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The year is 1995. After graduating from high school, the young Kaiji Itou has moved to Tokyo in hopes of finding a steady job. Two years later, he's still unemployed and in a state of depression. Kaiji wastes what little money he has on cheap gambles, alcohol and cigarettes on a daily basis. To feel better about himself, he sabotages expensive cars and collects their emblems. One of these cars belongs to Yuuji Endou, a Yakuza with ties to the financial empire Teiai Corporation.
It turns out that Endou has been searching for Kaiji for a while, ever since he co-signed a contract for his friend Furuhata, which left him with a large debt. Endou also wants Kaiji to compensate for the car's damages. Kaiji is left with a choice; he must either spend 10 years working off the debt in a labour camp, or board a gambling cruise called "Espoir" (French for "hope") where he will be able to pay off the debt in one night... If he wins.
And that's just how the first series begins. Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji is probably the most famous work of Nobuyuki Fukumoto, a Seinen Mangaka. Starting in 1996, it has since then received critical acclaim for its ridiculous yet brilliant gambles as well as the complex psychological analyses of the characters. There are currently four series, the first two of which have gotten anime adaptations by Madhouse (much like Akagi before it), and eventually Live Action Adaptation films and pachinko games. Kaiji also makes an appearance in Girls RPG Cinderellife, a dating sim by Level 5, for Nintendo 3DS. As of 2012, the fourth series has been put on hiatus and will resume in a year.
The series in general
- Absurdly High Stakes Game
- Aesop Amnesia — By the end of season 1 Kaiji seems to have learned his lesson about hard work and not trusting life to give you what you want. When we see him again at the start of season 2, he's back to the lousy deadbeat gambler he was at the beginning. Justified in that a year has passed since the end of the first season.
- End of season 2 — in the day it takes him to meet the 45ers after they're free, he manages to blow his entire cut of the winnings on Pachinko.
- All or Nothing
- Bad Boss — Hyoudou. If you work for him and if you do anything he doesn't like, he'll do various bad things to you. He also puts his bare feet in a tub filled with wine and makes his workers drink out of it. Once, a worker started speaking during this, but Hyoudou said he didn't appreciate his tone of voice, and had him taken away. It's anyone's guess as to what happened to him, but it was without a doubt very bad.
- Beam of Enlightenment
- Chekhov's Gun: In the third series, Kaiji sees a poster which he dismisses offhand, only to be used later for his victory.
- Marking of the cards during the Rock-Paper-Scissors game ends up being a crucial strategy in E-card.
- Chewing the Scenery: The narrator.
- Combat Commentator
- Conspicuous CG: The ship and its main hall. The "inside" of the Bog in season 2.
- Evil Redhead: Kitami, Ichijou (anime only, as he has black hair in the manga) and Kazuya.
- Fat Bastard: Andou and Otsuki.
- Fingore: When his Tissue Box raffle goes horribly wrong.
- A less gory but still very painful example is provided by Ichijou to Kaiji in series 2.
- Gambit Roulette — Kaiji's plan to beat the bog at the end of Season 2 relies on a series of convoluted plans. But Kaiji and Ichijo both Didn't See That Coming so many times, it turns into a Roulette that would almost look like Xanatos Speed Chess if it weren't for the fact that Kaiji can't change anything after he starts playing.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Most of the cheaters in the series fall victim to this. Key word being most of them.
- Notably, at the end of series 1, Kaiji himself loses in the one game he tries to rig.
- Hope Spot: Constantly. Especially in the Pachinko Arc.
- Idiot Ball: Kaiji gets this occasionally; by halfway through the second episode, he has already fallen for two Obvious Traps, leaving him in what seems to be an Unwinnable situation and requiring him to struggle for an entire arc just to try to restore the status quo.
- Large Ham: The narrator.
- Manly Tears: The fansubs even lampshade this.
- "Real" Men Don't Cry: Oh the HELL they don't! Even Lampshaded in the anime opening.
- Moving the Goalposts: The bad guys aren't really interested in having a fair game, they just want to see the underdogs suffer. Thus they will resort to this tactic as necessary.
- Oh Crap: This anime IS THIS TROPE.
- Padding: Way more than your usual primetime game show. Even Deal or No Deal can't compare.
- Rigged Contest: E-Card, the tissue box lottery, Hell Cee-lo, the Man-Eating Bog and Minefield Mahjong are all rigged in different ways.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money: The people Kaiji are up against have enough money and influence as to be practically untouchable.
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules: The reason why Kaiji is awesome.
- Serious Business: The main appeal of this series is arguably the ridiculously high stakes put on the simplest of gambles.
- Smoking Is Cool — This is a given, since the series is about gambling and Yakuza.
- Spiritual Successor — Gambling Emperor Legend Zero.
- Stock Visual Metaphors: Often about jumping over a canyon or the Grim Reaper.
- Trapped by Gambling Debts
- Trauma Conga Line
- Unsound Effect: ZAWA, the sound of dramatic tension.
- Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Played straight much of the time. Occasionally, Kaiji will seem to explain his plan, but will only explain the first and less important half; in these cases, the entire plan is guaranteed to work fine. Played painfully straight in the Tissue Box Raffle arc, though, when Kaiji explains his entire grand scheme four whole episodes before the end of the series, which naturally falls apart and leaves him ruined.
- Villainous Breakdown: Everytime Kaiji wins. Witnessing them is particularly satisfying since he's generally up against arrogant bastards or Complete Monsters
- Yaoi Fangirl: Kaiji, Akagi, and many other series by Fukumoto Nobuyuki have surprisingly large female fanbases. Put that together with an almost complete lack of female characters and this happens, apparently.
- The Call Knows Where You Live: Kaiji hopes that the Yakuza don't come to collect on his debt after the first arc. They do, and he's forced to gamble again.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Andou betrays Kaiji twice, and he's in the story for fewer than four hours in-universe. Tonegawa has something more along the lines of Chronic Frontstabbing Disorder.
- Cool Boat: Espoir.
- Death by Irony: Tonegawa...okay, he doesn't die, but there was a lot of irony in how he loses the e-card game.
- Downer Ending
- Eye Scream: In the E-Card game, Kaiji gets to choose between putting his ear or eye on the line. Averted when he picks his ear, but we are still treated to some nice Imagine Spots with the mini-drill moving closer to his eyeball.
- I Know You Know I Know — Arguably how Tonegawa is defeated; by being too careful.
- In a Single Bound: Sahara's leap in episode 14 is at least presented this way, whether it is or not is debatable.
- Karma Houdini: Hyoudou escapes unscathed at the end of series 1.
- Lost Him in a Card Game: A good reason to avoid being sent to the Other Room on the Espoir.
- The Man Behind the Man: Hyoudou (whose name isn't even revealed until the very last episode) is the man behind Tonegawa.
- Meaningful Name: The ship at the beginning of the series is called Espoir, which is the French word for hope.
- Poor Predictable Rock: Somethingverted in the first arc; it could be described as anything from Played Straight to Deconstructed.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: During the second half of the Human Derby arc, Tonegawa delivers these at least Once an Episode.
- Rock-Paper-Scissors — With cards.
- Shaggy Dog Story
- What Happened to the Mouse? — Tonegawa's fate is unclear at this point. Seeing as how Kurosaki has replaced him by series 2, it's probably safe to assume that, at the very least, he was demoted to a lower rank in Teiai.
- Yank the Dog's Chain — Series 1 plays this brutally with Sahara's death. After making his way across the bridge of death, he finally prepares to open the door to cash in on the price money... Only to be blown off the building by the air compression blast from the window towards a certain death.
- You Fail Physics Forever: In one game, the contestants have to cross a metal beam placed across a chasm without falling. In the first round, some people fell, but were able to grab onto the beam and avoid being injured. In the second round, the beam was electrified. However, since electricity seeks the path of least resistance, there would be no reason for it to travel through a person, then through the air to the ground. If the voltage was high enough for that, we would probably see electricity arcing to the ground upon flipping the switch.
- No. Rubber tennis shoes are decent insulation; the current does not need to be terribly strong to force a person to loosen their grip and fall.
- Furthermore, the only way a person would be shocked is if touching the beam completed a circuit. The metal beam is split in half. In order to be shocked, a person would have to essentially short circuit the path by touching both halves of the beam.
- Lightning wouldn't strike the ground from twenty stories. Air is, you might notice, not the best conductor. You don't often see arcs from high voltage lines to the ground precisely because the path of least resistance is the high voltage line itself. These beams similarly would be the path of least resistance.
- The Cameo: Kurosawa is seen in the opening and Zero in the very last episode.
- Earn Your Happy Ending
- Foot Focus: In the Underground Chinchiro Arc, workers are barefoot when off-duty--the Foot Focus itself most notably coming into play at the end of episode 5, when there's a dramatic closeup of Kaiji's feet as he accepts the chief's challenge. Then there's the Pachinko Arc, where it's a requirement for the participant to be barefoot.
- Jumped At the Call: Kaiji at the start of series 2 — to the point where it could almost be said that he knows where the Call lives.
- Locked Into Strangeness — Kaiji's hair appears to turn white once he's out of money at the end of episode 24. It might be a Stock Visual Metaphor.
- Luck-Based Mission: A rare non-game example. Double Subverted. Kaiji decides to take on "The Bog" a notorious pachinko machine. There is no luck involved in playing the Bog, because it's rigged to be impossible. Kaiji must use his wits to create artificial circumstances that will LEAD to his victory. But because he Didn'tSeeThatComing so much, the game goes back to simply being a Luck-Based Mission.
- Metal Scream: The second season OP.
- Mood Whiplash: In episode 10, when Sakazaki is talking about his daughter, Mikoko, the initially serious atmosphere prevalent throughout the series suddenly (and briefly) shifts to a comedic one. Doubles as a Crowning Moment of Funny.
- Pet the Dog: At the end of season 2, one of the black suits gives a broke Kaiji a few thousand yen to meet his fellow 45ers. Mind you, this was after Kaiji blew what was left of his pachinko earnings on pachinko.
- Shout-Out: At one point in the second season, Kaiji stays with Sakazaki and Endou for a night at Hotel Akagi.
- What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome: Kaiji goes up against a pimped-out pachinko machine in the second series.
- Wham! Episode — The end of the second season isn't just a wham episode. It's a series of wham episodes!
- Work Off the Debt
- Your Princess Is in Another Castle: End of season 2 — after Kaiji's finally defeated the Bog and become rich, it turns out he didn't read the fine print in Endou's contract...
Part III & IV
- Chekhov's Skill: Kaiji's reactionary gambling style is referred to by Kaguya as a tsunami. Kaiji dismisses the notion at first but invokes the metaphor again when in doubt.
- Face Heel Turn: Miyoshi and Maeda, but it's justified; see Well-Intentioned Extremist below.
- Giant Spider: In a Stock Visual Metaphor. Eek.
- Giggling Villain: Muraoka.
- Mahjong: The entire third part focuses on this game, but it's a two-player variant.
- Poor Communication Kills: In series 2, the Bog payed out 700 million yen, and Kaiji split it with Sakazaki and Endou. When Muraoka tells Miyoshi and Maeda about this, he tells them to "test" Kaiji by asking for his help and seeing how he responds after they add that he can profit from it. Because Kaiji denied their request at first and accepted it only when they offered money, they thought Kaiji had been using and holding out on them and the other 45'ers. As such, they decided to scam him out of money. Had Kaiji not been too proud to admit that he didn't beat the Bog alone, none of this would have happened.
- Show Within a Show: Kazuya's in-universe novel.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Miyoshi and Maeda did not betray Kaiji just because they could; due to a misunderstanding, they thought he had betrayed them.
Live Action Movies
- Compressed Adaptation: Story-wise, the first film is basically a mix of the first two seasons.
- Creator Cameo: Fukumoto himself appears as a black suit.
- Gender Bender: Ishida's "son" and Endou are both women in the movies.
- Gratuitous English: Tonegawa's infamous FUCK YOU.
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