Liar Game

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Written by Shinobu Kaitani (also the author of One Outs), Liar Game is a manga and drama series about the struggles of Nao Kanzaki against a mysterious and nefarious organization called the Liar Game Tournament Office that places innocent people through psychological games using their debt as bait. All its members wear masks and any participants of the game are free to drop out, assuming they pay their debt which the game forced upon them. With debt that frequently is in the 100 million yen range and quite often more, it's no small deal. Said organization will also collect the debt "any way possible..."

Using the help of recently released conman/genius/ChessMaster Shinichi Akiyama, Nao seeks to rid herself of debt and also save those who are participating in the games. Expect all all kinds of plans and cunning to apply here, as it is a Battle Royale of wits.

This story has a prequel called Liar Game-Roots Of A, which has a one-shot chapter that deals with the backstory of Akiyama and contains several other unrelated one-shots.

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Tropes used in Liar Game include:
  • Absurdly High Stakes Game
  • Anti-Hero: Fukunaga in the second revival round.
  • Attractive Bent Gender: When Fukunaga gets dolled up, he's pretty much the hottest woman in the series.
  • Awesomeness By Analysis: "Doubt them."
    • And she did.
  • Bag of Holding: Yokoya carries around one hell of a lot of cash in that little black bag of his, doesn't he? You might think he simply carries round lots of bags instead, but he's a little bit on the puny side...
  • Batman Gambit: Before it dissolves into a Gambit Pileup between Akiyama and Yokoya, the third round begins with a series of these simpler gambits.
  • Bare Your Midriff: Fukunaga.
  • Battle Couple: Despite not actually physically fighting together, Nao and Akiyama make one amazing team of wits and skill.
  • Beware the Honest Ones: Nao Kanzaki is fully capable of deception once she has sufficient reason and a plan to back her up, either hers or someone else's. She actually ropes Fukunaga into helping her win her match in the second Revival Round, and during the Pandemic Game, she cheerfully lies to Yokoya about who is in which examination room so that Yokoya's attempt at bribery hits Akiyama and Akagi instead.
  • Big No: A lot. Some of them are quite impressive.
  • Blinding Bangs: It seems like Akiyama has this in his panels sometimes.
  • Book Ends: The J-Drama ends with Nao asking Akiyama again whether being foolishly honest is a bad thing, showing that she hasn't changed at all over the series.
    • Note this only applies if you're looking at the first Liar Game drama; it's popularity has now spawned a Liar Game 2 and a finale movie, where Nao is acknowledged to have grown.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: Played straight in the first round. Invoked in the third round, whose scenario involved smugglers sneaking money past customs in briefcases.
    • Also averted in several rounds, where the money is given in the form of rare gems (on a nameplate), M-tickets (check-like objects), or poker chips.
  • Butt Monkey: Forli-san (dealer of Pandemic Game) for the LGT Office, on occassion.
  • Character Development: Nao, who Took A Level In Chessmaster
  • Chessmaster: Akiyama, Yokoya
    • Musical Chairs has Harimoto (waiting to see how that round finishes), and Young Jump, albeit acting as Akiyama's proxy.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Yokoya. This trope also includes Harimoto during the fourth round.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Nao.
  • Combat Commentator: Several in most games, but especially the third round and the second revival round; used to explain what the chessmasters are doing.
  • Convenient Miscarriage: "Office Lady" Mikamoto had a affair with her boss and got pregnant. It's stated that she lost the child.
  • Conviction by Counterfactual Clue: Subverted: Akiyama makes up a bunch of "psychology facts" about what people do when they're telling lies as part of plan to unravel Yokoya's phony psychic abilities.
  • Crash Into Hello: Nao and Akiyama's first meeting.
  • Cult: Lead by Harimoto, he teaches that the human race bred with demons which made humans evil, so only the purer humans can get in the cult (they classify with demonic dominant and demonic recessive for the Mendel enthusiasts). Ironically, one of the "wise ones" (Yukiko, the Ponytail), thought Nao was evil, especially when she heard about Nao's honest intentions and figured it was a lie. Also, Harimoto is supposed to be 10,000 years old and Yukiko is supposed to be 500 years old ("by virtue of her wisdom").
  • Curb Stomp Battle: The second revival rounds 24-chamber Russian Roulette. Fukunaga was crushing her opponent quite handily until Nao convinced her to tie the game on purpose.
  • Death by Origin Story - Both of Akiyama's parents were gone by the end of his backstory, and Nao's mother at the end of hers.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Played straight, deconstructed, then reconstructed again. In 3rd round, the team consists of people Nao and Akiyama plundered in the Revival game. Everyone, who had seen Nao's true character in Revival game (she saves the only person who was mildly nice to her by letting him drop out safely) agrees to work with them. Then, Yokoya, Magnificent Bastard he is, manages to cause a rift in the team. The team only held on because of Nao's kindness.
    • Nastily subverted with Yokoya. Those he defeated in the first revival round did join his side, but they weren't in any sense his friends.
  • Did You Actually Believe? - Oftentimes, players would use this line to their opponents, after lying to them or betraying them. After all, this is a game where you lie, so it is Justified.
  • Disappeared Dad - Akiyama's father had died in an accident when he was a child.
  • Divided We Fall: Happens frequently in the third round due to Akiyama and Nao's teammates being self-serving, not-terribly-bright cowards. Nao sees a larger version of this as the entire point of the Liar Game - everyone can avoid falling into debt, but only if they all stop struggling together. This happens most directly in the second Revival Round, in which the players can actually make a net profit if they call a truce and thus stop the dealer from having an opportunity to reclaim chips.
  • Dropped a Bridget On Him: Fukunaga actually pulls this off as a plot twist.
  • Driven to Suicide: Akiyama's mother in his backstory.
    • A couple members in the Harimoto cult were going to kill themselves but then they met Harimoto...
  • Dumb Is Good: Subverted with Nao. Early on it's very easy to believe she's either stupid or naive. As the story continues, however, things like scheming with Fukunaga and not informing Akiyama indicate that she can't be dumb - she handles statistics information she's taught well and can speak through it with other people, not to mention the fact that she takes advantage of her innocent and naive demeanour to trap another competitor - then shows how her gambit also traps the person she used to set it up.
  • Dynamic Entry - Right when Nao lost hope in the first Revival Round, having been deceived by Fukunaga and abandoned by the other competitors, Akiyama appears from the window, which is definitely not on the first floor.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Nao returns a 100 yen coin to the police. Akiyama dons a disguise and tricks reporters into chasing after some other guy.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Fukanaga snapped at one teammate who suggested that Nao should be the one to give up her seat in the Musical Chairs round, angrily pointing out that it's unfair to put Nao in that tight spot when she isn't in the room in the first place.
    • Actually, Fukunaga was upset because she'd have earned more money with Nao's victory then anyone else's.
    • Also subverted by Yokoya. At one point, he's seen reading a copy of Mein Kampf. He mentions to an aide that though Hitler's speeches and rhetoric are study-worthy, some of his actions were despicable. What actions are these? Committing suicide before his plan was complete.
  • Evil Gloating
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Yokoya simply cannot understand why Nao and Akiyama wants to save everyone from the game and pay off their debts.
  • Evil Counterpart: Yokoya to Akiyama, and Harimoto to Nao.
  • Fan Service: Nao's bra size certainly has been increasing as time goes on...
    • I thought it was large to begin with...
      • Given the type of series this is, couldn't this be interpreted as her gaining boobs of steel as she gets more and more competent?
    • Akiyama shirtless probably counts.
    • Fukunaga has the Most Common Superpower; outdoing most other cast members.
  • Flash Back: Used during explanations to describe any backroom dealings during the game.
  • Fiction 500: The LGT office, which has enough cash to loan out 100 million yen simultaneously to hundreds of players.
    • The games' spaces are not cheap, either. Palaces, high technology, islands. Actually, they often admit that places are on rent (or squatted, possibly) and not their own, but still there are tons of cash spent around.
    • It was mentioned earlier that the LGT Offices would recover their debts by "any means." Might they be renting these palaces/islands/etc. from defeated players as a means of recovering said debts?
  • Flaw Exploitation: Every successful player does this. Even Nao.
  • Flunky Boss: Harimoto uses the Undying Loyalty of his followers to ensure that he always has a stable of allies who will support him without question.
  • Freudian Trio:
    • Nao (Superego)
    • Akiyama (Ego)
    • Fukunaga (Id)
  • Freud Was Right: The fact that Akiyama is so attached to Nao due to her being incredibly similar to his mother - both in looks, and personality. Yikes.
  • Fortune Teller: Harimoto started as one.
  • Gambit Pileup: The third game, Contraband due to the moves and expectations made between Yokoya and Akiyama. It gets complex fast.
    • This is partially due to two revelations midway through the match: (a), that the optimal outcome of this game is not to win but to lose with more money, and therefore (b) each team should really be trying to channel their money into an ATM to which they don't have direct access...
    • The game for the fourth round, Musical Chairs, has three (Harimoto), possibly four (Young Jump) chessmasters vying for power. Young Jump turns out to be serving as a proxy for Akiyama
      • The phrase "The tables have turned" appear a lot in that round.
  • Good Is Not Dumb: Nao starts off extremely naive, honest and easily manipulated. As the game continues, however, we see that she is a lot smarter than she appears.
  • Gratuitous English: "Liar Game." "Money." "Doubt."
  • Hannibal Lecture: Guaranteed at least once by any Magnificent Bastard in the series, and Akiyama's quite fond of them as well. Without it, half the plot would go unexplained.
  • Idiot Ball: Used occasionally, whether to simply provide someone clueless to whom the Combat Commentator can explain the situation or for actual plot purposes.
  • I Know You Know I Know: The third game...see the pileup below.
  • I Lied: Get said countless times in various forms, mostly using the phrase "This is the Liar Game; it's a game where you lie."
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: The fact that Yuji knew that the stolen money was in the form of a check rather than cash told Akiyama that she was Mr. X.
  • In Medias Res: (Nao's perspective)
  • I Will Definitely Protect You: Akiyama to Nao in the second revival round.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Akiyama.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: Without a doubt the most important trope of the series. That's how Akiyama manipulates others. He uses their knowledge, or lack of it, at his advantage. That's also why everyone feels trapped in the games of the LGT. No one really knows what happens to the people who lose the games, and no one really want to find out.
  • Kick the Dog: Yokoya opts to squeeze hamsters instead.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Akiyama to a certain extent.
  • Loophole Abuse: Frequent source of Akiyama's Crowning Moment of Awesome.
  • Lost Him in a Card Game: Implied; the LGT makes a few vague comments about the money being paid back one way or another, and though this method is not stated outright, the amounts of money being wagered are far too high to be paid off through ordinary means.
  • Love Triangle: Apparently, there's one building up now between Nao, Akiyama, and Fukunaga. It's pretty obvious that Akiyama only regards Fukunaga's feelings with awkwardness, but it's unclear how he feels about Nao...
  • Malevolent Masked Men
  • Manipulative Bastard: Harimoto's modus operandi
  • Man Behind the Man Akiyama does this in the musical chairs round, proving to be the true mastermind behind the Extra Alliance.
    • "Artlier-San," is the name of the man behind the corporation (Ch 140). He's in a cloak and mask.
  • Missing Mom - Nao's mother died when she was one.
  • Moral Dissonance: Nao is tricked, in more than a few occasions, by someone who turns on their heel and highlights just how much of a jerk they are. Immediately. Nao, when she tricks someone, is an angel descending from heaven with the keys to economic freedom in one hand and the great chain in the other. This is perhaps best noted as part of the game's Gray and Gray Morality.
    • The difference is; The ones who tricks Nao usually will happily gloat about it to the point of making us sick, while Nao, even after tricks people, will always be honest with her real intention: to save everyone. Oh, and Nao is indeed cute - so it seems that the core of it isn't 'lying is bad' as much as 'don't be a douche.'
    • Further, the people that Nao tricks never suffer any ill effects - Nao and Akiyama always pay off all their debts afterward. Unless the subject was greedy and looking to turn a profit, being tricked by Nao gives them exactly what they wanted in the first place.
  • Nebulous Evil Organisation: The Liar Game Corporation, who regularly lends the participants sums upwards of 100 million yen (about US $1.5 million). Mind you, everyone has to pay it back eventually, but still...
    • Just think of the money needed for the first round, assuming the claim that there were 100,000 participants was true. If play begins simultaneously for all players, 100,000 participants have US $1.5 million each, which is about US $1.5 trillion.
      • So that's where all the bailout money went!
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Only once or twice: "Fine, I'll go back and explain things since you're slow, and for our readers, since they didn't see what happened."
  • Not So Harmless: Young Jump in the Musical Chairs game. He manages to gain complete control of the voting system despite having already lost.
    • Akiyama was actually the one who came up with the entire plan though.
    • Nao herself is this. Many characters point out that she is too naive to stand a chance in the Liar Game. Later, she becomes one of the most important players.
  • Oh Crap: Every Unwitting Pawn when they realize it.
  • Opt Out: The LGT relies on people doing this to make their profits. We think. Nao hopes.
  • Out-Gambitted: Kikuchi in the second revival round.
    • In the third round, Akiyama can seem this way. Even though he thinks he's won, the final result of his three-volume battle with Yokoya was that he and Nao were each put into four hundred million yen of debt, while Yokoya walked away with a massive profit - a complete and total loss, if you were keeping score with currency. As the later manga indicates, though, Akiyama's keeping score with debt, trying to make it economically unfeasible for the LGT to continue, by being one person holding several trillion yen in debt. Yokoya met a conventional winning condition for that game - walking away with a lot of money in his pocket - but Akiyama and Nao achieved their objective too - to advance in the game. Not that it's not a grudge-builder.
  • The Plan: Every game involves this trope, in some form.
  • Ping-Pong Naivete: Nao. She gets better, and even gets a Crowning Moment or two.
  • Prequel: The manga short Roots of A looks at Akiyama during his senior year of college.
  • Restored My Faith in Humanity: Part of the Defeat Means Friendship package, such as Nao's victory over Fujisawa Kazuo in the first round.
  • Retcon: In the first ten episodes of the Drama's first season, the LGT Office is vague and mysterious, just like in the Manga, with no leader in sight. The eleventh episode plugs a man named Hasegawa into the role at every turn, rewriting the reason why Nao and Akiyama were even thrown into the Liar Game. And THEN, the second season reveals that Hasegawa wasn't even the creator of it; he just invested a lot of money, despite the first season stating specifically that he was, Leronira coming to him for instructions.
  • Russian Roulette: The second Revival Round has a (harmless) variant of this.
  • Schedule Slip: The manga went on a hiatus for about a year and a half.
    • Then it came back, took frequent breaks, and went on hiatus again.
  • Schoolyard Bully All Grown Up: Yokoya for Kikuzawa (and, indeed, Kikuzawa's entire school).
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules: Nao and Akiyama run on this, constantly giving back their large winnings and incurring massive debts of their own to save the opponents they just defeated.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money: Yokoya's last trick up his sleeve in the Pandemic game. It backfires spectacularly.
  • Ship Tease: "Basically, I'm just another one of Kanzaki Nao's belongings."
    • Not to mention this little scene where Akiyama takes Nao's hand to demonstrate something. "Will you do the honours?" She does mention that she felt shy when he took her hand.
    • Right when it seemed all hope was lost to Nao in the first revival round, Akiyama came to her rescue and let her cry into his shirt.
    • There is the panel where Nao looks concerned and wonders whether Akiyama went to sleep from exhaustion during the fourth round's night break.
    • The fact that especially in the beginning, he would always come to her rescue and help her out with little to no profit to himself.
  • Shout-Out: In the first Revival Round, one player talks about the Lycaons, a fictional baseball team from One Outs, another manga by Kaitani.
  • Shown Their Work: It's obvious the author looks very deeply at each game.
  • Sorting Algorithm of Evil: The first round's major opponent is Nao's middle school teacher who's about as clever as a normal person. The second round and revival round have Fukunaga, while the third round's is Yokoya. After a short break for the second revival round, the opponent is Yokoya and finally the Big Bad Duumvirate of Yokoya and Harimoto.
  • Spanner in the Works: Akiyama sees Nao as this in regards to the Liar Game's objective to make money.
    • The "Extra Alliance" in the Musical Chairs game throws a major wrench into the until-then three way battle with Harimoto, Yokoyo, and Akiyama.
  • The Cake Is a Lie: Yokoya enforces a points-based loyalty scheme during the Contraband Game. He encourages the members of his team to spy on one another and report disloyalty; those who score the highest points will be given money as their reward, with those at the top getting enough to cancel their (large) debts. Fukunaga spots that Yokoya is probably not keeping count at all, and is just telling everyone they are hovering around 4th place to spur them into spying on one another and feeding Yokoya information.
  • The Magic Poker Equation: Justified; because of the special seventeen-card decks being used, the weakest possible hand in the entire game is a pair of Jacks, so it's not surprising that the players routinely pull off amazing hands especially once Kikuchi starts watching the shuffling to put the Joker into his hand every time, guaranteeing a three-of-a-kind or better. Then by the ninth hand, Akiyama figures out how to guarantee a four-of-a-kind. The explanation after the game is mind-blowing.
  • The Nicknamer: In the Round 4 Preliminary, the LGT gives all the players a nickname to make it easier for them to keep track of them.
  • The Omniscient Council of Vagueness: Leronira and the other LGT Dealers act like this in their backroom discussions.
  • The Reveal: The manga usually needs an entire chapter for Akiyama to explain how he managed to do something amazing such as how to get four-of-a-kind guarenteed in every hand during the second revival game - and to do so with the kind of information presented as available is awesome.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Considering all the Second Round women are just pawns eliminated immediately, Nao is a sole girl who only encounters one developed female over the course of three Rounds, plus two Revival Rounds. Compared to twenty-nine men over the same five games. Then there's the eight new men brought in at the Fourth Round Qualifier. Fukunaga is revealed to be a MtF transsexual but is still treated as male by most of the characters.
    • Lampshaded when Nao's nickname in the Fourth Round Qualifier is "The Only Woman."
    • The main Fourth Round (including Fukunaga's qualifiers) has some women. Shady-looking women. Women that are, for all intents and purposes, mindless puppets of the new antagonist introduced in that round.
  • Took A Level In Planning: Nao. Fukunaga comments on this in the fourth round break.
    • "...Is this really the same Kanzaki Nao who easily got duped by me just a while ago?"
    • And then Yokoya, of all people. He went from scarily competent to accurately predicting the game of the third revival round, right down to the exact name and workings.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth - Akiyama's mother was a very kind and honest person, just like Nao. Despite not having lots of money, she worked day and night to pay for her son's education. Until she fell ill and an old friend of hers deceptively pulled her into an MLM and despite honestly working hard, she finally realized that she was never paid and her debt remained the same. When she tried to get out of it, the company required a huge sum of money to do so. Which she would never have been able to pay off. So she took her life in order to save Akiyama's education.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee
  • Unwitting Pawn: Pretty much anyone who isn't Akiyama, Yokoya, and Harimoto is this at all times. Nao and Fukunaga begin to grow out of this after the third round, but they promptly gain some new allies to take their place. As of the fourth round, this trope now includes Yokoyaand probably Harimoto.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: A plausible alternate title for the series would be Game Theory: The Manga... Although many concepts are well explained, it seriously helps to have a good understanding of the Prisoner's Dilemma, social psychology, cold reading, and imperfect competition in microeconomics. (Nash equilibria haven't come up... yet.)
  • Villainous Breakdown: Yokoya seems to be on the verge of snapping in the more recent chapters.
    • And he definitely broke down at the Season 1 finale of the J-Drama.
  • Walls of Text: It's a dialogue-driven story which touches on areas of game theory, individual psychology, sales practices, economic theory and sociology...
  • White-Haired Pretty Boy: In the J-drama, Yokoya
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Nao.
    • Subverted by the fact that Nao's idealism usually wins over the cynicism of the other players. Which is not actually unlikely; as con artists say "you can never con an honest person". Almost all forms of con require the mark to be willing to be greedy or dishonest.
  • The Worf Effect: How are we made immediately aware of the potential danger Harimoto poses? He utterly wiped the floor with Fukunaga.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Numerous times, perhaps best demonstrated by the endgame of Musical Chairs, though.
  • You Can Always Tell a Liar: In the second revival round. Fukunaga apparently betrays Team Akiyama by telling Nao's opponent that she has a tell: she blinks twice whenever she lies. Nao's opponent uses this information to wipe the floor with her...but it's all a ruse, one planned by Nao herself, and as soon as her opponent is feeling overconfident, Nao lures her into a trap that instantly reverses the situation.