Written and illustrated by Homura Kawamoto and Tōru Naomura, respectively, Kakegurui commenced as a serialization in March 2014. Since then, the manga series has enjoyed a long run under publisher Square Enix along with several adaptations to film and anime.
Its premise revolves around the students of the Hyakkaou Private Academy competing against each other in skill and gambling games to both trains as better leaders and professionals and establish a social hierarchy. The main character, Yumeko Jabami, transfers to the academy and begins picking off her high-ranking peers to rise up the ranks.
It’s a grand series of manga, the anime holds up well, and there are live-action film adaptations and a video game, but the key draw throughout is how the series utilizes its core theme.
A simple but effective tool for story
Gambling has long been used as a tool for storytelling simply because everyone knows the premise of gambling and has, at least, a general perception of what the games entail. For example, gambling games have something at stake, often money; require a dose of luck; and some like poker have an element of skill in play. Some games, particularly those that pit players against each other or the house, also have an element of competitiveness.
Of course, the effect that gambling games deliver is drawn from each subgenre’s rules and stakes. As an example, someone could play slots real money games, which are entirely randomised. With this at the centre of a narrative, viewers will just be hoping for the character to get lucky and maybe strike a big jackpot. This is because in games like Lucky 8 and Plentiful Treasure, the main aim is the get the progressive jackpot.
When a game like poker or blackjack is drawn from, a very different premise comes into play. Both are card games with elements of luck, but as there are player decisions to be made, they’re seen as games that are more about skill. Movies like 21, Molly’s Game, and Rounders all present these games as requiring high levels of intelligence to be successful, but keep the tension high because of the elements of randomisation in the deal. These are all key elements that help to drive the set pieces of Kakegurui.
Kakegurui enters its third anime season
Released in 2017 in Japan and internationally in 2018 via Netflix, the first season of Kakegurui came with 12 episodes and was praised for its unflinching nature. It focuses on Yumeko navigating her new academy and battling her fellow students in several gambling games. It all builds up to a grand finale with expulsion on the line, with the game of choice being Tarot Cards of Fate. In 2019, the second season was released, titled Kakegurui XX.
Yumeko is a very lovable character to follow. She’s a scrappy underdog with a lot on the line socially and financially, often falling back on her clever tricks to get the better of each opponent. After a strong two-season run, Kakegurui Twin arrived on the streaming platform in mid-2022. Twin is a prequel to Yumeko’s story, following the bright Mary Saotome as she becomes entrenched in a war against the president of the student council.
If you’re into battles of the mind and high-stakes set pieces between headstrong characters, get Kakegurui on your anime watch list.