Reviewby Carlo Santos, Aug 13th 2011
As a boy, Utsuho swore to always tell the truth ... until the day his naïve honesty allowed a mob of bandits to destroy his village. Since then, Utsuho has become an itsuwaribito—a master liar—but uses his trickery to help others. Utsuho's travels have taken him to an island populated by itsuwaribito, where he and his friends have been cornered by a gang of thieves. However, things take an even more perilous turn when the ringleader gets everyone into a situation that could cost them their lives. After getting out of that scrape, Utsuho, aided by fellow travelers Yakuma and Neya, continues his journey across the Japanese countryside, using his lies to outsmart a swindling merchant, help a commoner pursue the girl of his dreams, and save a town that's become entranced by a charismatic cult leader.
Itsuwaribito's third volume begins at a dramatic high point, with our hero Utsuho locked in battle against another master trickster. The suspense in the series has never been higher—two itsuwaribito trying to fool each other, one counter-move after the next, with the safety of Utsuho's friends (and animal sidekick Pochi) at stake. Then, just to up the ante further, the bad guys go nuts and set everything on fire! Now Utsuho doesn't just have to outwit his enemies; he also has to outwit the elements. Surely this is where everything blossoms into full, rip-roaring adventure. Surely this is where the series really starts to get good.
Sadly, it never does.
This intense scenario hits an abrupt, cop-out ending when the villain decides to redeem himself with a last-minute, self-sacrificial gesture. Then, with that threat out of the way, it turns out the island escapade was basically an excuse to add a new member to Utsuho's party. The chapters that follow are even more inconsequential, making it clear that manga-ka Yuuki Iinuma has no direction for the series as a whole—it's just one stand-alone adventure after the next, with no attempt to build a long-term narrative.
There are occasional flashes of brilliance, like in a dispute between a con man and his enraged victims, where Utsuho metes out justice by setting up a logical loophole; or in a romantic scenario, where he goads a lovestruck commoner into performing a remarkable gesture of affection. But cute little mind games and feats of logic only go so far, and there isn't a strong enough story thread to tie these events together. What, is Utsuho just going to keep wandering up and down the Japanese archipelago, solving the problems of every villager he passes by? At least his companions have actual goals they want to accomplish—"I want to help someone in the capital city," says Yakuma the doctor; "I want to start a new village," says Neya the island refugee—but simply stating those goals, and doing nothing in the actual story to work towards them, is not a very encouraging sign.
Even Utsuho's personality traits work to the series' disadvantage, as his capricious attitude ends up being more annoying than endearing—can you really like a guy who says "I'd help you, but I don't feel like it" half the time? With little character development in sight, and no grand plot to push the story forward, there's not much incentive to follow the exploits of someone who's mildly irritating like that.
The series' occasional bursts of action are also a letdown—there are scenes where Utsuho and company are seen running at full speed, or deftly battling their opponents, but such highlights only last a couple of pages at most. The majority of the volume is taken up by conversations and arguments, which may be intellectually engaging, but aren't exactly a formula for artistic grandeur. Of course, some artists know to make the simple act of chatting and strolling through the woods a treat for the eyes, but not Iinuma, who might draw one fantastically detailed landscape to set the scene, but then leaves the backgrounds blank until the scenario changes. It also doesn't help that the paneling is so strictly rectangular—even the most dynamic action scenes look constricted inside a ninety-degree box. In other words, Iinuma knows how to draw at a high level of detail and variety (notice how none of the characters look alike), but that skill isn't put to use often enough.
Then again, visuals are less important when one considers that the essence of Utsuho's ability is in his wily words. The dialogue is at its best when it pulls the reader into Utsuho's verbal mazes, where the slightest turn of phrase might be the clue that distinguishes between lies and truth. (Or he could simply be spitting out one big whopper the whole time.) But these brain-ticklers also have a way of burdening the script and slowing down the story—after a few paragraphs of Utsuho explaining how his latest trick worked, the idea of getting into a wordless, meatheaded fistfight sounds more and more enticing. The translation does its best to keep up with this intricate writing style, and most of it makes sense, but there are still some patches where there are too many words to phrase things smoothly. Well, sometimes a liar's job is to be confusing.
All in all, Itsuwaribito still has a strong premise behind it. And individual scenes within this volume prove how fun that premise is, with master trickster Utsuho lying his way out of the toughest situations for the sake of justice. But this series has no overarching storyline to bring everything together into a cohesive whole, and any mention of the characters' long-term goals is simply that—a mention. The only time people take action is to engage in petty fights and chases involving side characters, and those adversaries are gone after a chapter or two once our heroes move on to their next inconsequential adventure. These disjointed flashes of greatness are also reflected in the art, which sometimes comes alive with detail, but is just as likely to be lazy lines dashed off upon plain white backgrounds. With that kind of inconsistency, how can Itsuwaribito ever hope to gain a foothold as a solid series? Every time it shows signs of potential greatness ... it turns out to be a lie.
Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : B-
+ Tricky, twisted situations of lies versus truth will keep readers intrigued, while the clean, detailed artwork provides visual appeal.
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