Kakegurui 2: Ultimate Russian Roulette


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Kakegurui 2: Ultimate Russian Roulette
"Hamabe is impressive in a role which is more challenging this time around because most viewers will already know what Yumeko is capable of." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia

If you’re new to the world of Homura Kawamoto’s manga and the films and Netflix series it has inspired, you may need a moment to adjust to your surroundings. Welcome to Hyakkaoh Academy, Japan’s number one elite school for gamblers. Here, everything depends on luck and the ability to outwit the competition. Those who are successful become legends. Those who lose are forced to wear pet tags and perform servile duties for their betters in a system resembling the practice of fagging in English public schools. There is only the briefest of introductions, and nothing in the way of justification, provided at the start of this film, which expects viewers to be familiar with the setting already. It wastes no time in getting on with the action as student president Kirari (Elaiza Ikeda) and brilliant outsider Yumeko (Minami Hamabe) are faced with a new threat: the scheming, boundary-breaking Shikigami (Ryuesi Fujii), a former student of the school, once suspended, now out for revenge.

Having established its core concepts well on the big screen the first time around, this film delves into the wilder side of the manga, upping the stakes as the manic, Joker-ish Shikigami starts throwing losers out of windows and threatening to blow up parts of the school itself. In the absence of teachers, everything in Huakkaoh depends on adherence to a strict set of rules, and although Shikigami plays fast and loose with the honour code underlying this, like a disgraced ronin, the others still feel bound by it, desperately searching for a procedural way of stopping him.

At least, that’s the way it seems. Fans of the franchise will know by now that it is riddled with herrings as red as the school uniforms and that it’s never really clear who is allied with who, or who really has the upper hand. As everything teeters on the brink of ruin, Yumeko barely seems to be concerned – her focus is, at least as far as we can see, entirely on the upcoming sports gala which she dreads in a way all too many other straight-A students will find painfully easy to relate to. Familiar supporting characters rally yo her side and, all too often, find themselves n trouble as a result, whilst others, lacking talent of their own, are quick to switch loyalties and try to please whoever is winning at any given time.

Hamabe is impressive in a role which is more challenging this time around because most viewers will already know what Yumeko is capable of. Her character must find a way to outmatch their expectations whilst she must keep viewers onside, and sympathetic, whilst maintaining a poker face. By contrast, Fujii employs a broad comic style which is popular in Japan but may not translate well for Western audiences, being too easily associated with weakness and immaturity (though this is aimed at teenagers). He tempers it with some real nastiness, occasionally incorporating misogynistic behaviour which viewers may find uncomfortable to watch.

With everything ultimately coming down to gambling (of course), the gameplay is as sharp as ever. Explanations are kept brief but viewers with a good understanding of risk and a logical mindset will be able to follow most of what’s going on, and anyone can appreciate the psychological manipulations involved. The stunning manga-inspired production design which was such an asset last time is here enhanced by glowing tables which enable the actors’ faces to be lit from beneath, giving them more flexibility during the gaming sequences.

The increased silliness of the plot ultimately weakens it despite the higher stakes (a brief postscript suggests that these will be raised again next time around, as we move beyond lives to find souls on the line), though fans of the manga are likely to take this in their stride. More problematic s that there’s just not as much depth to the story overall – but despite these issues, Kakegurui 2, which screened at Fantasia 2021, is a solid piece of entertainment which beats most of what you’ll see in cinemas hands down.

Reviewed on: 21 Aug 2021
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Lives are on the line at Hyakkaoh Academy, the school dedicated to teaching its students how to gamble.

Director: Tsutomu Hanabusa

Writer: Tsutomu Hanabusa, Homura Kawamoto, Tôru Naomura, Minato Takano

Starring: Minami Hamabe, Elaiza Ikeda, Ruka Matsuda, Sayuri Matsumura, Natsume Mito, Aoi Morikawa, Yurika Nakamura, Natsumi Okamoto, Akira Onodera, Mahiro Takasugi, Yûma Yamoto, Miki Yanagi, Minami Hamabe, Elaiza Ikeda, Ruka Matsuda

Year: 2021

Runtime: 119 minutes

Country: Japan


Fantasia 2021

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