Monday, February 11, 2013

JDrama Review: Liar Game Seasons 1 + 2

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The Gist: Kanzaki Nao (Toda Erika), college student and naïve almost to the point of unbelievability, gets pulled into a financial con game when she arrives home to a box of a million dollars. Videos featuring a character reminiscent of the saw movies explain the rules of each game, which seem straightforward, but reward people for backstabbing. Quickly on the losing streak of the game she didn’t want to play, Nao knows she needs help if she wants to survive debt free. Desperate, she seeks the help of notorious conman Shinichi Akiyama (Shota Matsuda), who, having a soft spot for those who get conned (ironic, no?), agrees to help Nao. Now a dynamic duo of friendliness and skill, Nao and Akiyama jump make their way through the game trying to stay afloat and helping others do the same, even as the risks continue to rise.
1.The Puzzles
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At the heart of Liar Game is, well, the game. I am amazed at mangaka Shinobu Kaitani for coming up with such complicated yet elegant rounds for it. Even as you try to work out what the players are doing, the twists of each game still come as a surprise. Still, I tried to just let myself sit back and see what would happen without too much guesswork. Each level is layered, containing multiple traps and tricks. Watching it just made me feel like Nao, thinking I would have no idea what to do in these situations. Naturally, the puzzles start out fairly simple, gaining complexity as the show goes on. They’re remarkable and definitely the best part of the show.
2.The Scenery
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For a show that’s so largely about psychological issues, Liar Game does a good job setting the stage for the tournaments. Including the people participating, each round has a distinct feel to it. For instance, the second round moves from the familiarity of Nao’s home to a mansion for the minority rule. It’s a vast setting for a game about majorities and minorities – very smart. The pandemic game I believe takes place in a bowling alley and while I’m not sure about the meaning behind it, it’s still visually interesting.
3.The Music
This drama would have been a whole different show if they’d decided to go with more serious somber music. However, Liar Game mostly flashes techno pop, even enrolling Jpop group Capsule for the movie soundtrack. The tone it creates keeps the energy and drama up, even when not much is happening on screen. I love the soundtrack to this show.
1.The Relationship between Nao and Shinichi
Don’t get me wrong. I love Nao and Shinichi and I think that’s a big part of the problem. Their relationship is strongly defined by them looking out for each other, giving Shinichi a sharp protective streak. Yet, over the course of the show/move, their relationship really plateaus. While I love them as friends and partners, Liar Game seems to hint at romantic notions between them that never really pan out. So, I guess my issue is just that I want more!
2. Fukunaga Yuji
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A repeat character throughout the series, part time protagonist and part time antagonist, Fukunaga (Suzuki Kosuke) is someone I feel conflicted about. On one hand, it’s good to have a character that’s more complicated than our leads, who are interesting while still one-note. On the other hand, sometimes his behavior is so over the top that I just want to smack him and tell him to sit down. Still, I’d have to leave his presence in the more positive category as the show – he keeps things entertaining.
1.The Big Bad
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Considering that the manga is still going (like eight years now), the author hasn’t yet revealed the secret grand plan behind the game. You get a peek behind the curtain in the show, but it never does the big unveiling like you really desire. Though, I haven’t watched the third season, so it’s possible things have progressed further and as the manga continues on, they may make more.
2. Season Three without Toda Erika
I am going to say again that I have not yet been able to push myself to watch season three because I am so pissed off that Toda Erika is not in it. Therefore, I cannot vouch for the replacement character or the plot of season three, but I still hate that the story is going on without Nao.
So… I love this show for its puzzles and turns. It’s a great fit for people who like psychological thrillers, but not necessarily scary movies. It’s a smart show, but if you’re looking for a run of the mill romance, you’re probably better off looking somewhere else. I liked this show for a taste of something different.  

Final Grade: B

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  1. Hi, I'm like you, I'm watching J-dramas, while noone around me in RL likes them! The Liar's Game is currently my favorite, even though I completely agree with you that characters and their relationships aren't its main forte. I loved the puzzles, music and scenery, too!

    Why did you hate the main bad, though, did you dislike Katsuragi specifically or did you hate that there was no main bad?

    I haven't read the manga, either, but I was told that it has its main bad, which is Yokoya Norihiko and Katsuragi was based off him, while in the series his importance was diminished and he got humanised for some reason.

    As for Reborn, it's not as bad as it sounds. I too had misgivings about the new girl, but found her more likable than Erika Toda. She's more human, not so ideal. I also liked the movie Fukunaga Vs. Yokoya, haha, that was the only time when I finally started to like Fukunaga! He comes off repulsive, but he made the special funny to watch. I think it's because of a big contrast of main characters, he is so zany and dramatic and Yokoya so polite and refined. :)

    1. Thanks for reading! I think my biggest issue was that I wanted a face and motive to put with the big bad. I just finished the Korean remake about a month ago and while it has its issues, I think giving it a strong, obvious villain (well cast too!) made the story more cohesive.

      I may have to try Reborn one day. I just can't help being skeptical!