It’s definitely safe to say that the second season of Kaiji is not as good as the first. Where the first had four distinct arcs that could keep up interest and hold up in the face of Kaiji‘s deliberate pace, the second season has two arcs over 26 episodes, both of which drag on too long (particularly the second arc). However, Kaiji‘s second season is still a good series, and there are some interesting strides made with Kaiji’s character.
One of the dominant themes of Kaiji is that the titular hero has the potential for greatness within him, but for various reasons — some inherent within society itself, and others in Kaiji’s personality and work ethic — Kaiji cannot unleash his true potential unless his life is on the line. The second season pushes this idea further: When Kaiji sees Endou at the beginning of the second season, his eyes noticeably brighten and his mood skyrockets. He wants to erase his debts, but he also wants to throw himself headlong back into the world of gambling. He’s addicted to the high that living on the edge brings him.
But that’s not what this post is about. What I really like about this season is that, for a brief moment, Kaiji takes a stand and becomes someone who can start something. He rallies a group of losers, nobodies and failures in this forced-labor camp and helps them regain a bit of their humanity by standing up for themselves against the dudes at the top who are taking advantage of them and acting like big shots in their own filthy, miserable world. In that time, Kaiji comes alive: He’s thinking of plans, he’s raising morale, he’s giving these people someone in whom they can place their hope.
It’s not secret whatsoever that Kaiji as a whole is dead set against greed and hedonism in a capitalist society gone mad. By the time the second season begins, Kaiji has grown to actively undermining the games he plays to achieve victory. When he tries to play by the rules set by the oppressors, there’s no hope for victory; instead, he rewrites the rules to give his side the most advantage. In this way, Kaiji becomes like a revolutionary leader picking away bit-by-bit at those at the top in the hopes that eventually the empire will crumble.
It’s a cool role for Kaiji, and my biggest disappointment with the second season is that it doesn’t build that up a bit more.