Introducing the Ultimate Survivor
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage
Ceylon Today Features
In a world where survival is for the fittest, Japanese manga artist Nobuyuki Fukumoto spins a tale about greed, betrayal and one man’s desire to win the game even if all odds are against him.
We are talking about Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor of course. This animated series consisting of two seasons that both consisted of twenty six episodes followed the story of Kaiji Ito. Being one of the victims of the recession that troubled Japan after the Second World War, Kaiji had failed to land himself a steady job and has resorted to working small part time jobs instead. In his free time he indulges in small pranks and gambling among other things.
Living a life in poverty is definitely not what Kaiji had in mind when he moved into the big city in search of employment and his economically challenged life frequently leaves him in tears. However, things take a turn for the worse when a load shark comes knocking on his door.
Turns out that one of Kaiji’s former acquaintances had taken a loan from a not-so-reputable lending company with our protagonist signing as the guarantor. His co-worker having disappeared, Kaiji is forced to shoulder a huge amount of debt. Unable to pay the said amount, the loan shark gives Kaiji two options, either spend ten years in an illegal labour camp working to pay back his debt or board the gambling ship Espoir in hope to win enough money to clear the debt.
And so, Kaiji is coerced into boarding the ship in the hopes to gamble his way into paying back the debt he now has to bear. However, Kaiji is far from sailing any smooth waters aboard the Espoir.
While there have been a few good stories that have appeared these past years, Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor manages to bring forth an interesting take at the intellectual and psychological acrobatics needed to survive and possibly win at gambling. Instead of the games that are usually affiliated with the vice, the creator of the series has come up with his own unique games where Kaiji and the other players have to put their life on the line in order to ‘make it big’ and pay their debts. As the series continues, Kaiji continues to find himself at a disadvantage. The games he is forced to play are rigged in ways to make him lose, his allies betray him and are ruthless in their aims to win.
With all the odds against him, seeing Kaiji fight back despair and turn the tables on his opponents is a delight to watch. Because Kaiji is an ordinary everyman and not a gambling genius, his risks are never foolproof and he loses as many matches as he wins, with devastating consequences. All of this makes Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor a thrill ride from start to finish.
Even so, that doesn’t mean that this is a perfect story and a must watch. Many might be put off with the lackluster animation, art style and voice acting. While Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor is deserving of praise, it’s not a perfect show or story and requires some forgiving in order to enjoy the series at its best.
However, for those in the look for a thrilling story about a regular man pulling off incredible feats in desperation to survive another day, Kaiji’s road to becoming the ultimate survivor is a perfect fit for you.