Kaiji Itou is a good-for-nothing loiterer who spends his days drinking beer and stealing hubcaps—that is, until he ends up being tricked by his former co-worker. Unable to suddenly repay his friend's huge debt all by himself, Kaiji is offered a shady deal to participate in an illegal underground gamble on a cruise ship. This turns out to be nothing more than the beginning of his new life of hell—thrown headlong into a life-threatening roller coaster of mind games, cheating, and deceit.
Based on the first entry of the famous gambling manga series by Nobuyuki Fukumoto, Gyakkyou Burai Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor follows our unlucky protagonist as he is forced to fight not only other people, but also the mysteries of their psyches. Kaiji finds out the hard way that the worst sides of human nature surface when people's backs are against the wall, and that the most fearsome dangers of all are greed, paranoia, and the human survival instinct itself.
Kaiji is the devil child [insert Slayer- Hell Awaits soundtrack] among the 2007 Autumn season lineup, an outcast, the underdog just like the character himself – people take one look at those long noses and run for the hills – A TENGU IS COMING!! AAARGHH!!
It also just happens to not only be the best anime of the season; it ranks up among some of the best anime of all time. If there were to be a list of the current best five anime for the 2007 season it would be: 1. Kaiji, 2. Daylight, 3. Daylight, 4. Daylight, 5. Maybe Ghost Hound – nah, there is still a little more daylight between Kaiji and that show… Put simply, Kaiji is the type of anime that the gods sitting atop Mt. Olympus watch when they take a break from throwing down lightning bolts, swinging tridents, ruling the underworld or doing whatever gods sitting atop Mt. Olympus do. My reasons are explained below…
Firstly, a bit of background. Kaiji is based on Nobuyuki Fukumoto's award winning manga of the same name. More specifically, the anime is based on the first series of the manga containing the first 13 volumes of the story called ‘Kaiji – Tobaku Mokushikuroku', or, ‘Kaiji – The Gambling Apocalypse'. As no real English translations of the manga exist, the story is relatively unknown in the West. On the other hand, the manga, which first started being serialized back in 1996, went on to become extremely popular in Japan and Korea, producing two sequel series of manga which are also a superb read and are highly recommended. At the time of writing 38 volumes of the manga have been produced, featuring Kaiji putting it all on the line time and time again. The anime has followed this trend of popularity in the East, Kaiji the anime regular doubles the ratings for shows apparently popular according to this site, such as Minami-ke.
I am going to be blunt, the character design, like Akagi before it, is ‘bad’ in the traditional sense – but in all seriousness this is a very, very good thing. Let me explain by posing a rhetorical question: “Have you ever seen a good ‘bad’ film?” For example the film Evil Dead looks as though it has been produced on a 15 dollar budget but god damn it’s an awesome film! Titanic on the other hand was made on a bajillion dollar budget, won a whole heap of awards and raked in millions of dollars in profit but let’s face it – IT SUCKED.
Kaiji works in a similar way – the artwork is ‘bad’ in the same way Evil Dead is, and that’s what makes it awesome. Kaiji is not exactly a mainstream anime so it is never going to suit everyone’s tastes, but, as with Akagi, Fukumoto’s art style really does suit this kind of story – In pure Rocky fashion, here we see a gritty battler, the underdog in a fight, grappling with underground mobsters to get out of debt, to reach out and grasp the future within his hands – It’s never going to be a pretty picture…
Adding to the character designs are a variety of original touches, most notably Fukumoto’s trademark, ‘Zawa Zawa’ sound effect, which is derived from the Japanese word Zawameku, ‘ざわめく’ – signifying a tense state of agitation. To put it in layman's terms, it is kind of like the feeling you get when you take a dump only to realize that you are out of toilet paper – ZAWAAA!!! (Apologies for crudeness). In general the voice acting is superb, in particular the standouts being Kaiji’s V.O. Masato Hagiwara and the narrator himself, voiced by none other than Fumihiko Tachiki, the dude who is the narrator in PRIDE! Hideki Taneuchi picks up where he left off in Akagi providing an amazing score for Kaiji. Music is used in Kaiji to a perfect degree, and really helps build the ever-present underlying tension as Kaiji gambles with his life.
Let’s face it, an anime with an art style as flipped out as it is, Kaiji (the anime) is never really going to get anywhere without a decent story. Well, it is in this area that the anime really shines. Thoroughly engrossing, this is one of the few animes around that makes it seem like a painfully long wait for the next episode to come out.
While the basic plot shows Kaiji’s struggle to get out of debt, to survive, the thematically driven story is as deep as an abyss – Fukumoto’s world view portrayed throughout Kaiji is at times deeply profound, at other times it simply rocks the core of your soul. Yes, the plot simply revolves around a series of gambles, but the world of gambling that Kaiji (the character) is drawn into is merely used as an analogy about the struggle to survive in the real world, offering existential notions on the human race itself, where we as individuals stand in the ‘rat race’.
Some of the statements that this anime makes are despairingly stark; sombre realities that really hit home. You will want to disagree with the scornful remarks made by mobsters like Tonegawa and Co. about how the debtors have lived their lives up to this point, but you can’t. You can’t because they simply state the harsh realities of life; realities that we choose to turn our heads away from in everyday life. While mobsters like Tonegawa appearing in this anime may be considered ‘bad guys’ in the traditional sense because they are wrong morally, they have a far greater perception about the realities of life and, dare I say it, simply act as they do to survive themselves in a dog eat dog world…?
The story of Kaiji on the surface, features and draws out just about every possible emotion on the spectrum – the thrill of victory, the despair of defeat, the grief of seeing comrades fall, the anger of betrayal, the fear of looking death in the eye… While this makes for a gut-wrenchingly intense enough experience as it is, the thematic psychological commentary into the human condition that makes up the core that is Kaiji the anime is even more provocative and carries a lot more weight than the gambling action itself. Simply put, this really pulls ‘Kaiji’ above the realm of a simple anime and onto a higher plane. If you watch this show and find that it doesn’t really have an effect on you, try watching the show again once you’ve entered the work force – that is when things will really hit home...
Fukumoto’s world is world filled with men – the sole female survivor of the Gambling Apocalypse appears for about a minute at most. Hey, it’s one whole female character more than Akagi, a 100% increase!! Ahem.. Sorry guys – put away those tissues you had readied, if you look at anime for the fan-service, then you’re going to be one sorry fan. Look on the bright side though; brain-dead harem comedies are in plentiful supply…
Yes it truly is a man’s world in Kaiji, men gambling on the edge of despair. I won’t bother laying out each and every character for you, mainly because finding out about the personalities, traits and motivations of the characters that inhibit Kaiji’s world for yourself is a large part of the experience. I will give brief mention however to the lead, Kaiji himself because Kaiji’s character development is another one of this anime’s great points. As the plot summary suggests, Kaiji starts out the show a loser on his way out. A character simply floating through life, someone who chooses to not chase down ‘opportunity’, living in the medical sense that he has a beating heart and working lungs, but really ‘living’ to the fullest sense of the word. Not a real inspiring guy right? No, he isn’t, not to begin with. But as his dawdling way of life, where he cannot really see things as they ‘really’ are, places him into his predicament (i.e. a mountain of unpaid debts), his predicament is also what saves him, for it is only when Kaiji confronts the fear of death does he realize the value of his very existence, in a sense he ‘awakens’ from a deep sleep. With his back against the wall, he grows to become an absolute god of gambling in one sense, but in another way his development as a strong human being (both mentally and emotionally) is really what makes him an engaging character, one of the best leads I have ever seen in an anime. Personally I love the character of Kaiji and feel a lot more in touch with his struggle than I ever did with Akagi…
God this is a long review… And I still feel as though I have only just scraped the surface of what makes Kaiji so great… Ah well, you can figure the rest out if you watch the show. I’m not going to guarantee that everyone is going to like it – hey, everyone has different opinions, tastes, personalities… But if I can convince someone who had no interest in Kaiji to at least try it, then I feel my job here is done. Excellent anime. Top marks.
This review was originally written after the first arc, and has since been revised to cover my opinions of the entire show, with minimal spoilers.
Story: Itoh Kaiji, a bum with 3 million yen worth of debt gets into a gambling cruise to pay off his debts. The game played on the cruise is Gentei Janken (Restricted Rock-Paper-Scissors), where the players get four cards of each type and battle it out. What's the catch? Several things; each card can only be used once, cards can be bought off of other players, con men abound, and losing forces one into the vaguely established but horrible "other room". Also, one must not only break even in the actual matches, but also earn enough through the buying and selling of "stars" (3 of which equate a trip off the ship) to pay off their debts. A simple premise which gets expounded on to a cleverly intense degree. That, mind you, is the first arc. The later arcs follow up with themes on society, and it gets philosophical in a gritty sort of way. But, unfortunately, the"ending" is not anything of the sort, devoid of climax. The last 4 episode arc feels a bit tacked on, and leaves season 2 wide open.
Art: I looked at the promo picture, and I thought one thing: Elves. These noses are big, and the faces look pretty weird at first. However, once one gets past the first five minutes, it really becomes apparent just how expressive these faces can be, as the characters go through one emotional crisis after another.
Sound: Nice intro, nice ending. Where the sound really shines, though, is the intense scenes. It's well integrated into the rest of the show's experience - so much so that I didn't notice it except after watching a second or third time. However, once I did look into the more dramatic half of the soundtrack, I found it a fairly nice score.
However, soundtrack isn't the best part of this show's auditory arsenal either. That honor goes to the best voice acting I've ever heard. It may sound silly, but I have never heard anyone cry as effectively as Yanaka Hiroshi's character. Ever. The voice acting really captures the gritty, dreamless atmosphere which the show exhudes. Also, an extremely dramatic narration often helps the story along, and helps the viewer make sense of sometimes subtle mindgames.
Character: Sheeit- there's just too much to say. Men (absolutely no women in this show) betting their lives can make for pretty deep plots, and this is perhaps one of the very best. Kaiji himself is a normally hopeless person whose survival instincts lead him to fight off the system intended to break him down, and he takes himself down a number of pegs to help people who have nothing to give him (and occasionally stab him in the back). The rest of the cast of characters is a bit less scrupulous, and Kaiji suffers three major betrayals by con men and friends alike in the first nine episodes. In the antecedent arcs 2-4, shit hits the fan for our hero, though he is never betrayed after arc 1. Plenty of manly tears make the whole process very entertaining.
A major part of Kaiji that I feel I shoud mention is it's haves vs. have-nots dynamic. Rich "haves" are constantly responsible for the suffering of impoverished "have-nots", and situation which naturally causes tearful frustration for the have-nots. At times the narrator's observations of both sides sound like Hobbesian logic.
Enjoyment: A couple of major highlights: fistfights, naked wrestling behind a one-way mirror, and a fat guy being kicked in the corpulence. The presentation is terrific, dramatic, and bold. Just be aware that, when the chips are down and everything is at stake, there's a very real possibility that Kaiji will lose...
Overall: Kaiji=Pwn+Max Drama-A Decent Ending. If you don't want to be dissappointed, stop watching at episode 22 and wait for season 2 before watching episodes 23-26. There's no reason to skip the first 22, though. If you have any free time, what are you doing still reading this review? Watch it now!read more
What drew me to Kaiji was the interesting premise, gambling. Considering the manga had over 30+ volumes, there had to be something to this. However, the question pops in my mind “how is one able to make an anime about gambling?” In the end, I found that a more important question is “how can one make a good anime about gambling?” and Kaiji isn’t a very good example.
Itoh Kaiji owes 3 million yen to the yakuza and is forced to go into a special cruise ship to gamble his way out of debt. The gamble is based on rock, paper, scissor, while simple at first there is quite a bit flexibility to mess with the system in your favor. This is what makes the first arc so interesting. My roommate and I discussed the many possibilities after each episode and eagerly waited to see what Kaiji was gonna do next. Near the end of this arc the story really started to drag on, but it wasn’t too bad as I though the story would end on episode 13. If I were to rate Kaiji based purely on the first arc it would have gotten a high 7 or low 8. However, Kaiji didn’t end on the first arc…
The next arc consisted of 3 major gambles, human derby, e-card, and umm… “awesome box.” Here Kaiji loses what made the first arc so interesting, the open nature of the gambles. The human derby arc wasn’t really a gamble per say, instead it was a task to complete for money and entertainment of very rich guest. Here Kaiji tires to create human drama and really delve into the minds of the characters. Well there’s only one problem with this, Kaiji never had strong characters. The people participating in the human derby were newly introduced and we don’t know anything about them, they are effectively faceless. So why should the viewer care what happens to them? People die everyday so why don’t we weep for them too? Yes, I’ll admit it’s quite tragic and on some level I do feel sad for the characters. Even for the title character, Kaiji, I felt very little, this is because the first arc only really focuses on the gambles and very little on the Kaiji himself. So there is no big pay off, so to speak when things get dramatic (ie My Hime). Instead it’s more like watching the 10pm news.
In this arc they also really delve into philosophy and psychology. The philosophical aspects were too in your face, reminding me of the extremely blatant Ghost in the Shell movies, especially Innocence. This is because of the delivery, long winded speeches from supposed sage. This wise old man steps on to the podium and lectures not only Kaiji but the viewer as well. There is nothing subtle about this nor was it very grey, this is how the world is because he said so. As for the psychological aspects, visuals were often used to convey the inner struggles, its just that they really over did it and kept repeating the same damn thing. This leads to my major complaint overall with Kaiji.
The thing that made Kaiji lose the most point is the fact that they dragged things for way too long, far longer than the first arc. The omnipresent narrator didn’t help either; I was ready to scream at the screen “shut up, we get the idea already!” As for the other 2 gambles, they faired a bit better…only a little bit. They were actual gambles, but featured the same things that made the human derby arc bad, too dragged out, shallow drama, and overt philosophical ramblings. However, in the E-card arc it did give me back a little of the “how’s Kaiji gonna get out of this mess” feeling. Although, the nature of the gamble is very closed, thus I remain a passive viewer. Finally the way those gambles ended was way too contrived for my tastes, suffering from the “just as planned” syndrome.
Let me add that Kaiji is extremely overt with the way it handles itself, from the emotions to the thoughts of the characters themselves. In some ways it feels a bit caricature but I guess that’s mainly the art that gives that impression. Visual metaphors are used to ram their ideas into the viewers head as well as the omnipresent narrator constantly tells the viewer exactly what is going on. It doesn’t help that the narrator is using an overly dramatic voice, reminiscent of movie guy.
Animation was excellent; it was very smooth as well as extremely consistent, as expected by Madhouse. For a very dialogue based story they made use of many visual metaphors, once again it gets old fast. It would have been better if they simply used more dramatic angles and shots as in Death Note. Art is well…ugly, very ugly, which makes me wonder why Fukumoto (the mangaka) was allowed to keep drawing manga. He should have someone else draw and he’ll work on the story.
The music is easily the best part of Kaiji, I loved the instrumental pieces and was surprised at how good the music was when I listened to the ost. Not only that the music was especially fitting considering the gritty tone of Kaiji. I just wished they used it more often. Most of the time there isn’t music, instead the narrator sets the tone and the trademark “zawazawa.”
Oh let us not forget about the ending… Kaiji ended on an extremely open note, so open that I wondered where the next episode was gonna air. While open endings can work, they only work for character based stories and Kaiji didn’t have the story structure to support such an ending. I’m not going to be that critical on the ending as I’m sure they plan on animating the rest of the Kaiji story. What I am gonna be critical on is the fact that Kaiji seemed to have grown dumber in the end. Ok let me rephrase that he’s grown smarter as a gambler but dumber as a person. There is a sense of irony when Kaiji, minus 4 fingers, an ear, and even more in debt, was talking about how he’s stronger now and will defeat the chairman next time. There is no evidence showing that he stronger as a person, only as a gambler. Even during the interlude between the first and second arc he is shown unable to live in normal society. Now I feel he is even more unable to adapt and live under normal circumstances.
I was an active viewer during the first arc and that was what made things interesting and fun. However, when they took that aspect away I was made into a passive viewer. Here, the flaws with the narrative, pacing and characters became apparent. The pacing was horribly dragged out and extremely slow. Perhaps I would rate Kaiji higher if I didn’t watch it weekly and marathoned it, but what’s done is done. In addition, they suffer from the “just as planned” syndrome too much in the 2nd half. Now that think about it I didn’t really mention the characters in my review yet. Well that’s because all the characters are flat. As for Kaiji himself, he is someone with no past and based on the ending, he also has no future.read more
Starts off strange to say the least. A young man is deep in debt and is being given a chance to repay it by boarding a cruise ship to do the 'gambling' (?). At this point I was already a bit wary, because why would a loan company give an opportunity to repay the debt and get rich on top of that to somebody who owns them money? Surely that's not a profitable thing to do. Why not collect the money from them or make them repay somehow, idk. On the ship though, this series becomes amazing, and I mean top-tier material, the plot is well thought out, the mechanics of exploiting the faults of the restricted rock-paper-scissors are very well done, there's betrayal involved, competition is dynamic with worthy opponents, kaiji's brain is being turned inside out from all the stimulation and he really becomes a much much better gambler after that, who is able to think outside the box and quickly adapt to various difficulties he faces on later in the series.
However after that this anime completely destroys itself. The so called 'gambling' is no longer gambling but rather a selection of sadistic game for pleasure of the wealthy. By the way I hate this trope, the rich that make poor risk their lives to do crazy stupid things for money, which involves gore and death that supposedly gives them great pleasure somehow. This is completely unnatural, this goes against human common sense of what is pleasurable and what is merely disgusting, and eventhough such twisted people might indeed exist, there would be nothing of such scale of cruelty that is portrayed in the show.
The biggest issue I have with the show is not the fact that 2nd half of it is pure garbage from the logical point of view, or that the 'gambling' games are unoriginal and not intellectual in any way, but rather the pacing. It's so fucking slow it's unreal, the 'card-game' arc with Tonegawa lasts forever for no apparent reason, the narrator repeats everything at least THREE times that is obvious to absolutely anybody watching who has at least 1/4 of the mean IQ value. The series was dragged out for so long that I genuinely started to lose the feeling of tension and suspense that you develop when engaged with the series. About 5 episodes before completion I was so annoyed that i wanted to drop the show despite being so close to the finish line.
Another thing that annoyed me was how the outside people were brought into the plot. There were a bunch of crippled men (after the disgusting sadistic 'gambling' competition) who were cheering Kaiji on and helping him moraly and providing first-aid. WHY????????????? All those delinquents hated each others guts, treated each other like trash during the 'cruise ship' arc, and then they suddenly developed friendly feelings for kaiji when he won the 20million from Tonegawa. Were they just after the money? Perhaps, but then they had plenty of opportunities to steal the money whilst kaiji was busy, but they didnt. But even if they weren't after the money why was kaiji so willing to trust them after being betrayed so many times in the first part of the series?
The show is simply put illogical, everybody acts irrationally, completely against what real-life humans would do in most of the situations. I can't stress that enough. This is a show about gambling after all, psychological interactions needed to be thought out properly, but instead we get this. It rendered the show completely useless.
I'm really surprised this has 8.33 avg on MAL.read more
Action is awesome, romance is sweet, but when it comes to making you think nothing beats psychological anime. These top psychological anime will turn your perception of anime upside down. Prepare to have your mind blown.