The ending to Kaiji is getting a lot of flack from people, which is understandable. It’s only slightly more conclusive than Akagi’s ending, which is really saying something. However, when looking at the manga for Kaiji this is to be expected. There’s a lot more of Kaiji’s story than the anime could of told, so they had to end it somewhere. At least it wasn’t mid-game like Akagi. The other element of the ending people don’t like is that Kaiji basically ends the show as a loser. He’s lost everything he started the show with, even a few body parts. However, whenever Kaiji gets knocked down he comes back that much stronger. The man at the end of the series is a far cry from the naive youth at the beginning. The earlier Kaiji would have begged for his fingers to be spared, but the new Kaiji took it like a man, receiving the repercussions of his own decision. Physically and financially Kaiji is beaten, but his mind is even stronger, and the show promises us he’ll come back to win.
At the beginning it was easy to compare Akagi to Kaiji: same author, same studio, same production team, etc. But Kaiji is very different from Akagi in once crucial way: that Kaiji is a fallible human being. Akagi is perfect in everything he does, and the thrill from watching him comes from wondering not if he’ll win, but how badly will he beat his opponent. Kaiji, however, is never assured success. By the rules of anime the viewer knows he has to win most of the time, but never all of the time and always at great cost. Kaiji loses his dignity in rock, paper, scissors; his friends in the human derby, and his ear in E-Card, all to attain a victory he is denied at the end. But Kaiji still grows as a character, learns from his mistakes, grows a backbone, and becomes just as much as a badass as Akagi, who never really had to grow because he was one all along.
Aside from the strength of Kaiji’s character, the show did a great job with the supporting cast, from the villainous Andou to the noble friend Ishida. None were very deeply fleshed out, but the show did a good job in explaining who these guys were and how they were different from Kaiji. Hyoudou is just as much of a villainous old bastard as Washizu is, and it’s a shame we don’t get to see his comeuppance here unlike Washizu. However, I do think Kaiji suffered in its very unorthodox gambles. Mahjong is an easy game to scheme over and get excited about. Rock, paper, scissors; human derby, E-card, tissue box raffle, not so much. I’ll give Kaiji credit for making these gambles interesting most of the time, but the middle episodes between human derby and E-card really seemed to drag. There are two more manga series to Kaiji, which unlike Akagi is finished, so hopefully we will see more of Kaiji in the future, and finally see him grasp true victory.