After graduating from high school in 1996 in Japan, Itō Kaiji moves to Tokyo to get a job, but he fails to find steady employment because the country is mired in its first recession since World War II. Depressed, he festers in his apartment, biding his time with cheap pranks, gambling, liquor and cigarettes. Kaiji is always thinking about money and his perpetual poverty frequently brings him to tears.
Kaiji's unrelenting misery continues for two years until he is paid an unexpected visit from a man named Endō, who wants to collect an outstanding debt that Kaiji has carelessly co-signed for his former co-worker. Endō gives Kaiji two options - either spend ten years to repay this outstanding debt, or board the gambling ship Espoir ("hope" in French) for one night to clear the debt. Using a con, Endō pressures Kaiji into accepting the deal, believing he will never come back from the voyage.
However, Kaiji survives the gamble and is invited to another gambling night, this time at the Starside Hotel. Although initially wary about the offer, he is spurred by his acquaintance Sahara to go. After being the only survivor of the Human Derby, Kaiji decides to avenge his friends by competing in another gambling match the Teiai Corporation has prepared; E-Card. Kaiji, despite losing an ear, defeats Tonegawa, his opponent in E-Card. He goes all-in once again in a new game. This time, he loses both the money he had won in the E-Card battle and four of his fingers.
Though Kaiji survives the Starside Hotel he now has a debt of over 9.5 million Yen. He contacts Endō in hope of being able to take part in another high-stakes gamble. However Endō betrays Kaiji and sends him to Teiai's underground labour camp, where he will have to work off his debt for 15 years. In the labour camp Kaiji is paid 91,000 pelica per month (10 pelica are equal to 1 Yen) to dig an underground kingdom. This is reduced to 45,000 pelica after Kaiji loses to Ōtsuki in Chinchirorin. However Kaiji allies himself with other 45ers (those earning 45,000 pelica per month) to defeat Ōtsuki and win enough money for the one-day pass.
Although Kaiji manages to get out of the labour camp with 800,000 Yen using the 1-day pass, he only has 20 days to earn the 60 million Yen he needs to buy his freedom and release the other 45ers. Fortunately Kaiji comes across Sakazaki who tells him of a pachinko game known as the Bog in a high-stakes casino where Kaiji can win over 550 million Yen. Kaiji agrees to help Sakazaki beat the bog. However, the casino is owned by Teiai Corporation, and the Bog has been rigged in several ways to ensure that it won't pay out.
After finally clearing his debt Kaiji has been living with Sakazaki and his family until Sakazaki kicks Kaiji out with 3 million Yen in cash. Kaiji then agrees to help the former 45ers Miyoshi and Maeda beat the president of a casino at his Minefield Mahjong game and win 700 million Yen.Kaiji Itō (伊藤 開司, Itō Kaiji)
Voiced by: Masato Hagiwara
The main character of the story. Kaiji is in poverty - he lives by himself in a slum and is constantly in debt. He bides his time by playing cheap gambling games with neighbors, though he always loses. In spite of this, when his life is in danger, he displays a remarkable hidden capacity for gambling, which allows him to endure the hardships he faces in the manga. He is shouldered with a 3,850,000 yen debt at the beginning of the story by a co-worker who convinced him into cosigning a loan, leaving Kaiji with the full weight of the debt compounded over a year.
Masato Hagiwara, the voice of Akagi Shigeru reprises his role as lead in the second anime adaption of a Nobuyuki Fukumoto work, opposite Masane Tsukayama who again plays an elderly, refined villain.
Kazutaka Hyōdō (兵藤 和尊, Hyōdō Kazutaka)
Voiced by: Masane Tsukayama
Wealthy socialite and president of the powerful financial consulting firm "Teiai" (帝愛, "Love Emperor")
, not to mention owner and sponsor of underground gambling tournaments like those on board Espoir. He is believed to be seventy years old and worth several hundred billion yen. Driven mad by wealth, conventional hobbies fail to entertain him, so he funds gambling tournaments to watch the destitute of society struggle against overwhelming terror and despair.
He meets Kaiji in the final segment of the first series of manga, where Kaiji is selected by lottery to compete in the "Castle of Despair". Hyōdō's talents for winning in anything have earned him the title of "king" by some, though others merely call him "very lucky". His first full manga appearance was in volume 8 - prior to that, all readers saw of Hyōdō was his finger tapping.
In many ways, Hyōdō is quite similar to Washizu Iwao, who was also voiced by Masane Tsukayama.
Yūji Endō (遠藤 勇次, Endō Yūji)
Voiced by: Naoya Uchida
A dirty loan shark with ties to the yakuza. He lends out large sums of money to the desperate, but charges an absurd (and illegal) interest rate. He tracks down Kaiji after a client of his, Furuhata, disappeared without repaying a loan, which Kaiji cosigned in an act of weakness. Recognizing Kaiji could never repay the loan, Endō offers him the opportunity to board the gambling ship Espoir, where he would be able repay his debt and make some money as well.
After Kaiji defeats Tonegawa his organization suffers because they now lack any connection to the upper management of Teiai. After Kaiji goes to Endō for another high risk gamble Endō drugs Kaiji and sends him to an underground labor camp. When Kaiji is released he goes to Endō for a loan to get enough money to beat the Bog. Endō helps Kaiji borrow 50,000,000 Yen to beat the Bog and helps Kaiji weaken it. During the battle with the Bog Endō loans Kaiji another 10,000,000 Yen at a very high rate of interest. After Kaiji's victory he drugs Kaiji, takes the extra money owed him, and leaves.
Jōji Funai (船井 譲次, Funai Jōji)
Voiced by: Hideo Ishikawa
One of the veterans of previous voyages on Espoir, Funai is an excellent conman and uses the fears and worries of the other competitors to his advantage. He "befriends" Kaiji during his first night and explains the unofficial rules to him, and the two agree to form an alliance - both will exhaust their number of gesture cards without having to lose any star pendants. However, at the last minute, Funai backstabs Kaiji and scams him out of two star pendants, leaving him with a single card and a hopeless situation. He is defeated by Kaiji and loses five star pendants to him in a sudden death gamble near the end of the voyage. In many ways, he is similar to Urabe from Akagi.
Takeshi Furuhata (古畑 武志, Furuhata Takeshi)
Voiced by: Yasunori Matsumoto
Debtor and one-time coworker of Kaiji. One year before the first tournament on Espoir, he lured Kaiji into cosigning a loan for him, making Kaiji liable in case Furuhata did not repay the loan. Although believed to have disappeared, Kaiji discovers him on Espoir and makes an alliance with him after Funai's betrayal. Furuhata is the sharper of Kaiji's allies, and is able to follow and quickly adapt to Kaiji's strategies. Furuhata betrays Kaiji and attempts to use his funds to escape the ship.
Mamoru Andō (安藤 守, Andō Mamoru)
Voiced by: Toshiharu Sakurai
A bespectacled, fat man who forms an alliance with Kaiji and Furuhata after losing all of his gesture cards. Unlike Furuhata, Andō is more opportunistic and tried to backstab the group within minutes of it forming. He usually has to have Kaiji's strategies explained to him by Furuhata. After the gamble of Restricted Rock, Paper, Scissors ends, he betrays Kaiji, and has no regrets about it.
Voiced by: Kazuki Yao
A clear-headed man who came up with a strategy of buying up all the rock cards and holding them constant; as the other cards deplete, he and his men then prey on those who have scissors. However, he was surprised to learn that Kaiji discovered the same strategy and purchased all the rocks, so in turn he purchased all the paper cards, effectively making Kaiji's strategy useless. After defeating Andō and Furuhata, Kitami approaches Kaiji and admits he was impressed another contestant figured how to manipulate the game, offering him the honor of being his final opponent. He is outsmarted by Kaiji, then blackmailed into selling all of his paper cards to him.
Kōji Ishida (石田 光司, Ishida Kōji)
Voiced by: Hiroshi Yanaka
A debt-ridden man who opted to participate on Espoir
in an effort to clear his debts, but failed. He was saved from death on a whim by Kaiji, but to spare his wife and son from debt he agreed to participate in another gambling tournament, the Human Derby. In the first leg of the race, Ishida accomplished second place, earning a certificate redeemable for 10,000,000¥. During the second part of the race, while overcome by immense fear, Ishida recognized that he was not a man born to be a success in this world, and entrusted his certificate to Kaiji, who he felt had the skill, power and confidence to survive. He urges Kaiji to go forward and not look back, and while Kaiji is concentrating on maintaining his balance, Ishida falls from the steel bridge, covering his mouth so Kaiji would not hear his screams.
Makoto Sahara (佐原 誠, Sahara Makoto)
Voiced by: Komoto Masahiro
Kaiji's younger co-worker at a convenience store he found employment at following his survival of Espoir
. Sahara dreams of finding his big break in life, and like Kaiji feels he is getting nowhere with his dead-end job. He begs Endō to permit him to participate in the Human Derby, despite warnings from Kaiji. Sahara's youthful strength and impulsiveness benefit him greatly in the gamble, and he gets a strong lead on the other racers, earning first place in Kaiji's block and receiving a certificate redeemable for ¥20,000,000. In the second leg of the race, Sahara is the first to reach the other side of the second bridge - however, before he can cash his earnings from the Starside Hotel, he falls into a trap set up by Kazutaka Hyōdō and is killed.
Yukio Tonegawa (利根川 幸雄, Tonegawa Yukio)
Voiced by: Hakūryū
A powerful business magnate and the third highest ranking executive in the financial firm Love Emperor. He serves as the host and overseer for both the Restricted Rock, Paper, Scissor and Human Derby games while acting as the opponent for the E-Card gamble. A stout man of middle-age, Tonegawa is a staunch realist, believing those who risk their lives in Love Emperor's tournaments to be street trash at the mercy of society and those with superior abilities and initiative. By reputation Tonegawa is a master of human psychology and the art of observation, displaying acts of insight so profound his abilities appear supernatural. He is defeated by Kaiji in E-Card and thrown out of power by Hyōdō Kazutaka; with his downfall a power vacuum appears in Love Emperor's inner circle, leading to chaos among the management. Many of those who are loyal to Tonegawa's faction within the company, notably Kaiji's debtor Endō Yuuji, disappear without a trace. Tonegawa himself is led away after his defeat and is never seen again.
Yohishiro Kurosaki (黒崎 義裕, Kurosaki Yohishiro)
Voiced by: Kenyu Horiuchi
Kurosaki has served in Teiai Group for years and is a friend of Hyōdō. He was promoted to the position of second-in-command of Teiai Group one year after Kaiji defeats Tonegawa; replacing Tonegawa's faction as the dominant faction. Kurosaki seems to be more friendly that Tonegawa as he praised Ōtsuki for his Chinchirorin rules but states that because Ōtsuki failed to think of a worse case scenario this caused him to be defeated. He also promotes fairness, such as refusing to let Ōtsuki back out of his bet, rather than threatening people.
Kurosaki appears to be in charge of the underground labor camp where Kaiji is sent and resides nearby. This was demonstrated when he was shown watching Kaiji gambling with Ōtsuki at Chinchirorin but was able to travel to the labor camp and arrive after Ōtsuki got his safe.
Ōtsuki (大槻, Ōtsuki)
Voiced by: Chō
Foreman for group E in the underground labor camp and Kaiji's supervisor. Together with Isawa and Numagawa he makes a lot of money selling food, alcohol, and tobacco at twice their retail price to those in the labor camp and by winning at Chinchirorin. Though he was initially friendly to Kaiji this was a ruse to encourage Kaiji to spend his all money buying food and alcohol from Ōtsuki. Ōtsuki then loans Kaiji some money to play Chinchirorin, then wins this money back from him, and forces him to work for half-pay to repay his debt. After Kaiji figures out that Ōtsuki is cheating by using 4-5-6 dice (dice without the number 1, 2, or 3 on them) he exposes Ōtsuki in front of everyone. Ōtsuki then agrees to let Kaiji and the other 45ers use rigged dice against him thinking he will only have to pay 2 or 3 times the amount bet, however Kaiji and the 45ers uses rigged dice that only roll 1 so Ōtsuki has to pay 5 times the amount bet (under Ōtsuki's rules if the 3 dice all show 1 the player wins 5 times their bet). After being dealer for 2 rounds Ōtsuki loses over 18 million pelica.
Tomohiro Miyoshi (三好 智広, Miyoshi Tomohiro)
Voiced by: Kōji Yusa
Another person in group E paying off their debts by working in the underground labor camps. He keeps a record of all the wins in Chinchirorin which makes Kaiji realize how Ōtsuki is cheating. He and several others earning 45,000 pelica help Kaiji defeat Ōtsuki.
Kōtarō Sakazaki (坂崎 孝太郎, Sakazaki Kōtarō)
Voiced by: Issei Futamata
A middle aged man who seeks to beat the Bog and win enough money to buy a house so his wife and daughter will return to him. At first he wants Kaiji to help him beat the Bog but later helps Kaiji defeat the Bog.
Voiced by: Daisuke Namikawa
Manager of the casino that owns the Bog. He has worked at Teiai Group for many years and is one of the subordinates of Yohishiro Kurosaki. He is well manicured and with a cautious personality (he increases security around the Bog to prevent Kaiji tampering with it). After Kaiji beats the Bog Hyōdō demands that Ichijou pay back the 700 million Yen Kaiji won by working for 1050 years in the labor camp. As Ichijou is dragged away Kaiji encourages him to return and challenge him again.
Takashi Muraoka (村岡 隆, Muraoka Takashi)
Voiced by: Hiroyuki Kinoshita (Pachinko)
The casino president employs Miyoshi and Maeda. He has Miyoshi and Maeda convince Kaiji to gamble against him in Minefield Mahjong, which he has rigged in his favor by having Maeda looks at Kaiji's tiles while Miyoshi gives Kaiji false information. Though Kaiji initially loses all his money Kazuya Hyōdō loans him more money so the game can continue. After several draws where the wager is doubled the wager reaches 160 million Yen. By tricking the casino president into thinking he had another tile, Kaiji is able to win 480 million due to him having ura-dora.
Kazuya Hyōdō (兵藤 和也, Hyōdō Kazuya)
Voiced by: Kappei Yamaguchi (Pachinko)
Son of Kazutaka Hyōdō, he enjoys gambles as much as his father. After Kaiji loses all of his money he keeps loaning Kaiji money so Kaiji can continue to gamble; however, he tells Kaiji that if Kaiji cannot repay the debt then Kaiji will either be sent back to the underground labor camp or will have his body parts removed (which body part will be removed is determined by a lottery wheel). He reveals to Kaiji that he detests the life he leads, and claims to not know true friendship or love, as everyone he meets kisses up to him due to the influence of his father. As a result, he thinks human beings are naturally detestable and likely to betray others, and additionally he finds no issue in wasting money for his gambles and schemes, and instead wants to be an author. As a means of finding out if true bonds actually exist, Kazuya sets up a series of deadly games designed to test the bonds between people, which influence the ideas for his novels. In addition, he runs a company called "Kazuya Corporation", which deals in covering up murders under the guise of suicides or construction accidents.
Series 1Restricted Rock, Paper, Scissors (限定ジャンケン, Gentei Janken)
The game featured in the gambling tournament the first night Kaiji spends on Espoir, with an average survival rate of 50%. The rules were outlined after the issuing of war funds, which were done a minimum of 1,000,000¥ and 10,000,000¥. The money was in effect a loan, equaling the debt of the contestant and compounded at 1.5% every ten minutes for the four-hour voyage; contestants who hold onto their funds for the length of the trip would have to pay 140% of what they invested, thus putting an incentive to finish games early. Money that exceeded the amount needed to repay the loan to the Espoir hosts would be pocketed by the contestant.
This gamble is similar to the original game but with a twist - the hand gestures are represented by cards, and contestants are given four cards each with the same gesture for a total of twelve. Contestants are also given three plastic stars as collateral to bet on each round of play - whenever one loses a round, the winner gets a star from the loser. To survive the night, contestants must maintain their three star pendants and lose all of their gesture cards. Cards cannot be destroyed or thrown away, to do so is subject to instant disqualification.
Due to the simple nature of the game, single matches can be completed within ten seconds, and players can win or lose in a matter of minutes. Winners are allowed to go upstairs, where any extra star pendants are exchanged for cash and they lounge in a small cafe. In the event of a loss, individuals are taken to away to a back room by men in black suits.
Steel Frame Crossing (鉄骨渡り, Tekkotsu Watari)
The gamble seen during Kaiji's competition at the Starside Hotel, consisting of two parts – Human Derby (人間競馬, Ningen Keiba)
and Electric Current Steel Frame Crossing (電流鉄骨渡り, Denryū Tekkotsu Watari)
. In contrast to Restricted Rock, Paper, Scissors, contestants are not briefed on the rules of the Human Derby, and are unaware of the nature of the gamble until they accept participating in it. Contestants are loaded into numbered "coffins" and are elevated several floors up the Starside Hotel to a platform overlooking a concrete courtyard. Contestants are expected to walk across four long, steel beams - the first to arrive on the other side of the beam nets 20,000,000¥, the second place finisher 10,000,000¥. The steel beams become more narrow as the contestants begin to cross them, though touching the beam with hands at any time disqualifies the contestant. The pushing of contestants to get out of the way is not condoned but is in fact encouraged, since the contestants (the "horses") are being bet on by spectators below, who enjoy the struggle to the other side. Contestants who fall from the beams suffer severe injury - depending on how and where they land, their injuries can range from serious to fatal.
Once the winners of the first leg of the race have been identified, they are given coupons redeemable for their prize with a set time limit. To cash the coupons, the contestants must cross a similar but more dangerous bridge twenty two stories above the ground. Falling from this bridge is instant death. Since the hosts concluded that the crossing of the bridge would not be entertaining if the contestants could give up and use their hands to assist in their retreat off the bridge, a mild electric current is run through the steel beams - while not powerful enough to cause serious injury or be fatal, the current is enough to stun contestants, causing them to lose balance and fall from the bridge. Psychologically, this bridge is much more challenging because of the greater peril involved.
E-Card (Ｅカード, Ī Kādo)
As the name suggests, it is a card game. Like Restricted Rock, Paper, Scissors it also has psychological strategy to it and it also uses three card types. There are three cards, the Emperor (koutei
), the Citizen (shimin
), and the Slave (dorei
). The game is meant to be a simplification of society that Hyōdō Kazutaka refers to right before the game begins. The Emperor has ultimate power to give money (ie. most powerful card). Citizens cannot disobey him because they want money (i.e. Citizen loses to Emperor). The Slave has nothing to lose and has no use of money, therefore the slave can defeat the Emperor (i.e. The Slave loses to the Citizen card but wins over the Emperor card). The game is played with one side having four Citizen cards and an Emperor card (Emperor side). The other side having four Citizen cards and a Slave card (Slave side). Since it is much harder for the slave side to win (as Slave cards can only defeat Emperor cards) the players of the Slave side get five times more winnings. Each game is played with 12 matches each match having each player set down one card. As Kaiji had no money, he was given the choice of losing an eye or an ear.
Tissue Box Raffle (ティッシュ箱くじ引き, Tisshubako Kujibiki)
Unlike the other gambles, this gamble is made by Kaiji himself. After completing E-Card he prepares to leave the hotel but then steps on a tissue box and notices that its sides are open, which he finds fascinating. Upon further investigation of the box Kaiji decide to challenge the Chairman to a raffle gamble with the tissue box as the container for the lots.
Series 2Underground Chinchiro (地下チンチロリン, Chika Chinchirorin)
A variation on the dice game, Chinchirorin, this game was crafted by Ōtsuki, one of Kaiji's fellow inmates in the underground labor camp. The notable exception to Chinchirorin is that dealer rotation moves clockwise, but each player may opt to pass their turn as dealer. More importantly however, there are no automatic wins for the dealer. If they opt to play dealer they must play as dealer two times consecutively.
Pachinko “THE BOG” (パチンコ「沼」, Pachinko Numa)
An elaborate Pachinko game in a high-stakes casino featuring a payout of 100% of the earnings from the machine. Taking this into consideration the house has set up state-of-the-art countermeasures to ensure victory; such as tightening the nails to ensure only 1 in 100 balls go in, using flippers to knock away balls, and tilting the three plates. Previously only two people have ever beaten the Bog; Hyōdō and Tonegawa. When Kaiji first comes across the Bog the jackpot is 550 million yen but when he plays it the jackpot has risen to over 700 million.
Series 3Mine Field Game “17 Steps” (地雷ゲーム「17歩」, Jirai Gēmu “17-ho”)
A variation on Mahjong where the game is played with two players who make their best hand from a random draw of 34 tiles. Players do not draw a tile as usual, but instead take turns discarding tiles. Since a win can only be declared with a hand in conjunction with a discard, 'ron' is the only way a player may win. If neither player achieves ron after 17 turns, the game is considered a draw, the tiles are reshuffled, the current wager is doubled.
Series 4Salvation game
A life-or-death game designed by Kazuya to test if the friendship between three men indebted to Kazuya--Mario, from the Philippines, Chang, from China, and Mitsuyama, from Japan--is a true bond. The three men sit in a stair case formation, strapped to their seats with seat belts which can only be released one at a time with a release button, and are not allowed to look behind them. They each wear a helmet with a light on the top. At the start of each round of the game, the current pot is doubled, and of the three men, one "savior" and two "hostages" is decided via the light on their helmets. The savior must release their seat belt after 30 seconds, but before 60, and press a button across the room, otherwise the helmets of the two hostages will crush their heads. They must use the powers of deduction and observation to determine if they are the savior or the hostage--the player at the top of the staircase is in the best position for this, as he can see the two other players' lights. Halfway through the game, Kazuya reveals that, if the savior fails to rescue the two hostages, he gets double the entire pot of the current round. Kaiji is brought in as an observer to this game, and frequently cheers on the three men and challenges Kazuya's corrupted view of human nature.
Series 5One Poker
A card game using two standard decks of playing cards, designed by Kazuya. Rather than deciding the victor via hands such as Straight, Flush, etc., each hand consists of just one card and is ranked according to its normal value, suits not factoring into the value at all. In addition, like in the earlier E-Card game, the absolute weakest card actually beats the absolute strongest card--a 2 is the absolute weakest, and an ace is the absolute strongest, so the 2 wins against an ace. If both players play a card of equal value, it is a tie. At the start of each round, players are given two cards, and must play only one of them, the most valuable card being the winner. Standard poker betting rules apply and the cards of both players are always revealed after betting even if one player folds (but they don't affect the outcome in that case). In addition, all of this is played at the top of a large tower, on a mechanical shuffling table Kazuya has designed, which he names "Mother Sophie". The table is placed on a set of tracks, and moves towards the loser's side's edge with each loss.
The manga has currently been divided into five parts so far, each comprising thirteen volumes:Tobaku Mokushiroku Kaiji (賭博黙示録カイジ, lit. "Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji")
Tobaku Hakairoku Kaiji (賭博破戒録カイジ, lit. "Gambling Maverick Kaiji")
Tobaku Datenroku Kaiji (賭博堕天録カイジ, lit. "Gambling Advent Chronicle Kaiji")
Tobaku Datenroku Kaiji: Kazuya-hen (賭博堕天録カイジ 和也編, lit. "Gambling Advent Chronicle Kaiji: The Kazuya Arc")
Tobaku Datenroku Kaiji: One Poker-hen (賭博堕天録カイジ ワン・ポーカー編, lit. "Gambling Advent Chronicle Kaiji: One Poker Arc")
The anime opening theme for the first season is "Mirai wa Bokura no Te no Naka" (based on The Blue Hearts' song of the same name) by Kaiji with Redbourn Cherries, and the ending theme is "Makeinutachi no Requiem" by Hakuryū.
The anime opening theme for the second season is "Chase the Light!" by Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas, and the ending theme is "C Kara Hajimaru ABC" by Wasurerannē yo.
Kaiji has been adapted into a 2009 film starring Tatsuya Fujiwara and Yuki Amami, and a 2011 sequel, Kaiji 2. Both movies are a little different, both having alternate choices of what Kaiji did in the manga/anime, but all have the same settings and events in different orders and rule changes in each gamble.