• remind me tomorrow
  • remind me next week
  • never remind me
Subscribe to the ANN Newsletter • Wake up every Sunday to a curated list of ANN's most interesting posts of the week. read more

This Week in Anime
Does Kakegurui twin Hold Up To Its Sibling Series?

by Steve Jones & Christopher Farris,

Kakegurui twin, a prequel series to Kakegurui following the exploits of Mary Saotome, has dropped on Netflix. Chris and Steve go all-in to determine whether this short series lives up to the original's unhinged thrills.

This series is streaming on Netflix

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @BeeDubsProwl @NickyEnchilada @vestenet

Chris, I know it's outside of our usual purview, but I say animation is animation, and there's a cute new show on Cartoon Network that I'm dying to check out. Although I must admit, it seems to have a lot more arcane gambling schemes and lesbian BDSM than the cartoons I remember from my childhood.
This isn't too far off from the look of things when I covered Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt with Nick a few weeks back. And hey, the cutesy CalArts look might not be a bad fit for something that's effectively Kakegurui Babies.
That's right, everyone's favorite gaggle of gambling girls is back! Kinda! It's not exactly season three, but it's extra scraps for me and everyone else starving for more monetary misadventures at Hyakkaou Private Academy. In other words, we've got a half-season adaptation of the beginning of Kakegurui Twin, a prequel spinoff focusing on the rise and fall of Yumeko's twintailed sidekick.
Yes, every popular supporting character deserves their own entertaining origin story, so giving Mary here the Better Call Saul treatment makes plenty of sense. Especially since Yumeko transferred in the second year of classes in the original show, meaning there's plenty of time to see how a slightly-less-unhinged person might have handled the academy.

And while the whole show doesn't look like that cuddly cartoony intro we just sampled, don't worry! The girls of Kakegurui remain as... cute... as ever.

Ah yes, I am back in my element, and that element is anime women doing their best impersonation of the Grinch smiling. It feels like home.

It's worth noting too that this is Mary as we see her in the first episode of Kakegurui, i.e. gleefully bankrupting the male MC and turning him into her personal ottoman.

So it's extra funny that she begins Twin by desperately trying to make a single friend. She's got a long way to go.

With Twin's particular taste in color filters going to extra mile to make clear for us just how "green" Mary is in this new environment.

But it is interesting to see this prequel open with Mary having a more socially optimistic take, before whatever occurred to drive her to simply buy as many friends as she wanted. We don't even get close to completing that character arc in this scant six episode run, but it creates a compelling unspoken implication even at this early stage of Mary's story.
Yeah, I'm glad you brought up the Better Call Saul comparison, because it's genuinely pretty apt. We know what Mary's similarly dark and defeated endpoint is, but the why and the how of it are the real meat of the story. And like Saul, Mary also comes with a partner in crime on this descent.

A very gay partner in crime.
Homoeroticism? In Kakegurui? Why I never!

Seriously though, not only does Twin ditch the presumptive-POV dude from the regular series, but I need to stress that the only instances of heterosexual courtship in this show are 1) a rigged dating game entirely designed around the participants winning money off of each other, and 2) an arranged marriage that one side is only interested in from the angle of cynical political power.

Everything else is, uh

That's only the tip of this lesbian iceberg too. But it is nice to see the series drop the vestigial male MC and go all in on school yuri trash. It feels truer to itself.

Mary, too, is a much different protagonist than Yumeko, who waltzes into Hyakkaou already a fully formed gambling demon raised exclusively on FKMT manga. By contrast, Mary is still getting her sea legs, and part of the fun of Twin is seeing her be fallible. She gets played a lot, and she has to think on her feet in order to spin the situation around and come out on top in the end.

Yeah, it's a very different feeling from Yumeko's near-immediate vibes of warping the school in her image. Mary is instead slowly seeing herself changed by her time at Hyakkao out of necessity to survive. So a lot of her plays in this mini-series are less about driving up the stakes to destroy her opponents with overly-intensified gambling antics, and more about her pulling out wins by the skin of her teeth. It's less four-dimensional chess and more improvisational chess-boxing.

With some heartwarming backup from her new friends.
I love their little gang, especially in the later arc when they go full Scooby Doo combing the school together for clues. But perhaps most especially when they open a maid café where the gimmick is the maids openly scam you out of your money. This is literally a billion dollar idea, and I have to believe it already exists somewhere.

I would genuinely thank them for their service and tip these girls after they finished fleecing me. They deserve it.

As with so many other elements of Twin, the dynamic between Mary, Tsuzura, and Yukimi feels like it's just getting started due to how short this is. The opening act skims some details, notably how Mary and Tsuzura became childhood friends. But nevertheless, they provide that humanizing anchor for this slightly kinder, more trusting version of Mary, even as she's still clearly being, you know, Mary.

Within every Kakegurui character lies the potential to go completely apeshit. Mary's only just learning to get in touch with that part of herself.

Obviously, the big question is where Tsuzura and Yukimi disappear to by the time Yumeko transfers. We're inclined to believe it can't be a happy ending, given Mary's state at the start of the main series, so that sense of impending tragedy is another compelling point in Twin's favor. It makes those scenes of genuine camaraderie all the more bittersweet.

Not knowing at the time when and how this all ended, it also added just a bit more credence to the big suspenseful twist halfway through the anime: that Tsuzura might actually have betrayed Mary.

Obviously, that ended up not being the case, and love triumphed after all in that situation, but it reinforces that this is a series with a built-in shoe ready to drop. I did look up later and discover that Twin has been going for 12 volumes and counting! But it's also notable that it's written by Homura Kawamoto, who is behind Kakegurui Prime, meaning this is all designed with some canon-compliant plan in mind.
Yeah, the two manga have actually been running concurrently since 2015, so you could see Twin as less of a spinoff and more as a sister series (appropriately enough, given the title). And even without that knowledge, you could know it's written by the same guy the minute these two show up.
Me, halfway through Episode One: "Hmmm, I wonder if this series will really carry forward the particular energy I expect from the Kakegurui franchise-"

"Oh, there it is!"
Casually waltzes in with your pet girl on her leash and proceeds to give the main characters the ol' stanky leg. That's Kakegurui, baby.

Juraku is a hell of a lot of fun. A blatantly sadistic dominatrix hell bent on manipulating every student into weeping submission, and relishing every single minute of it.

Plus, with those eyes, she's probably literally a demon. Wouldn't put it past the franchise.

Given that I'm still not convinced Yumeko isn't the Actual Devil, it's completely plausible.

Compared to the surprisingly wholesome gambling support group throuple of Mary, Tsuzura, and Yukimi, Juraku represents that less rosy sapphic element.

She actually makes for an interesting overarching antagonist for Mary, since as we see in the future series, Mary won't be opposed to person-ownership herself following her gaslight-gatekeep-girlboss-ification.

I also want to say that theirs is a surprisingly equal partnership, at least as far as characterization goes. Sado is probably my favorite addition to Twin. A bratty masochist who detests everyone besides her master, she's a very entertaining adversary for Mary. And she's hilarious.
I was genuinely shocked when it was made clear early on that she would be an actual character, with her own driving influence on the narrative. She may have signed away her personal agency for fetish purposes, but she's still got character agency!

She also provides the setup for one of my favorite absurd cuts in this series.

Please do note that, in-story, that liquid is just Mary spilling the tea, but.

The less said about liquids in Kakegurui, the better. Although I suppose we should talk about some of the gambles, since that is the series' main appeal besides sapphic sadomasochism. It's a small collection of games, given the abbreviated nature of the adaptation, but there are some gems. And some duds.
I suppose that lets me get into one of the issues I do have with Twin: a lot of the gambling games themselves are on the boring side. Like 75% of them are some sort of dice game variation, which the show itself points out are a quick and simple choice.

I understand that part of this series is seeing the process of Mary working her way up the school's hierarchy to even be able to compete with the higher-level insanity we've seen Yumeko handle. But both the stakes and execution feel disappointingly low a lot of the time, with nothing approaching the characters risking losing fingers or engaging in convoluted Russian Roulette spins.

It also doesn't help that the show sometimes tries to compensate for the simpler nature of the games by getting really in the weeds about probability theory. It's like overexplaining a punchline: the more time you spend explaining the nitty-gritty logistics of the gamble, the less effective it is as a source of dramatic tension.

On the other hand, we do get a sighting of a still-binocular Midari Ikishima living it up with her harem of bra-out gals, so all is forgiven.
Part of me enjoys the gimmick of going into the theory and strategy behind a superficially luck-based game. But when that ends up being basically the only trick the show has in its brief run, it runs thin pretty quick.

Thankfully, I think the gaming action does come more alive when the show trots out a two-parter focusing on the most cutthroat, high-risk activity of all: dating.

This was easily the highlight for me too. Seeing Kakegurui Twin twist the dating game show format around into something even more nakedly transactional was too good. It also provides the best foundation for the intense mind games the series is known for. High marks all around.

And it only comes at the cost of Tsuzura's innocence.

Even more than the rest of the series, this arc is full of effective little character moments like that. Some are of the more dramatic variety, like that brief tease that Tsuzura might have betrayed Mary. But even the goofier idiosyncratic bits are all about setting up how in-synch the main trio have become, to the point that they can communicate with in-jokes.

This and that earlier maid-café mind game set up the arc for Mary where she starts to realize that taking rubes for rides feels kinda... good.
The other main through line this season is the burgeoning resistance movement against the student council. On the surface, it's an egalitarian rebellion against the pet system that reinforces the schools ruthless capitalistic hierarchy. But Twin actually seems to want to interrogate the way the rich and powerful tend to coopt these movements for their own selfish benefit. Which is honestly a lot more politically complex than anything I expected from Kakegurui.
It's a distinctive choice that plays into Mary's particular methodology: on a meta level, we know that she doesn't wield the same kind of devilish gambling super talents that Yumeko does. So instead, Twin throws her in the middle of this conflict between the Council and the "Full-Bloom" counter-movement. In true Machiavellian fashion, Mary immediately tries to play both sides for the benefit of herself and her new girlfriends.

Part of me could read that as a cynical counter to any social movements supposedly against oppressive structures, arguing that people should only look out for themselves and their own. Especially since Mary is proven 100% right about Aoi's own self-interest by the end of this anime.

But then the other part of me knows this is all very early on in the actual story, and Mary still has a whole lot of ups and downs awaiting her on her journey.
Yeah, not to sound like a broken record, but there just isn't enough of Twin to develop any of its themes or characters to a satisfying stopping point. Like, I know Kakegurui uses the pet system as a satiric embellishment of class structure, but I think it's also saying that a rich kid vying to get one over on the student council probably isn't the guy you want in charge. Though, again, there's still a lot of thread left to pull here.

In the meantime, we're treated to the high stakes drama of an old-fashioned treasure-box battle instead.
Just girls, battling with their boxes.

This one also gets close to the Kakegurui absurdity I know and love, having the characters puzzle their way through the kind of Dante-Must-Die Mode escape room problems that seem totally unintelligible until they explain everything at the very end.

And more importantly, it brings Sado back for more fun.

The normalest girl.

Huge props to Netflix's adaptation team for going with "What the actual hell" on that line, that one absolutely killed me.
God, and the way she snarls next to Juraku like an actual dog on a leash is the best. And I can't believe I almost forgot to mention, she's voiced by Aoi Koga, a.k.a. Kaguya-sama from Kaguya-sama. Whenever her voice squeaks up an entire octave, it's a dead giveaway.
I think it was this arc where I finally noticed that, and once I had, I could not un-notice it.
Perfect casting for a perfect character.
The culmination of character interactions definitely elevates this storyline. From the teamwork of Mary's team to the way all the various antagonists like Juraku, Sado and Aoi come to regard Mary after the tumultuous layers of competition with her.

Which is just as well since the last gamble is yet another god-danged dice game!

My kingdom for a single round of Old Maid.

Still, I like the part where Mary calls Tsuzura her real treasure. Women stay winning.

Learning that the true treasure is the girlfriends they made along the way, where they head into the future where surely nothing bad will ever happen to them!

Nothing at all...
Indeed, for some of its shortcomings in creativity or intensity, it says a lot that my biggest complaint about Kakegurui Twin is that there just wasn't more of it. This might be the series that convinces me I just need to go and check out both manga series to find out where Mary, and later Yumeko, end up going.
I guess, out of all the problems to have, being left wanting more is a pretty favorable one. It is still a shame, though, that Twin just doesn't have enough room to reach the over-the-top horny heights of the main series. But ultimately, it's six additional episodes of Kakegurui, and I'm not looking that gift horse in the mouth, even if you somehow turn that into an absurd dice game.
It's not here for a long time, but
And I'll be crossing my fingers that we get to see the other half of this Twin.
Same here!

discuss this in the forum (8 posts) |
bookmark/share with: short url

This Week in Anime homepage / archives