Name: Kaiji S2 aka Kaiji: Hakairoku-hen
Format: 26 episodes
Dates: 6 Apr 2011 – 28 Sep 2011
Synopsis: Several months after his ordeal with Teiai Corporation President Hyoudou Kazutaka, Itou Kaiji once again finds himself on the streets and in more debt than ever. He’s approached by Teiai representatives – including loan shark Endou Yuuji – and Kaiji believes he’ll have another shot to make a big score, but instead he is drugged and whisked away to an underground labor camp where he is to work off his debt over the course of 15 years. But Kaiji refuses to accept his fate and concocts a plan to escape and erase his debt.
Hard edge: Kaiji is as brutal and unforgiving as always.
Tension: Still strong most of the time, but occasionally snaps.
“Shitty hero”: The contrast between Kaiji’s good qualities and his base desires is highlighted more and makes Kaiji interesting.
Pachinko arc: Starts off strong, but wears out its welcome; saved somewhat by a strong ending.
It’s a miracle on par with Kaiji’s biggest victories that this series received a second season. The original Kaiji is one of the best anime of the past decade due to its tension-filled atmosphere and the unforgiving harshness of its world. It’s an often rough, brutal watch, but an unforgettable one as well. The second season of Kaiji has much of the same going for it, but while good, it doesn’t quite measure up to the first season.
There is much that is familiar in Kaiji’s second season: The story begins with Kaiji finding himself in some awful circumstance and fighting his way out of it. He fails repeatedly, either through temptation or devious trickery on the parts of his opponents, before finally breaking through in the end. The strangely enticing storytelling style also remains much the same where the narrator Tachiki Fumihiko tells everything in grand style. The plot is stretched on into eternity much like the first series’ as well.
But there’s a bit of a new spin: One element of the original is Kaiji’s unassuming charisma. He doesn’t think much of himself, but there’s a quality about the man that attracts people to him. The support he has in the final arc as he takes on the Teiai president is incredible. That charisma is developed in the second season to the extent that Kaiji almost seems like a revolutionary hero. There’s always been a clear anti-capitalist streak in Kaiji — or, at the very least, a critique of how monetary greed warps people into monsters. Kaiji himself is not immune to this. He’s referred to as a “shitty hero” at the end of the series. This is a perfect descriptor. Kaiji sinks to the lowest depths possible, but proves his humanity by bouncing back and not fully succumbing to easy desires. It’s interesting how he gains support and acts like a representative of the downtrodden to beat the system at its own game. It’s a development that is somewhat abandoned to begin the second arc, which is a shame, because it is a fascinating idea.
The first arc, while slow at times, at least remains interesting because of the psychological battles that make the first season of Kaiji so addicting. The second arc, however, which features Kaiji up against an infamous pachinko machine, is where the show stumbles. Meticulous planning goes into Kaiji’s battle against the machine, and it’s an incredible moment when all the strings are revealed. But it simply takes far too long to reach that point to the point where the tension built is lost. Kaiji battling a machine is simply not as interesting as Kaiji battling flesh-and-blood people, because the psychological war games do not cut as deep. Eventually the battle becomes repetitive, and although the ending is solid and enjoyable, it does not totally make up for how much the arc eventually wears the viewer down.
Much of one’s enjoyment of Kaiji’s second season hinges on how much one enjoys the Kaiji formula: For better or worse, there is not much different about the style in which the story is told, or the types of stories that are told. But Kaiji himself still provides a fascinating core to the series and is more than enough to make the show worth watching.
The Rating: 7
Reviewed by: Shinmaru