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.
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!
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.
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.
Kaiji, maybe is one of the genius anime that would be rarely be consumed these days. Many reasons for it, like people these days are just loooking for anime which have cute girls (or we can said seeking for MOE). Cant blame on it since anime industry now are using cute girls for their sales and of course for seeking profit. Anyway, there is no cute girls in Kaiji so please step out if you’re looking for it. But honestly you would miss a show that would make hold your breath from the beginning to the end.
Kaiji itself have a simple story, Its about
a man named Kaiji who is a thief but then his life changed when he is being visited by a debt collector. The debt collector said Kaiji has an unpaid loan which Kaiji had previously co-signed for a work-mate. But his work-mate had disappeared, the loan then fell on Kaiji. Hopelessly to find a money to pay the loan. Then he find there is one way to solve his loan and that was playing a gamble.
There is so many things that makes Kaiji is so attractive, one of them is the gamble or we can said a “game” that Kaiji must play for paying his loan. What they’re playing is just a simple game like Jankenpon but simply its not just a simple Jankenpon, Fukumoto (Kaiji’s creator) makes it into a serious and psychological game that you’ve ever seen. The game is clever and usually depends on psychological to win the game. And if you’re thinking the game is hard to understand then dont worry, since they’re really explained it well and moreover, its just a simple game (like Jankenpon or anything like that) that been modified a bit by Nobuyuki to make the game more interesting.
Another fun part about Kaiji is guessing. This series is really know how to keep you on your toes and as you keep guessing as the stakes get higher and the games become more absurd,Like any mystery and detective show, we’re usually trying to guess on whats gonna happen next or probably trying to solve whats the trick between it. Well, Kaiji is not mystery or detective show but at least thats what i felt when i watch this show. The way how Kaiji solving each game is really remarkable and unexpected. And another great things about it was how logical Kaiji solution was. Well, sometimes another series use some illogical and unrealistic tricks but not in Kaiji, They’re all making sense and that part what makes Kaiji is so amazing.
Another aspects that really prominent is the art. Kaiji’s art is superbly good, not in the term of realistic nor catchy color but its in term of the compatibility within the story. Sometimes some anime missing the point on what art should be, like an example the themes of an anime is thriller but the art looks so colorful makes the thriller atmosphere being wasted. And Good things Kaiji isnt like that. Their art is probably the most unique one, they using thick lines for the characters to make it like a comical style and the character design is unique, probably you cant find it in anywhere. The originality style that Fukumoto (Creator of Kaij) bring probably hard to watch for someone who’re not used watching something extraordinary like this but the comical style that Kaiji use is bring out the advantage for themselves. Like it can increasing the expressive of each characters so we can feel the emotion within them. Its truly beautiful.
There is no other way to make Kaiji more epic than the sound. The background song or the soundtrack within every scenes is really remarkable, they’re fitting well for every scenes that occurs. Like when Kaiji is being despair, there is a sound that you would notice along the series, “ZAWAAA” or it can be translated as agitation. The sound like the one i notice before increasing the despair atmosphere and thrilling the audience. Its like the song forced us to feel the same way as the kaiji does. Well, its not astonishing since the music composer is Hideki Tanuichi, the one who responsible for Aoi Bungaku and Death note music. He did briliantly again in this anime. The opening song in this anime is also amazing, “Mirai wa Bokura no Te no Naka” that being played by Hakuryu is really fits with the anime. This 45 seconds opening song is quite wacky and random but somehow this is quite addicting. After talking about the song, lets talking about the seiyuu voice. There is two name that i should mention for this. Hagiwara Masato and Fumihiko Tachiki, They are the one who responsible for making Kaiji become so epic. Masato voice is really fits with Kaiji, his voice that heavy is really suitable with kaiji that a middle aged man. He succesfully makes Kaiji like himself but in anime version. In other words, Masato is bring the life for Kaiji. For Fumihiko, his roles in this anime is narrator. But dont take this lightly, because his energetic and passionate voice in every narrating the story would stun you up.
If there was something that makes me so addicting with this series,it was Kaiji and the other characters. Kaiji is one of the best main characters out there, but he can also the most lamest main characters. There is too many way to describe kaiji, he can be a hero but also a loser. Loser in this term is how Kaiji sometimes following his desires for gambling and ended up to have much of debt but in the other way, when he was in pinch, he could turned into a heroic character. Last, his personality that clever and tricky make this story become more interesting to follow. Not just kaiji, The other characters also one of the aspects what makes Kaiji is so amazing. Every characters that appears in this anime isnt just for a side show,they playing some important roles too andThe other characters acts like what in real life do, like when you are in the pinch with your friends and you have a chance for escape for yourselves, what would you do? I believe if we are in that positions, we are choosing for escape by ourselves and abandon our friends. That question is for describing what the characters in kaiji is. They would do anything for saving themselves, betraying is one of the way that they would do. The realistic things that every characters do make this anime become more interesting to see.
Lastly, after all mumbling that i said before i can safely said Kaiji is one the anime that you should watch. Despite its lackness in moe and cute girls on it, Kaiji would bring you an amazing thriller story with just some simple game. From that simple game, prepare for feeling some intense scenes that would make you hold the breath from beginning to the end.
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.