What happens when you take a regular high school, remove the lessons and in their place add in addictive gambling to keep their students entertained? Well that’s exactly what Kakegurui does in spectacular fashion. As this manga has already been adapted into an excellent anime, the question remains, how does its source material stack up? This week on the otaku rabbit hole, we’ll be checking out the first volume of Kakegurui – Compulsive Gambler. Buckle up because we’re about to jump straight in.
So, the first volume of Kakegurui follows the life of students at Hyakkou Private Academy, an academy for the wealthy and influential, where students have a very a different daily life to your average school. Unlike in regular schools where you would learn subjects like English or Science, it’s when classes end that the real learning begins. In their free time students learn how to read others and manipulate, and what better way to teach that than through gambling? Every aspect of the school is influenced by gambling, from the classes to the extra-curricular activities. Even the student council is made up of the best gamblers in the school and they rule with an iron fist.
Students are also subject to a caste system. If a student amasses a certain amount of debt through gambling or, should their student rank fall within the bottom 100, they become known as a “housepet”, a title that means a student must do whatever a non-housepet asks them to, which can be both degrading and humiliating for the poor student. The only way to escape this title is for the housepet to pay their way out, but that is far from easy when you’re already in considerable debt. This system, where money equals power, is so institutionalised in Hyakkou Private Academy that students are free to indulge in their most monstrous phantasies, and no-one questions or opposes what goes on. That is, until one day, new student Jabami Yumeko enrols in the academy.
On her first day, Yumeko gambles against the queen of her class, in a high-tension game of rock-paper-scissors, and in the process draws the unwanted attention of the higher-ups in the student council. As it turns out, sweet, innocent Yumeko is a huge gambling addict, obsessed with the thrill of her next bet. Here is where our tale begins, filled to the brim with high stakes gambling and an utterly blissful madness that is as intoxicating as it is addictive.
This first volume has Yumeko take part in three games of luck, against some truly interesting and horrific characters. This first volume also sets up Yumeko’s main goal that she will undoubtedly aim for throughout the series – that being her goal to gamble against the student council members, most specifically, the student council president. This first volume is incredible example of what a first volume can accomplish, throwing you straight into the action with a no-holds-barred approach, that pays off in spades by helping you become invested in Yumeko, while also waiting on bated breath for the next gambling match to sink your teeth into – and it’s always fantastic.
Kakegurui is a beautiful and finely detailed manga, with a distinct sense of style all its own. The characters and backgrounds are incredibly well drawn, with character designs further enhancing the overall reader experience. In my opinion, however, where the art style truly comes alive and draws you in is in those few moments where the gambling reaches a fever pitch. In these moments, the characters will warp and distort, often becoming monstrously over-exaggerated caricatures, showing just how far their gambling obsession has driven them down the road of madness. It’s a fantastic commentary on the effects of addiction on the young and how power and wealth can warp your perceptions of the real world. These panels really build the readers’ desire to see if the overwhelming confidence shown by the characters in these panels is well placed, or if Lady Luck has forsaken them and their confidence was all for nought – and it’s an absolute pleasure to experience.
With Kakegurui, there’s not much more that can be said other than it’s a truly unique experience that’s quite unlike anything you’ll have seen before. For a first volume, it sets the scene excellently and I can confirm that subsequent volumes build upon the strong foundations already set out by this volume in fantastic fashion. There are, as of writing this review, seven volumes available of Kakegurui both physically and digitally, with the 8th volume releasing this December. If you check out this manga, which I would highly recommend, and find it to your taste, then I can also strongly recommend the anime adaptation which is also quite fantastic. If that’s still not enough for you, there’s also a live action adaptation available on Netflix. I for one, am totally smitten with Kakegurui’s story and characters and adore the unique art style used as a vital part of its storytelling. I will definitely be reading the remaining volumes as they release to find out if Yumeko can pull off greater and greater gambling feats as the story advances, or if her gambling madness will eventually consume her whole.
With that, we’ve finished yet another trip down the otaku rabbit hole. I hope you guys have enjoyed and will consider checking out this franchise. Until next time guys, keep it weeby!