No Game No Life (Cert 15)
2 Discs DVD/Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 294 minutes approx.
If there is one subgenre in anime which is currently being milked for all it is worth it is the “gamers enter a virtual world” concept, with the likes of Sword Art Online, Log Horizon and Accel World spearheading this movement.
Joining this ever-growing list is No Game No Life, originally a bestselling light novel series by Yuu Kamiya and now an anime which brings us to this review. Since this particular corner of the anime market is beginning to get a little crowded, has Kamiya done anything new to make his creation stand out from the others?
At the centre of this adventure are hikikimori step-siblings 18 year-old Sora and 11 year-old Shiro, who together form the unstoppable online gaming force which doesn’t enter its name, thus earning the title Blank. With Sora’s unusually high intellect and tactical mind and Shiro’s prodigious mathematical skills Blank is a formidable presence amongst gamers.
Such is their notoriety that they one day receive an invitation from a user named Tet who claims to be a God from another reality and challenges them to a game of chess. Blank win easily and for their reward Tet offers them the chance to live a reality where only games matter. The duo accept thinking it is a joke but find themselves transported to a world called Disboard, where disputes are settle by games behoved to the law of the Ten Pledges.
Unlike other shows where the central motivation is escape from the virtual world, Sora and Shiro couldn’t be happier in their new surroundings and quickly establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with. However Tet is a cheeky fellow and sets another challenge for Blank – to gain control of the sixteen races of Disboard and face off against Tet in another game of chess, this time for the position of God.
The first stumbling block this show faces is the small matter of this being a single cour run and to make matter worse, this particular and rather critical plot development doesn’t even arise until episode four! Usually I avoid spoilers but in this instance it is necessary to point out that in the current and ongoing light novel series, our protagonists only have five races to their credit.
Straight away this adaptation has the major handicap of covering just a small part of a larger story which is still running, and with no sign at the moment of a sequel in the works. Screenwriter Jukki Hanada has managed to make this feel like a self contained story with the door left open for a follow up while ending on a suitably optimistic note should none arrive.
Because of the sprawling nature of the story and the unique presentation from noted studio Madhouse, who have gone for an oversaturated and retina burning colour scheme in creating the world of Disboard, along with some questionable content, it is possible one series of NGNL will be more than enough for some viewers anyway!
First and foremost the idea of a world where games are the preferred method of combat is a fascinating one and makes for a nice twist on the meaning of the title. Because of the Ten Pledges, some games will be for very high stakes which can and does include one’s very being. Thus Sora and Shiro really need their wits about them, the elder smart enough to use the Pledges literally or ambiguously where necessary to assure victory.
Their first port of call is the land of Elkia where the humans reside. Imanity, as it is known, is considered the bottom of the totem pole so Sora and Shiro feel duty bound to pick up the mantle and show the fantasy creatures of Disboard not to underestimate them. Since they are unfamiliar with their new surroundings, Blank need some help and through the Pledges win the assistance of local residents.
Oh and they are all female. Of course they are (and surprisingly so is director Atsuko Ishizuka) – because if anime has taught us anything it is that any interesting concept needs to be diluted to become a harem comedy. And as Sora is a virgin NEET he is also complete pervert, using the Pledges to exploit the sexuality of his busty followers – ditzy Stephanie Dola, devious Kurami Zell, Elven Fil Nilvalen, fairy Jibril and cat girl Izuna Hatsuse.
With the integrity of NGNL already compromised by the fan service and embarrassing switches in Sora’s personality from genius game player to drooling deviant, there are further uncomfortable overtones regarding the relationship between Sora and Shiro. Neither can exist without the other and jealousy abounds whenever Sora flirts with the others girls, with Shiro seemingly suggesting she should be his sole focus of desire.
Not content with satisfying the lolicon remit of the harem, we see this 11 year-old child naked during a few gratuitous bath scenes not to mention her underwear being a pivotal sacrifice during the show’s climactic battle. As bad as this all sounds it is tame compared to what occurs in the six mini episodes in the extras. You have been warned.
It is a small saving grace that some of the female cast do have a purpose and use beyond their bodies and prove to be valuable during the battles, in the case of Kurami bringing her own guile and tactical prowess to the table. Shiro is also a huge asset and often scores a victory where Sora in is ineffective although he remains the driving force of the whole story.
There will of course be an audience for No Game No Life who enjoy the fan service and silly humour or be able to look past this and become engaged in the cerebral prowess of the game playing stratagems, which is when things are at their strongest. For others this is a visually ambitious but structurally confused and messy series to be added to the “wasted potential” sin bin.
Japanese 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
Commentary for Episodes 1, 4 & 6
Shorts Episodes 1-6
Japanese Commentary for Episodes 8, 10 & 12
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ** ½
Man In Black