The year is 1995. After graduating from high school, the young Kaiji Itou has moved to Tokyo in hopes of finding a steady job. Two years later, he's still unemployed and in a state of depression. Kaiji wastes what little money he has on cheap gambles, alcohol and cigarettes on a daily basis. To feel better about himself, he sabotages expensive cars and collects their emblems. One of these cars belongs to Yuuji Endou, a yakuza with ties to the financial empire Teiai Corporation.It turns out that Endou has been searching for Kaiji for a while, ever since he co-signed a contract for his friend Furuhata, which left him with a large debt. Endou also wants Kaiji to compensate for the car's damages. Kaiji is left with a choice; he must either spend 10 years working off the debt in a labour camp, or board a gambling cruise called "Espoir" (French for "hope") where he will be able to pay off the debt in one night... If he wins.And that's just how the first series begins. Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji is probably the most famous work of Nobuyuki Fukumoto, a seinenmangaka. Starting in 1996, it has since then received critical acclaim for its ridiculous yet brilliant gambles as well as the complex psychological analyses of the characters. There are currently four series, the first two of which have gotten anime adaptations by Madhouse (much like Akagi before it), and eventually Live-Action Adaptation films and pachinko games. Kaiji also makes an appearance in Girls RPG Cinderellife, a dating sim by Level-5, for Nintendo 3DS. As of 2012, the fourth series has been put on hiatus and will resume in a year.
Aesop Amnesia - By the end of season 1 Kaiji seems to have learned his lesson about hard work and not trusting life to give you what you want. When we see him again at the start of season 2, he's back to the lousy deadbeat gambler he was at the beginning. Justified in that a year has passed since the end of the first season.
End of season 2 - in the day it takes him to meet the 45ers after they're free, he manages to blow his entire cut of the winnings on Pachinko.
Bad Boss - Hyoudou. If you work for him and if you do anything he doesn't like, he'll do various bad things to you. He also puts his bare feet in a tub filled with wine and makes his workers drink out of it. Once, a worker started speaking during this, but Hyoudou said he didn't appreciate his tone of voice, and had him taken away. It's anyone's guess as to what happened to him, but it was without a doubt very bad.
Fingore: Kaiji loses 4 of his left-hand fingers when his Tissue Box raffle goes horribly wrong. They manage to stitch them back later though.
A less gory but still very painful example is provided by Ichijou to Kaiji in series 2.
The Gambling Addict: It is hinted by Hyoudou that Kaiji is slowly turning into one, one who can only feel alive while gambling no matter how high the stakes. Hyoudou himself is this, so much that his "brain has been fried" and the only things that can give him any joy in life are the most extreme and twisted gambles. He foresees the same future for Kaiji, but he is yet to be proven right... or wrong.
Gambit Roulette - Kaiji's plan to beat the bog at the end of Season 2 relies on a series of convoluted plans. But Kaiji and Ichijo both Didn't See That Coming so many times, it turns into a Roulette that would almost look like Xanatos Speed Chess if it weren't for the fact that Kaiji can't change anything after he starts playing.
Notably, at the end of series 1, Kaiji himself loses in the one game he tries to rig.
Hope Spot: Constantly. Especially in the Pachinko Arc.
Idiot Ball: Kaiji gets this occasionally; by halfway through the second episode, he has already fallen for two Obvious Traps, leaving him in what seems to be an Unwinnable situation and requiring him to struggle for an entire arc just to try to restore the status quo.
Nice Guy: Kaiji. Among other things he cries frequently, he doesn't want others to get hurt (even if said person was ready to send him to a painful death), he doesn't want people to relinquish their humanity, he values friendship, he's (obviously) sympathetic towards the poor and desperate, he wants to help everyone he can and is willing to put his life on the line for it, and he HATES injustice. Ironically (and arguably) the only person who genuinely appreciates all this aside from Ishida is one of the Teiai black suits at the end of Season/Part 2.
Rigged Contest: E-Card, the tissue box lottery, Hell Cee-lo, the Man-Eating Bog and Minefield Mahjong are all rigged in different ways.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Nothing that destructive, but Kaiji beats up Furuhata and Andou after he manages to get his hands on them after they've betrayed him, and much later he beats up Maeda and Miyoshi (who have betrayed him) when they try to restrain him from catching Muraoka on the act of cheating.
Serious Business: The main appeal of this series is arguably the ridiculously high stakes put on the simplest of gambles.
Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: The worldview of people Kaiji goes up against is basically that we live on a very materialistic dog eat dog world, and that the only people worth giving a damn about are the ones who became materially successful- no matter if they've killed, tortured or otherwise ruined dozens. Money is the only important thing in life, and all means are justified as long as the end is getting loads of money. It is also meaningless to trust other people, as only cowards do that and those people will betray you the first chance they get anyway. Kaiji's worldview starts out more or less the same, but his concealed beliefs about the worth of humanity, trust and decency quickly gain the upper hand and a humanist view starts to settle in and remains there despite going through things that confirm the cynical vision. Conversely, things Kaiji does (and on rare occasion things others do to him) confirm his own view.
Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Played straight much of the time. Occasionally, Kaiji will seem to explain his plan, but will only explain the first and less important half; in these cases, the entire plan is guaranteed to work fine. Played painfully straight in the Tissue Box Raffle arc, though, when Kaiji explains his entire grand scheme four whole episodes before the end of the series, which naturally falls apart and leaves him ruined.
Villainous Breakdown: Everytime Kaiji wins. Witnessing them is particularly satisfying since he's generally up against arrogant bastards
Yaoi Fangirl: Kaiji, Akagi, and many other series by Fukumoto Nobuyuki have surprisingly large female fanbases. Put that together with an almost complete lack of female characters and this happens, apparently.
Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Andou betrays Kaiji twice, and he's in the story for fewer than four hours in-universe. Tonegawa has something more along the lines of Chronic Frontstabbing Disorder.
Cool Boat: Espoir: a luxurious floating gambler den that toots in a majestic manner at the end of each episode.
Death by Irony: Tonegawa... okay, he doesn't die, but there was a lot of irony in how he loses the e-card game.
Also Ichijou later in Part 2, who also does not die but starts begging Kaiji to end their "duel" as a draw when he realizes he's going to lose in a few moments -a request he had denied a desperate Kaiji just a little while before.
Downer Ending: All the named participants to the Human Derby are dead, Kaiji survives but has lost all of his money (and is further in debt), along with his left ear and left hand fingers. Meanwhile, the villain has won money, and has been entertained throughout the night.
Eye Scream: In the E-Card game, Kaiji gets to choose between putting his ear or eye on the line. Averted when he picks his ear, but we are still treated to some nice Imagine Spots with the mini-drill moving closer to his eyeball.
What Happened to the Mouse? - Tonegawa's fate is unclear at this point. Seeing as how Kurosaki has replaced him by series 2, it's probably safe to assume that, at the very least, he was demoted to a lower rank in Teiai.
Yank the Dog's Chain - Series 1 plays this brutally with Sahara's death. After making his way across the bridge of death, he finally prepares to open the door to cash in on the price money... Only to be blown off the building by the air compression blast from the window towards a certain death.
Beergasm: Given that Kaiji's now slaving away in an underground hell-hole where only the bare necessities are provided, it's no wonder that the first over-priced beer they sell to workers there gives him a Beergasm when he gets one after such a long time.
Sort of, he finally pays of his debt and even earned more money than he needed, however, Endou's contract drains him of a huge chunk of cash and he blows the rest on pachinko trying to earn some of it back.
Gaussian Girl: In the anime, curiously enough. Each episode has a "Proverbs of Kaiji" stinger after the ending credits: a short piece of live-cation video where a Gaussian Girl recites one of Kaiji's lines from the corresponding episode in a "deep and philosophical" manner.
Mood Whiplash: In episode 10, when Sakazaki is talking about his daughter, Mikoko, the initially serious atmosphere prevalent throughout the series suddenly (and briefly) shifts to a comedic one. Doubles as a Crowning Moment of Funny.
Pet the Dog: At the end of season 2, one of the black suits gives a broke Kaiji a few thousand yen to meet his fellow 45ers. Mind you, this was after Kaiji blew what was left of his pachinko earnings on pachinko.
Shout-Out: At one point in the second season, Kaiji stays with Sakazaki and Endou for a night at Hotel Akagi.
Wham Episode - The end of the second season isn't just a wham episode. It's a series of wham episodes!
Your Princess Is in Another Castle: End of season 2 - after Kaiji's finally defeated the Bog and become rich, it turns out he didn't read the fine print in Endou's contract...
Part III & IV
Chekhov's Skill: Kaiji's reactionary gambling style is referred to by Kazuya as a tsunami. Kaiji dismisses the notion at first but invokes the metaphor again when in doubt.
The Cynic: Despite being the son of a very wealthy and influential man, Kazuya has reasons to be unhappy and dissatisfied with life, arguably rightfully so. His ways of coping with his cynicism are anything but acceptable though.
Dynamic Entry: When one of Muraoka's men tries to hold Kaiji outside of the game room by restraining the door to give his boss more time to cheat, Kaiji manages to open the door enough to punch him in the face go in.
It's All About Me: Muraoka IS this trope. Crowned as such especially with his reaction to when he's faced with the possibility of losing all his money to Kaiji (compared to him losing his life).
Like Father, Like Son: Kazuya has taken quite a bit after Hyoudou. At the very least both are rich bastards who enjoy seeing weak people suffer and have a complete disregard for human life and friendship. Despite all that they ironically both are very fair people when it comes to resolving the outcome of a gamble.
Mahjong: The entire third part focuses on this game, but it's a two-player variant.
Poor Communication Kills: In series 2, the Bog payed out 700 million yen, and Kaiji split it with Sakazaki and Endou. When Muraoka tells Miyoshi and Maeda about this, he tells them to "test" Kaiji by asking for his help and seeing how he responds after they add that he can profit from it. Because Kaiji denied their request at first and accepted it only when they offered money, they thought Kaiji had been using and holding out on them and the other 45'ers. As such, they decided to scam him out of money. Had Kaiji not been too proud to admit that he didn't beat the Bog alone, none of this would have happened.
...which still doesn't excuse how willing they were to completely ruin the life of the man to whom they owe their lives because of a money issue after a couple convincing words by Muraoka, without first extensively questioning Kaiji and ascertaining for sure whether or not he really had money or not. Had Maeda and Miyoshi's scheme succeeded, Kaiji would at best return to the Teiai underground mines for the rest of his life, and if not he would have been cut up to pieces on Kazuya's order.
Writers Suck: Subverted with Kazuya, who thinks very highly of being a writer.