"Money, it makes the world go 'round."
It seems people, in general, will do all kinds of illogical and stupid things just for a little bit of cash. And, people who are well off generally find that amusing. But, when someone has their back against the wall in most cases they will do anything to make it out. Kaiji, a series about a man up to his neck in debt and who is forced to participate in all kinds of twisted "games" with the stakes seemingly much higher and repercussions much more sever each time he plays, gives the viewer a surprising and quite truthful look at the darker side of human nature.
Fukumoto Nobuyuki seems to run on the belief that people can, and will, screw over each other when their back is against the wall. This is shown quite early, as Kaiji is tricked at the beginning of the very first arc and from then on it seems as though the series is just an exercise in him getting continuously screwed over. But, here's the thing: that is actually a good thing for the story. In a story where people continuously backstab one another and don't look out for each other, Kaiji is one of the few who seems to actually care for his fellow man to some extent.
Fukumoto deftly and skillfully contrasts the overall dark tone of the series with his protagonists' altruism and never really picks a side. Which makes it all the more effective, as morality should be handled as morally grey. That said, it isn't as though the characters that aren't Kaiji are particularly well developed. The villains of the series, for instance, Tonegawa and "The Chairman" are very obviously portrayed as evil for the most part, though they do have some interesting philosophies, with the typical "bad guy" poses that overly dramatic series like Death Note do. Think Light Yagami when he comes up with some dastardly plan.
But, strangely enough, this kind of works to the series' advantage as well. Because, to Kaiji, these people ARE evil. They put him in this terrible situation where he could die or possibly worse, so the dramatizing can be effective in this situation. That said, those who dislike melodrama may be kind of turned off. But, personally, I think it fits the tone and situations for the most part.
Of course, every one who has any passing knowledge of this series and anything else by Fukumoto knows that the art can be kind of a turn off for certain people. The faces, in particular, look strange at first with the overly stylized nose. But, all but the most close minded should be able to get over this once the series gets into the swing of things. In fact, the art is effective in showing character reactions whether it be fear, shock, happiness or any other human emotion. Very effective stuff here, most viewers will probably be pleasantly surprised by the art.
The music and sound effects do the job nicely, with the most memorable part being the "Za" sound effect used throughout when ever something or someone takes a dark turn. Unfortunately, it is very easy to imagine this being an annoyance to some people. Personally, I thought it greatly added to the tension in key scenes. The OP and ED are okay, nothing overly memorable. Pretty good voice acting across the board, though nothing was overly amazing.
A very effective series, all things considered. As someone who isn't exactly into gambling by any means, I was personally more pulled into the glimpses of human nature and the general darkness the series presented.
The story about a man thrown into a series of games to make money isn't particularly interesting. But, when the story gets going this series has an interesting opinion on the human condition. The games themselves are interesting, with the most entertaining ones being the Rock, Paper, Scissors and E Card. Honestly, the series high point is the over the top but incredibly intriguing "Brave Men road" arc. It has to be seen to be believed.
Great facial expressions in dramatic situations. The artstyle takes a few episodes to get used to, but once the viewer is into the thick of things it shouldn't be a problem. The art has far more advantages than disadvantages.
Good voice work, well done sound effects, and decent music. The sound effects, in particular, work extremely well in heightening tension.
Kaiji is a surprisingly believable and easy to relate to character and his contrast with many of the other, "look out for yourself" characters is intriguing. Takegawa is pretty much the only other particularly interesting character as he has some interesting thought processes. Fukumoto wisely doesn't choose a particular side, though the "evilness" of the other characters does counter act this a bit.
A very addicting series, Kaiji can really suck the viewers time away. It's also entertaining for people who want "something more" from their entertainment while not digging to deeply. It's easy to imagine that the games could be entertaining to watch without the food for thought as well.
An impressive series that wasn't like what I thought it would be, aside from the sense of style. The world view of this series is particularly gripping. Definitely worth the watch.