sometimes that can backfire. Variation is important, and mixing your central ideas with other plot points or story beats allows a series to remain fresh. Shows like Sword Art Online found greater success by changing things up. Kakegurui for as much as it has going for it (and it does) sadly falls into this trap. I have to be blunt about this, but Kakegurui pretty much is the exact same series from start to finish, and after the initial thrill of ‘oh my god, this music, this animation, this world, those faces!’ wears off by around episode 5, there really isn’t much else to replace it. In a way that is OK, because Kakegurui knows exactly what it is suppose to be, and owns it completely, but as I said, after the initial high wears off, you are pretty much watching a ‘gamble of the week’ anime that doesn’t have much to say or do after it plays those first few cards.
This extends to the characters as well. Putting aside her behavior, mannerism and raw sexual flair, Yumeko is like most other characters in her archetype, the person playing the game ‘just because’, who is devoted to the sport for the love of it, and for nothing deeper than that. For much of the show it works, and Yumeko’s love of taking risks is intoxicating, but there is little else to her character, at least in the first season. The other characters fair only a little bit better, with the most interesting probably being Yumemi, an idol star who seeks to make it big in Hollywood. That all said though, the way that Kakegurui depicts it’s female characters never gets old. I’ve not spoke about this before, but the times where the veneer of the ‘cute anime moe school girl’ is stripped away, even for a moment are always amazing to see, and Kakegurui with it’s faces that feel pulled right from an ugly bastard hentai, are one of those moments. Having a mostly female cast act like this was an absolute treat to see, and like everything, Kakegurui goes whole hog in it.
Kakegurui – Complusive Gambler was a show that for the first 6 episodes, I couldn’t fucking put down. Dripping with sexuality, stuffed to the brim with high stakes gambling, it was a thrill ride that hadn’t pulled me into a series in a very long time. However once that feeling went away, there is frankly little left to chew on. Like I said with my review of Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card, it is very much like eating a piece of cake. Delicious when you taste it, but make you feel hollow afterwards. Don’t let that steer you away from watching this though. Kakegurui is an absolute fucking blast to watch, and high suggest anyone reading this to go watch it, but don’t feel guilty if you decide to pack it in after a handful of episodes. Like any good poker player, you need to know when to hold em, and know when to fold em.