Playing Death Games to Put Food on the Table, Vol. 1

By Yushi Ukai and Nekometaru. Released in Japan as “Shibō Yūgi de Meshi o Kuu” by MF Bunko J. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Kevin Yuan.

It’s my own fault, really. I get lured in by people assuring me, no, this one is really good, it’s different from those other ones. And don’t get me wrong, it is! This is a good book. It’s got really nice twists, the few characters who last more than five pages are interesting, and the heroine is a fascinating headcase. I can see why fans of death game books will really enjoy this. But I don’t dislike the death game genre because they all tend to be generic and cynical, or because they’re badly written. I dislike the death game genre because it involves people playing a game where they die. And I mean, spoilers, that happens here. Not counting our heroine, there are only a few other characters who survive these games. That said, if you’re not me, this is really good, and does have enough twists and turns to make it a quite interesting book even if you’re not a death game fan.

Yuki wakes up on a bed, dressed in a maid uniform. But it’s OK. She’s done this sort of thing before. She gets up and moves to the main room, where she meets five other girls, also in maid outfits. They’re here to play a death game, which is known to some of them but a total surprise to others. Yuki has done this 27 times before this, so is an old hand at knowing what to do and how to survive, and tries to guide the others through it. Unfortunately, the game is filled with deadly traps that require deadly choices, and it won’t let them go without at least a couple of deaths. Can Yuki manage to take all the experience she has and keep the others safe?… not really. That’s not what this book is about at all. Yuki is here to survive. And to do that, well, sometimes you need to do bad things.

The book starts off saying this takes place in a “deranged world”, and it’s not wrong. This is a world where constant death games are the entertainment, with contestants coming back over and over for various reasons if they survive. Oh yes, this may change in future books, but all the guests are young women or teenage girls. I get the feeling I know the exact audience this world is aiming for. The book also does a clever thing where the first half shows us Yuki in her 28th game, blase about everything, and the second half shows us Yuki in her 9th game, still with a bit of soul left in her. Yuki is, not to put too fine a point on it, a mess. Far from being there to put food on the table, it feels like she plays death games as she’s unable to really cope with any other kind of life. That said, she’s not an actual killer, like some of the other contestants. She’s just sort of broken.

Again, this was good, and I can see why it won awards (though I can’t really see why they had the judges do two of the three afterwords). But, again. Death games. I’ll stick with Higurashi and Umineko, but leave the Dangan Ronpa generation (which gets mocked in this first book) to its own.

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