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Monday, January 23, 2017

Anime Hajime Review: No Game No Life

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for No Game No Life. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

In the world of gaming, a group of gamers is infamous. Known as the Blanks, no has ever been able to defeat them. They are nothing short of legends. Thus making the truth a little more underwhelming.

The Blanks are in reality, the brother-sister duo of Sora (voiced Yoshitsugu Matsuoka) and Shiro (voiced by Ai Kayano). Shut out from the rest of the world, the pair only care about each other. As well as defending their undefeated reputation. That’s why they were more than happy to accept a challenge from an unknown player.

That game was the closest the sibling had ever come to losing, but they managed to pull out a victory. But upon doing so, though, they're pulled from their world and in the land of Disboard. A fantasy realm without war or violence. All disputes are settled through games.

Sora and Shiro’s skills allow them to rise up the ranks. Eventually, the two become the king and queen of the last remaining human country. But they aren’t satisfied with stopping there. They plan to conquer Disboard and earn the right to challenge the God of this world.

A daunting task. But then again, the Blanks don’t know how to lose.

Series Positives

Left to right: Shiro and Sora
I thought this would be a series about video games. Had it only been that, I imagine this could’ve been a decent series. Instead, No Game No Life took a different turn. It went much bigger. Well beyond the point it needed it to go. But boy did it benefited from that.

I won’t lie, I had a feeling I’d enjoy this one. And I did. I did quite a bit. But I enjoyed No Game No Life for more reasons that expected.

This show had an imagination. It focused on games a spectator would have trouble getting invested in. And made them enthralling. Be honest, when was the last time you felt your heart pounding while watching a game of chess? Now that may not be fair. Chess in No Game No Life wasn’t standard by any stretch of the imagination. But that’s my point.

Remember awhile back when I looked at a show called Fantasista Doll? Of course you don’t. Why would you? It was f@#$ing terrible. That series tried, and failed, to hype up and intensify a game of poker. It’s laughable now, but at the time it wasn’t. Still, it got me thinking if such an idea could even work. Well, No Game No Life probably could’ve made it work.

It was that good at doing this kind of thing.

This show never stopped being entertaining. It was beyond easy to get through. It will hold your attention and won’t let go. This was an absolute blast.
The Premise

Characters getting dragged into a fantasy world, I’ve seen this before. It got used well here, don’t get me wrong. But that’s not what I want to discuss.

Then how about a world where all disputes are settled with games, not violence? And the leads are a duo that has never lost a game. Intriguing. Cool for sure. Yet that’s still not what I’m getting at.

No, I’m referring to this show’s rules. Ten simple rules governing everything. They weren’t hard to understand. They couldn’t have been clearer. Granted, they got played with. They got stretched. But despite all that, they never got broken. This series is validation for one of my core principles when it comes to storytelling.

Simplicity is gold.

Rules can restrict a story. If there’s too many of them. The door’s left wide open for overlap and contradictions. They can slow everything to a halt. They can kill a show’s fun. But if a story has only a handful of key understandings, so much can get built on top of them.
In No Game No Life, wagers were determined equal by the parties involved before a game began. The challenger got the right to define the rules that were to be played by. Any bets agreed on had to be honored. Getting caught cheating during a match was an instant loss.

Sort of iron-clad, right. But that was the beauty of them. Take a re-look at that last one. It shows that in this series, the wording may have been simple. But the wording mattered. All it said was a player cannot be caught cheating. It never said a player couldn’t cheat. In fact, under these rules, cheating, I would argue, was encouraged. It was another bit of strategy.

If used wrong, rules bog down a story. Like if they’re made to sound grand for the sake of sounding important. When a show does this, it’s only setting up unnecessary obstacles. When a show speaks in riddles, rules become open for interpretation. Loopholes can get found. Technicalities can get annoying. But these become possibilities the more complex a story gets.

Therefore, why not rely on what's actually said? I mean, that’s how words work.

No Game No Life based its whole premise on its clear and defined rules. By doing so, this series emphasized logic. It emphasized strategy. It emphasized outplaying an opponent. These simple rules didn’t restrict the story. Instead, they defined the world they were in.

Sora and Shiro

Sora and Shiro’s relationship was a little…too close. And yes, it was prevalent. Were they in love with each other? Considering all the other things that happened in this show, no, I wouldn’t say so.

However, the awkward confusion is understandable. The two did rely on one another quite a bit. To the point where they couldn’t function apart.

They were two sides of the same coin. And they were also the best thing about No Game No Life.

Sora and Shiro complemented each other. They made up for the shortcomings of their sibling. When Sora got carried away, Shiro would beat him back into sense. When Shiro felt hopeless, Sora would be her strength. They had one hundred percent faith in their teamwork.

They knew each other so well. To the point where they didn’t need to be in the same room to know what moves the other did during a game. That scene was great by the way. They moved from being good at games to being unbeatable at them.

Two minds are better than one. But these two had the ability to go up against a God. And win. Plus, only one of them was more than enough to win the day. And that was my favorite thing about them.

Neither had to be carried. One wasn’t responsible for making the plans. Sora may have been the loud one, but Shiro was more than capable of achieving the same feats. If not more so. These two planned long in advance. No detail escaped them. They were always aware of what was going on. They were always ten steps ahead.

And the neat thing was, you could see what they were doing at every step. Each move they made was intentional. They were never without purpose. Their tiniest actions. Their word choices. It all had meaning. It all had a point. What made them had to catch them was figuring out when were the siblings scheming. Once an opponent realized that, it was far too late.

These were characters who could back up their actions. They could be mean. They could be egotistical; Sora more than Shiro. They could be confident. But they never reached a level of overconfidence. They never rushed into a decision. They never played a game they couldn’t win because they thought they were the best. Yet they challenged people who did. Making it all the more satisfying when the duo won.

There was no other of character that made No Game No Life as fun as it was. Or in this case, characters.

Series Negatives

I never talk about this sort of thing. It doesn’t normally bother me. But for whatever reason, I couldn’t get into how this show was colored.

No Game No Life was bright. It was colorful. Except, there was also a lightness to it that took away from the intensity. I don’t what it was. It wouldn’t have been my choice, though.

And because of that, this isn’t a negative to the series. This was only something I couldn't help notice. It didn’t take away from the show’s enjoyment. And I’m not going to not watch any possible future installments due to it.

Somethings I did find annoying, though, were some of this show’s ecchi moments.

No Game No Life got it right sometimes. It got ridiculous. It went over the top. It was having fun with what it was doing. Or at least it was owning what it was doing. That’s why it was weird whenever it tried to be subtle or tricky.

One part that stuck out to me was when the characters were flying through the air. They were discussing their plan, what was about to happen, and that sort of thing. You know, a general next step conversation. That was all it was. So then why did the show take the time to animate an upskirt shot? It wasn’t necessary. It wasn’t all that distracting. Why bother with it? Especially if you’re going to have a naked bath moment a few scenes from now?

This was frustrating when this happened. And it happened a lot.

Time Management

This one hurts because it came from something the show did well.

No Game No Life took the time to let us get to know the character. To know the world. To set up everything that was going on. Each game felt important. They lasted as long as they needed to be. This show didn’t withhold anything. And I did appreciate that.

Except, side thing real quick, there was something the series didn’t go into enough detail about. I understand humans were the lowest creatures in this world. And I know that because that was what the show told me. It was all hearsay. In fact, the people who looked down on humans the most were other humans. Sure, there was an occasional snarky remark. But that was all. It was clearer that the other races hated each other. Because that got shown.

I was a little surprised that this one, kind of huge, element wasn’t as developed as some of the others. But the others were, again, much appreciated. Except by the midway point, I realized one of two things would happen. Neither of them were great.

This series would either rush the ending or the ending wouldn’t be as satisfying. The latter ended happening. This turned out to be the better of the two. Don’t get me wrong, the final game of the series was fun. It was a satisfying ending. But the overall big picture wasn’t.

The story laid out where it would it go. We knew what the finale would be. But this is something you’re not going to see in this series. And like it or not, No Game No Life came out three years ago. The chances of a second season no longer seem high. A film, though, does appear to be in the works. So, something may come of that.

I would like more. The show set itself up for more. Too bad I’m not confident that’s going to happen.

Final Thoughts

When starting this show, I debated with myself whether to sit through the whole thing or go to bed early. I chose the former and I’m glad I did. No Game No Life was a ton of fun.

Based on a simple premise, so much came out of it. The challenges were entertaining. The characters were interesting. And the leads, Sora and Shiro, were a great pair. This series managed to take some rather mundane concepts and made them exciting.

This show wanted to do so much. But there’s still so much more that can be done.

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