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A Manga Review: Liar Game

Updated on July 18, 2013

Liar Game is a manga made by Shinobu Kaitani, first published in 2005. It found its place among the mangas depicting battles of strategy and psychology rather physical force, and Liar Game may be one that has taken this concept the farthest. Here there is no magical powers like in Death Note, no criminal to hunt down after the deductions have been made. It is a group of people playing games for money, always struggling to abuse the game's rules the most. Its appeal is definitely watching just how many strategies can be created from such simple games, and along the way there are also some interesting themes surrounding lies and trust.

First Game

Liar Game begins with a woman, an innocent and trusting creature. She mysteriously gets, not an invitation to join, but 100 million yen and a notice that she is participating in the “Liar Game”, without ever having had any contact with it before. She is easily tricked into joining the game, and quickly loses all the money when trying to leave it. Horrified at the thought of having to pay back the money she lost, she calls for a newly released swindler called Shinichi Akiyama, a cynical realist, and the Sherlock Holmes to which Nao would soon become the Watson.

Akiyama easily manages to get back Nao's money, and they each go their way, Akiyama refusing to take any compensation for his trouble. But Nao is once again reeled into the Liar Game for a second round, joining the other winners from the first round. Akiyama, feeling protective of the young woman who can not doubt other people, also manages to get in. This is were the manga really begins, and we get our first real competition.

Second Game

The games in Liar Game are often impressively simple, and this one is no exception. Minority Rule is presented as a reversed democracy, and the rules are such:

A yes or no question is given, and the players each put a note with their name and their answer in a box. What the question is is of no consequence since you are free to lie. The administrators then count how many answered what, and the side with the most votes loses. This is repeated until one or two players remains(a minority can only exist with a minimum of three people), and these are the winners. There is six hours between each question, and no violence is allowed.

At first it may seem impossible to come up with a good strategy here, and a lot of the games give the impression that everything is random. Only a few players manage to see through the rules and find the tricks. The majority of the players are pawns going along with the more intelligent players without much thought, and being examples of how most people would act in the situations they are placed in. I will not go into what strategies Akiyama and his opponents use, but it is impressive how far it goes, how many times they turn the tables on each other.

Third Game and Beyond

The third game, called Contraband game, is where the fun really starts. The rules here are more complex, but we finally get the introduction of a mind equal to Akiyama, called Yokoya. He is a classical Moriarty, equal in intelligence but ruthless and fittingly creepy. His most interesting trait is his obsession with controlling the other players through fear and misdirection. In many ways he is not only a reversed mirror image of Akiyama, but of Nao as well.

It is in this part that Nao first blossoms. In the first games her function is mostly to have someone Akiyama can talk to and explain his strategies to. Now, however, we start exploring the themes of the story, doubting versus trusting, controlling versus joining as equals. Nao with her stone-written morals stands in firm opposition to Akiyama and Yokoya, who both manipulate others. Akiyama himself seem disturbed by how similar to Yokoya he is, and more and more turns to Nao for moral guidance.

Nao believes that the secret to winning the Liar Game is to trust others, to build bonds, and her point are made rather cleverly. They never feel forced like some after-school special, instead the games which seems to be designed to cause discord between the players, can often be solved by banding together and helping each others. Nao is not as wide-eyed as before, she has learned to doubt and take a look at other people, and people start depending on her. Nao has managed to win many of the players' trust, and that means they are more willing to join with her and take risks to help each other. While she seemed passive and unimportant in the early parts of the manga, she has now become a key player.

Final thoughts

Liar Game is an interesting manga, filled with strategies and intrigues and themes relating to how we depend on people in society. The art is stylized, but it is easier to tell people apart than in many other manga, even the minor characters are easily recognizable. The artist seems to count on this, as the lesser characters are often referred to by their physical appearance rather than their names. Personally I would recommend Liar Game, although it may put of some in that our heroes spends much more time talking about what should be done and why than they spend actually doing it. If that does not seems to off-putting, check it out.

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