After six months of waiting, fans can finally watch super-rich teens stake their lives on games of chance in Kakegurui on Netflix. This week in anime, Jacob and Steve explore all the ways this incredibly strange show surprised them.
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You can read our full review of Kakegurui here!
Hey Steve, I have a very important question~
are you HUNGRY?
STARVING FOR SOME GAMBLES
And me tbh, I had no idea I was going to enjoy Kakegurui as much as I did but gaddamn.
After half a year in Netflix Anime Purgatory, it's finally here, and it's spectacular. Honestly, Kakegurui was my most highly-anticipated show of last year, and it rules that it's now being dropped on the unsuspecting general internet streaming audience. Because hoo boy, does this show go places.
Our leading lady is...very special.
She's a delicate flower, sure to win millions of hearts with her endearing wiles.
That's Yumeko Jabami, and she really likes gambling.
HOW MUCH DOES SHE LOVE IT, STEVE?
Kakegurui plays an interesting bait-and-switch right from the start. You think it's gonna be about a nice boy who gets drawn into battles of wits between elite gambling schoolgirls. Instead it's about a force of absolute madness and sexy chaos slamming into an elite school of rich assholes, tornado-ing their money through the air as she drives them insane, and there's a nice boy being dragged along by his necktie in there somewhere.
I mean people talk about wacky anime-face in stuff a lot, but Kakegurui gets some FACES out of these ladies when they gamble.
Even the one girl who doesn't emote gets shots like THIS to drive the point home:
They're good faces, Jake.
So yeah, this is not the kind of sexy we're used to from anime. It definitely captures that thrill of gambling where you're on the edge of an experience that will either be really sexy or REALLY UGLY. And I love it.
The show does so many great things. For example, it's awesome how Ryota gets sidelined very quickly, and the show just leaves him there for almost all 12 episodes. More than almost any other anime I've watched, Kakegurui blatantly shoves its obligatory boring self-insert guy into the background and just allows him gawk at Yumeko's wild antics. It owns.
Ryota is definitely the most vestigial male lead I've ever seen in this sort of thing, and it's remarkable how much more likable this makes him. He's a normal pleasant guy in way over his head at this fucked-up academy where everyone's worth is determined by how well they can cheat or outwit one another in games of chance. But because everyone isn't talking about how his blandness makes him the Most Important Person for some reason, he really DOES feel like an audience surrogate, very much the Watson to Yumeko's Holmes, and who doesn't like Watson? You feel like you'd probably be in his position, happy to survive another day and counting your lucky stars that Yumeko's on your side, even if she isn't obsessed with you romantically.
(Yumeko is exclusively risk-sexual.)
The grotesque demon masks that the girls' faces contort into are fun to look at (and save as reaction images), but it's also great that the show lets its female characters be so expressive. Most shows would prioritize having the girls look consistently "pretty," but thank god Kakegurui is bold enough to give us these masterpiece faces.
These teens are Out For Blood, which makes the show thrilling and engrossing even if, like me, you have zero interest in gambling. Like I am the biggest stick in the mud when it comes to games of chance. I hate Las Vegas, and even winning money in a gamble doesn't make me feel good. (Losing money makes me feel awful.) I've never gotten the "high".
But Baccarat O-faces aside, Kakegurui isn't really about the high. It's about Anarchic Liberation. No, seriously.
The most charitable thematic read of the show would be that the academy is a microcosm of capitalism taken to its evilest extreme (perhaps an extreme not as far removed from modern society as we'd like). It's a cutthroat Darwinist hellscape by design, but it's the craziest fish in the whole pond who has the potential to upend the entire caste system. And she just happens to do it by seducing every girl around her.
There are lots of stories like this in anime, where someone (more often a male lead) enters a corrupt system and outwits everyone to become the new world order (and acquire a fawning harem along the way). But in those stories, the cackling round table of villains exist only to be humiliated and discarded. In Kakegurui, losing to Yumeko might be the best thing that could happen to you!
I LOVE how shounen it is. Yumeko's earliest enemies quickly become her best friends.
(or more-than-friends but uh, we'll get to that. :'D)
Despite being a gambling freak, or because she is, Yumeko isn't affected by the greed that saturates every other student. She's only in it for the thrill of the gamble, and that's what gives her the power and allure to gather a faction (or harem) to rival the student council. She's very similar to another famous gambling demon, Akagi (from the Nobuyuki Fukumoto manga/anime of the same name). They both see gambling as the ultimate expression of humanity's irrationality. They know that gambling can never create anything, that it can only end in meaningless death. There's no logic, only madness, but it's the only thing that makes them feel alive.
At the same time, Yumeko doesn't respect madness for its own sake or disregard for life, which we see in the uh...well, least subtle character in the cast.
Midari is the best and I won't hear otherwise.
I mean we've certainly all been there, RIGHT LADIES?
Look, Midari is horny for one thing: death. And if that isn't the most relatable goddamn feeling in 2018, then I don't know what is.
True, but that's not Yumeko's bag. Surprisingly, she has no patience for people who chase empty thrills masturbatorily. She desires a more holy communion with gambling that emphasizes the importance of feeling alive, regardless of if you're up or down on the rollercoaster. She's not out to destroy people and take all their money, because at some point, acquiring more money ceases to make anyone happy. What joy is there in taking from the weak just to wrap yourself in a blanket of false superiority? Yumeko isn't a Dominator, she's a Liberator. She wants everyone to live their best life by embracing the chaos and entropy of LIFE. She frees everybody from fear and from greed, even when she doesn't even beat them in gambling. She loses or draws just as often when that's what it will take to change someone's heart.
Right. Yumeko doesn't care about accumulating riches or power. Her platonic ideal is cosmic uncertainty of the perfect gamble. That both parties can cheat and cheat and cheat, but in the end the outcome is at the whim of fate and fate alone. It's the ultimate equalizer.
"All are equal in the eyes of the void," basically. Your money doesn't mean shit. True power comes from accepting that you have no power beyond the ecstasy you can give yourself from exerting free will and following your bliss in the moment.
Even when Ryota is making a wager that will determine Yumeko's entire future, saying that he does it because he's obsessed with her, she takes his hand and says "do it for yourself."
It's wildly anarchic in a way you just don't see in much anime period, much less "super-genius stomps scrubs"-type anime, which are usually more about acquiring personal power for vigilante justice in a more traditional way.
"Be free and lose yourself to the gamble. And also welcome to my ever-growing harem."
Right, there's also that. I was trying to dance around the subject, but this show is Unbelievably Lezzy.
i guess there are a few at the school
To some extent, its Massively Queer subtext is a coincidence, seeing as this was written by a guy who I assume enjoys getting stepped on and NTR'd and that sorta thing, but usually lesbian porn written by dudes is more exploitative in a way that doesn't work for actual queer women. Not the case here.
Kakegurui does get gazey sure
But outside of the theme songs, the girls manage to keep all their clothes on through the whole show. All the sexual framing is about ecstatic power plays between one another, where they're in control of all the action and everything is based in character. They all have intimate relationships that are crass and fun and irreverent, and from what I've gathered browsing social media, it's the kind of thing that real lesbians (well, the ones who also enjoy gettin' stepped on) are Very Here For.
Add in that Liberation theme where Yumeko gradually acquires a harem of friends who start living their best lives with her help and, coincidence or not, I thought was Very Gay in the best way.
Kakegurui is unapologetically horny, but I think it's a more "adult" kind of horny than the kind that you usually find in anime. It's sleazy, but it invites the audience to relax and have fun. It's still definitely Written By A Dude, but I think the strong character writing, seiyuu performances, and direction elevate it beyond what your initial impression might be. Its sense of camp also extends to the subtext, so all these lesbian interactions blow up into over-the-top but also super fun and relatable moments. Like, Midari stabs her eye out because she's so hot for the student council president! That's ridiculous and gross and I love it!
Yeah, my sexuality is officially Saori Hayami screaming "KAKEGURUIMASHOU?!?"
So yeah, even if the premise doesn't sound like your bag, I highly recommend giving Kakegurui a chance. It's just different enough to be unlike any other anime I've seen before, and absolutely shameless fun. It concludes very open-endedly though, so I'm already chomping at the bit for season two.
It's a WILD RIDE, and whether you're there for the thrill of gambling, the thrill of multi-yandere lesbian ships, or the thrill of being stepped on, you're sure to be thrilled by Kakegurui.
But honestly, I can't say anything that won't sell the show better than this excerpt from an anonymous Netflix user's review.
c r e a m i n g