Image source: TVアニメ「賭ケグルイ」公式 on Twitter
The high school girl Yumeko Jabami from Kakegurui — Compulsive Gambler revels in high-stakes gambling. But, someone has to point out the absurdity of her habits. And that role has fallen on her classmate Ryōta Suzui.
Yumeko Jabami has just transferred to Hyakkaou Private Academy, a school for the extremely wealthy and future leaders of Japan. But, the students gambling “skills” determine the student hierarchy. Yumeko, though, upturns the school’s apple cart by ignoring the hierarchy and wallowing in high-stakes gambling. We need someone to show us just how ludicrous her habits are. And we have the perfect person for that in her male classmate Ryōta Suzui.
Having a side character prop up the main character is nothing new in fiction—they’re there to make the protagonist look good. However, there are times we need a character to show or tell us how absurd the hero’s actions are. There are many reasons for this is, but two major factors are to logically point out how irrational the actions are and show despite all the odds stacked against the hero, he or she overcomes them. Think of the dynamic between Bat and Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star. The former often tells the later how outrageous his actions are. As readers and viewers, we need these sorts of explanations or else what the protagonists does can be lost on us.
In Kakegurui, this role falls square into the lap of Ryōta, and he’s our conduit into the madness that is Yumeko’s ecstasy-driven compulsion to gamble. In other words, he’s one of the few rational characters we see among a sea of “crazy” people. For instance, in the first episode of the series, Ryōta is explaining the system set in place at Hyakkaou Private Academy to Yumeko in the hopes she won’t join the fun. At first, this seems like exposition for the audience, but really, this small bit shows just how twisted the school is from a sensible person’s perspective. Consider if we didn’t have that explanation, we’d have to assume gambling at schools is the norm for the world of Kakegurui. However, Ryōta grounds it for us and reaffirms, “Yes, this is weird and something’s off with the students.”
Image source: TVアニメ「賭ケグルイ」公式 on Twitter
It’s not just with Ryōta’s description of the school either. Because he’s one of a handful of characters to witness most of Yumeko’s matches, he becomes our voice of reason during the matches. He’s there to tell and show us when Yumeko is going off the deep end into crazy gambling and breathe a sigh of relief when she wins. As an example, if Yumeko were to say, “I’m betting ¥1,000,000 (approximately $10,000)” we have no idea if that’s an average bet, a low bet, or higher bet at the school. There’s no context for us to go off of, even if it seems like a fair bit of money to us. But, with Ryōta watching Yumeko gamble, we can easily gauge if ¥1,000,000 is an obscene amount of money or not by his reaction. Thus, without Ryōta, we don’t know if Yumeko is insane or just playing into the high-stakes gambling going on at the school.
Image source: avex pictures on YouTube
However, it’s the sigh of relief Ryōta provides when Yumeko wins that’s even more important. True, knowing the wild amounts of money gambled away is crucial in understanding what’s at stake in each episode. But, seeing disbelief and relief in one character helps us fully comprehend the recklessness of Yumeko’s choices. Sure, we get catharsis from watching Yumeko gamble, but when a friend, Ryōta, is trying to look out for her best interests and she consistently ignores him that sense of worry becomes real. It’s Bat telling Kenshiro something like, “Don’t do it, you’ll get killed!” Ryōta—a support character—wants to keep Yumeko safe. Yet, if Yumeko doesn’t go through some reckless abandon, we don’t have a story. So, when Yumeko wins, she can say, “See, I told you so” to Ryōta and all he can do is be stupefied and relieved for her.
Having a side character ground a story not only helps prop up the hero but also makes the situations relatable to the audience. Ryōta does a great job of this in Kakegurui because he makes us want to see more of Yumeko’s compulsive gambling.
Kakegurui — Compulsive Gambler is currently not streaming outside of Japan. However, it has been licensed for streaming by Netflix.