Welcome to episode 40! How far we’ve come…
I’m sure I’ve said this before, but this genuinely is the most polarised APR of all time! Two school-based series, but that’s where the similarities end. That being said, both have been really well received over recent months. Later on we have a look at one of the darkest ever dark horses for anime of the year, but first of all the refreshing rom-com from Summer ’17.
Tsuredure Children (2017, S1, 12x12mins)
“Tell me that you love me.”
Set in a fictional Japanese school, Tsuredure Children follows a series of young romances featuring various characters at different stages of romance – from schoolyard crushes to the awkward first kiss and everything in between.
Overall this was an enjoyable series. We reviewed this, along with the other recently concluded Summer ’17 series in our Half-Term Report, and it might sound like we’re repeating ourselves a bit here but you’ll be unsurprised to hear that this isn’t exactly a series that develops. What it is, though, is a really good rendition of classic – not quite cliché, I think – high-school romances.
Tsuredure doesn’t follow one or two characters in particular, instead darting endlessly between what felt like around eight-or-nine different stories. In some ways this was really good, each twelve-minute episode feeling like a quick shot of love story, removing the baggage (most of the setups explained in one or two lines of inner monologue at the beginning of the scene) and focusing on the climax. Also, a surprising amount of these mini stories were hits – I can only think of two or three right now that were uninteresting.
Unsurprisingly for such a small yet ambitious series, it does have some issues. While it didn’t look like it would be the case at the beginning, Tsuredure actually did a decent enough job of wrapping up all the different stories, although the length of time between certain scenes – you may be introduced to a character in one episode and not hear from them again until four episodes later – made some of them harder to follow. While there were some really good ones in there – the ‘friend-zoned’ and ‘geek/sport-girl’ stories in particular – they can become lost and diluted through this process.
The problem I think this show had is that it probably tried to tell too many stories. For the hardcore romance fan Tsuredure is a great collection of easily digested but well created stories, but with so many stories to get through and such little time to do it in there was no room for actual character, meaning a lot of the people involved felt at times like minor variations of one another. Overall, though, Tsuredure has been a good watch, and I would love to see some of these ideas fleshed out into larger episodes sometime!
ANIME RANKING: #59 – A very respectable ranking for a relatively small series, placing it way ahead of fellow romances Fuuka and Masamune-kun’s Revenge, and just behind ‘Is it Wrong…?’!
If you liked this you’ll love: Orange – It’s hard to find a romance series that manages to be engaging and cute for a whole series – perhaps the reason Tsuredure is a relative success compared to something similar like Fuuka – but fans of school romances will be very satisfied with Orange. With a beautiful animation style and a similar yet more delicate storyline than in Tsuredure, this slightly more mature romance is still going to pull on those same heartstrings!
Kakegurui (2017, S1, 12x24mins)
“Would you be so kind as to pay up?”
Kakegurui takes place in Hyakkaou Private Academy, an elite school for some of the richest and most powerful children in the world. In the heavily elitist school the student hierarchy is king, and that is decided by the school’s only extra-curricular activity – gambling. All students compete in all manner of games; some tame, some extreme, but all waging fortunes on the line. The winners claim riches and incredible stature among their peers, while the losers become saddled with debts and turned into ‘pets’, slaves to the upper echelons. Ryota (right) is a bright student, but his bad luck has turned him into a pet to dominant classmate Mary (bottom-right). Then, a seemingly innocent new student called Jabami Yumeko (center-right) transfers into their class and immediately challenges Mary to a high-stakes game, beating her against all odds. Yumeko decides to clear Ryota’s debt, and out of gratitude he becomes a loyal follower of hers, assisting her as she begins to make a name for herself at the academy, particularly with the elite members of Hyakkaou’s Student Council.
Basically Plot: In a school where everything is gambled and gambling is everything, a new student’s high-stakes habit and incredible winning streak attract the attentions of the academy’s dangerous Student Council.
We reviewed this at the midway stage, and in an anime cycle including My Hero Academia among other big hits, Kakegurui quickly established itself as the best series. Wether it was still the best series at the end is up for debate, but there’s no denying that Kakegurui has left a lasting impression here.
We’ve seen plenty of mature series here at The Culture Cove, shows like Black Lagoon and Berserk establishing themselves as shows not for the faint of heart. We’ve also seen shows that don’t necessarily include much blood but certainly do enough to make you uncomfortable. Kakegurui, however, is by a fair way the most unsettling anime series we’ve ever seen. Elements of psychological-thriller are throughout this series, as you would expect for a show that is primarily characters playing mind-games on each other, but psy-thrillers usually involve smart, thoughtful people – detective-like characters – working things out. Kakegurui, on the other hand, is a witches bowl filled with the nastiest, frightening and sometimes downright disgusting characters you will ever see. That, also, is before you even begin to talk about the high levels of sexuality in this series, levels that no other school-based series would be allowed to get away with, yet feel like just another part of the almost horror genre package in Kakegurui.
Characters like Student Council member Sumeragi (top-right in title picture), who collects the fingernails of the people she beats, to Midari (top) who, for lack of a better term, ‘gets herself off’ in the school toilets with her pistol are just two of the screwed-up people who look to take Jabami down, and as time passes on it becomes obvious that she herself is the worst of the lot – a gambling addiction verging on fetishism. All of this is brought to life with an anime style that is sharp and vibrant in the normal scenes, but switches to a uniquely disproportionate, grotesque horror style akin to Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ in moments of drama. To say this isn’t for the faint of heart is putting it mildly. This is not a show that you would tell your friends about, but because it is so evil – and yes, in some parts disgusting – you will be very hard pushed to find a show that makes such a big first impact as this one does.
When you settle into the show, and the show settles into itself, more obvious flaws become apparent. While at the beginning each game was exciting – credit to Kakegurui for its inventive games throughout, by the way – it did begin to feel awfully repetitive, a feeling compounded as the show begun to slow down in general near the end. Jabami is simply taking on, and beating, each Student Council member, with little thought put into actually building a story, or at least fleshing out some more details. While the games on an individual level were all exciting to watch, there was never really a feeling that she was pushing up the ranks, that each game mattered more than the last or that there was any serious end goal to all of it – I should note that this is clearly a characteristic of the compulsive lead character, but there were other characters out there with actual missions that were not really promoted or developed. Even the underwhelming finale against the president felt like just another game.
However, despite a story that begins to tail off at the end Kakegurui remained throughout an incredibly dark and dangerous psychological series. There’s no better way to phrase it, I don’t think: Kakegurui is a F***ed-up anime series that will excite and shock in equal measure. Some will hate the overtly sexual nature and almost unnecessarily repulsive style of the series, but others will love the hardcore psychological side of a show that doesn’t just deliver knockout punches but also begins biting you when you’re on the canvas!
ANIME RANKING: #30 – Despite a flat conclusion, Kakegurui is still strong enough to find itself in our own elite council, the Top 30, beating major hits such as Noragami and the Fate series!
If you liked this you’ll love: Mirai Nikki – The thing about Psy-Thri’s are that they are often down to the viewer’s taste, and while this series isn’t highly rated here, Mirai Nikki is widely seen as one of the best thrillers out there. Starring a similarly psychotic girl in Gasai Yuno, fans of Kakegurui’s dark core will find similarly discomforting themes in this acclaimed battle royale series.
Kakegurui answers some long-lingering questions I’ve had about sexuality in Japanese anime.
There has been many-a-series that I have failed to complete, with the main reason being the unnecessary sexualisation of characters. The Asterisk War and Hundred are the first to spring to mind, both action shows set in ‘academies’ starring similarly aged characters to Kakegurui. However, when they do it you feel like they are doing it for the purpose of appealing to young boys, dumbing down ‘overly-assetted’ characters for the sake of some form of subliminal marketing, only for said klutz to pull of some fantastic move moments later. In Kakegurui, however, the sexuality – much more obvious and unavoidable – is played as just another part of the shows general skewed sense of morality. In an instance like this, I find myself having no problem with what is, in essence, the same thing as is happening in the other, more PC anime series.
I am really curious to hear others opinions on Kakegurui. I assume that for everyone like me who enjoyed it, there’s someone who didn’t even finish the first episode. It strikes me as that kind of series. Let us know your thoughts either here or on our Instagram page!
Make sure you follow The Culture Cove to see the best anime reviews before anybody else! Look out for episode 41, where we finally give a full review to the titanic My Hero Academia!