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The live action Japanese adaptation of Kakegurui aired early in 2018 in Japan while it was distributed worldwide on Netflix once the season finished airing in Japan. The series was co-written and directed by Tsutomu Hanabusa, whose directorial work primarily consists of romance films that are adapted from manga and novels. Two major exceptions in his filmography are the fact that he directed the two Sadako 3D films in 2012 and 2013 and is also the director of Kakegurui. His upcoming work includes the second season of Kakegurui and its feature film that is being released on the May 3rd.
Kakegurui is about Jabami Yumeko, told from the perspective of Suzui Ryota who is the first friend she makes after transferring to a new school. It is an elite school named Hyakkaou Private Academy, where everything can be decided by gambling. It follows her various encounters with other students, and the student council in particular, as she tries to satisfy her need to compulsively gamble with increasingly high stakes.
The live action show sticks pretty faithfully to the anime (having only seen the anime and not read the manga), with some minor differences in the narrative. The most notable is the fact that they hid the student council president through the entire show, saving her appearance for the second season and the film. Due to the season being two episodes shorter than the anime, the points at which they leave the narrative are two different points, and the actions of some individuals in the narrative are shifted to other characters in order to adapt.
What is immediately noticeable in the show is that the production value is quite high. The look of the school, both from the exterior and the interior is absolutely beautiful, and the detail inside the school is fantastic, making it have a sense of personality about it. Beyond that, the various rooms that are found throughout the series all stand out in their own, yet at no point do you not believe these places do not exist in the same building; the student council room and the Traditional Culture Research Society’s club room being particular highlights. In addition, the visual effects are quite well done too, so much so to the point that they managed to pull of the glowing eyes from the anime in a live action format; however, for it to have worked as well as it did, the show needed to be exactly the type of show that it was and would not have worked elsewhere.
The performances of the actors are fantastic, as they seem to embrace the absurdity that is going on in the narrative wholeheartedly. So much so to the point that if I was to pick which interpretation of the characters I enjoyed more, the anime or the live action adaptation, I would have to say I much preferred the characters in the live action adaptation. Takasugi Mahiro, and Yamoto Yuma were particular highlights; Takasugi Mahiro, who was also in the live action adaptation of ReLIFE, and Yamoto Yuma being in the live action Silver Spoon film. The two also appeared in Tori Girl which was also directed by Tsutomu Hanabusa. The two actors brought an energy to the screen that made every scene that they were in fantastic to watch, and so I was looking forward to their appearance more than anyone else.
What this series does a lot better is showing what life is like for those students that are in a lot of debt by sprinkling in how they were treated ordinarily as characters are simply walking through the school, setting up future plot points in the background for when they become relevant. While it does not fully explore the full extremities of the consequences when it comes to a loss, with regards to the ridiculous amount that Yumeko is gambling with, what the background treatment does is it sets up the expectation in the back of the head of what happens when someone is slightly in the red and are reduced from being human. This gives us a benchmark to measure the risk with, to a certain extent.
The soundtrack is also a joy to listen to, the opening song in particular. There is an energy to it that easily conveys the tone of the show, and the visuals also depict the school in a way that resembles pure chaos, which is apt when considering the pure gambling nature of the narrative. What the live action opening does that is interesting is continuously adding footage to the opening to keep it from getting repetitive and dull, to the point that by the time the final episode came out, it was a montage of the best footage collected over the prior nine episodes, making it visually interesting to watch. My favourite opening being the one that involved Yamoto Yuma.
The show manages to get around the internal monologues that the characters have in unique ways that include the surrounding environment stopping in time and the character in question giving out exposition in a very heavy-handed way while also being over the top. The quick fourth wall breaks to explain something that is going on, and the exaggerated expressions that the actors wear on their faces, is fantastic to watch. Beyond this, when I was watching the live action show, at no point did I not believe that the characters were being misrepresented. All the actors nailed the characters that they were acting as. With the exception of Takasugi Mahiro, who brought with him so much personality and charisma to the screen that made his anime counterpart seem as if he had the personality of a wet paper bag.
The show is also incredibly humorous; however, it is not in the way that a joke is being said with a clever punch line and the like. The humor comes from the over the top reactions, the timing in which the characters interact with each other, and by just how seriously the characters are treating the narrative and their actions. The exquisite timing is mainly displayed by Takasugi Mahiro, who always managed to get me to laugh, not by what he says, but by the timing in which he says it in. At no point in the show do you ever feel as if the actors are taking the material seriously; in fact, it feels as if they are taking it so seriously, ironically. This is the same feeling I got when watching the way the show as a whole. It balances a tight rope of being a faithful adaptation while also bordering on parody.
At this point, considering I have showered praise upon this show, and even admitting I prefer this live action adaptation to the anime adaptation, this is a show that I do not recommend. In order for someone to really enjoy this show, an individual needs to have a very particular taste in entertainment to get any enjoyment out of it. Every single positive that I have listed so far are positives that work for me. The plot is ridiculous, the acting is anime like, and the dialogue is anime dialogue, which makes everything seem out of place in a live action setting.
The only time I would recommend this show is if I know a persons taste in entertainment, and I know they would like it. As far as a general recommendation goes, this is a show that I cannot recommend as it is a niche taste within a niche taste.