Posted in Drama Series, Review

Tomodachi Game: will you play it with your friends?

Since Liar Game, everything that ends with ‘Game’ inevitably had me thinking of that spellbinding psychological thriller and checking those dramas/movies out out of curiosity. But the similarities end at the name only; they — Kazoku Game, Joker Game, etc — didn’t share corresponding theme or setup…until i came across Tomodachi Game.

The synopsis alone is familiar-sounding, and the teaser affirms this hunch further: the concept, setting, music, characters, feels are a throwback to Liar Game, so much so that i looked up the production team to spot any common ground. Couldn’t find any. So, the writer of this manga was probably inspired by Liar Game? Nevertheless, i was still interested to watch this mini series adaptation, if only to see what it has in store.

Katagiri Yuuichi (Yoshizawa Ryo) was a reserved orphan who treasured money above all else until someone told him there are more important things in life than that: friends, for example. But it’s not until the first year of high school did he start believing that notion, when vice class president Sawaragi Shiho (Uchida Rio) approached him and offered to be his (first) friend. Since then, he’s made three more friends in brainy Mikasa Tenji (Yamada Yuki), rich kid Shibe Makoto (Okura Shimon), and anime-otaku Kokorogi Yutori (Nemoto Nagi).

We don’t know how close-knit they are, but i suppose they are, though everything is about to change when they’re enrolled into this ‘Friends Game’ by one of them to clear his/her debt. Thing is, that happened without the other four’s knowledge, and the enrollment fee was stolen from the class’ budget trip. Shiho is the prime suspect as the money was under her charge and disappeared from her locked locker, also because she suggests them not to find out who the thief is. She claims suggesting so to cover for Yuuichi, whom she thought was the one since he is the poorest among them. But the culprit could very well be someone else; after all, Shibe is revealed to be estranged from his wealthy dad while Yutori is bullied and blackmailed. We have yet to learn Tenji’s circumstances, so we cannot rule him out either.

Besides the thief, there’s also a betrayer among them, who keeps dragging the team down in the first game. And these two could be done by two different people. Here, they need to clear three games in order to clear their debt. The first one is Kokkuri Game, wherein they need an unanimous yes/no answer to the given question to win, under one condition: whoever talks during the game, his/her debt will be doubled as punishment. If the answers are divided, the coin will go with the minority. While it’s pretty clear that Shibe was the one who intentionally picked the wrong answer to the easy first question, we cannot be sure who did that the second, third, and fourth time around, especially since Yuuichi chose ‘yes’ during his turn.

They’re advised not to doubt their friends to win each round, but after what happened in the first game, they’re certainly doubting one another. We’re following this drama mainly from Yuuichi’s perspective, so we know little about the other’s thoughts and as clueless about the other’s deals as him. From what we saw in these four 25-minute episodes, Shibe and Yutori are the most suspicious. Shibe because he’s hiding behind his rich kid persona he no longer is and thus could have accumulated debt while trying to maintain that front. Yutori due to her poker-faced nature. I’m not sure whether it’s the actress’ limitation or she’s directed to act that way, but she isn’t the friendly girl Yuuichi thinks she is. She’s cold, calculative, and possibly jealous of Yuuichi/Shiho’s closeness as she too is harboring a crush on him. And that deadly stare she threw their way was… *shudder*

The moment i read that a movie will follow the drama, i knew the latter would end on a cliffhanger. But i thought they’d be in the middle of the second game or entering the third game by then, so i was quite surprised that we’re barely into the second game when it happened. Neither did we know what that game — Kageguchi Sugoroku — is all about, which could be a hit or miss. It could be intriguing enough for you to catch the movie this June, or not. Honestly, i am more on the second group. It left me hanging but didn’t pique my curiosity. I’d watch the movie when it’s out (in DVD/Blu-ray format, that is, since i don’t think it will be screened in my country) but i’m not dying to, you know?

Maybe because i’ve seen Liar Game before. Maybe because the running time is too short. Maybe because the game is simpler than expected. But Tomodachi Game isn’t as riveting and addictive as Liar Game, and i wasn’t as invested in the characters as i was toward Kanzaki Nao and Akiyama Shinichi. Yuuichi is the most interesting character here, and Yoshizawa Ryo has definitely improved since the last time i saw him — those sneers and glares are deadly, i tell you — but the others are just so-so.

If anything, i wonder if it’s possible to cram two games into a one-half-hour/two-hour movie? Will there be enough time for character development, for instance, since these four episodes barely touched on character’s background? I wonder if four short episodes are enough to create buzz and build anticipation… unless they’re relying on its manga fans to flock theaters. I feel like making everything into a 10-episode drama may be a better option, but oh well.

And since comparison is inevitable, let me list the similarities:

  1. Both stories center around twisted games that are full of deception, backstabbing, and lies.
  2. Both games promise large sum of prize money for the winners and equal amount of debt for the losers, which will be collected at all costs.
  3. Both games are moderated by an unidentified person: masked figure in Liar Game, Manabu-kun mascot in Tomodachi Game.
  4. There are other personnel behind the scenes, who are monitoring the happening with glee (and can seemingly read the players’ minds).
  5. The criteria to win the first game is similar to The Final Stage.
  6. There’s at least one selfish traitor within the team, to spice things up, cuz otherwise the games would be cleared easily.
  7. Both titles begin in drama and wraps up in film.

The major difference is the players enter Tomodachi Game voluntarily and it is played by self-proclaimed friends, which makes any kind of betrayal more shocking and cutting. However, like the first game, i believe the remaining two’s victories will hinge on group’s synergy and trust. Question is how much that is left after the first game, especially when they didn’t talk it out, or sort out any possible misunderstanding, after the fact? Will they survive? Will they stay friends at the end of the day?

Let’s wait and see how it’ll play out…in a year’s time, perhaps?

Till then.

_
Rating: pending until the movie
Director: Nagae Jiro
Production: TVK , 2017
Cast: Yoshizawa Ryo, Uchida Rio, Yamada Yuki, Okura Shimon, Nemoto Nagi, Amatsuki, Ueno Yuuka, Kubota Yuki
Genre: Game, Psychological, Friendship, J-dorama (4 Episodes)

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