Liar, Liar is a pretty darn half-baked anime. Like a lot of trend-chasing works of fiction that don’t really understand the appeal of the things they’re copying, you can easily identify which popular series each story element was directly inspired from:
A closed-off school environment where points determine your social standing: Classroom of the Elite
Students staking their livelihoods on souped-up versions of simple games and cheating their way through it: Kakegurui
A protagonist whose motivation is searching for a childhood friend he can’t remember: Love Hina/Nisekoi
Perhaps the one halfway compelling idea is that the protagonist has to maintain his reputation as the school’s strongest through cheats and bluffing… In practice, this amounts entirely to underwhelming asspulls and it never feels clever or satisfying at all. For a series about mind games, the stratagems are very small-brained and you never get the impression that any of the characters are above an average level of intelligence.
In the afterword of the light novel’s first volume, the author describes it as “games + lies + school + rom-com”, and yeah it is pretty much all of those components and nothing more.
So why am I blogging about this very mediocre series? Well, I wanted to talk a little bit about the difference between what’s entertaining as a light novel and what’s entertaining as an anime.
The story and characters in the original light novel of Liar, Liar are just as thin as they are in the anime. Other than some slightly elongated dialogue scenes, you’re not going to come away with a stronger impression of who these people are.
But really, the point of light novels is to be punchy and easy to read. Liar, Liar keeps up a good pace and makes something in happen in every scene. Even if the story is insubstantial, it doesn’t feel like it’s wasting your time. It does not take long to reach the end of the book, at which point you can comfortably say, “Well, that was fine.”
But an anime needs something more than readability and comic breeziness to prop up a screenplay. There are a lot of adaptations of manga that give off this impression as well—you know, the ones which are based on silly gag manga that repeat the same joke every chapter. It’s fine to read and giggle at, but it starts to get old when you see it play out on a screen every week.
I talked a lot about adaptation in my last post about Reign of the Seven Spellblades as well, but in this case, I don’t think there was really any theoretical way to make Liar, Liar “live up” to its potential as an anime. Sure, the terrible animation didn’t help, but the story just didn’t have the chops to make for riveting television. That was my frank impression after reading the first volume of the light novel, which actually got quite a lot of buzz in Japan when it first came out.
I think it goes to show that light novel readers tend to come in with different expectations for the storytelling and delivery. The light novel was “fine” and the anime was “mediocre”, and the line between those descriptors can be rather blurred. It certainly wasn’t hard to see how Liar, Liar turned out the way it did. The anime is also moderately entertaining as long as you don’t try to follow the logic of the games or dwell on the existence of other works of media that did the same concepts way better.
I will say that I thought that the tsundere character in this series was pretty cute. I especially liked how, true to the fundamentals of the trope, she is so poor at lying that she even spills the beans on her backstory in the first episode. That’s a fun kind of character to include in a series where the entire concept revolves around lying.
I also thought it was fricken hilarious how the anime does that thing where, in lieu of an actual story resolution, the MC spouts some quick platitudes to summarise the main themes. And it all amounts to “lying about everything will make your life better”. Let me quote his exact words real quick:
“A single lie can change your whole life. But now, this lie doesn’t just belong to me. Someday, somewhere on Academy Island, I’ll find the one I’m searching for. And until that day, together with my friends here, I’m gonna keep on lying.”
Dude spent the entire show being highly stressed and anxious about maintaining the farce, only to turn to the camera at the end and say his story is aspirational. He sounds like a tech startup owner.
So yeah, this series was pretty bad but it’s fine if you go in with low expectations, I guess. That is probably how the light novel became popular.