“When it comes to gambling, there’s always a risk involved.” – No one in particular, FACTS and LOGIC speak for themselves here.
Gambling is a concept we should all be able to relate to. Maybe not as the premise of a series or with having ever put one's own money on the line, but wagers are constantly made in our own minds regarding quality when a new show comes around. A mere glance at the seasonal lineup will inevitably lead to first impressions being made despite how little is known about an anime. But make no mistake, this is to our advantage no matter where in the life cycle of anime fandom you lie. Slowly but surely these thoughts act as effective tools to determine whether an anime will be to our liking. However, for this to happen, gambles must be made. From newer fans learning of disappointment for the first time by not ‘dropping shit like it’s hot’, to hardened viewers having learned what garbage lies amongst every season’s dark trenches – we all made bets one time or another, and we all suffered for our ignorance. As Kurt Cobain said: Nobody dies a virgin, life fucks us all.
Kakegurui was one anime that served this purpose for me. I had hopes for the show to be the standout of its time, only for that hope to be taken and buried six feet under its own morally bankrupt excrement, all while the protagonist stared back at me with a smug, crazy-eyed look on her face. Jesus may not have wept when he felt betrayed, but I could not follow his example. I felt the need to release these pent-up emotions; I wanted catharsis and my review on its first season is where you can find it. I detested Kakegurui for the suffering it put me through and have now seen hundreds of anime to have awakened my third eye. So naturally, one may find themselves asking me "hurr durr poohead, if you don’t like, why still watch? And to that, my answer is simple: I am Jesus, or at least I like to believe such. One value Jesus promoted during his time on Earth was forgiveness, and like Jesus providing us the ability to atone for past sins, I approach Kakegurui in the same fashion. This is Kakegurui’s chance at redemption and despite already disappointing with the title clearly missing one more “X”, it deserves at least that much from me.
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
Following last season’s anticlimactic finale, Kakegurui x(x)x was put in the awkward position to follow a plot and characters left with practically no conclusions nor a clear sense of direction. Instead of establishing clear intentions of how this season would approach the narrative, no time is wasted introducing viewers back to the main appeal of the series: gambles featuring raunchy females and their sadistic facial expressions. The academy still appears to be lacking in faculty members to ever properly function as an academy, although we are welcomed with new faces. After Yumeko single-handedly decimated the Student Council’s stranglehold over most gambling-related affairs, an election looms over the school for main antagonist Kirari Momobami’s position as president. This causes the emergence of a new threat in the form of the “Momobami clan”, all family member related to Kirari with their objective being to banish Kirari from their family. It’s also revealed that Yumeko is related to the family in some way and also becomes a target of the clan, challenged to a series of gambles throughout this season. It’s an admirable attempt to drastically shake things up and deliver on more creative, unpredictable moments to keep fans invested. Unfortunately, the intentions still fall short as Kakegurui x(x)x comes across more like a rehash of the first season than otherwise, unable to move away from issues that plagued the previous season.
Kakegurui x(x)x as a series thrives on its gambles as they are the easiest way for the series to create any sense of thrill and excitement. This season puts a greater emphasis on them specifically by decreasing the number of gambles taking place and in turn increase the amount of time and focus given to each gamble. Most games take two episodes to complete instead of one and do better in allowing more character development and motivations to take centre stage. In theory this should be a more successful way to structure this season compared to last, however these changes manage to come across in practice as a detriment to the show overall from my perspective. Aside from removing the idea of stakes from their gambles almost altogether, using several episodes to explore the inner workings of games is usually effective when the games themselves have a certain level of complexity to them. Here's the problem: barely any games shown in the series thus far have that level of depth purely in their construction, with games like the “Finger Cutting Guillotine” only being effective as a game of chicken. It also does no help for this show that every gamble is extremely predictable in their outcome, with Yumeko only allowing for games to end in her favour, as proven from S1 and is the way of the Mary Sue. For a piece of entertainment, these drawn-out gambles are unable to adequately capitalize on the initial suspense and excitement viewers wish to feel each episode.
Because Kakegurui x(x)x is always following the almighty Yumeko and her deus ex machina abilities, it’s the other characters who are required to do the show’s heavy lifting. She may be the main character, but their perspectives are the ones always shown when standing opposed to Yumeko and end up changing as a result. In the first season they were barely more than obstacles for Yumeko to swiftly overcome but they still contained something about them that defined them as a character besides their design. Yumemi is an idol singer, Itsuki had a fingernail obsession, even edge-queen Midari had her revolver fetish of all things. In Kakegurui x(x)x, we have a clan full of new characters that we know little to nothing about regarding personality or motives aside from the their clan’s objective. Sorry, but simply having a cool-looking design does not make them any more interesting as characters. They just look cool. Although these new characters do break away from the stereotypes birthed from last season; no longer are all the females psychotic or grotesque, and the introduction of new male characters breaks the idea of males in the show being no more than pathetic beta males. But that’s far from a high positive for the season. So far these new antagonists have been relegated to just fulfilling mandatory roles as Yumeko's opponents. There still lies development present here for secondary characters that is noteworthy, but the way Kakegurui x(x)x treats these characters so sparingly in the narrative does it no benefits. I’m not fond of seeing a side character to return for two episodes looking like Ken Kaneki from Tokyo Ghoul before being pushed to the side again for however long the narrative demands.
With how the series handles both its plot and characters with such recklessness, Kakegurui x(x)x is the kind of anime one can find easily detestable. Not to say one cannot find enjoyment anywhere here, but when trying to depict characters created clearly immoral as admirable in a story centred around malevolent aspects of gambling, I’m left asking myself serious questions. Who is this being made for? What is this show trying to say? Clearly the show's focus is on addiction – why else would the anime title be translated to “Compulsive Gambler”? It’s not shocking that the characters with the most plot armour are the ones with the worst cases of addiction. But what has the series done so far in 24 episodes to really delve into this theme? Yumeko has yet to show any signs of distress or psychological torment while the punishment for losing is constantly raised to astronomical proportions. Is she a sociopath? If so, how is anyone supposed to know when it’s not even remotely close to a realistic depiction? Kakegurui x(x)x seems to be the kind of show that likes to have its cake and eat it too. It wishes to be a commentary on the dangers of gambling whilst holding the act up proudly on a pedestal, unabashed in sympathising with those clearly contemptible of such deeds. A show that sets up stakes and never follows through with them. Trying to impress with intellect and logic while simultaneously having the Tower of Doors arc end with the loser jumping out the “correct door” because she’s apparently so smart that she SUBCONSCIOUSLY CALCULATED what door was the one that wouldn’t kill her. The show has so many glaring holes, I could probably order it on the menu at Subway.
Kakegurui x(x)x from a visual standpoint is likely to either make or break the experience for viewers, and it’s almost solely because of the facial expressions. Once again Studio MAPPA tries to bring out as much insanity from these designs as humanly possible. While it does convey the kind of lunacy viewers are in for when watching characters lose themselves in their games, it’s still far from aesthetically pleasing and will no doubt have its fair share of detractors. Although if you’re already this far into the show I’d assume you can tolerate it. The character designs for the main cast are certainly eye-catching especially compared to new characters. Background art is usually typical and unimaginative but fits perfectly fine during games. The visual effects are still a strong part of the series and CGI usage is improved upon from last season. As for the soundtrack used, it never particularly stood out throughout the season but I was pleasantly surprised with the new opening and ending themes used here. Honestly I found myself preferring both themes over those from S1, despite the first from my perspective working as a better introduction to the comical madness this series indulges in. The voice acting also felt like an improvement, not coming across as off-putting when it came to the crazier parts of the script. They all do a great job in their respective roles, with Yumeko Jabami’s performance by Saori Hayami capturing a wide array of emotions in her voice to match the character’s absurd behaviour.
At first, I called Kakegurui pretty awful and feeling like it wasted my time. Now having given the series a second chance my thoughts haven’t changed that much. Making a second season that blatantly imitates key events of its predecessor only to fall victim to its shortcomings is not what I had expected or hoped for, but I still found a silver lining to this season. While Kakegurui initially felt more of an insult in what it set out to be, Kakegurui x(x)x has a clearer identity about it that I can respect. Instead of trying to encapsulate far too much in so little time for its own good and as a result failing in every way, this season is more inclined to take a step back from the intensity in order to bring more detail and focus on something grander. Whether this is a significant improvement remains to be seen, but the potential is there, building to something hopefully greater than anything the series has shown us yet. I still dislike the series, but I cannot say that I haven’t developed more respect for what it sets out to be. And for that, I do not consider Kakegurui x(x)x a complete waste of time.