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Kakegurui & Poker – A Match Made in Heaven Posted Oct 26, 2020

Making the swift transition from the pages of manga imprint Gangan Comics Joker to the screen as an anime TV series, Kakegurui achieved rapid success in Japan over a surprisingly short space of time. But what was it all about?

Kakegurui Setting & Plot

Only the offspring of Japan’s high-class wealthy and elite traditionally take their place at the Hyakkaou Private Acadamy, which is renowned for educating students who are destined for power, fame, and fortune. However, there’s much more to this establishment than meets the eye, which inevitably makes for an entertaining and unique storyline.

Instead of being determined by academic study and performance, or even athletic skills and achievements, the hierarchy amongst students is established by gambling. To rank amongst the highest echelons, those who make the most contributions to the student council are those who rise to the top.

The winners become popular, earn great prestige, and make important connections, although for every winner there also has to be a loser. Those who don’t make the grade must submit to the whims of the student body as pets, identified with a collar around their necks and practically slaves. If they can’t clear debts by graduation, their very lives are affected.

Yumeko Jabami looks like an ordinary student when she arrives, albeit one who is beautiful and intelligent, although her apparently bright and cheerful demeanor hides a true nature. Yumeko is also a compulsive gambler who cares little for the established status quo, and it doesn’t take long for her to disrupt life at Hyakkaou, creating fear amongst the powerful student council.

Kakegurui Storyline

One thing soon becomes clear when Yumeko Jabami starts her first day at Hyakkaou Private Acadamy, which is the fact she won’t go unnoticed, due to her inherent passion for any form of gambling. The very first game is rock-paper-scissors and she manages to beat Mary Saotome, the best gambler in the class, after seeing through her lies and manipulations.

With her name spreading like wildfire through the Academy, the student council soon see a genuine threat to their established order, even though Yumeko could care less about that, gambling for the sheer thrill and excitement it brings. As the games and the stakes get more outlandish, so do the risks as she reveals rival attempts to cheat against her obvious talents.

The appearance of poker

After surviving a tense game of Russian Roulette with loaded guns, as the student council try to eliminate Yumeko, other games follow including high-stakes poker with everything on the line. Without the benefit of choosing a poker coach to aid her efforts, Yumeko must rely on innate ability and skill to win this challenge, although this isn’t any normal game of poker. In the game known as Choice Poker, each player is dealt 5 cards and allowed to exchange any number of cards once. The hand rankings are the same as you’d expect to find in a normal game of poker, but the Joker automatically makes the strongest hand ranking possible.

In Choice Poker, players may only bet or raise. The player who bets highest then gets to choose the rankings for the round: stronger or weaker. If they select stronger, normal poker rules are applied, if they go with weaker, the player with the weakest hand wins. Following plenty of twists and turns, Yumeko comes out on top with a 3 of a kind with Jacks!

Quickly becoming a mentor for other students, the games and betting for Yumeko get stronger with each episode, as do the risks, staking much more than money or prestige. Friendships and even lives are wagered, while she remains unable to resist the thrill of each gamble and every chance taken. Logic is thrown asunder as many secrets are revealed, amongst the students and even the Academy itself.

Kakegurui Anime & Live Action

First serialized in Gangan Joker by Square Enix, Kakegurui was originally written by Homura Kawamoto and illustrated by Toru Naomura. The unique style and setting made this manga serialization an instant hit for the magazine, and like many successful stories beforehand, this inevitably led to the production of an animated TV series and much more.

As one of the most famed Japanese animation studios, MAPPA launched the original Kakegurui anime TV series in September 2017 via Tokyo MX and MBS. After the initial run of 12 episodes, the series was licensed outside Japan to Netflix, while a second series with 12 additional episodes was produced and released in January 2019.

Between the two animated seasons being released, a live-action version of Kakegurui also ran for 15 episodes over two seasons, from March 2018 to April 2019 in Japan, featuring Minami Hamabe in the starring role of Yumeko Jabami. Just like the anime series, this was also a critical success in Japan, although opinions differed slightly between the two elsewhere around the world.

Hamabe and much of the same TV show cast reprised their roles in the 2019 movie adaption titled Kakegurui – Compulsive Gambler, with a sequel due for release in 2021 and further sequels currently under consideration. Aside from both the anime and live-action versions, additional spin-offs including Kakegurui Twins and Kakegurui Midari have also been published by Gangan Joker, which may also make their transition to the screen.

Kakegurui Overview

There’s absolutely no doubt that the uniqueness of Kakegurui is behind the success of this anime, starting with the initial magazine release, and the fact production companies are making more live-action versions. For any manga and anime fans, the thrilling stories of gambling and the academy setting are what keep them hooked.

Essentially, whichever versions you end up liking most is always down to personal preference. Live-action remakes and adaptions are often criticized by hardcore anime fans, although those released for Kakegurui actually stand up well as an alternative kind of experience. That said, nothing will substitute the original print releases for some avid collectors.

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