Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor (Season 1) Review – Gambling is Serious Business

Serious Business, With Serious Consequences

80032After finishing Kaiji:  Ultimate Survivor, to be further referred to as Kaiji, I felt it was necessary to immediately do a write up. Normally, I would wait a bit, think about it some, and do this, but not for this show. I have a passion for the “mind game” genre which Kaiji belongs to and have waited a good long while before watching. Did it live up to all the praise, or is this anime not worth taking the gamble on?

Unfortunately, this is going to be a rather quick review. Kaiji was a disappointment. For how well it started off, it found itself drowning in drawn out scenarios, Erased in-your-face style metaphor usage, and just not being all that interesting. For someone who LOVES Code Geass, Death Note, and No Game No Life this should have been a shoo-in for one of my higher regarded anime.

It isn’t.

So with that, here’s my two-cents on the show and why I’m walking away with a bit of a bitter aftertaste in my mouth after this one. I’ll address each grievance as follows:

  1. Pacing – Kaiji is too slow and drug out
  2. Everything is a metaphor – Serious when I said it was about as bad as Erased
  3. The Message – Or, the only way to win while watching Kaiji, is to not watch Kaiji

I am not opposed to slow and contemplative narrative, in fact, I enjoy that type of narrative quite a lot. So when I say that Kaiji is slow, this is said with a lot of weight. Kaiji begins well enough, a man with a large amount of debt is given a once-in-a-lifetime chance to rid himself of it on this mysterious (and super sketchy) cruise. The scenario is interesting, there is a decent level of intrigue, but then you realize something.

I’ve seen this before… Oh, o-oh no! It’s one of these types of shows… how could I have been so blind? Did I learn nothing from Dragon Ball Z?!? Four hours takes 8 episodes. Obviously I am joking around about how bad this really is, and it really isn’t that bad, but when every arc drags its feet about, it really does feel like this.

Kaiji could have avoided these issues pretty easily for me as well. For starters, don’t waste 2-5 minutes of every episode recapping the last episode verbatim. Secondly, the show had a bad habit of dragging out reveals for cliff-hangers. This was especially true when the audience, and Kaiji even, knows the outcome. It adds some dramatic flair sometimes, but it was way overplayed. Small stuff like this would have made the show a lot better.

Episode 19, “Limit” was the only time outside of the first few episodes where I felt particularly interested in what was going on. Not to say that I wasn’t invested before, the anime is tense, but the tension doesn’t go anywhere because of how Kaiji is paced and the nature of this type of show (unsurprisingly, Kaiji wins a lot, that sort of thing). I’ll give that the longer arcs give more opportunity for Kaiji to make mistakes, but…

The second point is pretty straight forward. Everything is a metaphor. All of it.

Metaphor is tolerable and a valid story telling technique, but when it is overused and literally explained to you by the characters all the time it is unbearable.

Point 3, Kaiji has a lot of messages:

  • Gambling is an addiction, it is also bad
  • Life is unfair
  • Money gives you power, relative
  • etc…

All of that is fine. At its core, Kaiji is a show that warns of the evils of gambling and the pitfall of relying on chance or circumstance for improving ones life. A positive message that I enjoy, however, there is another prominent message that Kaiji waves about that made the show unenjoyably many times.

Folks with money in this show are dicks. They love torturing people, killing them, etc… but never getting their hands dirty of course! Dark, cool, I adore that sort of thing, but here it bothered me a lot. Sure, things were messed up, tons of despair, all that is totally fine by me. Here’s the fatal flaw, you, the audience, are made out to be just as bad as these rich dicks. By watching this suffering and “doing nothing” you are just as bad, especially if you enjoy it. This is a cardinal sin for any kind of show, anime or otherwise, to do. It’s fine to make people feel bad for the characters, sympathies with them, but Kaiji basically calls the viewer out for enjoying its story. It’s a bit difficult to fully express, perhaps something best understood once seen, but it was off putting to say the least.

Past that I have some little knit-picks, like how the subtitles are pretty bad (errors or awkward phrasing) but compared to the above it’s not that big of an issue.

I did enjoy Kaiji some and there were some high points for sure. The ED [“Makeinu-tachi no Requiem (負け犬達のレクイエム)”] was great, animation was unique, and the start was fantastic. Season 1 ended in a way that, while predictable, was absolutely the way it needed to end. This is greatly appreciated, and I respect the show for ending the way it did. There is a season two, I will watch it, but not without a small break.

After all of this consideration Kaiji manages to be somewhat enjoyable with a score of 6/10 and the recommendation to proceed with caution. I wouldn’t outright say pass on this, though the art style is probably enough to get most to pass if my review wasn’t enough, but for some there is enough there for this anime to be worth watching. Season 2 could improve my opinion of the show as well, which would bump the recommendation to a watch, but as for now this is where it sits.

Crunchyroll.com is the only place you can watch this one (legally) right now for those of us in the United States, but it is free so that’s a big plus.

Have you given kaiji a watch? Was it worth he shot you gave it, or just a waste of time? Let me know in the comments below! Remember to give this a like if you enjoyed the article and I hope to see you back around here soon 🙂

-Jon Spencer


9 thoughts on “Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor (Season 1) Review – Gambling is Serious Business

  1. I feel the same way you do, but maybe not for the same reasons. This series could have had such a great potential if done with the tone it deserved, but they settled on the repetitive shonen style. I just can’t shake the idea that by cutting the obnoxious narrator and the repetitive explanations of litteraly everything that crosses every character’s minds this series would have stood on its own just on the fact that it adresses some serious topics.

    It talks about how unfair and unforginving the world is, how society is built upon a contradictive bedrock that oppresses one’s soul into a mercyless way of living in which, in order to succeed, you not only have to crush everyone around you, but also sacrifice yourself in the process. But more importantly than that, it shows us these soul-crushing ideas from the perspective of Kaiji, who is torn apart by his resolve to rise in this world, and the consciousness of how unfair the ways the society provides to reach this goal really are. And it disgusts him.

    It disgusts him because it really is disgusting. Centering the show on this matter, how the main character is torn appart by all the injustice, all the avarice and how alien it is for him to view people as prey, not necessarily expanding on the inner monologue, but making the show about his inner self interacting with this monstruous world and the beasts that roam it WHILE he still manages to survive against it, would make for one much more interesting piece of media. It would totally change the genre of the anime, though.

    Liked by 1 person

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