No Game No Life – Anime Review

Japanese Title: No Game No Life

 

Related: No Game No Life: Zero (prequel movie)

Similar: Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor

Overlord

Problem Children from another World

The World God Only Knows

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Ecchi Adventure Comedy Fantasy

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Colourful art
  • A good number of jokes

Negatives:

  • The contests are weak
  • Tries to be serious
  • Not genius

(Request an anime for review here.)

Nobuyuki Fukumoto has spoiled me. He pioneered a manga genre (later adapted into anime) that manages to take the ridiculous and turn it into a tense battle unlike any battle anime. Oh, he has nothing to do with No Game No Life – just wanted to start on something positive about the genre of extreme gambling.

No-life virgin siblings Sora and Shiro find themselves sucked into another world when they accept a challenge online. In this new world called Disboard, games rule everything. Everyone settles disputes – no matter how petty – through games, which can vary from something as minor as rock-paper-scissors to as grand as VR showdowns in a stadium. Ten rules govern these games. These rules are law, bindings created by the God of Games. The genius gaming duo accept the god’s trial and set out to conquer this bizarre world and challenge his might.

No Game No Life is another isekai with a gamer protagonist sent into a world where their seemingly useless skills IRL are the ultimate talent. This anime takes it to an extreme. These two are apparently unbeatable at games. The opening scene has them taking out thousands of players in an MMO using just their four characters. Yes, they can control more than one character at a time and still beat anyone without a sweat – Sora even controls all four at one point (uses two mice with his feet) when Shiro passes out.

Of course, this level of skill is ridiculous. However, with an intention to go big, to go ludicrous with the comedy, it works…for a time. With the ten commandments of Disboard laid out, one expects nonsensical contests in this idiotic world. And you get that…for a time. A game of rock-paper-scissors just about determines a kingdom’s monarch. According to the rules, it is binding! Even cheating is permitted, as long as you’re not caught.

The first cracks in the narrative appear when you see how basic the games are in these challenges. Poker, chess, blackjack – is that the best you can do?

You can tell the author has no understanding of the likes of poker or chess because he never makes use of their rules and metagame, not even in a creative way. During the chess match, the only similarity with chess is the names and number of pieces. There is nothing chess-like about the contest. May as well not even call it chess.

I wager that he picked chess at random because chess is something everyone has heard of, requires less work explaining the game and he hoped no one would notice the chess reference is irrelevant. It would have been more logical and more engaging to come up with something original that drew inspiration from chess. Or better yet, since these kids just play video games all day, why not draw on some popular real time strategy game? (Answer: The author knows even less about RTS.) If Nobuyuki Fukumoto were here, there would be some actual tension, perhaps even a few missing fingers? (Please?) Sora could do with a few life-threatening games of mahjong. I’m just sayin’.

No Game No Life thinks it’s a lot smarter than it really is, which is to say, extremely dim. It only succeeds on a prayer that the audience doesn’t ask questions.

I return to my earlier point though, that this would be fine if it all served the comedy. It wouldn’t matter that this chess game has no chess in it or that this FPS match is moronic if it were all a means to great jokes. Lamentably, No Game No Life begins to huff its own farts and think the games are of genius-level strategy, refocusing on the serious rather than the humour. Making the characters overpowered to a laughable degree works for comedy, but once you do that, you can’t go back. You write yourself into a hole. You can’t expect people to take it seriously when you want to be dramatic and serious all of a sudden.

As you have likely guessed as well, the “genius” of these characters only stems from the author saying so, not because we ever see any actual genius strategy on screen. The rules bend in convenient service to these geniuses and worst of all, their opponents are all idiots (by author decree, naturally). The author also made little effort with the characters. For instance, why is it that two socially inept kids, as labelled by their introductions, face no social problems except when an ecchi gag calls for it?

No Game No Life is at its best in the first few episodes, when you don’t know that the author has nothing up his sleeve, when the outlandish world is all about delivering jokes, when the coronation of the cheating queen is a parody of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney with the archbishop as the judge and Sora plays the game’s theme tune on his phone. I genuinely laughed for the first act.

After that, it goes downhill. The premise dies when it thinks it’s actually clever. The humour dies when excessive fan service takes over after running out of jokes. The once funny-in-a-creepy way relationship between Sora and Shiro becomes plain creepy.

With how No Game No Life ends up, I’m surprised there was anything good at all in the beginning.

Art – Medium

Colourful and vibrant, the art style suits a game world created by a childish god. That said, it lacks creativity in design. For a world run on games, it doesn’t look like a world of games. And no, plonking down giant chess pieces on the landscape doesn’t count. Like the chess event itself, this was done at random, it seems.

Sound – Medium

I cannot stand forced moe voices, so the original Japanese track is torture to me. I find the dub does a much better job with comedic timing and even tightens up some of the jokes. The ex-princess is particularly better in English. This is a preference, so go with whichever suits.

Story – Low

Genius gamer siblings must rise up in a fantasy world run on games to unite the people and challenge the God of Games himself. After an entertaining start, No Game No Life loses track of what works – the comedy – and begins to take itself too seriously.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For isekai fans only. No Game No Life runs on its premise and no one asking questions. If you can do that, you may enjoy it. But if you want to see what could have been instead, watch Kaiji or Akagi.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None

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