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What is Judge about?
In the opening forty or so pages of Judge, we follow Hiro - a young man who seems to be unlucky in love. His older brother is dating a girl he really likes, and so Hiro hatches a small plan to be alone with the girl. However, this puts the older brother in the wrong place at the wrong time, leading to his death in a road accident. Hiro then awakes some time later in a dark room, from where the main story begins.
He, along with seven other people, seem to have been kidnapped and placed in a locked, dis-used courthouse together. Soon enough they are all given the details of their confinement and the possible path to their escape. The rules are simple: after every twelve hours they must all vote on which of them should die next. The only ones granted their freedom will be the four that are remaining at the end. This voting is referred to by the captors as the judging, implying that they are all guilty of some crime or another.
As time moves forwards, we learn more and more about each of the other prisoners. But this doesn't help us to trust any of them any more than we should. Votes are cast; promises are made; betrayals are carried out. Will Hiro make it out alive and somehow atone for the guilt that he carries over his brother's untimely death? Or will he, along with his fellow inmates, succumb to distrust and ultimately die amongst strangers?
This story is very much a "trust no-one" kind of deal. At no point did I really feel I could trust any of the characters locked up together. Without knowing any of their underlying motives, it was impossible to know what any of their end games were. All of these people were capable of some pretty shady moves too. Even the seemingly-trustworthy ones.
Although Judge is a story of mind games and trickery, it was never too much as to overwhelm my brain. I have read some stories in this genre where the level of intricacy in the betrayal was so detailed as to confuse me. This was never the case with Judge. It felt like an easy enough read without compromising on its ongoing mystery.
A lot of the trickery in here revolves around who should vote for whom. Hiro is certain he has a foolproof plan to ensure everybody's safety - even attempting to take lead in the group. But of course, this isn't as straight forward as first thought, due to other people's trust issues - or lack thereof.
Keeping it's cards close
Judge is a manga that kept me guessing right up to it's closing pages. I enjoyed the mystery around these eight prisoners, and the possibility that not all of them may be quite who they say they are. It's definitely a story that keeps it's cards close to it's chest. Because of this, it kept me entertained from the beginning, right up until its final panel.
The fact that we know nothing going into this, other than the back story of the person we are following, puts us as firmly in his shoes as possible. If my memory serves me correctly, we never deviate too much from Hiro's side - he is our anchor throughout this mystery.
As I think back on it, I feel like the momentum in Judge built up steadily throughout. As it moved past the midway point, and further towards its ending, the reveals seemed to come faster and faster. Not only that, but as the pressure of confinement set in, things between them all seemed to get more and more physical - in more ways than one.
This is a hard story to talk about with regards to its narrative. The story in judge is so closely linked to the choices - and betrayals - of certain people, that to talk about specifics could ruin the surprises for you. What I can say is that the journey it takes us on is an intriguing one. And the fact that the main character - Hiro - has his own demons to cope with, makes him a more relatable - and suitable flawed - leading character.
I would advise you read this manga in as quiet a setting as you can. It will require some level of concentration to keep those eight interweaving characters in mind. If you give this story the time and the quietness it deserves, you will be rewarded with a roller coaster of a ride with a sharp left turn at its closing gates.
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