The anime adaptation of Kakegurui (Compulsive Gambler) debuted in Japan back in July 2017, but Netflix held it in their vaults and did not distribute it outside of Japan until February 2018. With that long wait, you’d think that Netflix didn’t have much hope for this series; if that was their fear, then it was unfounded as since then, the series has taken off and has become one of their most popular anime licenses. Not only with two anime seasons, but also live action J-drama series, live action movies, and now we have the original net animation, Kakegurui Twin, based upon the manga spin-off, of the same name. But with the original anime season not finished, what does Kakegurui Twin have to offer?
Taking place a whole school year before Yumeko Jabami transfers to Hyakkaou Academy and shakes the foundation of the school forever, Mary Saotome joins as a first year of the academy via a scholarship programme. She’s a smart girl but not from a wealthy family, so she’s at a huge disadvantage when she enters the school’s unique system: a hierarchy decided not by one’s smarts or athletic prowess, but one’s ability to gamble. The richest and luckiest (or those who cheat and get away with it) remain on top, whilst the poorest and unluckiest become house pets: servants to those with all the power. Mary loses her first attempt to gamble but she’s not going to let her lack of wealth or luck stop her from reaching the top. Luckily, she has her friends to help her: childhood friend Tsuzura Hanatemari, and literary club president Yukimi Togakushi. But will Mary find a way to conquer the system? Or will she eventually succumb to it?
If you’ve seen or read the opening of Kakegurui, you’ll know the answer to the last line of the above paragraph and know what the future holds for Mary, but as an old saying goes: it’s not the destination that matters but the journey. That is the appeal of Kakegurui Twin: a look at the unique school system from a different set of eyes, way before Yumiko came into the picture, and to see where Mary’s story started before she became the crazy villain turned eventual reluctant aid for Yumeko. The manga Kakegurui Twin however is currently at 12 volumes, and the anime Netflix released in August is only 6 episodes, so it’s by no means a complete journey, but more of a peek into Mary’s life leading up to her eventual downfall. And since each episode is only 25 minutes each, the trip back into Hyakkaou Academy is very brief but still enjoyable.
If you’re wondering what makes this series so different from the original series, admittedly the structure of each episode (or in some cases, two-parters) is the same as Kakegurui: heroine is challenged to a game with unusual rules and unique stakes, the heroine tries to play the game fairly but finds themselves in a situation where their opponent is winning, and it’s via the heroine’s own smarts at figuring out how their opponent is cheating that they eventually come out on top. Kakegurui Twin is very similar, but because the audience coming into this would have most likely seen Kakegurui, Twin noticeably has much more elaborate games that often have the danger of the rules, and by extension how the opponent is stacking the deck in their favour, a lot more complicated than previously. Admittedly there were times where my eyes glazed over because the monologues of how the villain of the week is winning went on a bit too long. That’s not to say I was completely lost though, as I still found myself impressed at how stunning the animation is at making each game, even simple ones like rolling dice, as engaging and visually appealing as possible, and Mary’s triumph over each one, however brief, is satisfying all the same.
One thing that does make Twin feel very different from Kakegurui is the main protagonist. Mary and Yumeko are very different in looks, personalities and the people they choose to surround themselves with. Yumeko, in what we’ve seen in the original anime so far, is more of a cypher, an untouchable goddess with more money than sense. She only seeks the pleasure of the gambling thrill, regardless of what is at stake, and even in the few episodes where she is a house pet, she doesn’t feel fear or sadness at the situation. Yumeko also doesn’t really have friends per se, more like people who admire her and choose to help or follow her. She’s a lot of fun to watch, but not one to feel attached to or see yourself in, if that makes sense. Mary, on the other hand, is much more of a character; she has a lot to prove because she got into the school via a scholarship, not because of privilege, and therefore must fight for her place in the school. She has ambitions, and who she trusts means a lot more to her both emotionally and financially as she cannot afford to lose any games as becoming a house pet IS a big deal in her position. This doesn’t mean that Mary is a better protagonist, it just means that watching Kakegurui Twin is going to be a different experience than watching Kakegurui, even though they have a lot of the same ingredients.
Despite taking place in the same school, Twin also has unique characters to this series. The childhood friend Tsuzura Hanatemari can be described as someone who fell in love with the artwork for Revolutionary Girl Utena but completely missed the point of the show; she sees Mary as her ‘prince’ and it’s her naïve and utter devotion to Mary that is both sweet but also like watching a car crash unfold in slow motion – she’s not in the original series so SOMETHING must have gone down to make her leave Mary’s side, and you just want to know what. The literary club president Yukimi Togakushi struggles to stand out in the anime overall, as she’s mostly playing the ‘shy bookworm’ in these episodes but she grows on you by the end of season. We are also introduced to new student council members: Aoi Mibuomi is a good addition to the series who comes across as the typical ‘Nice Guy’ but slowly reveals his misogynistic side as the series progress. His fiancée Sakura Miharutaki is also an interesting member, being a lot more straightforward and logical, so she bounces off the other more psychotic characters nicely. Then we have Sachiko Juraku, who’s like the snake in the team, whispering in other ears what she wants them to hear and hoping to sway them to the side she wants them on, so she’s also fascinating to watch.
As this series is (so far) only on Netflix, the English dub comprises of the Netflix cast so a few of the returning characters, like Kira Buckland for Mary, return for Twin. New additions are great too: Amber Lee Connors practically purrs Sachiko’s lines and Natalie Hoover as Tsuzura is also a good casting.
MAPPA return to animate the series, and it’s still as well animated and finely crafted as the original series. They also do a stunning job of the opening (with instrumental piece by the series’ composers Technoboys Pulcraft Green-Fund) with striking shadows, and use of angles to give this series’ opening a unique edge. The ending theme is provided by Iris; it’s a cute pop number, but doesn’t stick in your head like other songs from the franchise.
Kakegurui Twin is a fun, quick dive back to the school of gambling we know and love. I hope, however, that this is just a small taster of more Kakegurui (Twin or main series) to come, rather than a last burst of anime before they drop it forever.
Kakegurui Twin is now streaming on Netflix; it’s available in Japanese, English, Polish, German and many more audio and subtitle options, depending on your region.