Anime for people who hate anime: Kaiji

Time to scare off most of the people who came to this blog looking for travel posts! Yes, I am an extremely depressing nerd. Sorry, everyone. Anyway, this group of posts is going to cover anime series that I’ve enjoyed and that you can also enjoy without feeling embarrassed or hating yourself – I don’t care who you are.

It’s true that watching anime has a kind of stigma attached to it. Most of my friends don’t know I watch any anime at all – they think it’s all either cutesy stuff for little girls, unlimited perversity, or glowy superhuman guys throwing energy balls at each other. And a lot of it is. But some of it isn’t! Animation is just a medium, after all: the creator can fill that medium with whatever he wishes, and some have filled it with interesting characters and compelling stories.

As a side note, I’m not going to stop writing travel posts, so if you come here just for that then, you know, please don’t unbookmark me or anything. This isn’t going to become an anime review site, either – I know people with way more knowledge about this stuff than I have, so if you’re looking for “a series like _____ but with more mechs” I’m not the one to ask about that. Thanks!

Anyway, on to the subject of this post:

Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji

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Kaiji is the story of the title character, a young man without much in the way of motivation or marketable skills who is up to his eyeballs in debt because of bad decisions. As he mulls over his fate, he’s invited to join a mysterious event by a mob-connected loan shark. This just happens to be a gambling event taking place on a totally isolated cruise ship against other debtors. Said loan shark tells Kaiji that if he only joins this game, he’ll have a shot at clearing his debts if he’s among the winners. If he loses… well, let’s not think about what might happen if he loses. Despite his misgivings, Kaiji takes up the offer and shows up at the dock where the ship is about to depart. What Kaiji doesn’t realize is that he’s about to enter a world of insane gambles and deception where he have to will risk his health and even his life.

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A little background on this series: Kaiji was created by Nobuyuki Fukumoto (aka FKMT), a Japanese comic artist and writer famous for his gambling comic series. But Fukumoto’s works aren’t just about gambling: they’re really about power, skill and the meaning of life. Kaiji’s real search throughout the series is for a sense of purpose. A lot of the gambles he’s forced to take part in to clear his debts involve defeating someone else and destroying his chances to succeed for Kaiji to succeed himself. Despite this, Kaiji always manages to maintain his humanity and does his best to help his fellow debtors, even when the people running the gambles (a large, extremely shady corporation called Teiai) impose rules that seem to demand the winners sacrifice the losers.

Kaiji might look depressing, and it is.  It really is.

Kaiji might look depressing, and it is. It really is.

But Kaiji is also uplifting. Under normal circumstances, Kaiji is a loser who can’t achieve much of anything at all. But when he’s pushed to his limits and exposed to great danger, he seems to unlock a hidden genius within himself that allows him to escape, to survive and to succeed where others have failed. Kaiji will have to rely on this ability, one that he doesn’t even seem to realize he possesses, to defeat his creditors. Kaiji is all about building up tension to the point where you can’t believe he’ll be able to get out of his predicament, before he finds a way – an extreme and unpredictable way – to come out on top.

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Throughout the series, Kaiji runs into other characters, some allied to his cause and others standing against his efforts. A lot of these characters have their own interesting backstories. The “bad guys” have their own clear motivations that usually aren’t any worse than Kaiji’s. They’re simply looking out for their own interests, which happen to run directly counter to his. Even the head of Teiai, an old billionaire, is a little sympathetic despite being without a doubt the most black-and-white evil character on the show, because he’s also clearly fucking crazy.

If I ever get old and rich, I'm going to drink extremely expensive wine out of a bowl like a dog.

If I ever get old and rich, I’m going to drink extremely expensive wine out of a bowl like a dog.

So hey! If the above image didn’t convince you to go and watch Kaiji right now, I don’t know what will. The series is currently two seasons in, and the comic is much further along, though Fukumoto hasn’t finished the story. Even so, the end of the second season does have a sense of finality to it, so don’t be afraid to dive in right away. As far as I know, Kaiji hasn’t been licensed in the States so you can easily find scanned/fan-translated version of the comic and torrents and Youtube links with subtitles of the anime series. Kaiji is well worth watching if you enjoy stories about gambling. It’s also worth watching if you just enjoy good, compelling stories with a lot of truly effective suspense to them.

It also features the most detailed beer can in animation history.

It also features the most detailed beer can in animation history.

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3 thoughts on “Anime for people who hate anime: Kaiji

  1. Pingback: Anime for people who hate anime: Akagi | Everything is bad for you

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