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/Chess Master 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.Here is a wiki for more information. If you wanted to join a game like it, check out an example that finished here or join something similar here.
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.
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.
Yokoya used an particularly effective one on his Bid Poker game, to corner everyone psychologically and practically makes them his minion.
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."
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.
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.
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"). Except Harimoto is not the true leader of the cult.
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. 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.
Bleached Ponytail: That just proves you're a lying liar who lies!
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.
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.
Failure Gambit: Players of the Liar Game Tournament are forced to participate and pay an enormous debt if/when they lose. At first, the goal appears to be to win each round and move on to the next round with large amounts of money as winnings. However, the real way to win the game is to deliberately lose and drop out of the game while hauling in a profit. But because it's a zero-sum game (one person winning means another person loses), Nao and Akiyama's goal is to win and move on to the next round while shouldering an enormous debt, using all of their winnings to zero out the debt of their teammates and/or opponents so that they can all safely drop out of the game.
Fanservice: Nao's bra size certainly has been increasing as time goes on...
It seemed pretty large to begin with...
Given the type of series this is, this could be interpreted as her gaining Boobs of Steel as she gets more and more competent.
Flashback: 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?
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.
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, to 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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
The moral is not that tricking people or lying to them is inherently bad. The moral is that acting in a purely selfish manner is a losing strategy in the long run, even if it seems rational in the short run. There's no dissonance given that basically every single game demonstrates that moral. In fact, when the bad guys 'win', it's because they worked as a group (even if due to coercion or effectively, brainwashing). No one wins purely on their own merits.
Mr. Exposition: Leronira, most of the time. If The Chessmasters themselves aren't explaining the details of their plans to their less knowledgeable teammates, that is.
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.
I thought it was 1 IN 100,000 people, which doesn't actually indicate the maximum number of players (and it can be a lie... it IS the Liar Game after all). It's still a lot of money to give out at one time.
So that's where all the bailout money went!
The Nicknamer: In the Round 4 Preliminary, the LGT gives all the players a nickname to make it easier to keep track of them.
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.
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, with Leronira coming to him for instructions.
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.
Revenge Before Reason: Mizuki Kaneko goes this route instead of quitting the game, to avenge Fukunaga. Or at least she pretends to as part of a scheme to eliminate herself and the other two.
The Smurfette Principle: Considering all the Second Round women are just pawns eliminated immediately, Nao is the 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. Though one of them does get some development and another is later proven to be the true mastermind of the team.
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 has 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 Thirty-Six Stratagems: Akiyama uses #21 quite a bit. But instead of faking the dead as this stratagem usually involves, he convinces his opponents that his loss is guaranteed. His opponents then get careless and don't realize what he's really planning.
"...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. 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: Partially averted. Often times the plans are explained in advance, and they usually even work to a greater or lesser degree. However, the final move of each game that clinches the win always stays hidden until the last moment.
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 Yokoya andHarimoto.
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.