What do you have to lose in games of chance? Everything, it turns out.

Kakeguri volume 1Title: Kakegurui – Compulsive Gambler
Genre: Drama
Publisher: Square Enix (JP), Yen Press (US)
Story/Artist: Homura Kawamoto, Toru Naomura
Translator: Matthew Alberts
Serialized in: Gangan Joker
Original Digital Release Date: August 25, 2015
Original Physical Release Date: July 18, 2017
Review copy provided by Yen Press.

Students at Hyakkaou Private Academy are snobbish, elitist, and filthy rich, a terrible combination. These students aren’t expected to be academic or athletic superstars, they’re expected to grow into adults who know how to “use people” or “the ability to recognize a critical moment in the game.” Which is how the students rationalize their rampant, after-school gambling activities where thousands of dollars, and even a person’s social status, change hands at the drop of a hat. Suzui is worried when a sweet girl named Yumeko Jabami transfers into his class but it seems like he had nothing to worry about.

If Jabami is naive, she is naive only in the sense that a new student doesn’t know where the restroom is; she is perfectly at home in this world of reckless gambling and in many ways she’s a more comfortable inhabitant of it compared to her more experienced classmates. Her classmates at Hyakkaou use gambling as a way to “hide” their even worse vices, all while putting on a polite exterior of course. While that may serve them well in the dirty dealings of the elite Jabami isn’t having any of that, she luxuriates in the most extreme and dangerous ways to gamble. “The essence of gambling is madness, is it not?” is her first manifesto on the subject and her willingness to bare it all and go as far as the game allows her unnerves her fellow classmates (who previously would’ve considered themselves quite worldly and above being intimidated by others).

It helps that Jabami has a keen eye and a good sense for when something is off in a game of chance and so far she’s already unmasked three different cheaters in three different games (which is doubly impressive considering that two of the games were ones invented by students at the academy). If every single student group and then a few have their own games then there’s plenty of material for Kakegurui to mine in future chapters (and that’s without Jabami ever playing a classic gambling game).

While the anime is currently airing in Japan it does not currently have an official English release so it’s hard to say how the two compare. One thing that is noticeable from screenshots of the anime release is that they are taking two different approaches to the art. The anime appears to use much more theatrical staging and lighting to heighten the tension of the story even more which is an interesting choice but not one the manga took. This manga certainly uses its art to highlight the near-constant tension but does so in a more typical way. It doesn’t resort to imagery very much but the characters make crazy faces, sound effects add both context and suspense, and the dense paneling makes each game feel like a fast-paced game of chance. Yen Press’s larger than average trim size suits the manga well, each page feels like it’s bursting with action and the typical black and white manga coloring only seems to make it even more sensational.

In this volume of Kakegurui we see people falling into positions of indentured servitude, a woman with a fetish for collecting nails fresh from the hands of others, and and some gruesome cheats involving piercings. All of these things would usually turn me off from a story immediately and yet the pacing is just so quick that I was sucked in before I even realized it. Gross and engrossing, Kakegurui has made a strong English-language debut and promises even more fun times to come.