ANIME EVOLUTION SERIES
Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:
Kaiji is the proof GAR is not dead yet. Kaiji is an oasis in a desert of fruitless moe and wimp protagonists. Kaiji is so cool it is animated by the king of anime studios, Madhouse itself. Kaiji is so special, it is a category of its own. Kaiji is awesome.
… and this review covers both seasons because Kaiji is too GAR to deserve an identical wall of text regarding its manliness.
Now before I start I must clarify that I am a fan of macho protagonists (you don’t say!), as well as unorthodox presentations, unique sensations, uncommon tropes, and so on. So you can imagine how awesome this looks when you try to compare it with any other similar titles out there. No, seriously, how many anime like this can you think of? Akagi? It is from the same guy and has the same artwork and concept so it doesn’t count as something different. One Outs? Got boring fast. Death Note? Went under after SOMEBODY important died. The original Yugioh series? DON’T MAKE ME LAUGH! So as you can see, this is a truly special anime in all accounts. You can’t find something like it, not even in old retro titles. It is THAT good. Before I proceed (yeah, I am going to torture you more) I must point out how I like it a lot more than Akagi for having variety in its games instead of just being about Mahjong, as well for the protagonist not being uber smart and perfect. It is much more likable to have a hero who makes mistakes and loses control from time to time.
Now about the series itself (finally) it has a very simple to understand concept, yet very thrilling to follow through. The world moves with money, and some are willing to gamble a lot in order to get rich, or in case they are in dept just to get rid of it. Thus every player in this series is there for a good reason; he is highly motivated to play and win, with the result being him scoring big or ruining his life. As weird as it sounds at first (even for me) the series makes constant remarks to how they are all thinking while going after something that can ruin their lives. As they put it, they’d rather risk everything for a life of luxury instead of wasting their time as nobodies. And if they fail, at least they tried. And if they get ruined, their lives were insignificant to begin with. So yeah, this life or death business really strikes a cord with its direct explanation.
And thus we have Kaiji and his occasional friends and foes, having a big dept to moneylenders and other yakuza members, and all taking part in games that can eradicate either the dept or their lives. The old man who is in charge of all this establishment is by far the greediest bastard I have ever set my eyes on and his logic is “make money for the sake of making more money”. And as cost-unworthy as it seems to make all these games, eventually he gains lots of slaves who work all their lives practically for free, while the few winners usually are gamblers who return just for the gamble and get ruined as well. In his eyes, it is a win-win situation and all the money eventually returns back to him. He is a great adversary, both despised yet prized for his way of thinking.
What makes this show even more interesting, is the games themselves. Their rules are always easy to understand and they appear to be based on pure luck, yet eventually the smart mind can find more strategy than luck into winning the game. Even through cheating if possible. So it is highly ironic to have so many card game anime like Yugioh, each one with thousands of different cards and numerous strategies, and yet none of them are as exciting or strategic as a simplistic rock/paper/scissors game played with cards. Later on more games are introduced to keep the interest from going stale, as different strategies are needed for completely different games. And although all of them are usually based on cheating, the means through which they are revealed or countered makes it all the more exciting.
Speaking of excitement, the whole series is basically a mind game of itself. Various cinematics are used to portrait how the characters are feeling, and most of the duration is actually about them sweating, getting close to a heart-attack, or crying from joy when an obstacle is overcome. The background constantly changes to tsunamis and castles and beasts as means to depict all that, while the endless kanji for ZAWA ZAWA make you feel anxious as well. Even the narrator contributes to all that by mentioning some really overblown with drama monologues around life and death. And the BGM is full of unresting tunes, while the main songs are preparing you for some really blood-boiling situations. So yeah, you are watching men playing card games and you are made to feel THE WORLD IS ABOUT TO END! The show does a great job at maintaining the anxiety and sucking you into it.
Now, the truth is that I have heard a lot of complaints regarding this aspect of the show. Some for example nag about the slow pacing of the plot, or how the narrator keeps wasting time in describing the obvious instead of just letting us see what will happen. All I can say for this is that the feeling of anxiety is maintained better when it is teasing you with its slow pacing. It is like watching Dragonball Z as a kid; a whole episode would be spent at just power-uping and you would be jumping from anxiety to finally see the showdown. BUT NO, you would have to wait a whole week for the next episode, and the days wouldn’t pass fast enough until that fateful moment! On the other hand, if you happened to watch the Kai version as an adult who just downloaded or streamed the whole thing, then the excitement is not there. Because the plot would be too fast and you wouldn’t have to wait for anything. That is the beauty of the slow plot in Kaiji; those willing to go along with it will enjoy it tenfold.
Another complaint is how the theme of the series is the same all the time (gamble and life threatening situations) to the point it becomes simplistic, repetitive, and boring. Hm, that’s strange, how many anime have a constant theme to them all the way? … HOW ABOUT MOST OF THEM? Would you like an anime about fishing that midway swifts to a murder mystery? In fact, an anime goes under only when it changes themes or slows down, something that Kaiji NEVER DOES! So this minus is actually a major plus.
Some others complained how the characters are drawn totally ugly, or how women are practically non-existent in the whole show. All I have to say to these people is SCREW YOU MOE FAPPERS! GO BACK TO YOUR FAN SERVICES AND BALL-LESS PROTAGONISTS! THIS IS GAR!
There is another issue about the context of the dialogues. Many found them to be immature and repetitive, all full of people saying and doing some really juvenile things. Well HELLO we are talking about lowlifes who gamble their very souls here; of course and they all talk and act stupid. If they were smart/handsome/mature/charismatic they wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with. It would be like expecting to see fish in the middle of a desert.
So in all I loved this anime. It was exciting, different, thrilling, GAR, and did things right all the way. It was both portraying its characters’ mentality AND had mind games worth looking into. It had moral messages AND honest depiction of human greed. It was both about pathos and catharsis, desperation and hope, emotions and cold-heartingness. IT WAS LIFE ITSELF!
… and it was GAR.
And if you want more, try the Liar Game manga.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 9/10
General Artwork 2/2 (well done)
Character Figures 2/2 (they seem ugly but are very distinctive)
Backgrounds 2/2 (basic but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 2/2 (you see lots of trippy allusions)
SOUND SECTION: 8/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 3/3 (ZAWA ZAWA)
STORY SECTION: 9/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 2/2 (deliberately slow to the point it becomes exciting)
Complexity 2/2 (interesting themes)
Plausibility 2/2 (very excused strategies)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 7/10
Presence 2/2 (strong)
Personality 2/2 (cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 9/10
Historical Value 3/3 (all-known)
Rewatchability 2/3 (high but you will skip lots of parts)
Memorability 4/4 (extremely awesome to the point of forever remembering it)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 9/10
May feel a bit irritating and slow at times but overall it’s awesome.