Lately, the anime industry has been coming out with a lot of TV shows that focus on gambling. Such is the story of Gyakkyou Burai Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor. This anime that can often be too dark for many has a fantastic message that it conveys through a lot of psychological action.
Gambling Anime — Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor
When it comes down to gambling anime, Kaiji the Ultimate Survivor and Kakegurui definitely take the top two spots on all the lists. We already established that the Japanese as a nation never really liked to gamble much. That’s the way it has been throughout all of its history — but deep inside, things were changing.
Gambling Anime Have Always Existed
You might think that this is the first time gambling has become the main theme of anime, but that’s not entirely the case. See, a lot of gambling anime have been released in the early 2000s. Moreover, you’ve probably let your kids watch these anime without batting an eye.
For example, in the mainstream anime Yu-Gi-Oh, people are literally gambling on their lives. However, the creators hid this theme in the most brilliant way. They used history, monsters, and teenagers on a quest to become the best players in the world. Also, season 0 of Yu-Gi-Oh is actually not as imaginative as the rest of the TV show. In this season, Yugi, the protagonist, is quite evil. He was possessed by an ancient Egyptian deity who forces him to get people to gamble with him. So they play games he invented according to his rules — if they lose, they get eternal damnation.
So basically, Yu-Gi-Oh was intended to be nothing more but an anime about Russian Roulette only depicted differently. Luckily, the creators realized the audience didn’t accept this idea well, so they changed the entire show.
Still, all of these anime had to hide the idea of gambling behind fantastic plots. Still, with the approach of the second decade of the 21st century, things started to change. All of a sudden, dozens of different gambling anime shows started to appear. The studios realized that talking about this topic in Japan isn’t a bad thing anymore. Finally, they had one more thing to talk about and cash in to further expand the industry.
The Story of Kaiji
There is one significant difference between Kaiji and Yumeko Jabami — the first one is much more realistic. As entertaining as Kakegurui is, it’s very often not too realistic. Yumeko, although being a genius gambler with slight issues, never loses. Or even when she does lose, it is because she intends to win later on. No matter how you put it, this girl can never lose and she outsmarts even the most brilliant of minds.
Kaiji, on the other hand, doesn’t always win. Moreover, the lives of his friends depend on whether he loses or wins too. Although it is a lot darker and just as relatively impossible, Kaiji has a more lifelike vibe than many other gambling animes. After all, why do you think they called him the ultimate survivor?
This anime started only as a gambling manga, but it quickly gained so much popularity that the studio had to transfer it to the screen. However, there is one important part of this anime that is worth mentioning: the story takes place in the 90s.
If you know anything about the history of Japan, then you’ve probably heard that this nation is not very fond of this time in their history. Moreover, they refer to this decade as the “lost decade.” During this period, the economy of the country stagnated, which resulted in the highest unemployment rate in Japan since WWII. In this decennium, most of the young Japanese could not find decent jobs. A degree was no guarantee for a well-paid office job, which meant that most of the fresh graduates had to do low-profile, part-time jobs. Naturally, they didn’t pay well, so the younger people had to do two or three of them to support themselves.
Naturally, this resulted in depression, which led to the suicide rate among young people to skyrocket. Indeed, choosing this decade for a dark anime about gambling is a genius move. After all, this is when the illegal gambling industry in Japan began to thrive more than ever.
The True Meaning of Kaiji
Kaiji is one of those animes that you can easily relate to — regardless if you’re a gambler or not. First of all, the anime often goes by Kaiji Gambling Apocalypse, and you don’t know how true this is until you watch the show.
Additionally, Kaiji is the perfect representative of the young Japanese during the 90s. He’s very angry, depressed, and jealous of older people who had it easier. At one point, he even vandalizes expensive cars out of spite. And although it may seem like he’s a criminal at first, the storyline is smooth enough for the watchers to realize that he is merely desperate. There is a lot of poison in him that he can’t seem to get rid off.
Although many people had to go to gambling for salvation in the hope of earning money quickly, that wasn’t the case with Kaiji. The reason he got into the underground world of gambling was his friend. He signed a co-loan for his friend who somehow died — which meant Kaiji had to pay this back. The loan is 9.5 million Yen, which is around $100,000. This perfectly fits into the story of the 90s depression, when $100,000 might as well be $1 billion. Earning this kind of money was equally tricky.
To pay this loan back, Kaiji must enter the dark and illegal world of gambling in Japan. The gambling anime, Kaiji, strives to prove that the things our protagonist goes through are not all that impossible. The writers are hinting that these horrendous things probably are happening daily, only deep in the shadows where we can’t see.
The Brutality of the Anime
Although not directly, the anime also mentions the notorious Yakuza clan through all of the episodes. The name “Yakuza” is not mentioned directly for obvious reasons, but the underground of Japan belongs to a certain mafia clan. So you could consider this a reference to the real-life clan, famous for the horrible things they do.
The writers perfectly depict the brutality of the anime through bets Kaiji needs to suffer if he wants to live. In one of the episodes, these people insert a drill inside Kaiji’s ear. Every time Kaiji loses a hand or makes a wrong move, the drill moves closer to his vertebrae. This causes him to bleed and scream in agony. This is something to admire as there is a high chance people endure these things behind our eyes. What’s so admiring is the fact that writers weren’t afraid to point these things out.
Kaiji Teaches You to Gamble Professionally
Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji has a more positive side to it as well. The animation style is fantastic as it gives a note of humor to characters. The facial expressions in times of shock and bedazzlement are hilarious.
But what matters the most is that the show really portrays the exact state of mind of a gambler in the middle of the game. The writers knew exactly how to animate the feelings of anxiety and anticipation. They even managed to somehow show that state when our brain works at 200% as we’re waiting for the ball to fall on a slot on the wheel.
Also, we can see a lot of familiar games in the anime — some are domestic Japanese games, and others are Western. The characters often play Pachinko and Mahjong, but also poker, roulette, Blackjack, etc.
Some games are even made up. There’s the rock-paper-scissors card game — the rules are not any different from the real-life game, only this time it’s on the cards. Also, to add to the nerve-racking excitement, the characters gamble on their lives. Imagine if your life depended on whether you choose rock or paper?
One more exciting game is the Emperor’s card game. This game has 3 cards, the slave, the emperor, and the citizen. The emperor card beats the citizen card, the citizen card beats the slave card, and the slave card beats the emperor card. Somehow, this is very symbolical. Most of the emperors in history have fallen because slaves rose against them. But to keep things more particular, this also emphasizes how Kaiji, a simple young man, managed to defeat evil mafia lords.
What Does This Anime Teach Us?
Kaiji gambling anime has a lot of lessons for us. Most importantly though, it is letting us inside the mind of a problematic gambler. Is the entire show just a way to teach us how to tolerate compulsive gamblers and let us understand them?
Next to showing us the world through a gambler’s eyes, the show also carries a strong message of not letting our passions consume us. If you like gambling, try not liking it too much, because it will backfire at some point. Who’s to guarantee that you won’t have to follow Kaiji’s suit in case you lose everything? The point here is to make sure your hobby remains just that, a way to kill time. In case you win some money, good for you! But if you lose, make sure it is insignificant amounts. I suggest watching this anime — whether you’re a gambler or not, you will definitely like it.