Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor Review

Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor Review

Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor anime series cover art
Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor

The First Gamble

Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor (Gyakkyou Burai Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor / 逆境無頼カイジ Ultimate Survivor) is a high-stakes gambling anime. In it, our protagonist, Kaiji Itou, finds himself in increasingly more risky gambles. But, Kaiji isn’t a gambling addict — at least not at first.

Instead, he’s forced into these gambles as a way to pay off the debts he owes to a shadowy organization. Though, these debts aren’t initially Kaiji’s own. He’s not the kind of person to involve himself with an organization like this. But, he signed on as a guarantor for a friend who skipped out on a debt.

And thus, Kaiji begins his spiral downward into deeper and deeper debt. Of course, if he was successful in his gambles and got out of debt, there wouldn’t be much of a series here. So, what? Does Kaiji lose every time he gambles? No, because that wouldn’t be much fun, either.

Jouji Funai introducing himself from the anime series Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor
Jouji Funai introducing himself

What this series does well is strike the perfect balance. If Kaiji wins all the time, it wouldn’t be interesting. And if Kaiji loses all the time, it also wouldn’t be interesting. So, there needs to be a balance between both to keep viewers on the edge of their seats.

Will Kaiji win the bet? Will he lose? Will some unexpected event throw a wrench in his plans? Even if you have a pretty good idea of the outcome of a particular gamble, you’ll never expect how Kaiji gets there.

And, this brings me to the first gamble Kaiji partakes in, which I also thought was the best. It’s a rock-paper-scissors card game with a lot of both luck and strategy. The luck keeps things from becoming predictable. And the strategy keeps you invested since it’s not all about luck. The later gambles aren’t like this.

Walking the Tightrope

The second gamble Kaiji participates in is my least favorite of the four in this season. As I mentioned, the first is a rock-paper-scissors card game. It’s also a limited format, meaning each player only has a certain number of each card. And, it’s a free-for-all.

However, the second gamble removes the majority of the things that made the first good. There’s not much strategy or luck involved. Instead, it’s all about overcoming your fears. That’s pretty much it. So, what is this “gamble?” It’s a race across beams high up in the air.

The first stage of this “gamble” is competitive. There are four lanes, each with 3 competitors. Whoever makes it across first wins. And whoever makes it across second gets a consolation prize. If you fall, you’ll get seriously injured. Oh, and your hands can’t touch the beam you’re walking across.

Kaiji Itou panicking from the anime series Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor
Kaiji Itou panicking

This “gamble” is more than a simple race, though. Each lane has three competitors. So, if you’re not the first to cross the beam in your lane, you can’t win. That is unless those in front of you fall. And there’s nothing in the rules that bans pushing your opponents.

Now, this part is really only the setup for the next part. Those who made it through the initial round earn a spot in the second round. And in this round, the stakes are higher. It’s no longer a race. But, if you fall off the beam, you die. And if you touch the beam with your hands, you die.

Hopefully, you can see why I didn’t find this second gamble as interesting. The only strategy came in the first round when competitors decided to push or not to push those ahead of them. After that, it was all about bravery.

Tonegawa and Hyoudou

The third and fourth gambles are more traditional than the second. And, they’re one-on-one showdowns between Kaiji and the main antagonists. First, there’s Yukio Tonegawa, the proctor of the previous two gambles. And second, there’s Hyoudou Kazutaka, the leader of the gambling organization.

Against Tonegawa, Kaiji plays a card game called E-card. Each player has five cards, with four of them being “citizen” cards. Their last card is either “slave” or “emperor,” depending on the turn. Ultimately, this is another rock-paper-scissors-type game. Citizens beat the slave, the emperor beats the citizens, and the slave beats the emperor.

However, this game has far less strategy than the original rock-paper-scissors game. Instead, it’s more about getting lucky. So, to add in a bit of “strategy,” Tonegawa cheats. That’s it. That’s the extent of the strategy. And because of that, it’s not all that interesting of a gamble to watch.

Yukio Tonegawa playing E-card from the anime series Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor
Yukio Tonegawa playing E-card

With that said, E-card is more fun to watch than the final gamble of the series. In this one, Kaiji plays a lottery game against Hyoudou. If he wins, he’ll receive 100 million yen on top of the 20 million he already has. And if he loses, he loses the 20 million yen and four of his fingers.

This is another gamble that relies entirely on luck unless cheating is involved. And, in case you were wondering, cheating is very much involved.

It’s kind of interesting to watch the characters come up with their cheating plans. And it’s kind of interesting to see how they out-cheat each other. But, I far preferred the actual strategy that was in play at the start of the series.

There’s a second season of Kaiji that’s rated a bit worse than this season. But, maybe it actually brings strategy back into the fold.

Final Thoughts

Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor is a 7/10. I had it rated as an 8 for the first half of the series. But, I couldn’t leave it that high during the second half. And, there are more issues that I have with the second half than those I explained in this review.

One example is that Kaiji becomes a messiah-like figure for a bunch of other failed gamblers. It didn’t really make much sense. I don’t know why they were so involved in Kaiji’s later gambles. But, whatever.

Anyway, if you enjoyed this review, remember to share it with everyone you know. Also, follow me on your social media of choice so you don’t miss out on any future articles — links are in the footer.

Finally, I’d like to thank Roman and JasonHK for supporting DoubleSama.com at the Heika tier this month. To learn more about supporting this blog, check out Patreon.com/DoubleSama.

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