Kaiji 22: The Fierce Immediacy of a Red Hot Human Griddle

True Tears
‘The School of the UnDefeated of the East!’

The allusion was too tempting, and Tonegawa even looks just a little like Master Asia. (If anyone’s interested, this entry contains a moderate-level plot spoiler for Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann too; not a character death, or anything, but more of an arc-structure point.) As for this entry’s title, I suppose it demonstrates the global dimension of current US politics. If I were a homeowner, I wouldn’t have any control over the sale of the big mansion next door but I’d still like to know who it was likely to be sold to.

There’s probably little point in me praising Kaiji to you now; if you’re reading this, you’re probably a Kaiji fan already – and if you’re not then further paeans are unlikely to persuade you. So I will simply note that Kaiji continues to be my favourite currently airing anime before moving on to consider what happened in Episode 22.

Of course, Kaiji won his game of E-Card. We know he has to survive at least until the final episode, so it’s a credit to the show if we feel any tension at all. I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly feeling it: I’ve started watch Kaiji topless, because I can’t stand the stains of dried sweat on my favourite shirts. The last time I sweated this much was when hiking the monasteries of the Meteora during the brutal Greek heatwave/forest-fire season of last summer (yes, yes, burning red, you don’t need to point it out to me).

Kaiji’s explanation of why he won was rather interesting. There is an elegant sense of poetic justice in Tonegawa’s own serpentine cunning being his undoing and Kaiji’s suggestion that E-Card works as a kind of mirror, forcing the players to imagine what they would do in their opponent’s place, is brilliantly coupled to the snake metaphor (‘if you saw me as a snake, you’re the snake yourself’). Because, as CCY put it,

It was wildly entertaining trying to keep things straight and figure out how Kaiji was thinking that Tonegawa was thinking that he’d think that Kaiji would think that Tonegawa was thinking that Kaiji wasn’t thinking to think that Tonegawa would think to think that Kaiji’s thought was to think that Tonegawa would think that Kaiji’s thought was a thought and not a thought that Kaiji thinks that Tonegawa was thinking Kaiji thinks that Tonegawa isn’t thinking.

. . . and that’s the complexity which destroyed Tonegawa.

[If you'll excuse the Onanistic self-pinging, I pointed out the way that Kaiji's games and contests tell us (sometimes unpalatable) truths by simplifying life's choices some time ago.]

* * *

We have the positively Gothic horror of the griddle device for extracting ‘sincere’ apologies. It’s abundantly clear by now that Kazutaka is a disgusting sadist who (I’m guessing) derives more pleasure from the mental torture of his victims’ agonising choices than he does from the physical pains which make up part of those choices – although I’m sure he likes seeing them too. One of the neat things about the E-Card arc has been the variation in the spectators; in previous arcs we’ve often had a set of spectators whose enjoyment of the action implicates us. In the E-Card room we had several distinct groups: Kaiji’s fellow debtors, sympathising with him and watching with growing excitement (and hope), Kazukata who, as we now know, was going to see someone tortured whoever won and the Men In Black (granted, their role is minor, but we do see some reaction shots of them).

Burning Passion

Anyway, Tonegawa takes his forehead-singeing like a man, according to bateszi, although I might suggest ‘like a man – of iron’. [I should note that Tonegawa's eyes do water (see above).] Bateszi asks whether Kaiji’s tears are MANLY and my opinion on this is that it depends on the stimulus. When he mourns Ishida’s fall, his tears are MANLY, because he is mourning something (someone) of value. Crying at the death of a comrade is more MANLY than suppressing the tears for fear of not being thought MANLY. A MANLY man can mourn Ishida openly, secure in the knowledge that his own yakuza-defying, knee-to-gut actions speak for his manhood. Of course, a lot of Kaiji’s weeping is not MANLY: it’s simply the result of pain or fear for himself (though I hesitate to condemn him for this, because I would cry too in his plight). Anyway, Tonegawa takes his forehead-singeing. Here, I think, the poetic justice of his defeat breaks down. Faced with the sight of a human forced to suffer pain, who doesn’t feel pity?

[Incidentally, I think Kazutaka (perhaps intentionally) ignores the power of performance. Even if you don't mean an apology, kneeling down to someone else in front of a group of witnesses is a very powerful act. Public acts have force: it's not like you can swear to have and to hold in a church and then say 'Oh, I didn't mean it' (well, you can, but it's inadvisable). But hey, Kazutaka wants to see someone get burned.]

But Kaiji’s only defeated Lord Genome; the Anti-Spiral remains, presumably plotting more Absolute Despair.

* * *

I can’t resist pointing out once again the importance of decor. The E-Card room is festooned with paintings of famous rulers. Elizabeth I and Henry VIII both feature. (The paintings concerned really exist; they are not, I’m glad to say, in the collection of a twisted yakuza boss.) The tools of military power (guns, swords, shields, spears, suits of armour) festoon the spaces between the portraits.

E-Card had an interesting subtext: only the Slave, because he has nothing to lose, can defeat the Emperor. Interestingly, this means that the Citizens’ problem wasn’t means, it was motivation: they have so much invested in the system that puts the Emperor in place that they’re unwilling to revolt. Akagi and Kaiji are partly about the ability to die-to-self, to throw away all attachment to one’s own survival, to achieve a Slave-Revolutionary’s mentality, so to speak: doing so allows you to ignore risks and destroy your opponent. I’m getting distinctly left-leaning vibes from this show.

[Hmm. Is this an example of that 'episodic blogging' which you speak of?]

8 responses to “Kaiji 22: The Fierce Immediacy of a Red Hot Human Griddle

  1. I should know by now that the background helps the setting nicely. Thanks for pointing out the paintings, otherwise I would never know who they were.

  2. Pingback: KimiKiss 21: Holding ‘em and Folding ‘em @ Mega Megane Moé

  3. The subtext of the game wasn’t lost on me either – the powerless and insignificant is the only one who can topple the highest – a twisted form of Top Trumps card games I’m sure we all played as kids…but with more meaning behind it. The slaves “..are small, but that makes us mighty.” Random Firefly/Serenity quote there.

    In terms of the game itself, I’ve drunkenly spilled out my thoughts already in Bateszi’s post but I’ll say this: there’s nothing un-manly about shedding tears of pity. Kaiji’s eye-watering was a natural reaction from a man still in touch with his humanity seeing another man suffering – I don’t feel the need for any excuse there. Tonegawa however deserves some roundabout respect for taking his punishment like a man: TWO WHOLE SECONDS more than expected just to prove his sincerity: now THAT’s what I call gar.

    Again, I’ll say this show is both epic, gar and awesome. ^_^

  4. @ dorne: Yeah, I’ve been consistently impressed with the settings for Kaiji‘s games and apparently this is something of a Fukumoto trademark.

    @ concretebadger: You can’t go far wrong quoting Firefly. And I suppose I agree with you on Kaiji’s empathy for Tonegawa; I don’t know whether the tears count as manly, but I approve of them either way. ‘epic gar and awesome’ sums Kaiji up nicely, although as the beginning of this post hints, I fear that by now everyone who might be persuaded to watch it has been.

  5. You know, I actually quite like Kaiji, but I’m wondering if it’s intentionally very…exaggerated. I understand that these people are gambling for their lives here, but the card-slams and so on are all kind of amusing if you’re uncharitable and step out of it for a moment.

    How is the manga for this kind of thing? I can’t tell if it’s intentional or some kind of unintended side-effect.

  6. Well, Akagi is certainly known for completely O.T.T. card playing – it’s listed on the TV Tropes What Do You Mean It’s Not Awesome list, and I think Kaiji‘s carrying on the tradition. It is a bit ridiculous, but I suppose it’s hard to have any real physical action in a card game.

  7. For your reference, the guys name is HYOUDOU, not Kazutaka..(if youre talking about the old man)

  8. Apparently Kazutaka’s his surname, according to Wikipedia
    (‘兵藤和尊, Kazutaka Hyōdō’)

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