Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji is the Stardust Crusaders of FKMT. Since it was the first of his works to get animated, it's more often than not the one everybody has seen first or the only one they've seen. It's also the only one to get a video game adaptation (to my knowledge, ignoring pahcinko), however that's Japan exclusive.
Now, that's not to say it's bad or boring (like Stardust Crusdaers), in fact, it has very good reason to be someone's favourite FKMT work or Kaiji Part. It has arguably one of the best gambles in the series, Limited Janken, with one of the most memorable endings in
FKMT (which I won't talk about here because spoilers). It's also the darkest part of Kaiji, as Kaiji, much like Berserk, got lighter as it went on.
Onto the actual review, we'll start with the story. The story is broken up into 3 or 4 parts depending on how you look at it. There's Limited Janken, Brave Men's Road, Emperor Card and the Lottery. Each part mentioned revolves around Kaiji partaking in near life or death gambles, the stakes getting higher with each one (except for the last gamble) and Kaiji slowly inching his way to greater rewards, culminating in a 100 Million Yen bet (which ironically looks like a joke when you see the stakes in every part following).
The story is definitely the most depressing and grounded of all 6 Kaiji parts. The background for the story of Kaiji is that he cosigned a loan with a former coworker (he is naive and is shown constantly to expect the best out of people on his level), and the coworker disappeared so the debt falls back to him, which has no grown to 3 million yen and he is forced to participate in a gamble to pay it off.
Limited Janken is Kaiji dealing with the worst scum of humanity, going through constant betrayal and being forced to utilize underhanded tactics to avoid slavery. Despite all that, he manages to survive, though at the cost of ensnaring more debt in the aftermath.
The following arc, Brave Men's Road has Kaiji dealing with legitimately good people, watching them slowly get picked off. This is also the arc with Tonegawa Yukio, Teiai's NUMBAH TOOOOOO (couldn't resist) gets more spotlight. In Limited Janken, he was just there to explain the rules and tell people to shut up. Here, he does mostly the same thing, but with more (de)motivational speeches about society and the people participating in the gamble. Aside from that though, he's mostly on the sidelines. The participants of the gamble are your average everyday people and are legitimately likable, which makes the actual events within the arc all the more sad.
The two key side characters are one of Kaiji's coworkers, who got roped into the gamble when the two were out after both quit their job. The other major side character is a debtor that Kaiji freed from being enslaved in the last arc. I can't say much on these two as I'd be delving into spoiler territory.
Now, we're onto the last major arc of this part, Emperor Card. Following Brave Men's Road, the head of Teiai Finance allows Kaiji to participate in a game of Emperor Card with Tonegawa. Emperor Card is a card game similar to Limited Janken, where one side has the 'Emperor Hand' and the other has the 'Slave Hand'. Each hand has 4 Citizen Cards, then an Emperor or Slave Card depending on the hand. Emperor defeats Citizen, Citizen beats Slave, Slave beats Emperor. I'd go over the symbolism, but I feel like I'm summarizing the anime enough.
This arc is my personal favourite of the Part. The mindgames Tonegawa and Kaiji play on each other are insane and comparable only to the ones seen in Parts 3 and 5. and the ending of the arc is extremely satisfying after all the despair thus far.
Then there is the final part, Lottery. To talk about it beyond the name would be to delve into heavy spoilers, given how short it is and what happens.
The story is a 10/10 for me. I love it and it's what got me into FKMT. It's easily the best entry point into the author's works.
The art is like a halfway point between the old FKMT style seen in Ten and the modern FKMT style seen in the Kaiji anime. I prefer the modern style to the classic style, but it's still nice to look at, and FKMT's signature Zawas are still great here. The only real issue is the scanlations. The English version isn't as high quality as FKMTKrazy's scanlations of Parts 3-6 and doesn't fully capture FKMT's style. Hopefully the official translations coming in January improve this.
Characters are great, 10/10. I explain this mostly in my story segment.
Enjoyment is obvious a 10/10.
So, overall a 9/10, 10/10 if you ignore poor scanlation quality.
Synonyms: Tobaku Mokujiroku Kaiji
English: Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji
Published: Feb 10, 1996 to Jul 26, 1999
Serialization: Young Magazine (Weekly)
Authors: Fukumoto, Nobuyuki (Story & Art)
Score: 8.421 (scored by 4,848 users)
1 indicates a weighted score.
2 based on the top manga page. Please note that 'R18+' titles are excluded.