Call me gullible, but I’m not really pleased to find out that my praises for the E-Card arc of a few episodes ago, where I finally hoped to see some complex mind-games between two masterminds, turned out to be one big mistake. How I hoped to see both Tonegawa and Kaiji outsmart each other with complex tactics… well, it now turns out that Tonegawa has been cheating. Sigh. The episode was quite intense, and it wasn’t bad at all, actually, but it’s the whole attitude of this series that bothers me.
I finally think that I know where my problems for this series lie: with those cursed expectations again. A couple of years ago, I watched the first arc of Akagi. I’m still not sure why I didn’t continue it, but I loved the complex tactics that it brought into Mah-jong. Shion no Ou is currently doing a similar thing with complex and character-based tactics. So yes, I was hoping for the same kind of experience, where Kaiji would use his head while gambling, and come up with nice ideas to win money. It was even advertised, how Kaiji would “enter the dangerous world of gambling”.
Instead, we get 26 episodes of bunch of yakuza who like to bully a bunch of defenceless young adults. It’s nice and all, but it’s so different and less interesting (in my opinion, at least) from what I expected from this series. I also see no reason why this couldn’t be cut into just thirteen episodes. That would have been the perfect length for a concept such as this one. Each arc thus far has featured Kaiji enter a challenge full of confidence, dive into the deepest pit of despair imaginable, only to rise up again and survive with one masterful insight. In that way, the Boat-arc has so far been the best arc so far, because at least that one did have a bit more than just the formula I described.
Now I also understand why I’m so bothered with the slow pacing of this series, even though I usually don’t have this problem at all. The arcs are just so formulaic that I find myself thinking “just get on with it”. I mean, the creators really try to keep the episodes interesting, but the fact that Kaiji will rise from his despair and will at least do something that wasn’t part of Tonegawa’s plans are just way too apparent. It doesn’t even matter whether Kaiji wins or loses, because by the nature of this series I’m already expecting that Kaiji will walk away without any money, yet again, and that the creators will find another way to keep Kaiji on their leash so that he can enter the fourth and final arc of this series.
So, how is it that Shion no Ou is currently my absolute favourite series, even though it too is in the middle of a tournament-arc with a similar premise as that of Kaiji? Well, Shion no Ou makes sure that there’s enough going on for me not to care. It’s hard to explain, but it feels like every character there has his or her own goals and morals. In Kaiji, it just feels like they exist to carry Kaiji through the storyline.