4 out of 5
Having established the weird, vaguely-high stakes rules of the gambling boat onto which ne’er-do-well (but apparently fast adapting…) Kaiji finds himself conscripted in volume 1, Nobuyuki Fukumoto has a bit of trouble maintaining the tension – the last minute showdowns become a tad repetitive; Kaiji’s partners, Ando and Furuhata become very much background details; the threat of the room into which the losers are ushered dims – but the obsessive dedication to the confines of “restricted rock-paper-scissors” also works to keep things on track: there are no magic tricks; it’s just math and probability. And those same hiccups – the repetition; the lessened sense of danger – can be read as underlying commentary on how these systems work on a larger scale. When things start to boil over as the clock ticks down, it gives way to incredible pettiness on behalf of the players, which encourages even more steadfast heroism in Kaiji and paves the way for some masterful developments in the book’s concluding chapters.
The dialogue patter has become familiar at this point and actually works really well with the decompressed way in which Fukumoto lets this play out; the same can be said for his art style – the angular, simplified characters a good juxtaposition to the dramaturgy of a “simple” card game.