For those of you out there who need that same Horror/Suspense fix that you got from James Wan’s first Saw movie, here’s a recommendation for you: Doubt, Judge, and Secret by Yoshiki Tonogai. Not only is it the exact same premise, but both stories end with that same twist ending that left your head spinning with a stupid grin.
Doubt is the first in this set of books and this is the easiest to find and collect since it’s two giant volumes. The story follows a single protagonist as he is roped into a killing game with other people. All of them played a game on their cell phones called “Rabbit Doubt” in which people who didn’t know each other would compete to find out which rabbit among them was really a wolf. If the rabbits guess wrong, then the wolf eats them all one by one. If they guess right, then the wolf dies and they go on their merry way. In true Jigsaw fashion, some twisted asshole among them decides to make it real based on an unknown personal grudge and the games begin and yes, they are watching it all play out.
What makes Doubt great is that it never really gives you the perspectives of anyone other than the main character. Because of this, you’re forced to go along with his perceptions and actions which leads to equal surprise for both them and you. Tonogai’s style is clean and smooth and his compositions are wonderful at giving you an idea of atmosphere and space. Space being the most important thing here so you understand the situation and the location that everyone is being forced to play in. One thing that carries through both Doubt and Judge is the use of a mascot-styled animal head that is placed on the characters at the beginning to signal both the transition from the narrative for setup and the start of the real story where the game begins. For Doubt it’s rabbits and Judge it’s several different kinds—each of these signifying the type of game as well as the type of players involved. Also it’s really creepy to look at.
Judge follows several characters again, but this one is a different game spread across six smaller volumes. Just like before, people are capture and forced to endure a terrible Saw-esque game, but this one has some specific rules. Every so many hours, the group has to gather in a courtroom and select one among them to die. This vote will actually have the person voted for mysteriously killed, and then after so many deaths they can move on to the next room and eventually toward escape. It becomes a crazy game of learning about the other characters and trying to figure out who is lying and if they deserve to die. I won’t lie, some of the assholes involved in this one had me ready to vote them dead, but that’s what the story wants from us. It takes a lot of the worst from our society and places them in harm’s way and asks us if we give a damn. By the end of it, I was surprised at who I sympathized with and who I didn’t. This one also got a live action adaptation.
Secret came along recently and changed it up a bit. Instead of having a single protagonist that we watched over the shoulder of, we now have several kids who were in a horrific bus accident. Each of them gets some time to be our guide as we try to discover what happened that day and why they were the only ones to survive. Their counselor attempts to make them all come to terms with the grief of surviving, but at the same time he blackmails them in to trying to have them admit that one of them was a murderer that day. Manipulations and crazy teen emotions fly all over until this one hits us with an equally surprise ending as the other two series. Not a lot of animal masks this time, though—mostly on the cover.
The whole series is fun and truthfully they are quick reads with a lot of panels being silent to showcase movement or a new location. The space on each page is wide and Tonogai’s knack for environments shows through pretty well. There’s an abundance of tone usage to convey shadow and depth and not really a lot of line work going on to provide textures unless it’s necessary. It’s not overly gory, but there’s plenty of violence and corpses that pile up as the games go on. All of these caught my eye visually with the creepy-ass masks and then hooked me with the horror mystery elements pretty easily. The payoff at the end of each one is unique and very rewarding with the only downside being that a re-read isn’t the same. Just like watching the first Saw flick, we all know what’s going to happen at that last scene and it just doesn’t hit as hard the second time around.
If you’ve read them already or pick them up and have opinions—hit me up on Twitter at @RAT_FOX and tell me what you think.