Anime and Gambling — The Story of Kaiji

Japan is a land of many things — amazing automotive industry, latest technology achievements, and an excellent standard of living. Yet, Japan doesn’t keep all of the secret and advancements to itself. More often than not, its products go viral and grace the rest of the world.

You could say that the Japanese are immaculate in everything they do. Should you ever visit Tokyo, or any other city in Japan, you will easily notice just how clean and organized it is. Moreover, you will quickly realize how the Japanese paved their way to being a futuristic nation. All the hard work they’ve put into their own development took them very far.

Although, for a gambler, there’s only one thing that matters the most — how do you get to gamble in Japan? The good news is that the country legalized gambling this year, and the first casino resorts will open soon. But believe it or not, gambling in Japan has quite a long history. Moreover, this hobby has established firm roots in their society. You can even find anime dedicated exclusively to gambling.

The Powerful Industry of Anime

To baby-boomers, Japan is a synonym of prosperity and high-quality products — to millennials, Japan equals entertainment. As of the late 1990s and the beginning of 2000s, Japanese animated TV shows took the world by storm. Today, many know them merely by the name “Anime.” They’re cartoons with visuals and drawing techniques the West was never quite familiar with before.

Anime are really just an adaptation of Manga, which is basically a Japanese comic book. As of the 1970s, many animation studios took up Manga. The aim was to turn them into motion pictures for people to enjoy. Today, the anime and manga industry is worth $20 billion, and they serve as fantastic promotional material for Japan. Needless to say, they are a perfect addition to the country’s economy as well — they even bring in more tourists every year.

Now, how does gambling fit into this entire picture? Surely, there are no anime that would take on gambling as a theme? Especially not in a country where gambling was always a taboo, right? Well, that’s where you’re wrong. Although many rulers in Japan’s history frowned upon gambling, this hobby never ceased to exist. If anything, it was an everyday activity in the underground — and a favorite activity of the notorious Yakuza clan. With that in mind, the creative artists in Japan incorporated gambling into many of their anime shows. Also, many of these anime found their way to our flat screens. You’ve probably even let your kids watch them at one point because the theme of gambling was well hidden behind a genius plot.

What Are These ‘Gambling Anime?

gambling anime

Truth be told, gambling anime per se emerged only in 2009 — at least for the mainstream audience. Before that, gambling was just well hidden inside the plot. Take the ever-popular Yu-Gi-Oh, for example. It is about teenagers gambling with their monster cards — which would have been fine if the ultimate punishment for defeat weren’t their lives. So the children loved it, and the parents didn’t mind in the least. But the truth is, Yu-Gi-Oh blatantly represented a sort of Russian Roulette. You just couldn’t see it. If anything, the season 0 of this anime was about the protagonist’s evil alter-ego, who gambled with actual cards. In every single one of his matches, the punishment for losing would be people’s souls. They would usually be devoured by creatures from hell.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with some harmless anime, of course. I was a big fan of them as a kid as well. However, it was a perfect mental depiction of what gambling used to mean for the Japanese. It was always right there in front of them — they just ignored it.

As we approached the second decade of the 21st century, actual gambling anime started to become quite popular — more so in Japan. At first, we only got characters in famous anime that were problem gamblers. For example, take Paulie from One Piece or Tsunade from one of the most famous anime ever — Naruto. As the view on gambling changed, both in the world and in Japan itself, creators were less afraid to create anime dedicated to betting only.

Kaiji: The Ultimate Survivor

Out of all the gambling-related anime, Kaiji is by far the most famous one. It is a story about a man who signed a co-loan for his friend, and now he must pay it back. Surprisingly enough, this debt is 9.5 million Yen, which equals nearly $100,000. I know what you’re thinking — the society of Japan is among the wealthiest in the world, surely $100,000 isn’t that much. Well, it was during the 90s, which is the time setting of the story.

Although the anime is on-going, placing the characters and the story in the 90s is an ingenious move by the creator. In Japan, they refer to 1990s as a lost decade. During this decennium, the economy of the country stagnated. This resulted in the highest unemployment rate since WWII. During this period, getting a job as a Japanese student or a graduate was nearly impossible. Many don’t like to remember it because it was quite depressing, especially for the younger population.

Although the anime goes by ‘Kaiji: The Ultimate Survivor’ in English, this is just an adapted translation. The rough translation is actually ‘Kaiji, Against All Rules,’ which perfectly depicts the overall tone of the TV show.

The Relatability of Kaiji

Nobuyuki Fukumoto, the creator of anime about Kaiji the ultimate gambler, didn’t hide his fascination for gambling games. All the famous games in Japan get a bit of spotlight in the show. If you decide to watch it, you will witness the characters gambling in Mahjong and even Pachinko.

But this is not what helped people relate to this anime so easily — it’s the general storyline and the psychology behind it. Considering how everything is happening in the 90s, the anime perfectly depicts the overall state of young people desperate for jobs. Most of the characters in the show are either unemployed or are working low-wage jobs (glass cleaning, stacking groceries, etc.). As a young person, Kaiji is even angry at rich people who have it easy, so he vandalizes expensive cars as a sign of his frustration.

Additionally, what makes this anime so good is how it included the Yakuza into the story. When faced with the loan he now needs to pay off, Kaiji must enter the dark, underground world of illegal gambling. And in this world, so deeply hidden from the eyes of the public, everything goes. Although it has a funny side to it, the anime also describes all the dangers of gambling. The message is that it is not something that you should take light-heartedly.

For example, in one of the episodes, they insert a drill inside Kaiji’s ear. This drill then moves closer to his vertebrate each time he makes a wrong move. Obviously, this is not something you would see if you walked into a Las Vegas casino — it would be completely homicidal. But deep in the underground, people bet on their lives regularly. So it’s quite fascinating that the creators behind this anime weren’t afraid to publicly show what Yakuza clan probably used to do.

Teaching You All the Right Moves

Moving on to the lighter side of the anime, Kaiji teaches you all the best moves to master gambling games. As the characters play different variations of poker and other card games, you realize the importance of a straight face. And as they play Roulette and other table games, containing your emotions is a priority.

All the Right gambling Moves

The anime has a lot of intense scenes, and it lets us into the inner world of the protagonists. If you compare this to the flow of thoughts of real-life gamblers, you will barely notice any difference. Let’s face it, as the ball spins on that Roulette wheel, our brains work at 200% capacity. Not only that, but the anticipation is killing us as well. With this in mind, one can only see how the people behind this anime actually do gamble in one way or another.

What sets Kaiji apart from other anime is the way he sees his opponents. In most anime, the characters somehow always have a trick up their sleeve. But that’s not how things work in this gambling piece of art. Kaiji observes his opponents the entire time. He tries to see through their body language and analyze their gestures. Just like any dedicated gambler out there, Kaiji constantly tries to break through the poker-face facade of his opponents.

Different Games

Although quite nerve-racking, the games that Kaiji plays in the TV show are quite fun. Sometimes, they are realistic, but the creators made up a lot of them as well. To a gambler who is also a fan of anime, seeing all these regular, well-known games can be a lot of fun. The characters gamble with Roulette, card games, table games, and even slots and Pachinko. And for anyone who has actually learned the many rules of Mahjong (hats off to you), this TV show will bring a lot of joy. Many gamblers are afraid even to begin learning this game. But once you see how easy it seems in this anime, you might just do it.

Additionally, the characters also play craps. Similarly to Mahjong, gamblers are often intimidated by this game too. It has quite bizarre bet names, far too many rules, and it can be too exciting for a person to handle. But no matter which way you put it, Kaiji is definitely an anime that will seem relatable from the get-go.

Made-Up Games

Kaiji also has a lot of games that the people behind it came up with. After all, we are talking about an anime — there needs to be at least a small dose of unrealistic in it. What I particularly like is the rock-paper-scissors card game. The rules are basically the same as in the real-life game, only this time, the excitement and the anticipation are even higher. Primarily due to the fact the characters bet on their lives.

Another exciting game is the Emperor card game. In one particular episode, Kaiji plays this game against a very powerful man. Basically, there are 3 cards — the emperor, the citizen, and the slave. The emperor beats the citizen card, the citizen beats the slave card, and oddly enough, the slave card beats the emperor card. So playing a slave card is risky business because it can easily be beaten. Although, it does beat the strongest card in the deck. This is a risky move that Kaiji decides to make at one point, and therefore, he wins.

What’s the Lesson Here?

Not only does this Anime bring forth plenty of gambling lessons, but life lessons as well. Kaiji’s thoughts are well presented metaphorically. In a scene where he gambles against one of the most notorious mafia lords, he sees a devil-esque figure behind him. This perfectly puts us into the character’s head, and subsequently, we can easily relate to him.

Ultimately, this anime really depicts the actual state of mind of a regular problematic gambler, which is a problem the Japanese face. Considering how gambling was banned for so long, a good part of the nation developed great affection and addiction towards Pachinko. Even nowadays, you can see a lot of people who basically live in the Pachinko parlors scattered all over the country. If you compare the animation style to other anime TV shows out there, you will realize that this one doesn’t really want to bedazzle you with an amazing style.

Most anime do their best to bring you into their world of fantasy with stunning visuals. However, Kaiji strives to show the harsh and unforgiving world of addicts. That’s why everything in the anime looks rough, and that includes the faces of the main characters.

Real-Life Comparison

Even though it is only a work of fiction, Kaiji really shows a clear image of how society viewed gambling for a very long time. Moreover, it shows the way gamblers were treated throughout the history of this country — as castaways. The good news is that in the early 2020s, Japan will open its first casinos that are supposed to look breathtaking. Additionally, it will bring over $20 billion to the economy of Japan every year — or so the estimates claim.

So if you’re a big anime fan, here’s an amazing one that you should absolutely add to your must-watch list. And if you’re a gambler but not that big on anime, maybe it’s time you give it a try. It will definitely show you what to do and what not to do as a gambler. It might be just an anime, but you should remember that real people with experience worked on it. Besides, it always feels nice to be a couch potato for the weekend, doesn’t it?

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