Look, most of this review is gonna be spoilers, both for the first season and the second. If you want the tl;dr, while this season isn't as consistently engaging as the first one, it picks up HARD near the end with a final "villain", so to speak, that makes it all worth it. Overall, if you liked the first season, I'd say you should definitely watch this one too.
Y'know, I think I was too hard on Kaiji Season 2 when I first watched it. In my defense, my brain was kinda fried back then and I was like, what, 13?
I'll spare you the general preamble that I gave in the previous review, because what else is there to say other than "shit gets fucked for Kaiji again"? As it turns out, Kaiji has learned nothing. He's learned about the inherent goodness laying at the center of every man, but PRETTY MUCH nothing from what happened on the Espoir. He's still naive, still SUPER gullible. Still somehow a master of strategy. In this season, Kaiji gets put into a labor camp to pay off his debt with work and the pennies he earns at the job. To be honest, this first half is pretty boring. Kaiji is effectively stranded and there aren't any particularly high stakes going on when compared to him losing vital organs. He can't necessarily go any further down than "Hell" itself, can he? Luckily, things pick up near the end of the jail arc. I finally REALLY got interested by the last chinchirorin game, seeing the foreman's cheat unravel and the massive payoff for Kaiji in the end.
My biggest complaint with this season is that both arcs basically follow the same general structure. The progression starts off with a decently interesting introduction, a VERY boring middle section, and a CAPTIVATING final battle. There is a big bad guy who Kaiji and friends band together to "defeat" and progress forward. Both follow games of chance, as opposed to the first season's games of strategy and, mainly, mind games.
In all honesty, I don't have that much to say about the chinchirorin arc. Like I said, it really picked up near the end, but otherwise I didn't find it particularly mind-blowing. The 45ers, especially Miyoshi, are definitely endearing. Ichida's son is also an interesting character to see Kaiji run into. However, Ootsuki and his goons didn't particularly carry the same charm I would say any other Kaiji villain has. They still do a good job of showing his "presence" in the underground camp, which does make him somewhat intimidating, but he isn't particularly memorable to me. Therefore, let's move on to the pachinko arc, following Ichijou and his Man-Eating Bog.
The pachinko arc, like the chinchirorin arc, is not very interesting at first. However, there are a lot of aspects to this part that add a lot of intrigue to what's going on. For one thing, Kaiji is put on a time limit to victory. There's also the fact that rigging the game is actually a lot more complicated than just having fixed dice, so things get crazy.
We also can't forget to mention the characters Kaiji decides to team up with. He still has the 45ers back at home base, but now he has partnered with Kotaro Sakazaki, an older man who Kaiji runs into in an alleyway, and Yuuji Endou, the loan shark who got him into this mess in the first place. Sakazaki on his own is a breath of fresh air. He is energetic, dramatic, and generally just a bunch of fun to follow around. The series seems to portray him as a neutral character- he helps Kaiji on his quest, flaky and erratic in his behavior. Endou is a character I wasn't expecting to see again, much less as an aid to Kaiji, but it was definitely interesting seeing him let his guard down and put faith in someone he sees as just a degenerate debtor. Overall, they are simply three unlikely figures you would see gathering together in pursuit of a common goal.
And now... the moment you've been waiting for... Seiya Ichijou. The main villain of the season and the pachinko arc as a whole. I find him to be an IMMENSELY interesting and cool villain character, especially compared to the rest of the folks we've seen before. He is very sadistic, but not exactly in the way Hyodo is, but rather because he's a bit of a selfish prick with an annoying backstory. I say annoying as opposed to "tragic", because the most we get is that people kinda found him to be a loser and Hyodo would treat him like dirt. He kind of meets this middle ground between Tonegawa and Foreman Ootsuki- He's a higher-up close to Teiai, shown by his interactions with both Kurosaki and Hyodo, but is still in a bit of a precarious position. Both Ichijou and Tonegawa are at the whims of Hyodo, but Ichijou is still trying to rise the ranks whereas Tonegawa is already at a comfortable point. Anyways, that's alot about him. I can understand why people love him so much. Seeing his personality shift from cocky to absolutely crazed was an amazing and fun ride, especially with how he ends up interacting with Kaiji.
The pachinko arc is a wild ride and probably the best part of the series (aside from One Poker, but that hasn't been animated fully). Like I mentioned earlier, it didn't start off too interesting, as pachinko largely seems like a game of chance. How could you possibly make that interesting? What makes the game so exciting is that fact that both Kaiji and Ichijou have to come up with some absolutely insane cheats and tactics to rig the game in their favor. And boy does it get weird, with Kaiji LITERALLY weighing the entire building down on one side. You can't even really blame him for going that far either, considering that, at this point, his and the 45ers futures are at stake here. If he loses now, there's basically no chance of him ever making it back to the surface for good.
The final battle between Ichijou and Kaiji takes up a good chunk of episodes and it never feels like it drags on- quite the opposite. SO many things are being revealed at once that it just makes you feel like your blood pressure is spiking. Seriously, it's ridiculous how many random TINY THINGS happen during the game and how many hidden tricks are revealed to have been going on in the background. During my watch-through, I had planned to go to bed at episode 15, but the idea of sleeping at that point was futile. I ended up marathoning the entire rest of the season and ended up finally going to bed by the time the sun rose. Make sure you set aside a good amount of time when you get to that point. It gets absolutely insane for what is essentially just high-stakes Peggle.
All in all, for all its flaws, I feel like season 2 is the section of Kaiji where you really realize that Fukumoto-sensei is a genius. Or at the very least, that this series is a lot deeper than you might have given it credit for. Personally, I have gone on to read the entirety of the manga up to the most recent chapter since finishing the anime and I don't regret it one bit. I'm pretty sure the last time I tried reading the manga for something was around the time Tokyo Ghoul came out, and I didn't even finish it. I HIGHLY recommend you check out Kaiji, as it's one of the best gambling series I've ever seen.
Season 3 when? (Please give us a One Poker-hen adaptation, Madhouse!)