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Kakegurui – A Review, with Hindsight Posted Jun 14, 2021

Kakegurui is a weird and wonderful tale of life in a Japanese high school – with a twist. Unlike the average high school, everything at Hyakkaou Private Academy is organised around gambling – and who wins and loses in the school’s tough hierarchy is determined by a series of risk-based games.

As manga series go, Kakegurui is a pretty strong one – and it’s been licensed for publication in the US and elsewhere, demonstrating its appeal. However, it’s not without its critics. This article will take a brief look at the history of Kakegurui as a series and will also explore what this show has been both praised and criticised for.

The history of Kakegurui

Kakegurui began life as a serialised manga production which first appeared in 2014. It was written by Homura Kawamoto and was illustrated separately by Tōru Naomura. Since then, the series – which focuses on the life of Yumeko Jabami, a seemingly innocent new arrival at the school who is in fact driven by wagering – has gone on to have a successful adaptation journey. It has moved across into the anime TV field, and it’s been made available on streaming services like Netflix. There’s also been talk of it moving into other verticals like major film adaptations and video gaming.

Praise: Suspense and acting

When Kakegurui gets reviewed, the focus tends to be placed first and foremost on the amount of suspense the show builds. Yumeko Jabami’s character is, according to many critics, often ready to confound audience expectations about what is likely to come next – a sign of a well-written narrative which knows that its audience wants something that will leave them on the edge of their seat. Not all anime can make this sort of claim. With the genre being so diverse and including everything from the cuteness of Spirited Away to the historical drama of The Wind Rises, Kakegurui offers something deeply and richly scary.

Reviewers have also looked at the performances of the actors. Hayami Saori in particular has been described as pulling off a top performance as Yumeko, not least because she seemingly has an ability to move from one mode of acting to another. At times, for example, she pulls off the impression of being crazy and driven, while at other times she presents her “poker face” of total calm. As a voiceover artist, Hayami Saori has received significant praise for being able to portray all of this and more in her speech.

Critics: Is it realistic?

On the site Rotten Tomatoes, there has been criticism along all sorts of grounds. Viewers have claimed, for example, that some of the details of the gambling scenes are not nearly as realistic as they perhaps ought to be. It’s definitely not nearly as realistic as an experience you’d have at a real in-person gambling table, for example, or at a famous online casino in Canada.

But are the Rotten Tomatoes reviewers being totally fair? One reviewer, Yuri, claimed that “the author has never actually seen a poker game before writing about it”. In the show’s defence, however, anime is not always the sort of the genre that can necessarily transmit accurate details about contexts and settings. What the show does do, though, is emphasise the characterisation of Kakegurui and others, and bring that to life in a vivid and tension-building manner.

Another focus of some less positive reviewers is artistic quality. According to some, the show doesn’t meet particular technical anime standards to the extent that might be expected from what is, for the genre, a much-hyped programme. There have been suggestions that characters are often seen milling around rather than being engaged in action – although this could well be because much of the action is set in a school, where characters could reasonably be expected to be spending time in groups and not moving quickly.

In short, Kakegurui is an interesting, and in many ways, unusual anime production, and it’s one that is likely to go down in history as being a little off the wall and unusual. To many, it’s a prime example of an anime series that knows its audience and provides them with the suspense they crave, while also offering good acting. To others, it’s technically quite low quality and also fails to convey realism to a sufficient degree. Those who haven’t seen it, though, ought to watch it and make up their minds for themselves.

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