It’s Guest Review Wednesday here on Okazu and today I a very pleased to once again welcome back Mariko S with another terrific review. I hope you’ll all setting for a treat and let Mariko wisk us away to a world of unhealthy obsession. Take it away Mariko!
You may recall that I previously gave a qualified enthusiastic review of this little “high stakes high school gambling addict” sports anime’s first season. Well, it seems its bombastic debut was popular enough to bankroll a second season, so what do Yumeko and the gang have in store for us this year?
To recap, in an elite private school where the children of Japan’s upper crust seemingly don’t study at all, but do spend all day gambling the GDP of small countries on increasingly elaborate contests, wildcard transfer student Jabami Yumeko arrived to shake up the status quo. She took down (and subsequently befriended) an escalating series of insurmountable opponents from the all-powerful Student Council in search of the pure essence of gambling and the chance to compete against the Yin to her Yang, President Momobami Kirari. Having miraculously won the right to stay in her gambling paradise, the season closed with a tease showing a hospitalized woman who looked like Yumeko folding paper cranes…
Kakegurui, Season 2 opens in media res on Yumeko gambling for some painful stakes with old frenemy Midari and a new goth loli girl. The next episode rewinds to tell us why: for some reason, Kirari has decided to step down from her position at the head of the school and offer it up to a school-wide election to be determined by – what else? Gambling. Since the position of Hyakkaou Gakuen student council president is apparently something akin to both Don of a mafia family and maybe head of a shadow government, the election has drawn the interest of a motley crew of teens from the other branches of the Momobami group, determined to take power for themselves. Every student in school is granted 1 chip, and whoever has the most chips at the end of the election period is the new president. May the games begin.
Let’s just get this out of the way – this season was a massive disappointment to me. We can start with its fatal case of “sequelitis.” Basically, the creators decided to repeat everything from the first season, but MORE. The absurd gambling games are even more far-fetched and less-related to anything resembling actual gambling. The grotesque faces that accented the escalating stakes last season, that were so unique and added such strong emotional visualization, are now omnipresent and ratcheted up to 10. Instead of the contests being a battle of wits and wills between Yumeko and a clearly defined opponent, the games this time are gimmicky and involve bloated groups of 3 or more gamblers. In fact, Yumeko regresses completely as a character this time out – you can barely call her the protagonist, as she functions almost entirely as a pure gambling id to catalyze the people around her. We learn nothing new about her, she does nothing to deepen her personality, and in fact in some of the episodes she is literally sidelined as the other characters work out their issues. She does and says things that directly counteract her previously demonstrated core values, and even the things she directly said moments ago. The first season supported Yumeko as both a force of nature and a complex person, and one who would show her gradually escalating excitement at the art and science of each gambling moment in lunatic ways. This time, she’s basically a service delivery device where the slightest hint of any opportunity to gamble making her come is her entire character.
Speaking of the visuals, they take a step back across the board. Gone is the surreal artistic masterpiece opening that Yamamoto Sayo put together for the first season, replaced by a workmanlike sequence that just displays the characters as cards, with lots of shots of Yumeko’s bouncing chest. The ending is basically the animators deciding to “yes, and” Yumeko’s rain walk from last season, as this time she turns into some kind of naked busty blue fairy surrounded by rainbows doing the same walk, just more cheaply animated. I lost count of the number of times someone’s chest was groped or faceplanted into. I already mentioned the overuse of the funhouse faces, but, at the same time, overall things felt more static and less inventive. The Momobami clan gives us a ton of unnecessary new characters, each with a distinctive visual design but little run-time to allow them anything but the shortest backstory and motivation. In fact, you could basically say this season was about healing the defeated opponents from last season more than anything else, as one-by-one the contest they take part in allows Yumeko to play Manic Pixie Dream Gambler and show them the heart, the courage, or the brain they always had inside them. And finally, the season ends on a complete “Huh?” Setting aside the resolution to the final gamble, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to tell you that the election isn’t even decided. Things just… end.
Can I say anything positive about this season? I guess one of the things that was interesting was how clear the show tried to make it that Kirari and Yumeko are two sides of the same coin. Kirari is a crazy sadist who sees the school as her personal aquarium and the students as the fish to be used, observed, experimented on, or discarded at whim. Yumeko also kind of sees people as a commodity, in her case, gambling fodder. She is kinder, yes, and almost accidentally more helpful, but is more of a masochist who likes the helpless feeling of chance. Her philosophy seems to boil down to, “if we have a good gamble, whatever happens was meant to be, so everyone should enjoy the outcome,” even if it’s utter devastation. Similarly, Kirari, though powerful, isn’t power-hungry – she just wants to be entertained as well. In her case that doesn’t always mean gambling, as long as she gets to watch someone squirm under her microscope.
On the Yuri front, this season is a step up, at least in quantity. Student Council secretary Sayaka, who is infatuated with Kirari, is given her own episode replete with lily imagery and, I suppose, as happy an ending as could be possible for someone in love with a misanthropic sadist. Midari is around for several episodes, displaying her usual over-the-top lust for stimulation by an alpha dog like Yumeko or Kirari. And one of the new characters, Batsubami Rei, though a kind of butler to the rest of the -bami tribe, is given a tall, handsome, princely aesthetic that charms the many girls around the school that she interacts with. However, the resolution to her story is, in my opinion, problematic. (Can’t say more without spoilers.)
Bottom line, if you liked the first season mainly for the kooky gambling antics, you’ll find more of that here to enjoy. If you were hoping to learn more about Yumeko’s past and see a character drama of ratcheting intensity, or even a magnetic attraction between two the-same-yet-opposite supernovas, you’ll be disappointed. Here’s hoping that if they gamble on season 3, Kakegurui can roll a 7 next time.
Art – 5 A dramatic decrease in quality from last season.
Story – 4 The election framing device was decent enough, but there was not much beyond it except at a superficial individual level.
Characters – 4 The gutting of Yumeko, the glut of little-more-than-sketches new characters, and the near omnipresence of the animal-hoodied loli and her minions as the “election monitors” send this one plummeting.
Yuri – 5 As described above.
Service – 10 Still a 10, but a different sort of 10 this time around. I didn’t care for it.
Overall – 4
Technical Note: Netflix continues to struggle with translations, but one of its mistakes is pretty funny on a meta level. Irrelevant-self-insert-male-narrator Suzui Ryouta’s name is sometimes miswritten as “Suzuki,” which is perfect for his interchangeable blandness.
Erica here: “as happy an ending as could be possible for someone in love with a misanthropic sadist.” is such a great line, I wanted to cut and paste it just to enjoy it all over again. I watched all of Season 1 and wished I had liked it more than I did. I’m sorry for you this wasn’t as solid but am regardless very happy you stopped by to let us know! Since I watched that first season, Netflix suggests this to me constantly – and you know how their ads autostart.. Watching a popular baking show? Try Kakegurui.
Oh, you like My Little Pony? HAVE YOU LOOKED AT KAKEGURUI?
Hey, we see you watched these murder mystery shows…. MAYBE SOME KAKEGURUI NOW?
Look, you watched Into the Spiderverse…
It’s actually pretty funny, unless I have guests over. ^_^;