Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor Season 1

I know this show is quite old now, but a recent crunchy roll update has made it available legally. I had originally started watching this show back in 2007, and only got 8 episodes in. I thought what the heck, it’s probably time to finish it. Boy was I in for a ride!Kaiji, a down on his luck, antisocial society misfit finds out he has accidentally signed his life away after cosigning a loan with an old coworker who defaulted on that loan.  Now the loan sharks are coming to collect… on Kaiji. Seeing as there is no way for Kaiji to properly pay back such a huge debt, the loan sharks offer him a chance at “salvation”. Now Kaiji must risk gambling his whole life away, in order to keep himself from drowning in debt.

Kaiji, Ultimate survivor had a few number of flaws, but there were some very strong points made as well. Not to mention the very unexpected ending, that left me at the edge of my seat. Firstly, the art style is… shall we say unique. It depicts sharp lines and very unflattering caricatures of how people living their lives on the edge of society must look. In some ways it was a very fitting style, in that people were as ugly on the outside as, the show made apparent, on the inside. This distinct art style is not only used for Kaiji, but also in a similar show that I’ve seen called Akagi (which is also about gambling). Same studio and director, so no surprise there.

The pacing for the story is also a little off, with a lot of back tracking and repeated scenes. However, with such tactics, it allows us to really invest emotionally with Kaiji and truly understand the human filth his is up against, not just from the outside, but internally as well. The real question of the story is weather Kaiji can stand up to his dark side, and remain human when outside forces would have him betray and maim others. It’s a very critical look at the human perspective as selfish and self-serving creatures.

In terms of the music, the opening is nothing special. It’s very generic and the animation is too. The ending, however is reminiscent of old 70’s anime with an sad enka theme. It’s not my style, so I usually skipped it, but I really appluad the use of enka-esque music as the ending because it fits the show’s overall feel and the sad feelings you usually end up with at the end of each episode.

Overall I think the show is a strong performer with many edge-of -your -seat moments. I would recommend it especially to those of you who like mind game shows, such as Death Note or Code Geass. Although not on the same level of those, it still has much of that psychological punch. The closest related subject material I can think of though, is the manga series Liar Games, which also deals with such psychological playing.

Overall Score: 7 (Good)

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