Kakegurui’s Yumeko Proves Likeable Protagonists Don’t Have to Be Sympathetic

Kakegurui puts a new spin on the "elite high school" concept in anime. A spin on the roulette wheel, that is. In this series, the prestigious Hyakkaou Academy instructs the sons and daughters of the world's business tycoons how to gamble, evaluate the odds and strike when the opportunity for fabulous wealth presents itself. The school is turned upside down, however, when the new girl, Yumeko Jabami, arrives. She's here to make waves.

In everyday life, Yumeko is a polite, friendly and enthusiastic student who can easily make friends and get along with others. But she has a monstrous side. Yumeko is absolutely addicted to the terrifying thrill of gambling, and she doesn't feel alive until she puts everything on the line. She is not sympathetic this way, but she is absolutely captivating, and that is just what Kakegurui, and perhaps more series like it, needs.

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The Spectacle Of Yumeko Jabami

Yumeko Jabami scorns most classic shonen protagonist tropes, such as the power of friendship, training montages and a tragic backstory. Instead, her backstory is largely mysterious, since her origins don't even matter. What is important is what Yumeko will do now, and indeed, Yumeko tends to live in the moment. She doesn't dwell on the past or dream of the future. Instead, Yumeko is starving for the next gambling thrill, will accept any challenge and take on the highest stakes. It's the only time she feels truly alive, leading to her demanding serious competition. In some ways, she's really more like a wandering antihero or villain, someone who seeks a worthwhile challenge rather than an opportunity to save the world. After all, in Kakegurui, students are aiming to protect their pocketbooks and reputation, not the fate of humanity.

Yumeko is clearly intended to be a spectacle, like a circus performer, rather than a heartfelt hero. And in the mind-bending, cruel world of Hyakkaou Academy, that's just what Yumeko needs to be. She is driven entirely by her carnal desires, and she doesn't even have an end goal in mind. What is more, Yumeko steals every scene with her flamboyant (and almost grotesque) expressions, bloodthirsty gambling strategies and taunting, adding flair to every scene and upping the stakes ever higher.

Yumeko acts not to connect the audience, but to give them the performance of a lifetime. Very little of what Yumeko does, says or desires is meant to be sympathetic, but that's entirely by design. But even with that in mind, the antihero Yumeko does have some redeeming qualities, which are important to keep the narrative balanced. She's a firecracker, not a monster.

Yumeko's Noble Side In A Sea Of Gambling Sharks

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Despite it all, Yumeko has her soft side, and she's not afraid to show it. One of Yumeko's most notable attributes is her strong sense of sportsmanship, as she prizes gambling as a way for two parties to give it their all and fairly determine who is stronger, smarter and bolder. To Yumeko, a rigged or one-sided game is pointless -- she can't stand bullies of any sort. If the opponent stands no chance against her, then Yumeko won't gamble at all, since crushing an inferior serves only to provide cheap gratification to the bully, and that's not what Yumeko longs for.

Conversely, she won't bother to play an unwinnable game, since there's no tension in whether or not Yumeko can win. Ideally, a game of chance involves steep odds and narrow, but real routes to victory. Yumeko's gambling spirit is only satisfied when she pursues the narrow but alluring path to victory. Whether she can pull it off is left to chance. She does her best, then lets the odds handle the rest.

Yumeko has also acted out of kindness more than once, especially where Hyakkou's "housepet" system is concerned. In this school, indebted students are treated more like cats or dogs, and are humiliated day after day. Yumeko finds this highly distasteful, and she sabotages the system by uplifting her housepet friends and giving them the courage to stand up to their tormentors. When Yumeko herself was (briefly) a housepet, she tried to lean into it and soon gambled her way out of debt.

Yumeko is also quick to admire and befriend the school's most capable and noble-hearted students, extending the hand of friendship to the prideful and ambitious Mary Saotome, for instance. Mary found this odd at first, but she learned to see Yumeko as a worthwhile ally. Yumeko is also quite fond of her friend Ryota Suzui. More than once, she empowered these friends, from Suzui to Mary and Itsuki Sumeragi. That, combined with Yumeko's sense of sportsmanship, makes her better balanced as a heroine and compensates for her wild side. Though she's not entirely relatable, anyone can understand Yumeko's discretionary kindness and sense of fairness, even if they've never visited a blackjack table before.

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