In the realm of current anime, Kakegurui takes a lot of credit for featuring its story on almost exclusively female characters and even hints at women-loving-women (wlw) themes. But is the show forward in its representation of its protagonists? Is it truly an exemplary example of what wlw content should be?
Expecting more than a tease
I’ll be honest. I only picked up Kakegurui because of a very specific screenshot from the show. (You know which one — the one where Yumeko Jabami leans in at kissing-distance to Mary Saotome.) That scene was the only reason why I started watching the show in the first place. While now I have more reasons to continue following Kakegurui, I remember my sheer excitement to see women intimately interacting with each other.
Maybe I was too optimistic. Because after watching the first few episodes of Kakegurui, I realized that this wasn’t exactly the woman-empowering and wlw-centric anime I wanted to see. Even more disappointing was when I realized the Yumeko-almost-kissing-Mary scene I wanted to see wasn’t even part of the show! That clip was just part of the end credits!
Preserving the voyeuristic perspective
Sure, the main characters are strong female figures. But at the end of the day, our protagonist is the self-insert male character Suzui. Yes, he doesn’t play a large role in the story, but he still comes along with Jabami on this journey uprooting her entire high school system. Suzui is the shadow to all of her gambling games. Every now and then even participating in the games himself to support her as best as he can.
Essentially, Suzui represents the male voyeur. He is observing all this subtext between the women. He sees all the interactions and the games that they play with each other. And he is having the time of his life out there. Suzui reacts whenever he gets a good view, and he blushes whenever he receives a very tight embrace from his female companions.
Keeping fan service alive
Suzui never outright pursues any of the women in the show. And in many ways, his character does care for their well-being. But simply the fact Suzui exists in the story at all tells us which audience the story is geared towards. Does Suzui have to be male? Does Suzui have to flush red when he sees what he likes?
And maybe that’s why I can’t help but feel a little discomfort in the very purposeful show of women’s sexuality and eroticism. Suzui reminds me who created the show in the first place and that even in this space of women who are undoubtedly attracted to women, men are still there to watch and enjoy for their own pleasure. Without fail, we get breast and between-the-legs camera shots, and many times these indiscreet angles seem incredibly unwarranted and intrusive.
Is there really a need to see panties and cleavage when telling a story about wlw? Not at all. Sex is not the only thing that defines wlw relationships. So if depicting wlw relationships doesn’t need to involve sexual implications, then why is the fanservice there? And is there maybe a particular audience the fanservice is for?
Stigmatizing wlw relationships
Kakegurui also inadvertently associates wlw relationships with being taboo.
Think of the context that Kakegurui takes place in. The students are gambling at Hyakkaou Private Academy, an elite school for the children of the most wealthy and influential people. The academy itself is already full of people that have benefitted from corruption and to top it off, the student hierarchy within the school is an incredibly unfair and deceitful system. We’re told from the start that everything occurring in this school is wrong, or at the very least a little off — and gambling is an example of one of those forbiddens.
The shows shows gambling is an un-amenable desire
In the first season, we see how risking it all completely dismantled Kaede Manyuda’s life (just to mention one character). In the second season, we get a great hint at the terrible state gambling left Jabami’s older sister. Gambling continues to get the women in the show completely out-of-control — very obviously exhibited when the characters’ eyes gleam with their “gambling freak” — and they almost always react to these games with a very clear sexual response. Gambling simply represents the heavily implied sexual content that otherwise would not have made the screen.
A phenomenal example of this is how in the game, “The Greater Good” (season 2 episode 7), features Rumia Uru running her fingers over a narrow coin deposit slit — in the same subtle-not-subtle manner that Ariana Grande tactfully manipulated a hurricane over Earth’s atmosphere in “God is a Woman” music video.
In other words, the act of gambling gets the characters off, and the characters get off of each other when they’re gambling. But recall how the show warns about the devastating and disastrous effects of gambling. If Kakegurui couples the character’s ultimately destructive and detrimental addiction with their sexuality, then transitively, this show implies there’s not only something taboo and unmanageable about wlw relationships, but also potentially catastrophic.
Keeping wlw at the boundary of heavy subtext
Kakegurui is no different from other shows in how it presents wlw relationships, fundamentally just a tease. But we’ve all seen this before. LGBTQ+ relationships are always simply implied in shows, left to interpretation and imagination.
Yes, it’s still thrilling to see Jabami and Saotome being the power couple they are, and yes, it’s still exciting to see Midari Ikishima in her very obvious pursuit of Jabami’s respect and adoration, and yes, I absolutely loved that we got a touching moment between Kirari Momobami and Sayake Igarashi. But no, I’m not expecting any real substance for my wlw ships.
The only way this show will ever give us relationship content is through an irrational and unhealthy obsession of another character. Sometimes this is amusing to see, but I would really appreciate some normalcy in wlw relationships. (Although given everyone in the show is not exactly typical, that might be asking for too much, haha.)
Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely a ton of subtext to enjoy and read into throughout the show. And I’ll take whatever I can get. I still look forward to seeing the characters and how they interact with each other. I will binge the third season when it comes out! But I do expect more for what we consider wlw content, and Kakegurui is not it.
Anyway, I’m still living for YuMary. You? Tweet me @czaw13.
Featured image credit: Netflix