Kakegurui×× Review

Honestly, the one thing that I’m more concerned about in this school more than anything is the validity of any kind of teacher or authority figure in here.  Because there are none of them, and this place is run on what’s essentially pure chaos.

Story:

fe5a76077964ace4fa2d4b4484383b6de218e8c0Following the explosive introduction of Jabami Yumeko at Hyakkaou Private Academy, the story in this season begins with the student council president opening up elections for the position of student council president, which in this school means that you’re the dictator of this entire educational establishment where everyone’s vote is counted as a single betting chip to gamble. (Not that education really means much in this place.)  All the while, new students, members of the expansive ‘Momobami family’ come in desiring to snatch the throne for themselves, thus creating the interesting power struggle we witness here this season.

Kakegurui XX - 01 - Large 01If nothing, Kakegurui is ‘style over substance’.  Throughout the season, we’re treated to various ‘gambles’ and games where each few episodes or so features a different game with the combatants in each game featuring some member(s) of the Momobami family, a past character we’re introduced to from Season 1, and Yumeko because adding a bit of crazy to the mix is always how this show works.  This formula is pretty consistent throughout the show and is goes on till the end.  However because of this structure, a few rather unsightly narrative characteristics make themselves abundantly clear since everything more or less plays out the same.

First off, Yumeko is not the focus.  This season, Yumeko kind of takes a backseat to the insanity since she’s already made her ‘big character splash’ in season 1, this time only acting as the crazed wild card that’s “obligatory there” since she’s supposed to be the protagonist and everyone sees her as this weird outlier whose only turn on is the risk of losing/gaining everything in a single instance.  As a result of this, the story mostly turns its focus on the sidecast, revealing backstories, character info, and growth in order to ‘expand’ on what’s been established even though it doesn’t matter in the long run due to their characters just being ‘there’ and disappearing once the battle is over.

1lMweWG.pngSecond, the gambles aren’t REALLY gambles.  Due to the show being primarily ‘style over substance’, the show consistently tries to one up itself with bigger, riskier, and downright ludicrous settings and payouts in an attempt to make the plot seem like a grand spectacle worth watching because “She’s literally putting her life/future on this ONE GAMBLE”.  Because of this, everything from the election, the games, and even the character development/moments all ring REALLY hollow because nothing feels like it matters just due to how astronomically high the stakes are.  The show is undeniably fun because of other more stylistic reasons, but from the perspective of just the story, I found it extremely difficult for me to feel any kind of attachment for really anything in this story.  I almost want to ask what’s even the point of the election anymore since I highly doubt the qualification of winning enough votes to get officially elected as per the rules of the story would warrant competency over ‘ruling’ an entire student body.  But I digress.

Kakegurui XX - 03 - Large 32Because of these problems, Kakegurui××’s story ends up feeling like it doesn’t matter and is honestly one of the weakest aspects of the show overall.  Because what kind of excitement or intrigue am I supposed to get out of a show that ends up having ‘gambles’ in a scale so large that I’m more concerned of other things like the legality or ramifications of how any of this is happening?  Seriously, the president commissioned a giant fucking tower for one kind of game.  ONE.  And where did they put that thing?  Dumb fun is dumb fun sure, but it gets pretty hard to do when that’s ALL that happens.

Characters:

tumblr_pl8k49THlP1w6mt08o2_500.gifAs mentioned before, Jabami Yumeko almost doesn’t matter in this season.  She’s still the compulsively insane gambler who touches herself at the sheer thought of losing everything, but that’s pretty much all she is and always will be.  She acts more like a plot device because her mere existence is enough to annoy the crap out of a majority of the cast, so there’s not really a lot of room dedicated to touching up on who she is and what she contributes overall.  Really she’s just a ‘major’ obstacle to the Momobami family because her natural gambling tendencies lead them all to view her as a threat to their plans, which end up backfiring on most if not all of them because they can’t get a read on her.  Similarly, Suzui is even more useless because despite being the ‘layman’ last season, he’s shoved in such a minor role that any screen time he has boils down to him acting as a second hand of cards to someone else playing.  He has no agency of his own which while doesn’t surprise me, is still disappointing to see given how lackluster his character was to begin with.  (Hell even Mary doesn’t even get that much screentime, and she’s actually the interesting one this season.)

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 10.50.02 AM.pngTo make up for this lack of protagonist, the show devotes a surprising amount of time to the show’s original sidecast, featuring the entirety of the ‘current’ student council and their various intentions, struggles, motivations, and backstories depending on who you’re talking about.  A lot of these are just one off “Here they are, their story, done” type of deals that pertain to each of the gamble.  It’s an interesting change of pace that does well to expand on these members of the cast, but it doesn’t really do the show a lot of favors since a lot of the ending growth goes by quick due to each arc only being 2-3 episodes, and they almost just disappear off the face of the earth once their finished with their section of the story.  Once the game’s done, they’re done, so it doesn’t feel like it means a whole lot.

Clan.jpgAs for the new Momobami family cast members, a lot of what can be said about them can be boiled down to “Defeat Kiari and take the control of the school”.  They’re all just variations of that goal, each of them sporting different methods reach it since apparently the Momobami family has like 12 branches and they each specialize in a different profession that these kids can just exploit for one reason or another.  They’re peculiar for sure due to their similarly insane character traits, but ultimately don’t mean much since most of them function as a collective with minor character differences to make each member’s approach different from the other.

Aesthetics:

SA8Z0tv.pngWhile the aesthetics of the Kakegurui×× isn’t really that much different from season 1, I’d be remised if I didn’t give MAPPA credit for keeping up the same amount of effort and quality to keep the series’s visual quality the same.  The majority black and red color scheme reminiscent of the colors on a roulette wheel make their comeback in spades in addition to the extreme close up shots with the cast which is used constantly to show off the little facial jitters that happen when Yumeko gets even remotely turned on.

watch-kakegurui-2nd-season-sub-episodeee-1.pngI almost feel like MAPPA took extra effort to make these twisted faces the best they could be because they use it with EXTREME frequency with varying degrees of horror, pleasure, and any other kind of emotion in between.  It’s the most striking thing about Kakgurui’s artstyle, and I’m glad they didn’t hold back on it even though it’s undoubtedly my least favorite aspect of the artstyle due to how unsettling it is seeing someone like Yumeko act all cute and spunky in one scene in a faraway shot before closing up on her face as she’s quite literally got her hand between her legs biting her lower lip with rectangular goat pupils because she’s ‘in the zone’.  The entire Momobami clan gets this treatment as well, so we’re treated to a whole bunch of new subjects to this very twisted artstyle.

The music however feels like a bit of a downgrade this season.  The OP “Kono Yubi Tomare” by JUNNA, bears a lot of style similarities to the first season’s “Deal with the Devil”, however this time sporting much less energy despite having that high energy, jazzy feel.  It’s an interesting track, but I feel it’s nowhere near as interesting as what we got in the first season, which is a shame considering I expected a lot more energy given the ‘higher stakes’.  Inversely, “AlegriA” by D-selections very much has that ‘big energy’ that I was looking for from its OP sister, though it’s less jazzy and very much like the previous ED where it’s got this big band feel made to flaunt glamour and the like.

Voice work is also worth praising again, as without Saori Hayami really bringing Yumeko’s insane, gamble-driven personality to life, there really wouldn’t be as much perceived excitement to be had in these scenes simple due to the fact that she gives Yumeko the kind of life that makes the show exciting even if half the time I can’t decide whether or not what’s being played at the moment can even be considered as a ‘gamble’.

Final Thoughts:

Kakegurui XX - 03 - Large 36.jpgI’m actually really disappointed with Kakegurui’s second season.  Despite the intrigue of an entire school election being based around a giant game of gambling (which shouldn’t really be that surprising given how this school encourages the place to become a massive gambling den after hours), the astronomical stakes that just kept climbing with each proceeding ‘match’ and victory pretty much made the entire series feel like a pointless tirade towards the end where they expected the audience to really buy into the whole thing because ‘bigger is better’.  It’s not.

A gamble works best when it’s grounded in reality.  If I can’t conceive the repercussions of the loss narrative-wise, then I don’t really see how I can get attached to the show when the stakes of today’s gamble involve deciding who’s going to throw themselves off a 6 story building.  Obviously Yumeko’s not going to die because she’s the protagonist and an integral part of the story as the ‘wild card’, so really why even do it?  The Momobami clan is an interesting addition to the cast, but I feel like they’re used so casually that they almost don’t add anything significant to the narrative as a whole.  Their motivations are simple, but because none of them are ever at the forefront of the story, they at most feel like a minor obstacle to whatever side character of the week the show decides to put at the front in order to give them a ‘character arc’ for the sake of expanding on the cast without much lasting impact.  So again, what’s the point?

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 10.51.31 AM.pngBecause of how lacking both the story and the characters feel this time around, I find it difficult to recommend this show to even the people who liked and enjoyed season 1.  The escalation is crazy to the extent that the definition of ‘gamble’ is more on the characters throwing caution to the wind instead of taking a calculated risk to achieve a desired outcome.  Not only that, but actually giving a damn about both past antagonists and new ones that are largely unsympathetic due to their high status and pride being their main attributes was a hard pill to swallow time and time again with each proceeding gamble.  The show is still fun to watch to an extent, but not as fun and enjoyable as I wish it was.

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