Toriko’s next mission takes him where few Shonen Jump series have gone before: the seedy underworld of Life or Death Gambling!
What They Say:
Toriko, Komatsu, and Coco venture into the Pleasure Zone on quest to track down some extremely rare Meteor Garlic, but they soon cross paths with an old friend who could use their help!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The next item on Toriko’s training list from the IGO President is Meteor Garlic! It just so happens, that Meteor Garlic is such a rare ingredient that our heroes cannot simply travel to some exotic land to quest for it. No, in fact they have to travel to the Pleasure Zone in the country of Jiddal and visit the Gourmet Casino. What makes the Gourmet Casino so special is the fact that not only is it the largest, most profitable, and craziest of all the casinos in the world…it is also located in Jiddal which is a non-member country and declared a lawless state. This is important to the Gourmet Casino’s popularity and importance because this means that in addition to money and high-end ingredients, the lucky few can also score infamously rare ingredients and other foods found only on the black market including illegal narcotic foods.
The introduction to Jiddal as our team heads towards the Gourmet Casino is a very interesting one. The world is scummy, the people are disgustingly evil and untrustworthy, and crime and corruption runs thick through all inhabitants including the well-off. Throughout the entire series so far we’ve seen the world and it’s a booming and prosperous one. Everyone is happy, poverty is non-existent, and in the Gourmet Age there’s tons of food to just go around. The previous filler arc, the Christmas episodes, was the first to open up the world to the realities of the Toriko universe. We got to see that there were nations not in the IGO member’s club, or whatever they specifically call it, and that simply because of that non-affiliation they are not prosperous. The arrival to the Gourmet Casino goes to the next level and introduces the seedy side of the world. There are no real big surprises here as it is just like every other seedy place we’ve ever encountered in film before with the base exception being that everything revolves around food. Even so, it is executed excellently and really fits into the world we’ve already known and is just another natural extension.
Once Toriko, Coco, and Komatsu reunite with Match, who is now the boss of the Gourmet Mafia (if you don’t remember Match, he was introduced in the Century Soup arc; the guy with all the facial scars), we finally venture into the casino itself. These initial scenes, which occupy episodes 86 and 87, are loads of fun. It has our cast taking out extremely large sums of money and proceeding to gamble away. The time is mostly spent showing all of the different games as a display for the original author’s boundless imagination and fun. It is casually revealed though that Coco’s plot is to win big time in order to make the casino heads notice them and invite them to the VIP Room, where the stakes and prizes are exponentially higher. Once the team is invited to the VIP Room, we discover that what lies within is just as vile and disgusting as what we would’ve imagined given the lawlessness of the country and the vicious attitudes previously shown by the inhabitants of the country. Games of life and death that, more often than not, use the lives of others as the gamble are the main attraction in the VIP Room. In a strange turn of events, before our heroes can begin gambling with their lives, they are met by the owner of the Gourmet Casino and Head of the Gourmet Underground: Livebearer. Livebearer quickly informs them who he is and that they don’t want to be wasting their time with these children’s games; and invites them to go beyond the VIP Room.
Beyond the VIP Room, our cast finds a large quantity of giant brains that are actually small rooms. It is revealed that the ultimate game at the casino is played personally by Livebearer and the gamble is one’s own memories of food. The brain shaped apparatuses are chambers where the losers of the ultimate game have their memories of food removed from their brains via digital transmission. Toriko discovers that Livebearer has the food memory of Meteor Garlic in his brain and that this was why he had come to the casino. This was the only way to obtain this rare ingredient! The ultimate game has been accepted! Moving into another room, Livebearer informs the team what the game is exactly and what the rules are. The game is simply Memory, or Concentration, using a deck of cards. These cards have particular ingredients on their opposing sides as well as a point designation. The game is played by choosing two cards, just like in Memory, and continuing between the two players until a matching pair is revealed. When a match has been found, the player must then eat the ingredient that has been uncovered within a time limit equal to the amount of points on the card in minutes, before he can be awarded the points. This is the gist of the game but there are many more rules and caveats that makes this truly a deadly game.
I’m going to stop talking about Toriko here for a minute, so please indulge me. There is a particular niche in Japanese anime and manga that focuses solely on gambling. Possibly the most famous titles of this genre are Akagi and Kaiji, both written by Nobuyuki Fukumoto. Both of these titles have received anime adaptations and Kaiji has even received live-action adaptations as well. Gambling manga and anime is not very well known in the U.S. because it just isn’t something that has ever been released here legally. Even these two extremely prestigious and popular titles, Akagi and Kaiji, remain without an official U.S. release in either manga or anime form. Although Kaiji did have its first season legally available for streaming on Joost for a short period of time, it didn’t get the exposure needed and no one knew Joost had it in the first place so its failure there is no surprise. Possibly the leading cause for the perceived marketability of gambling manga in the U.S. is because of its structure and style. Gambling manga is structured and paced exactly like any sports manga or anime that has ever been released. In fact, all they are is sports manga with the sport simply being a gambling sport as opposed to a recreational/popular sport. The emphasis is on logic and strategy with plenty of character involvement/development to emotionally invest the reader. Sports manga doesn’t sell in the U.S. Period. Name a sports show and it most likely flopped if it was released here. And that is a damn shame because some of the best manga and anime I have ever seen/read were sports series (Cross Game and Big Windup for a brief yet pointed example).
What does that all have to do with Toriko anyway? Why did I waste my breath talking about gambling manga, what its structure and style are, and why it is unpopular/unreleased here in the U.S.? It’s simple; this arc of Toriko is a gambling arc. It is not a fighting arc or an adventure arc like we have previously seen. It’s a gambling arc, period. These five episodes are structured almost exactly like real deal gambling series. I was even instantly reminded of Kaiji when our heroes entered the VIP Room and discovered that gamblers who couldn’t pay their debts were forced to participate in life or death games that rich people then bet on the outcome. For those of you who have never seen or read Kaiji (which you absolutely MUST do, no matter what! It is hands down of the best series of the 2000s and a top five title that has never been licensed in the U.S. fully), that description of the VIP Room is the basic plot of Kaiji. Kaiji is enormously more complex and layered but that is the basic conceit. What Toriko does differently though, the pacing in the first two episodes discussed here is lightning fast comparatively speaking. We move from game to game and just simply delight in the creativity and imagination that is coursing through everything. It is still Toriko through and through. However, once the team meets Livebearer and begins playing his game of Ultimate Concentration, the pacing settles into the standard gambling manga style.
We watch patiently and intensely as the rules are being explained, we chatter our teeth as it takes five minutes to flip over a single card while we hope and pray that the card is a matching pair, we are completely absorbed. That is the beauty and draw of gambling manga. Kaiji especially has the ability to completely suck in the viewer to levels nearly never reached in any anime or manga series outside of extremely dramatic series. We want to know how the protagonists will play the game, we NEED to know. We are entranced by the thought processes and the logic that goes into the overall strategy while the heroes try to figure out how they can beat the bad guy and win the game. It is possibly the most difficult thing to explain to someone. There are absolutely no ways to successfully tell someone that watching one full round of a Concentration game is the most exciting 22 minutes you’ve seen all week long. The other person will simply look at you like you are crazy and possibly ignore you as some escaped lunatic. This takes a leap of faith but I swear to you, it is addictive! That’s why I urge people to watch Kaiji so badly, it is the most intense and addictive show I’ve ever seen where two people play rock, paper, scissors, for 8 episodes! I LIE NOT!! These episodes of Toriko follow in that tradition perfectly.
Once again, what does Toriko do differently? Once the main game begins and pacing slows down to generate an impermeable atmosphere, the series never loses focus of what it is. The game has been decided to be played with Coco choosing the cards, Komatsu preparing the food, and Toriko eating the food. With all the serious business, Toriko never loses its sense of fun. The simple manner in which the game is played allows it do these things with all the freedom in the world. We get to see Komatsu geek out over food and how best to prepare an ingredient. We get to see Toriko being a total goof while he eats Pudding Mountain (name literal). We get everything. Toriko does one thing better than it does anything else, and that is having fun with itself. Take the moments of pure joy and imagination we’ve seen throughout the entire series and pair that up with the intensity and complexity of real deal gambling series structure and style…you have “no lose” situation. I watched all five of these episodes in what seemed to be 25 minutes. I just had to keep watching. I had to play the next episode. I could not stop. I eventually did stop so that I could write this review and have it be a manageable number of episodes but I could’ve kept on watching.
This batch of episodes ends with Coco finally discovering how they can win the game. We don’t know his thoughts or how he plans to do this but that’s part of the intensity and draw. With a strategy in place, a near impossible situation ahead of them, Coco chooses a 250 point Joker card that will require Toriko to fight a Hanya Panda. What’s going to happen!? We can suspect a few things but the simple nature of the genre Toriko has set itself in for this arc makes the curiosity more appealing and the experience more pleasurable than simply thinking of it as another Shonen Jump action series. Highly Recommended.
Wow and wow. Toriko has the innate ability to reinvent itself with each story arc. As we’ve watched the last 90 episodes over the last two years, we have seen the creativity evolve beyond any preconception we might have had and the quality of the overall arcs increase right alongside it. Keeping with that fine tradition, the move to emulating a traditional gambling manga is not just a bold move but a risky one as well. Above when I mentioned why sports manga, and by relation gambling manga, isn’t very popular in the U.S. I was slyly addressing the risks of this arc. It is entirely possibly that this arc could turn people away from the series and damage its reputation. Gambling? Casinos? Forget that crap! I may joke but that is the expected response. However, by maintaining its sense of self and high level of creativity, what we get here is another fantastic Toriko arc that is a joy to watch and truly shaping up to be the most interactive in terms of viewer involvement. This is what these episodes do differently than traditional gambling manga the most: they add crossover appeal. I can only hope that after seeing these episodes, fans of Toriko might be inclined to check out some gambling manga/anime, heck I even gave two peerless examples where they can start! Instead of throwing a storyline at your existing audience that may alienate them because of their (possibly ignorant) misconceptions of a genre, you give them more of what they love and build upon that love with the introduction of a new genre and style. That is what Toriko does here. That is why this is not just a fantastic Toriko story arc so far but a terrific gambling arc as well. In fact, the old Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure comparisons come back very strongly here, as the way this gambling arc is handled is very similar to the D’arby The Gambler arc from Jojo’s Part 3. It balances out the intense, intriguing gambling with the series’ own natural style. That acts as a perfect gateway between two different genres. Jojo’s is pretty much a top tier series anyway so the callback from Toriko here is a high honor that doesn’t just emulate but elevates. I had high hopes going into these episodes and not for a single second of any of these five episodes was I ever disappointed, bored, or uninterested.
Streamed By: Funimation
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