Kaiji gets in trouble after co-signing his friend's yakuza loan. Said gangsters offer him the chance to pay off the debt with a 4-hour gamblathon on a cruise ship. It turns out to be much nastier than he expects, and leads to other, similar gambles.
It's good, and I recommend you watch it. Regardless, this review will mainly pick on the things I didn't like.
The main problem with Kaiji as a series is that we ultimately know he is going to win. We know that he will think he’s on top, get crushed, then defiantly battle against the odds until one of his theories is powerful enough to allow him to succeed (always at the last minute). There’s never any doubt. It’s as bad as Dexter in that respect. And we know that at the end something unexpected will probably have to happen to make all that waiting worth it.
Worse, is the way in which the episodes drag. And I do mean drag. Endless convoluted riffs on the same idea or theory, explained over and over in mildly different ways. That weird voiceover could be used to compress Kaiji’s muddling, but instead it only repeats it.
I was also less than satisfied by the relentless nature of the gambles. There was no break between the challenges. I would have liked to have seen time for Kaiji to reflect on his own life more. He always berates himself for being such a lowly soul, but doesn’t really acknowledge that his extreme situation isn’t his own fault. That’s an interesting angle – he hates himself regardless of the whole yakuza mess. I wanted to see that explored.
Also, he has a severe gambling problem, as is expressed through his comments during the E-Cards game (“If I leave with this much money, I am setting myself this limit. I will never have this much again” etc). We needed more of that.
But, on the whole I enjoyed it. It was original, lively, pretty mature. Not your average anime. It made me think, and not just about the things which I didn’t think were done well. It's way too long, though. Way too long.
The style here is refreshing. It’s basic (very), but fun all the same. In fact I’d say it’s too fun. Some pretty horrible things happen in this series which are not suited to the animation style at all. The character designs are rough and grisly, as they should be, but their movement is too cartoon-like to convey the emotions literally dripping out of them. It’s a shame, because it could have worked.
Good voice acting and casting, despite the narrator not being sure if he was building tension in a comedic or genuinely tense manner. The music was appropriate.
Kaiji is annoyingly stupid sometimes, and inhumanly sharp at others. His endless stream of theories and tactics are baffling in their complexity, and often plagued with holes.
He’s constantly in tears, as are most of the other characters – each representing a small part of the psyche of an addict. Sure, it works. But kind of annoying sometimes.
The baddies are incapable of any positivity. Not that they should be: the addict battling the world in general will never see any kindness if still under outside control.
All in all, it’s kind of bleak. Even Kaiji has no hope for the future. His dream is to not be chased for money. Every time I go into a convenience store now all I see are people striving for that level of comfort. It’s sad.
So Kaiji is meant to be a nice guy under it all – compassionate and a leader of men despite his problems. But he’s still a ruin. Can we get behind him without seeing something in ourselves which makes us feel uncomfortable?