Sep 23, 2017
RiverRode (All reviews)
Gambling is a fairly common topic in manga, though it is seldom adapted into an anime. There is good reason for this: there is little in the way of action that would benefit from adaptation, and exposition really drags on when it needs to be voiced rather than just read. And alongside these conceptual problems, there's the moral repugnancy that Kakegurui revels in, which should serve to further alienate any potential audience. But despite all of this, Kakegurui has somehow won against a stacked deck, and in this review, I'll take a look at how this oddball became a mainstream success.

This anime covers the first 27 chapters of the manga, and then adds on an anime exclusive ending. These chapters essentially serve as an introduction to the world of Kakegurui, establishing the characters and the rules that the world follows. It’s really just setup for the much more interesting second arc, though considering the events of the new ending, I wouldn’t hold my breath for a second season.

In gambling, there are always two games going on. There’s the game that the characters are playing on the table, but there’s also all of the mind games and cheating that are going on surrounding it. Pretty much all of the games played in Kakegurui are original, though simple and straightforward enough that the audience can quickly understand them. On the other hand, some of the tricks employed are poorly explained, which can be frustrating. But despite the occasional misstep, the gambles generally succeed in remaining tense throughout.

In general, the cast of Kakegurui are terrible. And by that, I don’t mean that they’re terrible characters, but that they’re terrible people. They’re manipulative and sadistic, and with few redeeming traits. But while their actions are regularly cartoonishly evil, there is actually a bit of humanity behind them. For example, there’s a scene in episode eight where one of the villains talks about her ambitions of becoming an actress, and while it in no way justifies any of her behavior, it begins to make her understandable. This pays off when once-villains return as allies, which happens twice in the territory covered by the anime, and a lot more in the next arc. These are easily my favorite games in the series, because Yumeko isn’t actually a very interesting gambler. She can fix dice rolls and memorize things to an insane degree; she’s too good for there ever to be any worry of her losing, and she lacks motivations that the viewer can get behind. Luckily, the show seems to understand this, and often adopts the perspective of her opponents, which keeps tensions high.

But while I may not particularly like Yumeko, her portrayal by Hayami Saori is easily the highlight of the series. She seamlessly transitions between ladylike calm, playful teasing, and manic edge, and I could not imagine any other seiyu being as perfect a fit for the character. Besides that, the rest of the cast also delivers nicely, but Yumeko is a step above. In regards to the music, it does an excellent job of setting the mood, both through its fantastic opening and the almost constant jazzy background music, and the only place it really stumbles is in the ending theme, which falls behind the standard set by the rest of the soundtrack.

There’s been a lot of praise given to this anime for its faithfulness in recreating the wild facial expressions from the manga, and I’m not sure that I agree. These faces worked great as single frames, but when they need to be put into motion, they lose the sharpness that made them so iconic. In addition, by focusing so much on faces, other details can suffer. In particular, hands are regularly animated with 3dcg, which is really off-putting once you begin to notice it. But credit where it's due, the opening theme, directed by Yamamoto Sayo, is a real spectacle. Kakegurui is always visually ambitious, and when it works, it can be fantastic, but more often than not, it’s more than Studio MAPPA can handle.

In the end, Kakegurui has its faults, but it has also demonstrated that it’s possible to make a gambling adaptation work. I would love to see more gambling shows in the future, and hopefully Kakegurui's success will pave the road for that to happen.