I was this close to doing 20th Century Boys this week, but I figured why blow my load on my favourite manga so early? Instead, I’m going a tad bit obscure this time around, focusing on a series no one I know has ever heard of, let alone reads. Which is unfortunate because Shinobu Kaitani’s Liar Game is one of the more intellectually entertaining series in the manga market right now. What Liar Game is, is a shounen manga without magical powers or ancient ninja techniques. It’s about an entirely different kind of battle – one of intellect. One where wit and cunning plays a far greater part than brawn or chakra.
And no, it’s not as dorkishly nerdy as that sounded out loud. The series is about Nao Kanzaki, an inherently honest and timid person, who gets embroiled in something called the Liar Game Tourament. Essentially a game set up by forces unknown to exploit the worse in human nature (short of murder), she finds out that if she were to lose she’d be 100 million yen in debt. She enlists the help of expert on man Shinichi Akiyama for help when she inevitably loses that 100 million yen. From there, they get deeper and deeper into the tournament, dead set on freeing everyone from debt along the way.
Okay, man, the series sounds cheesier and cheesier as I type but it’s not! Okay, the manga doesn’t exactly have enduring characters outside of Akiyama. Even Nao, the protagonist, is a total pushover and has no presence whatsoever. Everyone is completely one note and if any one of them were to suddenly die I wouldn’t give two shits. Not even one shit, really.
But, in a weird thing to say about a manga, it’s not about the characters! It’s about the competition itself. Each stage in the Liar Game, a brand new situation occurs that forces the contestants to lie and cheat their way to the top. It’s this basis that makes it so much fun to read. You know Akiyama will eventually lead Nao to victory, but watching him go about achieving it is the riveting part. You can tell Shinobu Kaitani loves puzzles and math problems, because every round is based on Akiyama solving the problem to maximize his and Nao’s own scores.
I love brainteasers and this entire series is essentially one giant one after another. There’s no unnecessary backstory to delve into for any one character. No abused childhood, or murdered parents, or any of the other crap shounen series get bogged down into. Crap that invariably leads to chapters long exposition flashbacks that grinds the story to a stand still. Besides Akiyama’s briefly mentioned backstory, the entire series is about the game. I thought I was a fairly smart guy, but I didn’t figure out the strategy for any of the Liar Game rounds until the mangaka genoursly sits down and explains what the hell happened. Then you realize if you read the chapters again, it’s all right there.
That’s called a pay off, folks.
No, Liar Game won’t have ten chapter long mega battles. It won’t even have gut wrenching drama. What it does is challenge your mind on a constant basis, forcing you to pay attention to the details and strategies. Yeah, I know it sounds kind of lame – “oh hey, a manga about math and problem solving? Hah!” But give the series a try. It’s pretty cool and at the very least it’ll present smart things to you (unlike Bleach lately).