Originally appearing on Netflix back in 2018, it’s sure been a wait to get our hands on a home video release of Kakegurui, the bonkers high school gambling show that my fellow reviewer Darkstorm rated pretty highly at the time. Now with an all-new dub from Sentai, can we still say that this insane series is worth watching? Let’s find out!
Kakegurui is set at the prestigious Hyakkaou Private Academy, a school that is well known for raising the children of the political and economic elite to become the next government ministers and big money CEOs of Japan. This isn’t down to just the quality of teaching though, as the students are put though their paces in the school’s open culture of gambling, which defines where they stand in the school hierarchy. The most skilled gamblers stand at the top, gathered in the student council by its ruthless president Kirari Momobami, while those that lose in the various games played around the school find themselves shouldered with heavy debts, and if they can’t pay them back, end up being labelled as pets and treated like slaves.
One of these pets is Ryota Suzui, who finds himself chained to the whims of his classmate, Mary Saotome, who trounced him in a game. While most pets struggle to pay off their debts, Ryota finds himself with a chance to climb back up when he meets Yumeko Jabami, a beautiful and highly intelligent girl who turns out to be an insane compulsive gambler who gets off (quite literally!) on taking huge risks, no matter the outcome. As she quickly settles into the school’s gambling culture and pulls off a series of spectacular upsets, Yumeko attracts the attention of the student council, who see her as a threat to their power and decide to eliminate her. Yet this attention is what Yumeko wants, as her eyes are set on just one goal: taking on the student council president herself.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, Kakegurui is an absolutely insane show that really kills it when it comes to its execution. Its story might seem a bit silly and over-the-top, but that’s precisely why it works, as it knows exactly what it is, and it takes those qualities in its stride and just goes for it. You’ve got a lot of manic scenes where, in the middle of a game, characters will go overboard in their reactions, with full-on ahegao-style shots of them salivating and dripping from who-knows-where as they pitch for the win, or scrunched-up gurning with gritted teeth as they fold under the pressure.
It’s not something that ever looks pretty per se, but it does make an instant impact with some slick animation from MAPPA. There’s a gross-out factor in play in some places that will either have you transfixed or will force you to look away (as I did in one particularly gory moment). It’s disgustingly sexy and brilliantly grotesque and I do love that particular sense of style.
With this fetishistic angle. it’s no surprise that it’s also full of fanservice, but I wouldn’t say that’s a bad thing as it only helps to enhance that wild, pleasurable feeling it’s going for. It knows it looks and feels naughty – just look at the ending with Yumeko swaggering with buttoned down wet clothes – and it feels so much more fun for being that way.
On the face of things though, the show itself is surprisingly simple, as it throws Yumeko opponent after opponent, following her rise and fall through the ranks on the way to challenge the student council president. Each couple of episodes will play through a particular game (which seem to mostly be adaptations of real-life games with slightly modified rules), and while this could have been a pretty dull affair (particularly if you’re not into casino games like me) it manages to be quite fascinating as you get your head into each strategic play and try to follow what is going on. It can be a bit too obvious at times though, as the characters explicitly announce what they are doing and why, which can curtail some of the fun if you are trying to figure out what each of the players is trying to do before they do it.
However, it is the ridiculous cast of characters that really makes the show what it is. Yumeko is clearly the star, as we see her throw herself in with wild abandon, not caring about money or status, and just taking great pleasure in gambling for the thrill of it.
She’s got plenty of depth to her character too. Moments where she gets to help some of the other students who have been unfairly trapped by their debts show that she’s not just an insane gambling freak, while giving the show a nice opportunity to touch on the negative impacts of the school’s gambling culture. Plus, it’s not like she always wins, and even though some of her losses are her deliberately throwing the game, it’s often just down to luck of the draw (which, I’m not going to lie, can feel like a copout when that does happen).
As for the rest of the cast, they’re all fun to watch for the most part. The student council members each have an insane quirk which keeps the show varied as Yumeko takes them on. Some offer complete gross-out moments, such as Itsuki and her love of ripping people’s nails off, but others reveal deeper personalities under the craziness, such as Yumemi Yumemite and her dislike of her fans, or the reason for treasurer Kaede Manyuda’s lust for power. In Yumeko’s group I found Mary quite interesting to watch as she tries to claw her way back up after being taken down a peg, but I struggled to latch on to Ryota, since as much as he tries to be the show’s voice of reason and even helps Yumeko out at times, I just found him to be a boring and annoying point-of-view character.
Voice acting plays a big part in how well the characters come across on screen, and I love the Japanese voice cast as they really go to town with their characters. The female cast members all do a brilliant job in going from sweet as pie to downright delirious, and I was pleased to hear some of my favourite voice actors across the cast, like Saori Hayami voicing Yumeko, real-life idol Yuu Serizawa voicing in-anime idol Yumemi, and Tomokazu Sugita (perhaps most famous for voicing Kyon in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya) as Kaede.
The English dub proved to be a point of contention around this release, with Sentai opting to produce their own rather than pay for Netflix’s version, and the difference in talent that the two companies were able to hire really shows in a series like this where the voices really count. While the script is very similar and some characters sound okay, others are far too deep for their age (Yumeko often sounds like she’s in her 40s or 50s and not her teens) and I found the dub overall struggled to carry the original intent of the Japanese version. While I think the Japanese version works better than both, if you want to watch this dubbed, you’re better off looking to Netflix.
The rest of the sound though is jamming, with an awesome soundtrack by the Japanese electronica group TECHNOBOYS PULCRAFT GREEN-FUND that’s mostly a mix of sassy jazz and harder-hitting electronic beats that mix together well through the intense gambling action. I also love both the opening, “Deal with the devil” by Tia, and the ending “LAYon-theLINE” by D-selections, which both go well with the themes of the series (and, as previously mentioned, feature powerful fanservice heavy action in their own right!).
The home video release of the series comes to us thanks to Anime Limited and Sentai Filmworks. We get all 12 episodes across two Blu-ray discs in English and Japanese audio with English subtitles, along with some extras including clean opening and endings, “Maid Café Hyakkaou” shorts, and some trailers. Unfortunately, there’s a glitch when trying to access these extras where pressing the Special Features option in the menu will make it disappear, meaning you have to navigate blind. Physically everything comes packaged in a very smart-looking collector’s box with embossed detail, along with a 36-page booklet and 4 art cards.
Overall, Kakegurui is an incredibly fun series that takes its very silly and over-the-top premise, pairs it with a disgustingly sexy and brilliantly grotesque sense of style and execution and just rolls with it, producing a show that you can giggle at like a lunatic as the cast really get their gambling freak on. While it kind of cops out at the end and Sentai’s new English dub isn’t quite up to scratch, I still think this is a show worth taking a gamble on.