Deathmote and DBZ are titles that come to mind when asked about which manga to recommend to people. If they are looking for something deep and thought provoking then they end up going for Death Note. It is very accessible to all readers, but the manga that we are looking at today is just as accessible and I dare say that it may even be more thorough and complicated than the former. Liar Game goes all out with complex rules and several things going on at once much like Hunter X Hunter. The ending may be a bit sudden, but it was a fairly clever way to wrap up and will go down as one of the more satisfying titles. I would definitely be open to a sequel.
This adventure starts off with an unassuming Japanese citizen (Nao) who receives a black letter inviting her to the Liar Game contest. In the first round she is to be paired against her teacher. Each player starts out with one million dollars and the objective is to steal as much as possible before the round ends. Whoever has the most in the end will win. The main character doesn’t want to play this game though and she is also super gullible. Luckily, she enlists the help of a criminal genius (Akiyama) who single handily took down a large company. He agrees to help her put, but the rounds continue to get more and more difficult. Not to mention that Akiyama isn’t the only genius around. For the most part, quitting is not an option although the whole thing seems pretty illegal so I’m a little skeptical. The Liar Game officials told Nao that the cops wouldn’t help, but they can’t be trusted. Regardless, Nao ultimately declines all offers to leave anyway since she wants to save everyone.
While good Seinen titles are a little harder to find than Shonen ones, they can certainly pay off in big ways. For example, this title has no fanservice in it and very little animal violence. These two qualities can help quite a bit especially when coupled with the fact that the story is so good and well written. There are really no negatives to be found here. The threat of what may happen to the participants who lose is rather dark, but luckily it never happens and that part would also be quite the stretch as you would assume that the cops would prevent this. (Gotta factor in the plot twist as well)
While it gets very low screen time, the animal violence is definitely regrettable. It really wasn’t needed and Mice always getting the short end of a stick certainly got old a long time ago. It is hard to find the villain likable at all after pulling a stunt like this. I suppose that the art isn’t very good. Akiyama always looks dead tired and Nao tends to always have her eyes extremely wide open. These traits can be a little humorous at times and the art is never hard to read, but it could still be a lot better. This isn’t exactly Bleach level art but I wouldn’t call it much of a negative either. At the very least, it’s not hard to read. The series does have some pretty fun splash pages and exaggerated heads for when the characters are panicking as well.
What really separates Liar Game from other thrillers is how detailed and thorough all of the rounds are. There are a lot of rules and each of them build off of each other. There is always a way to win the game though so you just have to really apply yourself and think it through. Liar Game also has fun giving you incorrect solutions via the side characters which sound really good until Akiyama crushes it. Even Akiyama will occasionally get tricked as every good plan can also have a counter and he isn’t the only genius around. The plans which are not full proof can still work so long as you don’t happen to be surrounded by geniuses. A game as simple as musical chairs can quickly become very strategic as the characters analyze every aspect of it.
As with Hunter x Hunter, the characters do seem to overthink things to an extent though. After a while, you are over thinking the opponent to the point where you are just assuming that they are following your train of thought. Several of Akiyama’s plans revolve around concepts of human nature, but those don’t always hold true. His plans could have been foiled at times if more headstrong characters had shown up although most of those were weeded out early on.
As you may have surmised by now, Akiyama makes for a very good main character. Surprisingly we never get a long flashback to take a look at why he destroyed a large company. The company was corrupt, but a few lines on the subject is all that you will ever get here. That works for me to be honest since flashbacks can be annoying to read through at times. It’s good in the long run for universe building, but it can hurt the flow of a manga. Flashbacks and origin stories should be put in the back of a manga volume as opposed to being seen as normal chapters that interrupt the story. Granted, this flashback probably would have been a lot of fun since the writing has been on point for the rest of the adventure. It was not needed to cement Akiyama as a great lead though. He has no gimmicks or negative traits. He simply hatches a plan to defeat the puzzle and moves on. He has a subtle character arc as Akiyama initially makes all of his moves based on logic and calculations, but eventually starts to put a little stock into emotions. Playing on someone’s emotions is a strategy, but I don’t mean it in that way. It’s more that Nao gets him to believe in people a little more when he didn’t think much of them at first. Akiyama is very serious for 99% of the series so it is very rare to see him having any fun, but he doesn’t mind gloating a little as he explains how he won. He is pretty much a perfect main character.
On the other hand, Nao can be very annoying at times. It is great that she chooses to believe in people, but the sad truth is that a lot of people cant be trusted. Seeing her tell a bunch of strangers Akiyama’s plan was quite sad. Luckily, Akiyama is great at adapting on the fly and eventually he probably even considered the chance that she could make a mistake into his ideas. Nao is also one of the only characters I can think of at the moment to be betrayed by the same character on multiple occasions. Her naivety at the beginning is very extreme to be sure. Her character arc is about how she learns to be a little smarter and more cunning. She finally lays some traps down. She doesn’t like to use underhanded tactics and prefers not to lie, but she stops being manipulated by the rest of the cast, which was a huge improvement. I definitely think that she was a little too extreme in the beginning, but Nao does stand for all the right things. She wants to help everyone rather than just winning and escaping this tournament. Nao is definitely a nice person and now she has learned that this does not have to be synonymous with being a pushover. Nao from the end of the series is a really good character so in the end I’d say that she is likable. She is nowhere near Akiyama, but few are.
I’d also like to take a moment to give the series some major kudos for not squeezing in a romance here. Akiyama and Nao were partners from the beginning of the series to the end. They had a good dynamic and helped each other out when one of them ran into a hole. A lesser series would have immediately decided to run with this and make them lovers, but Liar Game had more restraint than that. The two are close friends, but nothing more.
Harimoto is one of the two big villains in the series. I would definitely put him under Akiyama and Yokoya when it comes to raw intelligence, but he certainly is skilled. There is a big plot twist about him towards the very end which nullifies this to an extent. It was surprising and I wouldn’t say that it was necessary, but it did make another character become more compelling. Harimoto is old so he is lucky that most of the games are not physical. One of his followers gets a large role as Nao tries to convince her to leave Harimoto. That was a subplot that I would definitely take out. It dragged on quite a bit and the follower never became a likable character.
Yokoya is the main villain and he is certainly very smart. I’d say that Akiyama is smarter as he has to win with more limitations. Yokoya is rich and he is willing to use his fellow contestants. That automatically gives him a leg up on Akiyama so when he loses, it is that much more impressive for the hero. While Yokoya makes for a very imposing villain, I wouldn’t call him a likable one. As mentioned earlier, he does go for animal violence a few times which doomed him from the start. I also didn’t really buy his final moments as it felt out of character. I suppose that he had to choose his words carefully at that moment though. He needed to save some face and this may have been the best way to do it.
Fukunaga is one of the first villains who ultimately ends up helping the heroes. He is a fan favorite judging from the comments. He is decently a smart character, but can never seem to back up his tough talk. He is constantly conceding defeat before the round is actually over and serves as the voice of doom. He resorts to being physical a lot more than the other main characters and also messes with the villains through mind games. I can’t really say that Fukunaga is my kind of character, but he’s an interesting one. At the very least, he does help Nao quite a lot during her more gullible days. There are several other supporting characters in the series, but most of them aren’t all that important aside from their roles within the game.
As there were quite a few games in the series, I thought that I should go in depth with at least one of them. There were a lot of solid ones like the Musical Chairs and the 4 Way Tower Fight, but those are actually some of the weaker ones when placed next to the other rounds. One of the best games was definitely the “Airport Showdown” level! It’s a classic game of bluffing. There are two teams, one is security and the other acts as the smugglers. Each team switches roles after each turn and the game typically has a lot of turns so there is room for the mental battles. You can choose to smuggle a maximum of 100 million or nothing. The inspector must guess how much money is in the suitcase without opening it. If there is less money than what he/she guessed, then it is all captured. If there is more money than the guess, the security team must let it through. Also, if security guesses an amount and there is no money being smuggled, then they have to reimburse the smuggler. Naturally, these rules encourage you to simply not smuggle anything so there is no chance that you will take a penalty, but it will be difficult to win that way if the other team has the same idea. This is the game where Yokoya first showed up as well.
Another wrinkle to this is the fact that there is one more way to move money around. You can take it out of your safe and hide is behind or to the side of it. That way, the money isn’t counted in your collection and you can use some more mind games on the opponent. You also have to take great care not to let the other team snag your credit card through shenanigans or the game could be lost. There are probably another 5-10 rules that I haven’t listed here so it all gets pretty overwhelming. Not to mention that you can never trust anyone in this series as they all look out for themselves first and foremost. Betrayals are one of the few constants that you can count on in this title. Most of the games are so long that they stretch out over the course of multiple days. You can imagine how taxing that can be as you have to stay alert for many hours in a row. Luckily, violence is forbidden so you don’t have to worry about being attacked while you’re asleep or anything like that. Only intelligence and wit can be used as weapons in this tournament.
There is a big twist at the end of the series, which leads into the cliff hanger that will never be resolved. It definitely comes out of nowhere and you’ll look at all the rounds in a different light. Was it a good twist? Welllllllll, I would say yes just because it creates a cool cliffhanger. The sequel series would have definitely been hype had they gone along with it. It may be a little hard to buy the fact that the author had this planned out from the get go, but nothing in the series that I can recall discredits the twist so it is plausible. I do love the fact that the twist really does ensure that calling the cops would have helped. I won’t let you readers forget this fact. Logically though, the twist is a bit of a mess as I don’t see how it would not have leaked by then. The twist wasn’t really needed and the series could have had a more exciting climax without it. The cliffhanger could have still been squeezed in.
Overall, Liar Game is definitely an all star title. The great mind games and extremely complex matches that the characters play make for an incredibly engaging read. I don’t expect that I will ever read such a complex story again. It’s the kind of title that I would have liked to have seen reach 50 or more volumes, but I realize that thinking up that many games would be difficult. Not to mention that the reasons for having more and more people show up to the rounds would probably get contrived after a while. If you have not checked this title out yet, then I would certainly recommend doing so. One thing’s for sure, you will never look at musical chairs the same way as you once did!