Nov 15, 2019
(just for the record, this is a toned down version of my anime review)

I am a fan of macho protagonists (you don’t say!), as well as unorthodox presentations, unique sensations, uncommon tropes, and so on. I got all that in this manga.

The series has a very simple to understand concept, yet very thrilling to follow through. The world moves with money, and some are willing to gamble a lot in order to get rich, or in case they are in dept just to get rid of it. Thus every player in this series is there for a good reason; he is highly motivated to play and win, with the result being him scoring big or ruining his life. As weird as it sounds at first (even for me) the series makes constant remarks to how they are all thinking while going after something that can ruin their lives. As they put it, they’d rather risk everything for a life of luxury instead of wasting their time as nobodies. And if they fail, at least they tried. And if they get ruined, their lives were insignificant to begin with. So yeah, this life or death business really strikes a cord with its direct explanation.

And thus we have Kaiji and his occasional friends and foes, having a big dept to moneylenders and other yakuza members, and all taking part in games that can eradicate either the dept or their lives. The old man who is in charge of all this establishment is by far the greediest bastard I have ever set my eyes on and his logic is “make money for the sake of making more money”. And as cost-unworthy as it seems to make all these games, eventually he gains lots of slaves who work all their lives practically for free, while the few winners usually are gamblers who return just for the gamble and get ruined as well. In his eyes, it is a win-win situation and all the money eventually returns back to him. He is a great adversary, both despised yet prized for his way of thinking.

What makes this show even more interesting, is the games themselves. Their rules are always easy to understand and they appear to be based on pure luck, yet eventually the smart mind can find more strategy than luck into winning the game. Even through cheating if possible. So it is highly ironic to have so many card game anime like Yugioh, each one with thousands of different cards and numerous strategies, and yet none of them are as exciting or strategic as a simplistic rock/paper/scissors game played with cards. Later on more games are introduced to keep the interest from going stale, as different strategies are needed for completely different games. And although all of them are usually based on cheating, the means through which they are revealed or countered makes it all the more exciting.

Speaking of excitement, the whole series is basically a mind game of itself. Various cinematics are used to portrait how the characters are feeling, and most of the duration is actually about them sweating, getting close to a heart-attack, or crying from joy when an obstacle is overcome. The background constantly changes to tsunamis and castles and beasts as means to depict all that, while the endless kanji for ZAWA ZAWA make you feel anxious as well. Even the narrator contributes to all that by mentioning some really overblown with drama monologues around life and death. And the BGM is full of unresting tunes, while the main songs are preparing you for some really blood-boiling situations. So yeah, you are watching men playing card games and you are made to feel THE WORLD IS ABOUT TO END! The show does a great job at maintaining the anxiety and sucking you into it.

So in all I loved this manga. It was exciting, different, thrilling, GAR, and did things right all the way. It was both portraying its characters’ mentality AND had mind games worth looking into. It had moral messages AND honest depiction of human greed. It was both about pathos and catharsis, desperation and hope, emotions and cold-heartingness. IT WAS LIFE ITSELF!

… and it was GAR.

And if you want more, try the Liar Game manga.
Reviewer’s Rating: 8
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