Content warning: fanservice
What’s it about? Saotome Mary enters Hyakkaou Academy as an ordinary girl from an ordinary, everyday family. Yet inside the school’s prestigious and filthy rich halls are gambling dens, which decide the rank of each student, regardless of heritage or standing. Unused to gambling and thrust into a world where she has to decide if she’ll sink or swim, Mary’s got a lot to get used to… or else, she’ll end up a school pet and a Mittens.
Kakegurui: Twin, at base, is much the same as Kakegurui and Kakegurui XX: it mixes gambling power dynamics with rich kids at a prestigious private school where your rank is decided by how well you keep a poker face… literally. It takes from the Kakegurui spin-off manga of the same name, focusing on Saotome Mary before she meets the infamous Jabami Yumeko.
One thing to note is that this series can be watched as a standalone: you don’t necessarily need to know about the main series, nor do you necessarily need to know Mary from the source series. Of course, there’s context bonuses, but this story is wholly about her before any of the main story happens. I say this because enough of Hyakkaou Academy’s dynamics get explained in the premiere that you really could come in completely unknowing –or, like most of my friends, from hearing me talk about Kakegurui secondhand– and still get the gist.
Better, you can watch it in multiple languages: I chose to go with the English dub for my watch. It’s got fantastic acting, and stars Kira Buckland as Saotome Mary amongst a cast of skilled feminine VAs that all bring their best. I’ll also admit that I chose to watch this in English because it was the most likely to mitigate Netflix’s on-going issues with poor subtitles, a product of undervaluing an audience that uses subtitles to engage with media rather than an issue of poor localization.
But that’s not necessarily enough to explain the premiere, so let’s get into it: let’s talk about episode 1, “A Girl Named Mary Saotome.”
We start in medias res with Hanatemari Tsuzura, a girl who’s fallen to the rank of “Mittens” and is a housepet in a school full of kids with wallets so full, they can gamble their hearts away. Tsuzura is quite pathetic, at least to start; she’s lost a generous amount of money, is subject to all manner of bullying, and is steadily losing confidence in herself and the ability to even slightly change her situation. That is until she meets Saotome Mary, a transfer student who seems unassuming… until she gets into a gambling den and demonstrates her wit and guts.
Over the course of the premiere, we’re treated to a bit of foundational knowledge about who Mary is: in a den of thieves, she’s the top pickpocket, using what people assume about her as a transfer student with no background in an academy where everyone knows everyone to her advantage. She’s also a good person: a rarity in a series where the thrill is just how greedy and “bad” the women can be.
It’s all excellent foundation for the rest of this series and for the story of Saotome Mary’s rise to being more than she is as a student who’s most definitely not rich, and is instead, just a girl who got in via school exams. In an almost Ouran High School Host Club–esque way, Mary serves as a lens into just how wacky Hyakkaou Academy is: that is, if it weren’t so sinister a setting she’s dropped into. Then again, that’s half the fun in this premiere, whether or not you’re watching this for the first time or returning to see more gambling antics.
Let me say this: Kakegurui: Twin is somehow more sapphic and kinky than its predecessor, which is… both engaging and troubling.
The former because I think there’s something deeply subversive and fascinating about a bunch of young women on the cusp of socially and societally being adults playing in power dynamics, mild S/M roles, and adulthood. It’s interesting to see a bunch of cis teenage girls, some of the most vulnerable people in society, take full control of their fate by risking their autonomy, a thing frequently denied to them, via gambling, a thing that’s largely banned Japan. It’s wicked fun, and in episode 1, results in a pretty impacted penultimate scene before segueing into episode 2, which is already available. (As of this article, the first six episodes are available on Netflix.)
Now, the “it’s troubling.” I say the latter because… well, Twin is a shounen series. That makes this very leggy premiere–and I do mean very leggy premiere at times– quite fraught at times, especially when the girls get a taste of gambling fever. It’s not to the extent of Kakegurui’s first anime (which is very heavy on fanservice), but there’s enough here that it might put off viewers. I won’t do the “it’s worse in the manga” argument because while it is, it’s still off-putting and just feels unnecessary to an otherwise enjoyable series. Plus, I don’t think the feminist reading I so eagerly like to apply to series exists from within: the series is all about titillation with a side of gambling. It has zero interest in the actual autonomy of its largely female cast.
Now, what won’t put off viewers is Technoboys Pulcraft Green-Fund, the composers for the animated series at large. They’re back in this standalone with fantastic vibes that are excellent to the point that I immediately wanted to snatch up a CD (or, like I did with the first series, get it on Apple Music.) Paired with MAPPA’s animation and the slick OP, Kakekgurui: Twin is a sight to see, and is easily one of Summer 2022’s best series. I’m sure that this’ll be on my Top 5 list by year’s end.
Overall, Kakegurui: Twin is the same lush, borderline grotesque gamling anime that its main story is, largely thanks to the source, to a bit of drama, and to MAPPA’s very lovely animation. It’s a delight, playing with young women being greedy, gluttonous, and downright mean in a subversive way. It’s fun, it’s full of hedonism, and it’s a solid chaser to someone who’s binged the source material manga (that is, the Twin spin-off manga) and wants to see Mary get to start in a story far before Jabami Yumeko arrives on the scene.
That said, this anime isn’t without its problems: fascinating and engaging it may be, it never escapes its troubling relationship with sexualizing its female cast, something that’s sure to happen across this cour. Granted, it’s taking that from the source material, but… it’s still one of the weakest parts of the franchise by and large, and just feels sleazy. I expect that as the show ups the ante on the gambling sequences, we’ll see more of the girls’ sexuality utilized to heighten the intensity of them giving themselves bodily to gambling and risking it all. Whether or not that will be palatable, well… I doubt it, speaking honestly. This is a series that’s important to me, but I also know when it wants to get seuxal for kicks, it doesn’t shy away from it. Definitely expect it to get more leering.
That said, if you liked Kakegurui and Kakegurui XX, Kakegurui: Twin will be the perfect reentry into the madcap world of Hyakkaou Academy’s gambling paradise. I know I’m going to watch the entirety of it as soon as I can, if only to see who Saotome Mary was before the main series commenced. I think there’s a lot of meat on the bone here and honestly, I’m down for seeing the rise of one of the franchise’s best characters. Dive in with fresh eyes or come back to the academy for another roll of the dice: either way, I think you’re in for a fascinating time.