Kanzaki Nao is Stupidly Honest
Finding herself caught up in the titular Liar Game, Kanzaki Nao doesn’t seem to stand a chance. She’s extremely honest and takes everyone at their word. However, she soon realizes that in order to escape this twisted game she’ll need help. Enter Akiyama, a con man who has just been released from jail. Together they teem up to take down the organization behind the game and save everyone caught up in the mess in the process.
That’s the basic idea behind the live-action adaptation of the 2005 manga series of the same title. If you are a fan of shows like Kaiji but with a more hopeful slant, then this is one you’ll want to look into. While I wasn’t a big fan of Kaiji, I am pretty big into the “mind games” genre, so naturally when my attention was drawn to Liar Game, I had to check it out.
This series was brought to my attention through a YouTube video by one of my favorite creators, Super Eyepatch Wolf. Titled, “‘Non Battle’ Battle Anime”, the video discusses shows and manga in this mind games genre. It’s an excellent video, which you should totally watch. I’ll leave it below for you. He briefly mentioned Liar Game in the video, and seeing that Crunchyroll has both seasons of it, I gave it a shot on his recommendation.
Starting the show up, I had my doubts. Kanzaki Nao is a fairly unlikable character just because of how stupid she is. Don’t get me wrong, I think honesty is an excellent policy but when folks lie to my face, especially multiple times, I’m not gonna fall for it over-and-over again… which she does, even when the same trick is employed by the same person. Additionally, the acting is way over-the-top and the editing is kind of ridiculous. That said, if you can get over the hurdle of the first few episodes, it has a charm to it.
Season 1 really opens up when Akiyama has teamed up with Nao and they move to the second round of the game. That’s where you get to meet Fukunaga who really brought the whole experience together. His character is first introduced as a main antagonist but later becomes an ally of sorts to Akiyama and Nao for the remainder of the series. He’s beyond over-the-top, but in the best way possible.
For those who have read the manga (I haven’t, but I looked into it some), Fukunaga is a trans woman but in the live-action adaptation he is decidedly male. This might be a disappointment for some, but having no real experience with the source, I never noticed this was even a change. While it would have been interesting to have a trans character in the series, I can’t really picture this character any differently than how this actor does the character.
While the mind games occur across various games, which are generally interesting, the goal of the group isn’t to win them. Rather, Nao decides she wants to save everyone from debt, which is incurred by the losers, which leads to far more complex and dynamic situations. After all, these folks are all in what’s called the “Liar Game”, lying is only natural.
Nao tries to convince others that by working together, they can all win so long as nobody aims to get ahead. Watching her struggle to make that happen while Akiyama puzzles out a way to make that happen is what makes the show interesting. Fukunaga usually throws in a wrench here-and-there, and later so do others, but seeing how these odds are overcome is really satisfying.
Throughout all this, you slowly learn more about the mysterious Akiyama and the organization behind the game. Things reach almost soap opera levels, but I”m a fan of that absurd level of storytelling, so for me, this was a big plus. The show goes at a fairly gripping pace, utilizing small cliffhangers, up until the final three episodes.
That’s where things kind of grind to a halt. Two of these three episodes are mostly recap with some story relevant bits interspersed throughout. This is something I always find overly obnoxious and really shouldn’t be a part of a series, especially one this short. Thankfully, they do away with this recap come season two.
The final episode of season 1 is actually a great ending point. It caps everything off well-enough, while still leaving room for expansion. However, if this were all there were to the series I’d say it was worth the watch. There were parts that were not great, but overall it was a fun experience that was ultimately satisfying.
Season two does exist though, and it picks up awhile after where season one ends. This season introduces Rinko, a rival to Akiyama from college. She’s the only person to have ever defeated him in a battle of psychology before. Her character is another winner alongside Fukunaga, but where his character is bombastic and overblown, she has a quiet subdued, fairly cold personality that really works.
With that they also have two tracks that tend to accompany her, one is this crazed music box while the other is this dramatic organ backing, and I love them! There was a tangible step up in production here, even if it still sometimes looked kind of amateur.
Along with this step up in quality, the editing also got way crazier. The ridiculous laughing, acting, etc… basically all of it got turned up to eleven. It might be a little distracting but I found myself really enjoying it quite a bit.
The games were pretty good in this season as well. I joked to myself that after season one there would surely be a Russian Roulette style game, and there was right away. In only 9 episodes, they packed a lot of good games into this one while only recycling one of them. Not bad!
However, my praise of the second season ends here. The big promise of this season is that Nao will reach “The Garden of Eden”, the end game of the Liar Game where she will be able to put an end to everything alongside Akiyama. You know that she will ultimately win all of the games, but the journey there is still good. The problem is in that it fails to deliver on this promise.
This is a problem I find with a lot of mind game shows that have a fall from grace for me. Often they promise this important event, and then it just never comes to pass. It is extremely disappointing and tarnishes, an otherwise, good time.
What the show does instead is opt to have Nao withdraw from the game in the final episode. While this may be a fitting emotional cap to the main conceit of the series, in that she sacrifices herself in order to save others, it leaves that key promise up in the air.
Here’s where the caveat of this statement comes into play. Crunchyroll only has season 1 and 2, but there is a finale film called Liar Game: The Final Stage. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find that anywhere legally and have yet to watch it. This supposedly brings Nao back into the show and brings and resolves things, but as it stands, these two seasons are all I have to go off of.
For the second season, I also had one other major complaint. Nao demonstrates that her kindness strategy works but in one of the more important games, things almost fall apart. However, it never should have become as desperate a situation that it does. Nao sees enough recurring characters in this game that getting everybody on board with her plan should have been fairly easy. It was the one place where the logic of the scenario kind of fell apart.
Still, this second season was a step up from season one. I’d wholly recommend it if it weren’t for the lack of an actual conclusion. That said, if you have access to the film, then this is most definitely worth your time. Even without the film, it isn’t like I regret watching it, but I would have rather taken the nice ending the first season offers over being left hanging like this.
What are your thoughts on Liar Game? Have you read the manga or watched the Korean adaptation instead? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. If you would like to support my writing here, please press the Ko-fi button below to give a small donation. Thank you so much for reading and have yourself a fantastic day!