Kakegurui returned to Netflix this week with even more high-stakes gambling, political commentary, and lesbian thirst. This week, Nick and Steve discuss the best and worst arcs of this engrossing and surreal thriller.
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Nick, I don't have a quick joke or clever witticism to open this column like we usually do. I'm just so happy to be back in my element again—a school full of ghoulish maniacs who are horny for gambling.
has finally deigned to grace us with a sequel to the ultimate economic psychosexual masterpiece, Kakegurui
, and in case there was any doubt,
the show hasn't changed a bit.
. We're blessed to be graced with another full season of madness, and it magnanimously opens with an arc featuring a character after
my own heart.
Season 2 does not waste any time throwing us right back into the weird, imminently watchable antics of this school of gambling psychopaths. Not 30 seconds into episode one, both Yumeko and her masochistic frenemy Midari are being challenged by a goth lolita girl in a game of self-maiming chicken.
What's a few fingers lost between frenemies? Oh, and in case there was any doubt that we would continue to address class disparity (in Kakegurui
's admittedly odd way), one of the very first shots is of a guillotine. It's not money we're playing with this season; it's democracy!
Yep, instead of simply vying for status, the gambles in S2 are all about getting votes, which can only be earned by winning a game of chance with dubious odds. Also nearly all of those votes end up going to the same handful of people who are all conveniently related.
Just like real democracy!
It's a sharp bit of commentary that could potentially feel preachy or annoying in a show that took itself more seriously. But then you remember this is an anime where people orgasm over coin tosses and it becomes a little more palatable.
I think it's a subtle but very important adjustment of Kakegurui's narrative and thematic direction that ends up making the various character dramas more compelling than the first season's overall. But at the end of the day, this is still Kakegurui, and its commitment to never saying no is its biggest strength.
They still take a lot of animation shortcuts, but they retain the effort to draw individual flecks of spit hitting the camera during intense scenes. They know where to place their emphasis.
All the setup about votes and power is just in service of introducing the Momobami Clan, President Kirari's ambitious extended family who all start salivating when she decides to put her council seat and control of the family fortune up for grabs.
Just normal high school girl things.
Enter Yumeko, a wild card whose entire motivation is just finding cool gambles to risk everything on, and much like last season, the story becomes a series of character trying to beat her before figuring out that they're dealing with a total lunatic.
Or multiple lunatics in this case.
I feel bad for Erimi. She managed to pick the only two people her Kerplunk Guillotine wouldn't terrify.
Watching a confident cheater slowly crumble is the catharsis of nearly every Kakegurui
arc, but this one is especially expressive. Thankfully, it's just over-the-top enough that it never feels actively cruel, mostly because Yumeko is such a Sports Anime Protagonist about the whole thing.
And that's the other great thing about this season! With the introduction of the Momobami Clan as new opponents, Yumeko gets to do the shonen anime thing of teaming up with a bunch of her former enemies! And frankly, her present enemies.
Midari's trying, but she really needs to be a more considerate partner. You can't just make a threesome all about yourself.
Please be nice to Midari.
Steve, she very explicitly does not want people to be nice to her.
It's funny because it's true. Anyway, Yumeko herself remains less a character and more an unholy incarnation of the absurdity of gambling, so while she's still the protagonist, she's more of a catalyst for other characters' experiences and development.
Well, most other characters. Much like season one, our nominal POV Watson-alike Ryouta only exists to be mildly overwhelmed by everything around him.
He's even less of a presence this season! There are entire arcs where he doesn't even show up, and at this point I kind of love how blatantly vestigial he is.
That's the face of a man with skim milk pumping through his veins. Frankly it's impressive that even when he actively participates in gambles, he's still a non-entity. Like his whole role in the Uno game against the evil sisters is to fill a chair and do only what he's told.
Yumeko, on what could have quite possibly been her deathbed, has to expend energy to pull this joker aside and spell out exactly how not to fuck up the real
But who needs boys in Kakegurui
Oh, we'll get to how incredibly sapphic this season is later, but for now we get to see Mary - in between being obviously manipulated by the Kirari's twin sister - come in and teach this girl what kind of show this is.
Mary still kicks ass.
Like, hey lady, you know those bad guys who monologue about how the power of friendship and light is worthless right before getting bisected by a rainbow? That's you. It's interesting to see somebody just straight-up reject the premise of the whole show. Cheating opponents are nothing new, but it's the first time we've seen somebody try to straight up murder their opponents to win.
Yeah, everyone plays dirty, but when Kakegurui wants you to know somebody's a total scumbag, it'll be obvious. This lady forces her own sister to get poisoned in her stead and inflates the price of Yumeko's antidote up to 100 votes, which only Mary can put up. Also, they're the daughters of a pharmaceutical dynasty. Probably a coincidence.
Sadly, we don't get much of them past this, since they're mostly there as a means to get Mary involved in Ririka's schemes. And if I have one problem with this season, it's that a lot of these new characters feel incidental with all the big-picture scheming going on behind them—especially the actress lady who just so happens to conveniently enter the story the same time Yumemi pops back up.
This arc is my least favorite. It's not terrible, but by the nature of the gamble, it just doesn't hit the same beautifully absurd heights of the others. And I really didn't need to hear the phrase "Dreaming Creaming Sisters" again. I also feel a little betrayed at the bait-and-switch of introducing her spooky alter-ego first. I was so excited to meet her!
It's a very Danganronpa
thing to do, but it's a shame Kawaru herself is oddly subdued for a character in this show. For her entire arc, you expect the affable façade to slip and reveal that she's actually a jerk, but it never happens. Though I do appreciate her Minmay Attack performance of Amazing Grace.
At least Yumemi remains refreshingly candid.
She's no Nico Yazawa, but she'll do in a pinch.
We're also treated to the extremely rare occurrence of Yumeko getting so angry with someone that they don't even draw out her horny side.
She definitely doesn't take well to Yumemi embracing her inner Sub.
Ah yes, picking back up with Itsuki and her new boyfriend, Ken Kaneki.
His hair is still white, her fingers still don't have nails, it's a match made in heaven. The way their relationship develops around this gamble is perhaps the most unexpectedly poetic thing Kakegurui
has accomplished in its chaotic narrative. Plus, my favorite gambles are those that double as civics lessons.
So I know we've been kind of coy about Kakegurui
having social commentary, but I legit respect dedicating an entire story arc to illustrating the importance of paying taxes for the common good.
The game itself is basically a more complex Prisoner's Dilemma. The participants can choose to act in their own self-interest or for the good of the group. If they only do the former, they all lose. If they only do the latter, they all win a significantly smaller individual prize.
But Yumeko being Yumeko, she immediately recognizes that the same mistrust that can screw them all over can also be used to force them into helping. And Yumeko being Yumeko, she articulates this by seducing Kaede.
For illustrative purposes, I took the liberty of paraphrasing Yumeko's monologues for everyone:
And it works! The thought of embracing despair fully awakens Kaede back to his old asshole self, and while he doesn't get his hair color back, he does get to do the cool anime glasses thing again.
This helps them all unite and find the traitor in their midst, but the kicker is that the whole thing was a meta-gamble on Itsuki's part to whip Kaede back into boyfriend shape and finally give herself enough conviction to follow through with her own feelings. It's Kakegurui
-flavored absurdity in the pursuit of LOVE, and I am all over it.
It's a weird setup that kinda short-changes the Momobami members involved, but it's genuinely neat to see their effed-up romance flourish in its own way. Though for my money, it's still second best to what comes next.
Side note: lots of boob touches this season.
But yes, the Yuri Danganronpa arc is at least on equal footing with Love & Taxes.
So from what I understand, the Tower Gamble in the manga takes place before all of the election stuff, but it got bumped back last season because they didn't have time to cover it all, so instead we got that Tarot Card thing with Ryouta. And frankly, I'm pretty mad they made us wait this long for Sayaka's moment in the sun.
Sayaka is one of the precious few relatively normal students at the academy. She's secretary to Kirari and super-duper gay for Kirari, so naturally she doesn't appreciate Yumeko stepping in on her turf.
She's kind of like Ryouta, if Ryouta were smart and had a personality. She's fascinated by Kirari's impulsive nature and her ability to make seemingly insane ideas a reality, but she doesn't really understand her, so she feels threatened when Yumeko walks in and immediately shares the president's wavelength.
And that's more or less recapitulated in the gamble itself. Sayaka can solve all the puzzles correctly, but Yumeko is much more in tune with the kind of madness that would possess a student council president to direct school funds to construct an entire 5-story tower in the middle of an off-campus lily field.
And in a twist worthy of Monokuma, it turns out that tower is a giant wheel that spins on its own, because apparently Kirari is an engineering genius along with being richer than God. How do you even get the zoning permit for that?
Don't forget that this whole scene is preceded by Sayaka flinging herself off the tower for losing, only for Kirari to jump after her and reveal she set up the tower so Sayaka would "logically" jump into the area with a hidden crash mat. Because this is still Kakegurui
It's both laughably ridiculous and extremely gay, so it's the platonic ideal of Kakegurui.
For real though, as insane as it is, it's also genuinely touching to see these two connect so sincerely. In any other show this might feel cheesy or crass, but it's honest-to-god romantic
It's so good! Like, I cannot stress enough how much I love this show. And to that end, let's finally get to my favorite member of the new cast of characters.
Rei Batsubami is Romi Park doing her deepest ikemen voice and spending 10 straight (or very not-straight) episodes seducing every girl on campus for her own mysterious ends. It's amazing. She's introduced as a servant to the Momobami clan—a member of a punished family who had their name and rights stripped from them, forcing them into generations of servitude.
YEAH. I knew something like this scene was coming, but I was not prepared for this much fabulousness. The freaking black wings unfolding out of purple flames on the background projection is the ultimate expression of Kakegurui
's fearlessly surreal theatricality. Holy shit, she's hot.
It's a wild reveal and even if you saw it coming, the sheer absurdity of the scene sells it. There's even some neat flourishes to Rei's backstory where the woman who taught her kindness is only portrayed on-screen as a butterfly. It's a surreal touch that manages to sell the frankly rushed delivery of all this info and sets the mood for Rei's larger-than-life backstory.
If I'm being honest, I was a little saddened by how simple it was to beat Rei. Yumeko basically finds a way to tell the others to collude without saying it outright, and like the 80's MLB, they immediately join in to steal all Rei's votes and win.
Basically, the closer any show approaches Utena
, the more I will love it.
I do at least like the finale. As with the Tarot Card gamble from S1, Yumeko urges someone to crack themselves open and embrace the chaos of chance. Rather than trying to control everything or play to someone else's tune, just throw yourself into the storm and see how you come out the other end!
I'm glad Rei comes out the other side renewed, but I gotta say, I think she looked much better in suspenders.
The curse of inferior anime haircuts strikes again. And sadly, the curse of being an anime-only character means Rei probably won't show up again if we get a third season. But other than that, I am absolutely up for more Kakegurui if the anime gods grant us that favor.
Yeah, season 2 was super-solid throughout. As someone who wanted more Kakegurui
very badly, I was very pleased to finally be able to binge it. It's fun, trashy, horny, but just sincere and incisive enough to balance out. This is my gambling hole. It was made for me.
Well, I'm glad you got what you wanted! Just be sure not to get too