Genre: Psychological Thriller
Format: 26 Episodes
Allegiance: Madhouse
Director: Yuzo Sato
Vintage: 2007 – 2008
Intelligence Agency Report by: Drake
After graduating high school, Kaiji moves to Tokyo to find work, but is unable. Two years pass, and nothing changes. In these two years, Kaiji begins drinking cheap liquor, gambling, and often playing pranks, such as slashing tires. Everything changes when he is paid a visit by a debt collector named Endo, who informs Kaiji that he owes money on a loan he cosigned with a coworker who was down on his luck. The amount Kaiji owes is too staggering to pay, and he is offered a choice by Endo. He can either spend the next ten to fifteen years paying back the debt, or board a gambling ship named Espoir (the French for “hope”) and gamble for one night with loaned money to attempt to repay his debt, and maybe even turn a small profit. However, if he fails to win the gamble he will be forced into the most brutal of manual labor for two years to pay the money back. Unbeknownst to Kaiji, he is being set up by Endo to enter and fail. Can Kaiji overcome the gamble aboard the Espoir or has Endo just sealed his fate?

Field Agent Report by: Drake
Overall 7.75
(not an average)

I’ll be honest; when I began watching Kaiji, I was not expecting such a morbid and demented anime. I was expecting a mediocre anime with a half decent story, and unmemorable characters. Instead, I was given an amazing look into the very core of the human condition, and insight into just how gruesome society can truly be. Mind you, not all humans are like the ones in this anime, but these kinds of people do exist.

So what is it about Kaiji that made it such an intense experience? First of all, this anime takes the ideas of fairness, justice, and morality, and kicks them out, replacing them with greed, betrayal, pain and suffering. During this anime, I expected characters to do the right thing. Instead, at the last second, they turn around and betray everyone for their own benefit and profit. In fact, aside from the main character, everyone at some point will be led by their greed to do some horrible things. Other than Kaiji, who went from a weak and trusting character to a very brilliant man, able to hold his own in the gambling underworld, the other characters are pretty one dimensional with no change whatsoever throughout the entire series.

One of the unique features of Kaiji, outside of the premise, was the character design. The designs are pretty gritty, and not the norm for anime character designs in general. However, the design worked great in this case. It helped to establish the idea that this will not be your typical anime with a happy fairy-tale ending. The designs may not be all that realistic, with pointy noses and triangular faces, but it sure helped to separate this series from the others. The soundtrack wasn’t half bad either, for those who enjoy punk rock music with a bit of the blues mixed in.

Doesn’t sound like a great anime so far? Well, it actually is. The amount of logic and cunning used to survive in this anime can rival the likes of Death Note in its cat and mouse escapades. The first and third arcs of the anime kept me on the edge of my seat, trying to stay one step ahead of the show to figure out just how Kaiji could survive with such impossible odds, only to be foiled later when the answer was put right in front of the viewer. It’s for these reasons that I couldn’t stop watching the anime, despite the little voice in the back of my mind screaming for me to go find a quicker-paced, happier show.

Had this been some other anime with the same nerve wracking slow pace (three to four episodes accounting for about twenty minutes within the plot), I would have probably given up much quicker, and the review’s score would have been significantly lower. However, this pace only helped to heighten the suspense for the viewer. It’s frustrating, but in a good way, unlike shows where one often finds oneself frustrated for the wrong reasons (like Dragon Ball Z, for example). Director Yuzo Sato does an excellent job utilizing the psyche of the viewer to keep their interest going strong.

All in all, if you enjoy psychological suspense mixed with dark themes like greed or power, and a realistic but mind-blowing story then look no further. Just keep in mind, this anime is by no means meant to have a happy ending, or even a light setting. It provides an in-depth look at human nature, showcasing its lowest points, with only a few examples of the goodness of humanity. This is not a series you would want to watch in order to cheer yourself up, but it’s definitely a great anime, regardless.