Kakegurui – 02

Yumeko considers Ryouta a friend—even to the point of first-name terms—but he doesn’t seem like her romantic interest. At the moment, that seems to be gambling itself, with only the highest of risks giving her any kind of pleasure. But the OP strongly suggests a very close relationship to come with the yuki-onna-looking student council president, Momobari Kirari.

In a bit of necessary exposition, Ryouta tells Yumeko that ever since Mombari rose to power (winning her position from the predecessor with gambling, natch) the bullying of the “livestock”—the 100 or so students with the least luck and hence most debt—has intensified exponentially. Thanks to Yumeko’s gift, Ryouta is no longer a “Fido”, but after her defeat Mary is a “Lassie”, and doesn’t take to it well.

But Yumeko has little time to concern herself with those she’s already beaten; she seeks a stronger opponent, and this week they come to her: the youngest member of the council, first-year Sumeragi Itsuki, daughter of a multi-billion-yen toy company CEO.

Itsuki challenges Yumeko to a game of “Double Card Memory” involving two freshly-opened decks of cards provided by Itsuki and—as I figured—also manufactured by her dad’s company so that she can cheat people.

For the second straight week, it would appear that those at the top of the pile at Hyakkaou Academy aren’t there by playing by the rules or even being exceptionally lucky—it’s more a matter of creating a way to make your own luck.

In the case of Sumeragi Itsuki, she uses a tiny part of the back-of-card design to let her know which deck is which on the table. Once she beats Yumeko in the first match—winning the 20 million she fronted Yumeko—Yumeko tearfully begs her for a rematch, even agreeing to go along with what Itsuki wants Yumeko to front: her fingernails and toenails, which Itsuki obsessively collects and decorates. Ew!

Unfortunately for the freshman, Yumeko not only has exceptional memory, but saw through her trump, and never gives her an opportunity to flip a single card in the rematch. It’s only when Itsuka goes a bit mad that Yumeko gladly joins in the madness. And when she recommends Itsuka wager her nails, it reduces her opponent to big soppy tears.

Yumeko responds to the shameless display with disgust; after a second “gamblinggasm”, Yumeko has been made officially “bored” by the simpering Itsuka. On to the next victi-er, opponent.

President Momobari quickly hears of Sumeragi’s defeat and Yumeko’s quick rise, and instructs the rest of the (very eccentric) student council to start “meddling in her affairs,” clearly intrigued by this newcomer and eager to test the limits of her prowess—if they indeed exist!

Ryouta accompanies Yumeko to the after-hours games at the traditional culture research club, and come upon yet another pathetic scene: Saotome Mary digging her debt-hole over 49 million yen deeper. I wonder if this will be an ongoing thing with Mary losing more and more, or if Yumeko will find it in her heart to save her first victim the same way she saved Ryouta, who was only ever nice to her.

In any case, I’m enjoying the friendliness and politeness with which students challenge one another, a facade which gradually devolves into face-contorting madness, over-the-top posturing and yelling, and the aforementioned “gamblinggasms.” Kakegurui can be thick on the explaining, but is generally just flat-out fun.

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Kakegurui – 01 (First Impressions)

Suzui Ryouta is an unexceptional student at the prestigious Hyakkaou, a gambling academy for the children of the super-rich. Suzui gets into such great debt to Saotome Mary that he becomes her “house pet.”

Already, we’re into Prison School territory with Kakegurui, what with a powerful woman in charge, a mostly-innocent boy under her heel, and a mood not afraid to get a little kinky about it.

Of course, Suzui isn’t totally innocent—he did gamble after all—but he’s in an unenviable position at the start of the story, and feels like there’s no hope. That is, until hope arrives in the person of Jabami Yumeko, an elegant raven-haired maiden initially appears to be both the visual and emotional yin to the blonde Mary’s yang.

Of course, Jabami is way too suspiciously affable and bubbly; it’s clear even if one didn’t watch the sultry, hedonistic OP that she’s a hustler and that Saotome Mary is her latest mark. Be forewarned: is a show that revels in twisting up its characters’ faces to disturbing degrees.

Saotome challenges Jabami to a friendly game of the “Rock-Paper-Scissors Voting Game”, which combines RPS and an extra element of imbalance due to the randomness of the votes.

Jabami wins a couple of two-chip hands but also lets Saotome win a couple of far larger ones involving a million yen—all to put Saotome in a false sense of confidence while determining how Saotome is using the assembled voters (many in her debt, like Suzui) to cheat.

Once Saotome drops the nice act and shows Jabami her “war mask”, Jabami has no more reason to hide her own: buying back in to the tune of ten million yen cash before having what could be described as a “gamblegasm” whilst striking a pose.

The only RPS hand that matters is the final one, in which Jabami walks away with a cool 8.8 million yen (around 77,000 USD) after subtracting her initial losses. Rather, she walks away with Mary 8.8 million in her debt, which seems like a far worse place to be.

Suzui, ashamed that he was compelled to help Saotome cheat (which Jabami picked up on by spying on him with her compact mirror), apologizes to her and vows to drop out of an academy in which he feels he has no business being. To his shock, Jabami earnestly thanks him for the fun gambling she was able to experience on her first day, and drops a fat stack in his hand to back up her words with green.

And there you have it: Gambling school, weird over-the-top twisted expressions, some light S&M, and some (so-far) elemental but promising characters. MAPPA delivers a solid production with bold lighting, visceral sound, and a red-and-black palette appropriate to the gambling theme. Performance-wise, it’s a delight to hear Hayami Saori as Jabami shift from meek to meaty on a dime. Definitely worth a look.

Sabagebu! – 03

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Welcome to week 3 of Sabagebu!, the wacky-show-that-could I initially disliked (and still regularly spell wrong). This time around we’re introduced to the Survival Club’s advisor, Sakura-san, a young woman with a big heart and a habit of attracting trouble.

To the club’s dismay, Sakura has volunteered them to remove a nest angry of hornets from the school grounds. To show how serious she takes her job, Sakura comes dressed as a bear… because reasons.

All in all, it’s a cute chapter and it also let the animators show off some bad ass pant ball alt-costumes for the girls. Maya’s skull face bandannas were especially nice.

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The second chapter is dedicated to Haguro, a little blond girl who Mio dishonored during a carnival. It’s complicated, but boils down to Mio righting a wrong, but seeing no need to ‘pay out’ everyone who wasn’t able to see through the carnival’s con.

Haguro challenges the club to a fight but Momoka comes alone, because NO ONE INSULTS MOMOKA AND GETS AWAY WITH IT. Battle ensues and Momoka wins, after a short interlude involving a cat puppet and an oddly English play on words.

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Considering Haguro is a middle schooler and does not appear to be a regular cast member, I’m curious to see where this show goes. Without the structure of a tournament, its hard to know what it will do with itself next. Maybe they keep introducing characters week after week for a chuckle and move on? Maybe that’ll work. Maybe not.

Wherever it goes, I’ll be watching.

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Sabagebu! – 02

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Urara, Maya and Kaya each gets their own mini-chapters. Urara is revealed to be a psycho and masochist, Maya a wimp and Kaya a pragmatic combatant. Each is PULVERIZED by Momoka in one way or another, solidifying her place as most lethal of the group.

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This week expands on characters and solidifies Momoka’s place in the group. Urara’s chapter is physical, and reveals her demure exterior to be a ruse hiding a jealous, wrathful interior and deep obsession with Mio, who is revealed to be her childhood friend.

We get wrestling and fighting and it lovingly goes absolutely sideways when Momoka fights back. To my surprise (and Momoka’s!) Urara’s beat-down results in absolute love-struck loyalty. Will this powerful alliance last or will it’s foundation on BDSM lead to a rocky future?

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Maya’s chapter is all about boobs boobs BOOBS! Maya doesn’t have much else going for her and she turns to the group for help over coming her fear of a certain disgustingly sticky Japanese food she needs to eat in a commercial. Unfortunately for her, Momoka is jealous of Maya’s boobs and, with Urara’s help, makes friendly assistance look more like GitMo style torture.

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As with the rest, Kaya’s chapter is as much about Momoka as anyone else. Here we see the two end up in a heated gun fight for reasons unclear, only to then form a short alliance when the three other girls join in and attack them. Kaya and Momoka are clearly the pair to beat but, Momoka is first to break their alliance by shooting Kaya in the face. Right after Kaya announces that they tied.

Sabagebu! remains totally over the top, crazy fun to watch, and Momoka’s plain girl with wrath issues (and a gamer’s heart?) is deliciously brutal entertainment. While I can’t imagine every rating it above a 7 because it’s just not very pretty or thought provoking… or innovative, I am very glad to be watching Sabagebu! this season. If you have time amidst all the great shows this summer, you should be watching it too!

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Sabagebu! – 01

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Sonokawa Momoka transfers to a new school and, through an absurd sequence of events, is roped into her new school’s most popular girl’s clique… which runs the Airsoft enthusiast / survival game club. However, Momoka is no pushover and quickly distinguishes herself as ruthless and most lethal, to the approval of all.

Sabagebu! is a knowing comedy about how absurd silly high school comedies have gotten. It’s narrated, which Momoka can hear; it has a anthropomorphic duck character, for no reason, and each of the 5 girls is as ridiculous (yet archetypal) as can be.

Sabagebu! also pokes fun at recent ‘serious’ dramas about girls with over active imaginations who love Airsoft, by presenting each shoot out as if it were real, blood spatter included.

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But what makes Sabagebu! enjoyable isn’t just the cast’s 8th grade syndrome, nor is it that the show knows not to take itself or its genre’s conventions seriously, nor is it just how happy each girl is to run around with guns and occasionally break the 4th wall. No, what sold me on Sabagebu! was Momoka herself (voiced by Ohashi Ayaka).

When was the last time I saw a show where the lead girl seemed meek and sucks up a ton of embarrassing abuse, only to reveal that, when the chips are down, she herself lives for revenge? Not just blow-up mad freak out revenge, mind you! We’re talking cathartic, make those who harassed you all episode swallow their own medicine with a look of pure ecstasy on your own face while dishing it out kind of revenge. In short, Momoka has as much fun as everyone else, as crazily as everyone else, and broke my expectation in the process!

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