Game of Death
Sorry about the whole “not posting shit” thing. That kinda happens when all that real life stuff we all hate decides it’s more important than meaningless anime nonsense. Without going into too many details, let’s just say my past few weeks have revolved around funerals, obnoxious relatives that need to learn how to grow the fuck up, and traveling to the northern wastelands of the US to teach stupid people how to do shit.
Anyway. Kaiji. It was awesome, for the most part. Let’s talk about that awesomeness.
I dig the way the series plays manages to (in a relatively organic way) go through three of the traditional “conflicts” within the context of its whole “gambling to save your ass” storyline. The Restricted Rock Paper Scissors bit plays out the whole Man vs. Society bit, where Kaiji has to deal with and manipulate various social/game rules and the way people interact to his advantage. The Race bit is all about Man vs. Himself, where it’s people’s fears and hubris that lead to their defeat. Then the final bit, with the E-Card game, comes down to the classic Man vs. Man, where Kaiji has to deal with one man’s scheming to keep from getting a drill shoved into his brain.
All pretty damn obvious stuff that doesn’t really need to be pointed out, but I dug how these conflicts seemed to be segregated on purpose. And if you wanna get all haughty and shit you can start comparing Kaiji’s plight to the sort of shit that classical heroes from Greek tragedies would have to put up with. It’s really does feel like Kaiji’s a modern-day gambling equivalent to Oedipus and his buddies– all dealing with ridiculous trials in a seemingly hopeless quest to make his meaningless mortal life halfway decent. All he needed was a third act where he has a daughter and she gets roped into a lethal game of Hellish Hopscotch or something. Then the trilogy’d be complete. Maybe that happens in the second season.
That said, I think the series pretty much peaks with the Rock Paper Scissors game. The RPS deal is pretty damn brilliant. The game’s rules are set down from the get-go, and they’re complete enough that you could actually recreate it if a bunch of deadbeat dudes owed you some serious scratch. And that arc nails down all of the traits that we see repeated in the next two: Kaiji’s frustration with being in a situation he can’t control, the way he can scheme up some brilliant plan on the fly, and the way he finds ways to come back from the brink of death. We get that same cycle of events during the other games he plays, and in that regard the whole thing starts to feel like a shounen action series– all repetitive events repackaged with different rules and villains to fill out a storyline.
But whatever. There’s a hell of a lot of sadistic glee to get out of seeing people squirm on a ledge, literally inches away from plummeting to their deaths. And the whole ear drill thing was great. Way more interesting than your usual shounen glaring at each other and talk about power levels and energies in your belly and souls in your sword or whatever. Sure, it’s just a silly anime cartoon thing, but there’s real stakes on the line– the sort of shit that actually kinda makes sense. It’s probably hard seeing yourself being some super powered super hero dude (Unless you have delusions of grandeur like me, but we all can’t be me.), but it’s totally plausible to see yourself being strapped to a table with a giant blade ready to whack off your fingers. Maybe not the strapped down to the table bit, but the bodily harm and financial ruin at play in Kaiji feels more real.
This shit’s pretty much Dragon Ball Z for adults. And that’s kinda cool.
But I don’t care much for how we’re getting a second season. I rather liked Kaiji’s story arc in this series. He “comes back from the dead” in the RPS game and finds himself even worse off than before. He manages to survive the race game only to find himself cheated out of his prize. He manages to foil the rich dudes’ scheme and win some cash money in the E-Card bit. He gets arrogant and tries to stick it to the man one more time only to have everything come crashing back down on him twofold.
In all of this Kaiji really does change as a character. He goes from being a punkass kid with entitlement issues to a down and out bum to a man who grasped “greatness” only to have that victory destroyed by his arrogance. He’s genuinely grown over the course of the series. Maybe for the better, maybe for the worse– or maybe it’s just a sidestep sort of development where he’s where he’s always been, just with a different view– but he’s had the sort of arc that few anime characters seem to get. He’s come to an epiphany at the end of the anime, and I’m pretty damn satisfied with him with him coming to this realization.
Do we really need to get another 26 episodes or so of the same manipulative games with the same peaks and valleys of drama to only come to what I’m assuming is a victory for Kaiji over these rich scumbags? Does we really need that moment of victory in order to feel satisfied?
Does the main character have to win before we feel the story’s been told? Sure, that’s cool and all, but this is one story where I don’t think we’ll need it. I’ll watch the sequel, and I’m sure it’ll be cool and all, but sure as hell don’t need it. Kaiji’s a pretty damn good series as is. Not quite inserted into my top list, but it’s close.
And dude, I totally wanna learn how to slam down cards like the peeps in this series. Those are the real mad gaming skills right there.