Raging Rant: Games and Cheating

kaiji-featured

I have a problem with anime that are all about games.  Be it those with terrible games to begin with like Kakegurui, those whose games vary from good to bad like No Game No Life or even the greats like Kaiji – I invariably find myself annoyed at some point while watching these shows.  And it’s all because of the cheating.  There will be spoilers ahead.

In all of the anime named above there is no such thing as a pure contest of skill, unless you consider the creativity of the players cheats to be a skill.  The games in these shows are practically defined by cheating – the only one I can think of offhand where that isn’t the case is during No Game No Life’s best game, Materialization Shiritori (I think that name is off a little but whatever it’s the shiritori game against Jibril).  Now in Kakegurui and Kaiji the cheating is more understandable since all of the games they play, at least of all the games I saw for Kakegurui, would be largely based on luck – so if you add cheating into the mix you not only give people more agency you also give then a greater chance to show their wit as they uncover and beat the opponents cheat.  And sometimes this works out to great effect.  However I also don’t think it’s necessary because the Poker scene from the James Bond movie Casino Royale was still a great scene with no cheating involved at all – there was nothing there but intuition, guesswork and drama and yet it still turned out great.

Moreover what I’ve been describing thus far with regards to cheating is the “good stuff” there’s plenty of cheating which actively makes me hate a game/contest more than if it had been absent.  Both No Game No Life and Kaiji have scenes where the cheating is stupidly blatant but the game goes on anyway and it just makes me want to tear my hair out.  Take for example the magical chess game in No Game No Life.  Keeping in mind that this game has a third party judge I think it’s weird that the opponent even got away being able to move her pawns an extra space forward because that’s against the rules of chess – but she hand-waved it by bullshitting everyone about one’s ability to command so they let slide.  That’s not terrible even if it doesn’t make sense.  But when the opponent is on the back foot, because Blank are objectively better than her at Chess, and uses magic to start turning Blank’s white pieces which touch her own pieces into more black pieces I call BULLSHIT.  That’s so blatant she should lose by default, especially in No Game No Life where you say look this is clearly magic, and we – Blank – can’t use magic ergo she’s cheating.

The same goes for Kaiji during the his bloated battle against the pachinko machine called the Bog.  When the casino manager Ichijou turns on the blocker and blocks two hundred straight balls, of which 6 or 7 should have gone through, and everyone watching the game knows he’s cheating, HE SHOULD LOSE.  But he doesn’t because Kaiji keeps playing and busts the blocker anyway.  And since there was some setup and Kaiji’s workaround was predictable at least in the broad strokes, fine, I’m still annoyed but whatever it was cool to see how he broke it.  But then comes the vents, when Kaiji reaches a point in the game where he literally can’t lose, Ichijou activates air vents to block the jackpot even though he said they were too obvious in the past.  Again it’s fishy as fuck even the first time it happens when it knocks away two balls but when the plate is overrun by balls and none can drop in the only open hole it becomes obvious that he’s cheating – and he should lose be default.  He doesn’t because he’s a mafia run illegal casino but to me he should have lost by that point and not having him do so seems like little more than a way to lengthen a game which is already taking too fucking long.

All of that said it’s not like I hate all cheating.  Ironically enough Kakegurui has the best consistent cheating because the games and characters themselves are of such a lower caliber in comparison to the other shows that they are generally made subtle enough not to totally break my suspension of disbelief like the cheats of the last two paragraphs did.  And when Kaiji cuts his own ear off and covers it up to beat Tonegawa in E-Card, that shit was badass.  Again though, these cheats are more manageable because they are subtle or hidden in some way and it’s not obvious to everyone watching exactly what’s going on.  The only time I can of where blatant cheating was good is my favorite episode of Kaiji when he reveals how Ootsuki is cheating at chinchiro and then with everyone’s approval uses a better cheat of his own devising to rob Ootsuki of all his money.  This works because it’s satisfying as fuck to watch and also because after Ootsuki’s cheat is revealed the in-universe audience are on his side, the opposite of how they reacted to Ichijou’s cheating with the Bog.  That said I do think it’s telling that my favorite games in No Game No Life and Kaiji are the games with no cheating and crowd-sanctioned cheating respectively.

And that’s because I would rather see a contest of wit and skill go unaltered by cheating.  Which incidentally is why my favorite game-centric anime is Mondaiji (sorry Kaiji you were great but Mondaiji never made me angry the way the Bog did).  Mondaiji is practically devoid of cheating and all of the contests are overcome by skill, strength, wit and teamwork when required.  In fact the only real cheating is before the game when an enemy team might do something to sabotage the good guys or stack the odds in their favor going in – and even that is rare – but even in those cases the games themselves are not based around the cheating, they largely play out as intended so long as the protagonists get gud and over the cheat without using cheats of their own.  Does that make the games more basic?  Sure, nothing in Mondaiji comes close to the complex twists and turns which turn of games into the convoluted trials which Kaiji has to overcome.  But that doesn’t mean Mondaiji can’t have complex and challenging games of it’s own, it uses mythology and stories to excellent effect when crafting some of it’s more complex contests – even if strength is the ultimate deciding factor.

Ultimately I have a strong attachment to fair play and most of the well known and/or well regarded game-centric anime are all about the cheating.  And like I said above, while this does work out great sometimes it also can bust big time and drag me out of the action and actively piss me off.  Not to pick on Kaiji because overall I did enjoy it but during the last few episodes of the Bog arc I wanted to scream obscenities at anyone who would listen – and my neighbors and roommate were lucky in that I’m not rude enough to wake them up to do that.  By comparison fair play is always solid in my book, even subtle cheating that is clever and not something which drags me out of the experience will generally lose to decent contests of fair play.  Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it.

Unpopular Opinion: Kakegurui

 

Kakegurui-01-03

I’m honestly amazed I even made it more than halfway through this show.  There will be spoilers through episode 7 or so, you’ve been warned.

Kakegurui might have lured me, and most people, in with it’s cool OP, hot main girl and interesting visual effects which spiced up the gambling but that just isn’t enough to distract me from all the other bullshit going on in this show.  For starters why does this show even bother having Suzui in it?  He can’t gamble for shit, which is ostensibly what this show is all about, he has no interesting personality traits or skills which make him important in any way and he basically plays the role of shocked spectator and generic nice guy.  Which is to say he doesn’t at all fit this show which is full of bizarre, broken and edgy characters, and I think it’s safe to assume that his role is mainly to serve as an audience stand-in who Umeko can explain the various cheating tactics and counter strategies used by her and other players – not that they actually need a stand-in for that since Umeko confronts people about how they are cheating all the time and sometimes the cheater explains their strategy via soliloquy.

The gambling itself is also boring as shit.  None of the games being played are especially interesting so to me it would make more sense to just play normal games which the audience is more likely to understand and keep up with because less would be hidden.  Every game used in Kakegurui is more or less set up for the express purpose of cheating and sometimes manipulating the flow of money gained and lost outside of what is actually being bet.  The Life or Death sword game is a good example, the Life and Death rule only exists so that players can gain and lose more cash than they are actually betting and this game only works out in the dealer’s favor because the dealers have magnetic piercings to manipulate the placement of the swords.  I find this approach extremely counter-productive because it means we, the audience, have to be kept in the dark until the cheat is revealed.  To me it makes more sense for these characters to play normal games where more information is readily available and which players could actually win via careful strategy and good decision-making instead of just cheating and counter-cheating.  Also by not screwing with the amount of money being gained and lost characters would end up in their positions because of their own decisions and I think would ultimately make the characters more interesting.

Speaking of the characters, that’s where the show well and truly dies.  Umeko is captivating enough because of how hot she is and how crazy she is but she’s the only one who was ever even mildly interesting.  Everyone else, besides boring-as-fuck Suzui and the Student Council President – who is just this calm, cold maniac – is edgy as hell.  The whole house pet system is a giant fucking blight on the characters because it encourages everyone to be an edgy piece of shit who abuses anyone they have leave to abuse.  And the Student Council is a collection of nutjobs like a little girl who tells the blonde girl who was an enemy at first and the sort of becomes friends with Umeko that she better get good at pleasing older men or the straw which broke the camel’s back for me – the Russian roulette girl.  Jesus fucking Christ, I hated that character.  Her gambling episode with Umeko was awful and her screaming dialogue and leaking fluids everywhere drove me up the fucking wall.

And that dear readers is where Kakegurui ended for me.  After 7 episodes of bullshit games, run by bullshit characters, Umeko and the special effects were no longer enough to keep me interested.  The only game I even remotely like was the debt-swapping Indian Poker because not only was the opponent a total piece of shit but it also had the only character story I liked, the one where the girl is abused into a borderline comatose state of mind finally breaks out and tries to take one of her abusers down when she has the chance to do so.

Honestly I’m having trouble understanding why Kakegurui is so popular.  Is it the gambling?  I hope not the gambling wasn’t even good.  Is it the cheating?  I guess that could be interesting but for me personally I actually like it when cheating is juxtaposed with people who play by the rules and are just better at the game, rather than having every match be about how someone is cheating and how the main character overcomes the cheat.  To get an idea of what I mean you can check out this post where I compare No Game No Life and Mondaiji, because one of my biggest complaints with No Game No Life is that cheating was so integral to every match that it was never the twist it supposed to be – because it happened every fucking time.  But seriously where is the appeal of Kakegurui?  Is it just Umeko and maybe the Student Council President being hot?  Because it sure as hell isn’t the characters those were the worst part of the show.  Anyway that’s about all I have to say about Kakegurui.  There just isn’t a whole lot there and what is there is not very interesting.  Umeko and special effects look good enough to hook people in at first but they aren’t good enough to carry the whole show – which at this point, given the overall crap construction of this show, is almost what it seems like that’s what they were intended to do.