Everybody is talking about Squid Game, plain and simple, and when the binge-watch is done and you watched all the Youtube analysis videos, where do you turn to? “Watch Alice in Borderland!” a coworker may shout. “This is just a Battle Royale ripoff,” your old edgy friend from college might write in a Facebook post. Pushing all of that aside, Squid Game is overwhelmingly comparable to Nobuyuki Fukumoto’s Gambling Apocalypse: Kaiji, better known as Kaiji to many.
Squid Game’s director Hwang Dong-hyuk has been on the record to say that Kaiji is a direct influence on the creation of the Netflix series. With the updated translated volumes on my shelf, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “How similar are the series?”
Though Kaiji has been professionally translated before, for this piece I will be comparing Squid Game only to the information available in the first volume that Denpa released in 2019. I’m trying to avoid spoilers, even though this series is 25 years old! Without further ado, here are the glaring differences:
The Game: While Squid Game is a “one strike you’re out” situation, Gambling Apocalypse: Kaiji has many loopholes. Instead of a 6-game event, the 103 players are given four hours to play limited rock paper scissors and successfully use up all 12 of their game cards. As long as all twelve cards are properly used and the player has at least three stars (these stars represent wins), the player is golden and can get out unscathed.
However, there is the issue of one other factor: money. Obviously, the goal of Squid Game is about being the last person alive to win money but Kaiji is about paying off your loans by taking loans. If a player has extra stars they can gain more winnings from the officiants of the game or you can buy and sell your stars with the loan money.
The Money: Part of the game is you have to use money to make money. Every participant in the game obviously has debt, but before it is revealed that they will all be playing rock paper scissors, the participants are asked to take out an additional loan with very high compound interest. Part of the stressor of the game is to not only pay off your current debt, but to pay off the loan you just took out to participate in the game.
The money is also limited depending on age. People below 30 can take up to 10 million, while 30 and older can only take 5 million. Like Squid Game, age is a handicap, but in different ways. A 70-year-old can easily play rock paper scissors, but can’t necessarily bribe somebody without having the funds. Throughout the whole game, people have to worry about netting profits, which in a way makes winning even more of a daunting task. It’s not just about surviving, but about being money savvy, too.
The Characters: The most noticeable difference is the lack of female characters in the story. Squid Game makes it a point that everybody is equal in the series, however, sexism is a key factor in several of the rounds. In the tug-of-war challenge, having a woman on your team is seen as a disadvantage. When the marbles round came around, everybody assumed it would be a physical task game once again, but it was a trick. In Kaiji, though gender would not matter in the game that there are playing, there is not a single woman shown in the first volume. Debt isn’t gender-specific, but maybe the punishment of not properly completing the task is in this series.
Gambling Apocalypse: Kaiji is also a series that allows you to get into the heads of the characters. While Squid Game relies on flashbacks, actions, and one-liners to get to know the characters, Kaiji mostly focuses on the main character Kaiji and his thoughts and actions. We rarely see the big picture, so the only thoughts and actions we experience are the ones Kaiji experiences.
So far, I’m loving Kaiji. I like that the series lets you look into the characters’ strategy making, and I appreciate that the game is more about wits than just following rules. Squid Game later becomes a game of thought and perception, but Kaiji is totally a 0 to 100 experience within seconds. The only downside? I miss Sae-byeok.