Hello, I’m Benjamin Wagner, this is my blog and today I fill a gap in my knowledge.
I have been a fan of anime for about 7-8 years now. I began watching One Piece during the exam period at college (UK) and gradually grew my interest base from there. I have indulged in many excellent works spanning many genres: anything from Shounen to Shoujo, Slice of Life to Action-Adventure. I’ll try pretty much everything. As most anime fans seem to be, I’m also partial to an isekai anime now and again and have watched a fair few. I found Sword Art Online to be a fun romp but had no interest in anything after the first cour (12-13 episodes). Konosuba is a great comedic take on the typical tropes of the genre and there are a slew of other, more laid back shows that I also enjoy bingeing. Heck, I even liked Isekai wa Smartphone to Tomo ni. There was a big gap in my knowledge base though; I had never watched No Game No Life.
As an anime fan, you get quite good at gauging what is popular and what you might like from this shortlist. No Game No Life seemed like an interesting premise, but much like popular shows Death Note and Stein’s Gate, I just never got around to watching it. Sure, some of it was jealousy, as the writer of the light novel is a Brazilian man and he had fulfilled my longshot of a dream of learning Japanese and then publishing a novel that got turned into an anime. I’m petty and not afraid to admit that. The other thing holding me back is that, from the trailer I watched and the friend’s reviews I had heard, it just seemed to be another isekai that struggled to stand out. Nothing they said made this sound as special as they thought it was. But, now in 2022, it is time for me to give it a try. Hold on as I attempt to review No Game No Life.
Synopsis: What is the show about?
The show follows two step-siblings, Shiro and Sora, who are known collectively as ‘Blank: a legendary, unbeatable gamer. However, completely frustrated by the confusion of real life and their ostracisation from society, they are brought into another world by a playful god named Tet. The mysterious God of Games brings the pair to his world, Disboard, and encourages them to make of it what they will. Once they arrive, they decide to follow the rules laid out by Tet to unite the sixteen races, defeat the fun-loving God and become the Gods of the gaming world. From this, the story follows Shiro and Sora as they play games with everything on the line and game their way to the top.
From what I understand, the anime adapts the first three or so light novels in this series and there has not been a sequel (as of January 2022). This is a little surprising and doesn’t give us a real wealth of content to dive into; with a lot of the time being devoted to the games themselves and showing how Shiro and Sora work their way out of unwinnable situations. Anyway, with the plot outlined, I can talk about what I like.
What did you like?
Surprisingly, more than I expected.
Well, first of all I found the world of Disboard pretty enthralling. The idea of a world where violence is forbidden and everything is settled with a game has such a large potential for wacky, zany situations. The commandments that are spat out in the first episode are presented like an info dump but are so important for the function of the story that I can forgive this. On the contrary, the rules themselves make the world more interesting because, as a video game liker, I get that getting good at games means understanding the rules as well as understanding how to circumvent them. Watching how not just the main duo but also the other characters and races do this is constantly engaging. Even more interesting was the world itself and how the history of the human nation (Imanity) pushes the story forward. The humans cannot use magic like the other races and have used this as an excuse for their weakness for a long period. The nation is so beleaguered thanks to their former king losing most of their land that the next king, which ends up being Sora, by playing a game.
The story moves on at a nice, brisk pace and doesn’t drag its feet too often. Whilst I do think some of the particular story points are a little unnecessary and focus on fanservice and ‘kawaii’ moments, that is really what the show is going for so I can forgive that a bit. Each 3 episode arc concludes briskly and usually in a satisfying way; often with a new character being added to Shiro and Sora’s harem or the conclusion of a game itself.
And speaking of Shiro and Sora, the characters themselves are fairly varied and interesting. Steph is an entertaining comedic punching bag, Jibril fits into serious and comedic storylines brilliantly and Clammy is a surprisingly multi-layered character. The character’s good points do enough to make the various drawbacks a little more bearable. Another thing that does this is the comedy and the references to other bits of pop culture that pop up semi-regularly; my favourite of which being a slew of hints and nods to the Ace Attorney series and then Yu-Gi-Oh. I think there was even a Skyrim reference in the show and finding these was a real joy.
But it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows as i found myself, at times, frustrated with the show. Here’s why.
What did you not like?
Yeah. Everything I said above stands but comes with a caveat: I didn’t like it that much. In particular, this stands for the characters themselves. I like some aspects of each of the main gang but for everything I like, there is something I dislike. Steph is just used as fanservice and the gags about her grow tiresome by the end game. Jibril is certainly a more interesting character due to her race but we don’t see enough of this side of her to be interested; she instead lusting after knowledge like a predator outside a primary school. My problem with Clammy involves the game of Go she plays with Sora as despite it being important for the game played in episodes 11 and 12, I found that episode dull as old boots. Honestly, I was hyperbolising a little when I said each has something I didn’t like but I just didn’t find the characters engaging enough to become truly invested in them. And this stands for the up-to-this point unmentioned protagonists.
I don’t really like Sora and Shiro. Don’t get me wrong, I am a human and I do find Shiro, as a creature, incredibly cute. But I find Sora and Shiro incredibly difficult to relate to. I do understand that their backstory and how they ended up so disconnected from society is tackled more directly in the light novels, but in this anime adaption, I found myself struggling to understand how this pair became so mentally distorted that they became NEET’s at a young age. It just doesn’t really click for me and it makes their exploits a little less enjoyable on the whole. Don’t get me wrong, I respect their intelligence as a pair and I even found myself rooting for them by the final episode; heck, I’d even go as far to say I would watch more of them if they released a second series, but the 12 episodes we have don’t do enough to make them stand out as stand-out isekai protagonists.
Other than that, the only other things I didn’t really like were the games themselves. Not all of them, I found the final video-game style FPS shooter to be an interesting aside from the more classic games we were seeing beforehand but I found the cheating and the rule bending and the lists of rules to be a little tiring and a bit dull. I did find some of the ideas to be good and to have potential but I found the gambling based games to pale in comparison to another show: Kakegurui. In that show, the stakes felt high. Here, the characters say that the stakes are high but do a poor job of projecting the danger to the reader. Even when the life pieces are staked in the final battle, I didn’t feel overly worried. I know shows like this follow a similar pattern but I don’t think raising the stakes should be shyed away from. Regardless, I did dislike some areas of the show, I did like a lot as well. This brings me to the crux of the matter.
Crux of the Matter:
Reading this back, most of this review is a rambling mess but that does sum up how this anime makes me feel. There are certainly good points but those points aren’t good enough to get me excited and passionate about this series. The crux of the matter is that No Game No Life is a good show with an interesting world and premise, but the directness of the fanservice and my lack of connection with the main characters leave me feeling a little hollow at the end of it all. This anime was crying out for a 24 episode long run as I was more into it by the end but, as it is here, No Game No Life slots comfortably into the 7/10 anime bracket. A shame because I really wanted to like this one considering how well known it is.
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Well, them the breaks I suppose. I would still recommend people give this a look; most of you probably already have. Thinking about this show deeply seems a little redundant and as a 3-hour distraction, there are definitely worse ways to spend a Sunday. I’ve been Benjamin Wagner and I endorse this message.