Liar Game

A friend recently recommended I check out the manga series Liar Game by Shinobu Kaitani.  I don’t keep up with manga much lately (though Liar Game debuted in 2005) and hadn’t heard of it, but my friend’s description of the plot sounded pretty intriguing.  I started reading, and now I’m totally hooked!

Liar Game focuses on young woman named Nao whose defining feature is that she is honest and trusting to the point of being extremely naive and gullible.  Nao finds herself roped into a mysterious high-stakes game, the Liar Game, where the winner has the chance to make millions while forcing the losers into massive debt.  Players are encouraged to lie, cheat, and steal to get the upper hand, making the ever-trusting and easily-tricked Nao the worst player and the easiest target.

Out of desperation, Nao reaches out to Shin’ichi Akiyama, a famous con artist recently released from prison, to help her form a strategy and escape the game unscathed.  Akiyama agrees, but the pair find that they they won’t get out of the game so easily.

The so-called “Liar Game” consists of several rounds, each with its own unique game.  This is where Liar Game really stands out and makes itself compelling, dealing with topics like psychology and game theory.  For example, the second round features a game called “Minority Rule” where players are asked to answer a question with a Yes or No vote.  The players who voted in the minority get to advance while those who voted in the majority are eliminated.  Liar Game really digs right in without shying away from all of the math, statistics, and decision-making strategies that arise from such a complex situation.  I don’t know much about game theory and I’m not great with numbers, so I’m usually on the same page as some of the dimmer players of the game, and that makes for a very dramatic and thrilling read since I don’t know what’s going to happen next.  On the flip-side, I imagine it’s also pretty satisfying for any smarties out there who can figure out the game-winning strategy before it’s revealed by the characters, sort of like solving a puzzle or mystery.

If you decide to check out Liar Game, don’t be put off by the sometimes less-than-subtle delivery.  Nao’s reactions are always kind of over-the-top (“I was tricked again!!!”) emphasizing her naivety, while Akiyama, probably for the sake of the audience, often explains a single concept three times over in as many pages.  Though the series deals with serious topics, it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously and readers should follow suit (just pretend you’re watching an episode of Speed Racer).  And if you find Nao a bit annoying, remember that that’s kind of the point, and take comfort in knowing that she starts to wisen up a bit by Volume 4.

Liar Game skips all the filler and formalities of most manga and instead focuses on what it’s good at: action and drama.  There are no subplots, no long explorations of character backstories, and so far no cheesy romantic encounters.  The bulk of the story just focuses on the games and how the players play them, moving quickly between rounds.  This directness makes Liar Game a super satisfying, “just one more chapter” kind of read.

It’s a great time to get caught up with Liar Game — the series just resumed with Volume 14 in February after a 1.5 year hiatus.  Liar Game has also been adapted into a live action TV series and movie, though I can’t vouch for their quality.

If you like intrigue, mystery, deception, psychology, and math/statistics/game theory puzzles, definitely give Liar Game a try!

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