First Look: Kakegurui (live action)

Manga Adaptation by MBS, TBS, Netflix
Streaming on Netflix
(this review covers the first episode, the entire 10 episode series is available now.)

Premise

​Hyakkaou Academy is a private school for the ultra rich with a big secret: after school hours the student body fights for social supremacy through high stakes games of chance. A new transfer student, obsessed with the thrill of gambling, arrives to shake things up. This might sound familiar.

Jel’s verdict: Out of Luck

Unlike my GLORIO colleagues and their love of tokusatsu, I personally have less tolerance for the low budget bad acting of live action TV series. There’s a difference between well crafted camp and just flat out incompetency and I feel like a lot of live action shows lean toward the latter. That said, if there’s one recent adaptation that demands hamming it up as much as humanly possible, it’s Kakegurui. At the very least it made me curious to see how the series’ ridiculous, over the top style (especially the faces) would translate to the real world. Turns out, it translates pretty well.

The show does attempt to ape the style of the source material to a certain degree, but the real brilliance is how they’ve chosen to work around a key problem: a good portion of the series takes place inside the various characters’ heads. Staring at a person while they run through an inner monologue is boring enough in animated form, and it’s even worse in live action. The director has worked in some pretty neat tricks to fix this. For example, in one shot our main viewpoint character/narrator Micchy Suzui holds a juice box like a microphone and talks directly to the audience until he’s interrupted and re-enters the scene. Even better, during her first match with Yumeko, Mary snaps her finger and time stops. With everyone frozen, she twirls around the room and explains her scheme to the camera.

Of course we do also get the extreme over acting and crazy reaction faces you’d expect from Kakegurui, but that extra level of care to make the concept work in three dimensions makes it feel more like a result of technical competency and not just doing their best with what they have to work with. To be fair, they are still trying to make due with less. The acting is indeed VERY bad and I’m not convinced the richest school in the world would buy tables that look like they’re from IKEA. I’m just saying in this case I don’t think it’s as much of a detriment as it would be in other shows.

So the big question: should you watch the live action Kakegurui? I don’t really know where it fits. With the anime version being less than a year old, fans will still have the Kakegurui experience fresh in their mind and I don’t think this version brings enough new to the table to make me want to go through the entire series again. I might skip to a few key moments to see how they handle them, but I don’t have much desire to watch it all.

On the other hand, for those that missed the anime I can’t say this is a better experience. While they do the best they can to translate the series’ style to live action, that style can flourish even more in animated form where there are far less restrictions. Just take a look at the amazing opening song for the anime and realize that it is impossible for the live action series to be that good for even one second. Sadly, that leaves this version stuck as an interesting anomaly that only diehard fans will want to watch in its entirety. It’s a good effort, but personally I’ll just be waiting for season 2 of the anime.

Side note: I put my differences with Netflix aside to give this a fair shake, but don’t think I’m going to miss an opportunity to dunk on them when they deserve it. In the original anime subtitles, apparently Netflix did an automated “find and replace” correction on the names resulting in, for example, “Mary Saotome” changing to “Mary Mary”. Poor Mary gets to keep her family name in the live action version, but this time she is known as “Meari Saotome”. Yup. I couldn’t make a funnier joke if I tried. It seems the anime subs were eventually corrected so it’s possible they will do the same here, it’s just sad that they make us wait months for these shows and still miss huge errors like this.

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