Intro to Anime
Before properly getting started, it might help for the unfamiliar to have something of an explanation regarding the art form being discussed. The word ‘anime’ is Japanese for ‘animation’, and as such that goes a long way to conveying exactly what it is; animation, whether hand-drawn or computer-generated, that is either typical of Japan or originates there. The earliest commercial example of the form appeared in 1917, and from the 1960’s onwards the fully developed anime style began to achieve global popularity.
With its striking imagery, colorful themes and vivid style, anime has embraced all kinds of subject matter aimed at very different audiences. For children there is ‘kodomo’, boy-specific anime is called ‘shounen’, girls are the intended focus of ‘shoujo’, and then there is ‘hentai’. We will not be discussing that last subset here, suffice it to say that if you are so inclined you will be able to find plenty of instances online.
While we will be dealing with adult content here, it will be more to do with gambling rather than any pornographic elements.
Based on the wildly-successful manga written by Nobuyuki Fukumoto in 1991, this anime adaptation first aired in 2005 – though there were two live action films covering the story which came out in 1995 and 1997. The manga sold over 12 million copies in Japan alone, so this anime was what you might call a surefire hit. Akagi or, to give its full title, Akagi: Yami ni Oritatta Tensai (Akagi: The Genius Who Descended into Darkness), was actually a spin-off of Fukumoto’s previous work, Ten.
Featuring an intense plot, with plenty of twists and turns, the story opens with a small-time gambler, Nangou, about to lose not just his money but also his life in an ill-advised game of Mahjong against the Yakuza. Fortunately for him, the eponymous Akagi arrives, on the run from the police, and begins playing against the Yakuza. Akagi is victorious over them, winning a lot of money in the process, and frees Nangou. To avoid spoilers we won’t go any further into what happens, but rest assured that this is certainly an anime series worth watching.
Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor
It’s that man Nobuyuki Fukumoto again, who wrote and illustrated Tobaku Mokushiroku Kaiji (Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji), a manga first published in 1996. The anime series was broadcast from October 2007 to 2008, and two subsequent live action movies were released in 2009 and 2011. North America will even see six omnibus volumes published, with the first one already available as of April 24 2019.
In Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor, the titular hero is experiencing a whole host of personal problems and has migrated to Tokyo for a fresh start. Unfortunately, this does not help matters, as those Yakuza pop up again – what is it with them? – and trick him into repaying a friend’s debt. Subsequently, he boards an cruise ship where illegal gambling is taking place, and has to take part in increasingly hairy gambling activity as his life changes forever.
Kakegurui: Compulsive Gambler
Originally a manga created and published in 2014 by author Homura Kawamoto and illustrator Toru Naomura, Kakegurui debuted as an anime in 2018. It has since been adapted for the big screen, and a second season of the series aired in January 2019. One of the more recent additions to the anime canon, this is definitely one to watch. It is often available on streaming services like Netflix.
Hyakkaou Private Academy provides the setting for this anime, as children from privileged backgrounds are trained in the finer points of high-stakes gambling. Students who perform poorly are subjected to the humiliation of becoming ‘house pets’ for their schoolmates, and all are judged according to their gambling capabilities. Into this unorthodox educational institution comes transfer student Yumeko Jabami, who loves everything about gambling and will turn the whole place upside down.
Legendary Gambler Tetsuya
Written by Fumei Sai and illustrated by Yasushi Hoshino, this started out life as a manga first published in 1997. Another anime with manga origins… Starting to sense a pattern here. Anyway, Legendary Gambler Tetsuya won the Kodansha Manga Award for shounen in 2000 and was immediately adapted into an anime series broadcast from October 2000 to March 2001.
Protagonist Tetsuya is an over-powered gambler who defeats opponents with consummate ease in the aftermath of the Second World War. While all around him are struggling in the devastation wrought by the tumultuous conflict, Tetsuya is earning more than enough money to live comfortably. However, even the mighty can be brought to earth, and so it is that he suffers defeat at the hands of Boushu-san. The shock shows Tetsuya how little he really knows about Mahjong, and he dedicates his life to making a triumphant return to the game.
You may have gathered that most of the anime we have listed so far revolve around Mahjong. Not so the One Outs, which instead focuses on baseball. How does that relate to gambling? Well, the main character Toua Tokuchi is a master of gambling and has a reputation as an expert at a simplified form of baseball known as ‘One Outs’. Initially a manga, just like all the others, One Outs was first published from 1998 to 2006, before being relaunched in 2008 and earning an anime adaptation that same year.
Anyway, Tokuchi is asked to pitch for the weakest team in Japan, and he agrees…with some rather unusual contract stipulations and utilizing a strange way of playing the game. He also draws more and more people into his gambling and generally causes a lot of mischief. One Outs combines sport and gambling in a surprisingly unique way, appealing to those who love baseball as well as those who are more into the gambling aspects.