When Kakegurui made its debut on Netflix on 1st February 2018, it was initially to low fanfare as it was a relatively unknown property and the anime had been released in Japan back in the summer of 2017. A huge gap between Japanese and English releases meant the series missed out on general discussions among anime fans who were used to having drip-fed episodes once a week for every other show. However, since its release, it’s slowly gained traction and popularity, with a Live Action series (also on Netflix with Season 2 also on its way) and a movie released just this year in Japan, plus both the original manga and its spin-off Kakegurui Twin getting English releases as well. Safe to say that it’s now a popular franchise, and with its fun mixture of over-the-top fan service, unique gambling mechanics and high energy in the plot and characters, it’s not hard to see why many were drawn to it. It ended up being one of my personal favourites of 2018, and left me super excited for more content. Now, the second season (named Kakegurui XX) is here and turnaround for Western audiences much quicker this time round (it debuted in Japan in January 2019, released on Netflix June 2019), but is it worth the hype?
After just surviving the latest gamble with the Student Council President, Kirari Momobami, you’d think Yumeko Jabami would want to take it easy, but nope! She is still seeking the next thrilling gamble, and, luckily for her, a new challenge has entered the school. Kirari has decided to lay her very title as Student Council President and all the perks it comes with, including ultimate power over her family clan, on the table. It’s a free-for-all to claim as many votes as they can and not only are the students competing, but the whole Bami family clan, with over a dozen new students joining in, hoping to win the powerful title. But Yumeko doesn’t seem interested in the title, all she sees is new people to gamble with and all-new wonderful games to try.
At the start, Kakegurui XX seems to be picking up the same format and pacing as the first season. Yumeko meets a new opponent, said opponent explains the rules of new game but internally reveals that they’ve rigged the game in their favour, Yumeko plays along innocently until she reveals how she’s figured out the cheating, beats opponent anyway and opponent is crushed both financially and emotionally. However, after a few episodes, the set formula starts to slowly expand. Yumiko starts to partner up with more students against opponents, and instead of outright cheating, it’s more akin to certain rules having loopholes to exploit or using something outside the playing field that hadn’t been considered before. You even have Yumeko taking a back seat in some of the episodes; whilst she remains the central focus of the show and main point of contention for the antagonists, more frequently in this batch of episodes other students start to step up and find holes in their opponents’ games to take control of their gambling situations. Yumeko’s actions don’t happen in a vacuum; all her actions affect those around her, especially those she has played against previously, so it’s no wonder that a few make a comeback this season and start to see things in a different light. Mary is now much more confident in her own abilities and position at school, idol Yumemi has a soul-crushing moment of meeting her acting inspiration before rising from the ashes and coming out on top, and Kaede seems to have completely lost all hope after the events of last season but by the end of this one, he’s realised a self-worth outside of the student council. So even though we’re playing with a similar formula, there’s enough expansion to make this season feel less like a re-tread of first season.
The plot direction however is an odd choice, a swerve change that takes the clearly defined path of Yumeko working her way through the School Council and changing the twisted school system in ways never seen before, to suddenly making it all about the Bami family with the school structure of ‘pets’ and debts no longer mattering. The first season ended suggesting that Yumeko’s battle with the student council and their twisted system was far from over, with our heroine still having a few opponents left to take on. Now we’re suddenly thrust into family politics that, whilst interesting and ridiculously outlandish like the rest of series, also ropes in a bunch of new characters only half of whom are given any screen time and even then, just a small percentage of those are memorable. The series also ends in an odd manner with no conclusion to the current arc, or even an emotional closure for the main characters to make it feel like an ending. Instead it concludes with a new side character coming into their own, only to cut to the credits just as it was getting interesting. Despite a few characters from Season 1 starting to blossom as well, there’s a couple of missteps that really need to be addressed in the next season. Ryota, for example, had a really memorable and significant growth in the finale of Season 1 and was often the voice of reason to contrast with Yumeko’s outrageous actions, but he barely makes an impression in this season, providing no voice-over outside of the opening battle and having a stretch of episodes where he doesn’t even show up. Then there’s Yumeko, who is still a joy to watch and we get to see some new and ugly sides to her as she comes into conflict with Midari, but despite a tease to perhaps reveal some back story in the final episodes, it’s kept to the minimum and she still remains a cypher of a character, untouchable and fun; the lack of depth may hurt the series in the long run.
Animation by studio MAPPA continues to be a highlight, and really goes to town on some of the uncomfortable close-ups of characters new and old, especially Yumeko who has some anger-filled moments that make you shiver; her usual-happy or excited face suddenly turn very grim, like something out of a horror film. The opening and closing animations also are a parade of talent; the opening seemingly inspired by Masaaki Yuasa’s art style with the character designs and use of colour, and the ending animation using beautiful imagery of butterflies – nature’s way of evolving into something greater than before. It’s a shame they’re set to tracks that aren’t as engaging. JUNNA’s ‘Kono Yubi Tomare’ instrumentation sounds like it was ripped from a Mario Kart game and ‘AlegriA’ by D-selections lacks any melody to truly catch onto.
Kakegurui XX contains all the same elements that made Kakegurui a delight to watch in the first place; crazy fan service, creative games, big energy and outrageous characters. Although the story and pacing aren’t as strong as the first season, with a lack of a satisfying ending, it’s still highly binge-able and worth indulging in.
Kakegurui XX is now streaming on Netflix; available in Japanese, English, Spanish, French and Portuguese dub with English, French, Arabic and Polish subtitles.