Kakegurui is as bizarre as it is entrancing and although this gambling inspired anime manages to fall into many predictable tropes along the way, it’s fun nonetheless for its brief 12 episode run time. Lead character Yumeko (Erika Harlacher) is convincing as the cool-headed gambling addict and for the duration of the series, appears to want to overthrow the Student Council Government that rule over Hyakkaou Private Academy where the entire series takes part. With little characterisation and barely any convincing motivations for anyone other than Yumeko, Kakegurui plays out as a passive watch, failing to really capture any emotional resonance with its archetypal characters.
The story follows Yumeko as she arrives at Hyakkaou and immediately becomes entangled in the world of gambling. Alongside worrysome Ryota (Griffin Burns), the 12 episodes revolve around the two characters working together through various gambling matches with different members of the student council until the inevitable climactic battle with the President. The episodes work well for the most part despite their heavily predictable pattern. Although this pattern is abused a little too much late on, there’s a good variety of games used to at least try to break up some of the repetitiveness. There’s certainly some interesting ideas thrown around here including the dangers of gambling, debt and addiction but they’re never explored in any sort of meaningful way, especially with a profound lack of ramifications for Yumeko’s actions along the way.
Despite the flaws with its story, Kakegurui has a distinct and eye-popping aesthetic. The animations are perfectly drawn and there’s a good mix of crazed facial animations and vibrant colours that make every scene a visual delight. The soundtrack is also outstanding, fusing jazz, techno and ambient piano together in a strangely hypnotic and acid-induced vibe that really help Kakegurui stand out. Although Kakegurui does have a tendency to unnecessarily over-sexualise a lot of the characters, it’s only really noticeable early on with many of the episodes late on taking on a darker tone that suits the appeal of the show better.
With only 12 episodes, Kakegurui is over almost as quickly as it begins. Despite the great work done with the music and visuals, this anime about gambling suffers from poor characterisation and a lack of consequence for many of the protagonists. There’s a distinct lack of motivation for many of the characters too and just how these students have such vast sums of money or why teachers allow such acts to take place on school grounds are never explained. Although this can be forgiven to some degree, never glimpsing another adult feels like a missed opportunity when the series could have tackled the implication of their child becoming addicted to gambling and the consequences of that. Nonetheless, if you can suspend your belief and ignore this, there’s a solid 12 episodes of entertainment.
In some ways, Kakegurui has all the ingredients to be a successful anime. The visuals are great, the soundtrack excellent and the actual gambling and various games depicted are interesting and rife with tension. With a lack of characterisation, a breathtaking pace and a distinct lack of motivation for many of the characters, Kakegurui’s flaws ultimately outweigh its positives in an anime that could have been great had it improved the characters and pacing of the series. There’s certainly parts of Kurugurui that stand out but they wind up lost from the numerous issues holding this anime back from being as good as it so easily could have been.
Verdict - 6/10