Starting of my drama reviews with the first Asian drama I watched… Liar Game. This Japanese drama consists of a first season (11 episodes) (2007), a second season (9 episodes) (2009), and a movie (Liar Game: The Final Stage) (2010), which concludes the series, and is based on the manga of the same name. There is apparently a sequel series, but I haven’t watched it (same male character, different female character). The drama stars Erika Toda and Shota Matsuda as the mains.
What’s it about?
The main character, Nao Kanzaki, is an extremely honest and naive person. She is sucked into a secret tournament called the ‘Liar Game’, where the objective is to cheat others out of money. Contestants are given money that is to be re-collected by game officials at a later point in time, but if they lose any money to the other contestants, they have to pay the debt back from their personal account. If a contestant gains money from another player, they can keep it as their own.
In the first round, Nao is cheated from her money by her former teacher. Desperate to get it back, she seeks the help of Shinichi Akiyama, a genius con man who has literally just been released from jail. Hesitant to assist Nao initially, Akiyama is eventually moved by Nao’s honesty and helps her win, ensuring her continuation in the game. As the game continues, Nao is increasingly upset by the lying and cheating in the game, believing that people should just be honest. Meanwhile, Akiyama discovers that the creators of the game are involved in his tragic past. The pair decides to team up and end the game for good, which involves going all the way to the final stage.
The first and second seasons both involve 4 games, whilst the movie is focused on the final game (as suggested by the title).
I think one of the major positives of this drama is the atmosphere of the show… a lot of the time, it feels like a theatrical production, with over-the-top settings and acting. This gives the whole thing a very fun vibe, resulting in a number of chuckles along the way. There is a hint of romance as well, which I think is nice, and best left as undeveloped as it is. Even with this fun set-up, however, the series can go from comical to serious in a blink of the eye, demonstrating the thrilling and serious scenes really well, and making good use of its soundtrack. Take note, that the movie is a lot less comical than the two seasons, but that’s pretty much to be expected.
The two main characters are definitely strengths in this series. Both Erika Toda and Shota Matsuda do a great job, portraying Nao and Akiyama perfectly. While in the first season the two mains seem very stereotypical; Nao foolishly trusts everyone and Akiyama always manages to save the day through his unmatched intelligence, the second season manages to address these short comings. In the second season, Nao proves that she isn’t such a push-over, and can develop strategies of her own. In the same season, a new character, Ryou Katsuragi, is a good rival for Akiyama’s intelligence, not only matching it, but perhaps surpassing it?
Liar Game’s best strength, however, is the actual games that the characters play throughout. If not for the insane amount of money at hand, these games would be pretty interesting to play (Liar Game themed party, anyone?). The games are ingenious and entertaining, at times creating edge-of-your seat excitement to see who wins. I felt encouraged to try and figure out a winning strategy to each of the games, although I’m pretty sure I’d end up in debt. A number of the games do get quite complicated, especially the one in the final movie, but they are presented in an easy-to-understand way, as are the strategies that different players use to try and win the game.
Finally, I like the fact that the series touches on something more meaningful than the plot- the ability of people to deceive, betray, and purposefully hurt others compared to the ability of people to sacrifice themselves for others. It puts a little more depth into the whole series.
Before each episode there’s a recap of the previous episode, which is great if you’re taking your time to go through the series. However, this makes the episodes drag a little, and makes it feel quite repetitive. Because of this, the pacing of the plot is quite slow towards the middle of both seasons.
A number of the characters tend to get on your nerves. I’ve already discussed how Akiyama and Nao are developed beyond the stereotypical characters above. However, Nao’s character is annoying in another way… just how stupid she is during the games. I understand that she’s meant to be foolishly trusting… but come one! This is especially obvious when it comes to Yuji Fukunaga, who, much to my disgust, is in both seasons and the final movie. It’s incredibly frustrating to watch sometimes!
Finally, the only other negative others might find with this series is how over-the-top some scenes and characters are, or the believability of Akiyama’s ability to solve the games. However, I think this all just contributes to the theatrical atmosphere of the show, and without Akiyama… well, we wouldn’t have a plot.
Anything else I should consider?
A note on the acting- apart from the major characters, it can be… sub-standard, to put it politely. I don’t really consider this a negative, though, because most of these characters are once-off, and it doesn’t really detract from the value of the show, but I still think you should be aware of it going into the series.
Story: 8/10: Each game is interesting and full of suspense, and the overall plot of Akiyama and Nao’s attempt to shut down the game keeps it moving at a fast pace.
Characters: 7/10: The two mains are excellent, although a number of other characters are lacking.
This is an excellent drama, with plenty of funny and suspenseful scenes, as well as an interesting look at trust and betrayal. Although the middle of each seasons drag, they begin and end brilliantly, and the final movie is a fitting conclusion. I recommend this drama to anyone who enjoys mystery or psychological thrillers. I give it a well-deserved 8/10.