In Kakegurui: Compulsive Gambler Volume 2, Yumeko Jabami and Mary Saotome face the facts about life schedules, the harshest penalty boxes for ‘house pets’ at Hyakkaou Academy, then wage war on their debts at the Debt Exchange Games.
Chapter 5, “The Girl Who Is Now a Housepet,” covers the darkest stakes of Kakegurui for house pets—the lifetime debt indenture called the life schedule. Those that leave Hyakkaou Academy as house pets must adhere to these scripts for the rest of their lives, with such key details as “Begin relationship with X,” “Marry X,” and “have first child (boy preferred).” When Mary Saotome receives her life schedule and looks at its twenty-two year plan, perhaps it galvanizes her to cast off the huge debt she incurred in volume one. By comparison, the concept of the life schedule elicits a rhapsodic intoxication in Yumeko Jabami:
“They prepare every detail of your life, even the person who will become your spouse. Now I know what housepets are trying to get back. “Life itself.”…”Yumeko” isn’t a human anymore. If the student council tells me to do something, I have to do it…Anxiety. Impatience. Anger and despair. Even the familiar classrooms have become distorted to me. But I absolutely cannot get enough of this feeling…”
This masochistic elation at her own objectification is not only one of Jabami’s key characteristics, it appears to be one of the key themes of the manga. Students ‘in the black’ at Hyakkou take any liberties that they’d like with the house pets, not only name-calling and forcing them to wear lanyards with their “loser cat name” (Jabami is Mittens), but humiliating hair-cuts, and ordering them to get naked. That the house pets subscribe to these outrageous power games, however, is more telling of the masochists that take on the mantle of the house pets, having wagered the reins of their personhood. Kakegurui’s theme of objectification through debt masochism is so embedded in the manga that the chapter titles all contain “girl,” “the girl,” or “the girls,” instead of character names, as if they were all the same debt-burdened girls.
The rest of volume two, from “The Girls Fighting Their Way Back Up,” to “The Girl’s Resistance,” is a hyper-anatomized (177 pages) two-card Indian poker game. The set-up of this shonen-styled gambling battle begins in an assembly called the “Big-Debt Settlement Meeting,”in which student debts may be diminished or enlarged through a byzantine redistribution scheme called the Debt Exchange Games. Jabami and Saotome’s opponents in this match are Jun Kiwatari, a card-carrying campus creep, and Nanami Tsubomi, a house pet that is often exploited by Kiwatari. As you would expect from the role reversals typical in comics, the Debt Exchange Games end with Jun a house pet, and the girls diminishing their debt, though there are a few wrinkles, like a raised fist and a stun gun, to charge the denouement.
While the second volume of Kakegurui is nearly as good as the first, hampering Jabami with a masochistic craving for objectification seems like a belated attempt to undermine her with kryptonite after she was already established as the Soma Yukihira of gambling. As Jabami settles into the role of the quirky sidekick, the hero of volume two is volume one’s villain, Mary Saotome, whose star rises throughout the Debt Exchange Games.
Yen Press sent the review copy.