Sup. It’s time to write something about Kaiji But Cuter again. The second volume of Gothloli Takkyuu was released mere three months after the first one, in December. Sagu-sensei’s worries about his novel’s potential proved to be completely groundless. And now, three further months later I’m done with the second volume of the series, so get your reading glasses and pingpong tables ready.
A short refresher: Osamu and Urara win against Yokogawa Azusa, sending her to Hell. However, Urara’s dad doesn’t come back even after his daughter pays off his humongous debts. Seeing no other choice, Urara loses a game of Underground Pingpong on purpose and, together with Osamu, decides to go to the mysterious place called Hell (奈落), as the only place where she might find any clues about her old man’s whereabouts. For their “last supper”, the two visit a maid cafe where the girl used to work… I don’t think I’ve written anything about Yuu in the previous blogpost. Sawada Yuu is a complete non-character who appears for around five minutes. She’s Urara’s cute friend who works in a table tennis-themed maid cafe, so she got a colored illustration only because of that. Since Gothloli Takkyuu has like three named characters, I think she deserves more screen time… The novel starts in earnest when Sasajima picks the couple up and has them take some sleeping pills.
What kind of place might Hell be? I imagined a dark Kaiji-style underground facility – 地の獄, but with pingpong. However, Hell proves to be an unpredictably strange place, and yet a familiar one. After he wakes up alone, Osamu is given a tablet and steps into a high-tech utopia of sorts – a school-like facility with walls painted white, populated by people glued to their not-iPads. Not hellish at all, at least at the first glance. Osamu unwittingly lets a fellow Hell resident know he’s a newbie and gets attacked. Thankfully, he’s saved in the nick of time from having his tablet stolen. Saved by… Yokogawa Azusa, the sadistic gothloli from the first volume, an old enemy. Soon after, they find Urara as well, and the three form an alliance in which Yokogawa serves as the Virgil to Osamu’s Dante Alighieri.
Rule of Hell number one: money is everything. When you run out of money, you’re kicked out of Hell to… somewhere. But, considering it’s such a valuable resource, surprisingly, money has no physical form. Currency exists only as a variable you can look up on your tablet. There’s plenty of ways you can spend it on, but very few ways to earn it. By attending lectures on economy and pingpong practise, you can earn up to 10 bucks daily. That’s not much. Thrifty living is an absolute necessity here, so the residents of Hell quickly turn into mental Third World kids who think buying a burger is the pinnacle of luxury. Everpresent poverty forces people into herds to raise their probability of survival and do stuff like sharing one table tennis racquet between several people. Hell forces you to powergame the system and think five times about your every move, and the prisoners who do it best end up at the top of the local social ladder. There are other ways to make money, the most obvious one being challenging others to pingpong duels. Which doesn’t happen a lot, however.
And that’s because of rule of Hell number two: the eBay-style mutual review system. How do you maintain peace and order in a permanently hungry hickville like Hell? Seems like some wannabe Zuckerberg thought it would be a good idea to put all his guinea pigs in a giant mutual checkmate through “reputation points”. Do something bad and everybody else will mercilessly exclude you. It shouldn’t be shocking that this system is flawed and very exploitable… Yokogawa Azusa tells the couple the story of how Hell’s been treating her: the girl’s awful personality had her start shit with some powerful people and soon, her reputation points hit rock bottom, depriving her of opportunities to break through the glass ceiling of low income. In exchange for keeping her in his friend circle, Yokogawa offers Osamu a plan on how to climb a few notches up the pyramid that is Hell, one based on her unfortunate experience, and possibly leave this prison behind someday. The most important part of the plan is to diligently save money for a long time and then spend it all at once on one, unmissable attempt to make it big. The official tutorial on how the place works, available to read on your tablet, doesn’t say how to get out of Hell, but… Precedents exist – a few people have made their way out of this “pingpong-themed reeducation facility”. If Yokogawa is to be believed, Urara’s dad was one of them. Saiki Kazura played the game of life in some very smart, ingenious ways and was somehow “noticed” by the invisible gods of Hell and got released recently. Wonder what he’s doing now.
Hell could be called a microcosm of society, or a large-scale social experiment which might become the norm in the outer world a few years later, what with all the VR headsets and doing absolutely everything through your mobile device. In many aspects, it’s not unlike the regular society. Although Osamu does say at a point that sometimes Hell seems preferable to what passes as normalcy outside of the facility. It’s much less chaotic. I gotta say, Gothloli Takkyuu v2 is worth reading, if only for all the cool social commentary. Without it, it would be just an entertainment novel.
Three years later, having persevered through squalor together for a long time, Osamu the trader, Urara the table tennis-playing ahokko and Yokogawa the haughty mastermind decide the time has come to make their move and look for opponents. However, exceedingly afraid of falling victim to the “stick out, get hammered” policy, Yokogawa separates Urara and Osamu for a while before the D-Day. Urara takes it badly – having been alone, deprived of her beloved Osamu makes her absolutely crash and burn in the pingpong game. She loses a battle she could have won in her usual state. When all hope is seemingly lost, Yokogawa reveals her Plan B. Osamu and Urara are almost out of money, but Azusa is not. The girl challenges her old enemies responsible for her initial defeat: Alma and Elma, the twins you might have seen in some promotional materials for this novel. They play Gothloli Pingpong an interesting way: both can serve as either the player or the trader, so they can switch seats if one of the girls gets tired. If that wasn’t enough, one is lefthanded and one’s righthanded. Their playstyle is all about cruelly toying with the opponents. The game begins. Yokogawa is having trouble, at least until Urara decides to take her place. Urara destroys the twins, and it turns out Yokogawa’s been playing badly on purpose to agitate her team’s best player. After the victory, Osamu and his crew are notified by their tablets that they received a “Blue Coin” – one of five achievements awarded for impressive feats performed in Hell. Seems like there is a clearly defined way to get out of Hell after all.
And so ends Gothloli Takkyuu v2. Just like the first volume, it’s super interesting and reads very fast – an example to follow for all pop-lit. Sadly, there is no set date for the third volume to come out yet. In the epilogue, the never-before named little sister of the protag appears. Sakai Riko. Can’t wait to read about a seven year-old destroying people in pingpong soon.