Review: No Game No Life

This show came out at a time where I was fully and completely invested in anime and being an anime fan, and I went out and grabbed nearly any current running show I could to try to fill my ever-hungry stomach with more. I had a number of shows I was watching this season. Some of which were totally forgotten (sorry, Nanana’s Buried Treasure!) and some stuck around and continued to be enjoyed today, like this show.

However, that was long ago (in my mind lol), and heck if I can recount much anything from that time. Prior to me rewatching the new prequel movie, No Game No Life Zero, I figured I’d revisit this series again to refresh my memory.

An Introduction

No Game No Life is another take on the “stuck in a video game world” genre of anime.

We meet siblings Sora and Shiro, who together form the unstoppable gaming duo, “Blank”. They spend all of their time sitting in their room, playing video games. In their eyes, the outside world isn’t worth their time to deal with; it’s complicated and its rules aren’t straightforward nor logical.

Then, suddenly, a mysterious message. A challenge to a game of chess. This game takes a ridiculously long time to complete, but like always, Blank wins the game. Impressed by their skills, the message’s sender offers to rebirth them into a new world, a world governed solely by games. The gaming duo accept.

Next thing they know, Sora and Shiro find themselves plummeting down towards an unfamiliar earth, while their correspondent – who ends up being this world’s One True God, Tet – lays down the rules for them. Specifically, 10 rules. All conflicts are resolved through games – one person challenges another to a game, each person offers something of equal value for betting, and the challenged party decides the game to play. There is no murder, no robbery, no crime… everything is done through games.

As for our protagonists, the unstoppable gaming duo, now stuck in this world without a seeable way out… they love it. Why would they ever want to leave?

The Plot and Characters

No Game No Life sets up a very interesting world, in large part due to the 10 pledges that every sentient race is expected to adhere to. In this world, there are 16 sentient races, ranked by magical ability. Rank 1, the most powerful race, is Old Deus – the race of gods. Rank 16, with absolutely no magic power at all, are humans – collectively called Imanity for some reason. As Sora and Shiro explore this new world, I as a viewer am too, which is pretty cool… but then their goals change. Nearly immediately, the gamer twins get enough of a grasp of what’s going on to start aiming for something else: to rise to the top of this world, even rivaling the One True God himself!

Frankly, that is what this show is really about: watching Sora and Shiro brain-battle their way through various games and somehow overcome them all. Add a dash of melodramatic speeches about weaknesses/strengths/faith, and a whole heaping of otaku-pandering fluff, and that’s pretty much this show. And for what it is, it’s pretty decent.

Every game and situation that Sora and Shiro get into, you’re fairly confident they’ll pull it off – a majority of the time, the duo themselves are confident too. Pretty much all of the games we come across are games we’ve seen in the real world, from chess to shiritori to even the simply coin flip – although most of them usually have a twist to them, such as the chess pieces having their own will and motivations. In all situations though, Sora (the older brother) knows how to use and bend the rules he’s given to make what he wants happen, such as turning said chess game into a 3-sided war, or causing his opponent to overthink a simple Rock-Paper-Scissors game. He has the wits, the resources, and the charisma to pull off pretty much whatever he wants to happen.

Which kind of makes me wonder about poor Shiro. Despite the duo and the show asserting multiple times that they’re an equal pair, Shiro only really seems to be needed in these games as “plan B”, in the rare times that Sora can’t do it all himself. Even during the one chance Shiro is given to come into her own, she spends most of her time trying to search for her brother.

That aside, though, these games really are fascinating to watch and experience, primarily just to see “how the heck they’ll pull this off” (which unfortunately doesn’t lend well to multiple viewings since you already faintly remember how they did it). Even when Sora and Shiro seem to have everything going against them, they somehow turn it all around. Their plans to outsmart the smart ones and outcraft the crafty ones are fascinating to behold.

However, this ends up only being a portion of the entire show.

The other half of No Game No Life is spent with a lot of fanservice and anime fan pandering. The show has no trouble showing off Shiro’s underwear multiple times, despite her being age 11. The show knowingly devolves into fanservice scenes quite a bit, and as more characters are added on, the further along they push these scenes as well. This is further complicated by Sora playing the all-too-common trait of the desperate virgin – with Shiro being the one to reign him in when he goes off the rails. The fanservice scenes really don’t do much for me, and the amount of times I’ve seen girls’ underwear in this show honestly does make me a bit uncomfortable. However, I’ve pretty fully accepted that this is just one of the main pillars of this series; if you’re looking for a fanservice-free show, this is not the way to go.

This show also likes to make references. In fact, quite a bit of them. It amused me to come back to this series years after my first watch-through, now seeing all of the things that younger me didn’t even realize to be references. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Doraemon, Ace Attorney (this one actually really cracked me up because they did a remix of one of the Ace Attorney themes and one of the characters was a spot-on copy of the judge), and more. Even on this second watch-through, I’m sure there’s references that I still didn’t even get. You really don’t have to get these references to still get the show, as younger me can tell you, but they do add a tiny bit more enjoyment for fans.

So let’s round up this section talking about the supporting cast and the show’s pacing.

Stephanie Dola is the granddaughter of Imanity’s previous king, and honestly, she seems only here to fill this show’s weird definition of “comic relief”. Constantly, she’s portrayed as dumb and incapable. Sora and Shiro constantly belittle and ridicule her, and even the one scene where she displays herself to be fairly intelligent, she isn’t treated seriously. Even when they actually acknowledge her and thank her for something, it more feels like they’re doing it so they don’t lose their plaything rather than because they actually value her. It’s a bit of a shame, because she’d actually be an interesting character if everyone and everything didn’t have it out to make her seem so stupid. She has values, a goal, and drive, but she’s constantly trampled over except for the few times she’s needed for plot reasons.

Jibril is introduced halfway through the series; she’s a Flügel, the angel-like race ranked 6 with super magical abilities. Lacking the ability to be destructive in this game-dominated world, the Flügel all became obsessed with knowledge – thus, the main duo come across Jibril in Imanity’s library. Jibril has an air of self-importance about her, looking down on all lower-ranked races, but when you get past that, you see a fun personality of someone who can be aloof and strange, but yet also at times unnervingly deadly serious. She fits in surprisingly well with Sora and Shiro, and the show’s affection for fanservice. Frankly, she’s just fun to have on screen.

There’s other characters too, like Kurami, Fi, and Izuna… but, we don’t really see them quite as much. They are interesting characters, for sure, but my word count is already super long.

Lastly, the pacing… which is quite good. Each episode feels like something gets accomplished and progress was made. Each scene in this show lasts long enough to do what they need to do, and then finish. Things don’t linger around unnecessarily, nor does anything feel like they’re moving too fast to not be able to achieve their full effect. All in all, pretty well done.

Oop! Surprise final paragraph! Just like the show, which has a surprise final scene… if you’ve heard the term “Gainax ending” before, you may be disappointed to hear this applies here. After everything gets wrapped up well enough in the final episode, the post-credits scene just throws a wrench in it all. It honestly made me relatively upset when I first finished the series – it was the first anime show to do that to me! Unfortunately, with no announcement of an animated continuation of the main story at the time of writing, the only way you’ll be able to continue this sudden ending is by reading the original light novels.

The Atmosphere

No Game No Life is filled with color. Everything is colorful! And not just one or two or a few colors, oh no no no! There’s a lot of them and they’re all over the screen and you can’t escape them!

Seriously, I do love how bright and colorful this anime is. Not only are there colors, but there’s a lot of textures and details too. No Game No Life’s visual style is like no other, and it’s pretty cool! These visuals really did just make me want to explore this world so much more – a tad saddening, seeing how little of the whole world we really get to see. However, sometimes these bright colors actually do become a bit too much. The backgrounds overwhelm me too much that I can’t really even focus on what’s actually going on in the scene, and I have difficulties discerning the characters from the bright backdrop behind them. Fortunately, though, this only applies to a few scenes, but it’s still enough to warrant a mention.

The interesting visuals also lend itself to the character designs. The main cast all have these distinct shapes to them, although sometimes Shiro looks a bit aged up in the dramatic scenes of the final 2 episodes, amusingly enough. Excepting Sora wearing a T-shirt, an undershirt, and jeans, the whole cast have these flowing, fantasy-esque robes/dresses/outfits they don. The designs are distinct, but not ornate enough to just be too much (except maybe Steph’s dress).

The characters, a majority of the time, are all drawn with red outlines as well, rather than black. It honestly does contribute to the blending-into-the-background problem I mentioned a few paragraphs ago… but still, I respect and applaud shows that do this, because it really makes things look different. I do think having black outlines would just stand out a bit too much with the color-palooza going on in the backgrounds.

Animation-wise, No Game No Life also fares well. Motion flows really well, and the times 2D and 3D are put together really don’t even bother me at all because of all the colors. There aren’t any noticeable drops in quality.

So, let’s talk voice actors. I’d fathom a guess that over half of No Game No Life’s dialogue comes from Sora alone, so you’d hope that whoever voices him does a good job. On the Japanese side, you have Yoshitsugu Matsuoka – the same voice actor for Sword Art Online’s Kirito. And indeed, Mr. Matsuoka does a pretty outstanding job, being able to do all of Sora’s various expressions, and he even gives Sora this distinct voice that stands apart from other anime protagonists. It’s a bit deeper and gravel-y-ier, sounding like it comes more from the back of the throat. It’s cool. On the English side, we have Scott Gibbs. He doesn’t do a bad job, either, although it sounds more like a super-cool, slick action movie star than I’d expect Sora to be. Again, though, not a bad job, it’s an interesting take.

Shiro is handled by Ai Kayano on the Japanese side and Caitlynn French on the English side. Both sound pretty similar, and I honestly feel “meh” about both. Shiro is supposed to be the quiet, almost Yuki Nagato-like type, which I can kind of hear both voice actors going for.

I’ll also give mention to how Jibril’s introduction was done on the English side. Sora and Shiro first come across Jibril speaking in a manner comically unfitting her appearance, which throws them for a loop, but the subtitles failed to really convey this joke. On the English side, the lines were rewritten to sound like someone trying to sound cool and foreign by dropping random French/Spanish words, so they translated it over pretty decently. Just something small I wanted to mention and appreciate.

All in all, for the English dub, it’s of same quality as Sentai’s other dubs. That is to say, it’s pretty alright.

The show’s opening theme is “This Game”, sung by Konomi Suzuki. It’s fast-paced and energetic, with a piano accompaniment (with drums and guitar as well). The opening animation, in turn, is also rather fun, with people and things flying around and the show’s variety of colors on full display. I was actually surprised to have this song get stuck in my head after the fact, it didn’t seem like the type that would. The ending song is “Oracion”, sung by Ai Kayano, and I like how it goes from cold and sad sounding in the beginning to more energetic in the latter half; the ending animation does the same to match. I also recommend you watch the ending in full for episode 8, and also keep in mind that a few episodes have after-credits scenes.

For the show’s background music, it’s a lot of electronic music – some EDM and some more house/chill-like, although some other instruments and sounds do make their way in at times too; it’s distinctive and fits really well for the show. You’ll definitely figure out some tracks as the “explaining/monologuing song” and the “dramatic scenes song” and such, but still, it’s good stuff, and since this show is only 12 episodes, it’s not really long enough for any of them to really start to grate on you.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

No Game No Life is a fascinating ride. From the brightly colored visuals to the intense mental battles of the games to the large amount of fanservice content, this show does enough to stand on its own and make the experience fun. This being said, the fanservice can get a bit much, and the show’s handling of Steph is saddening, but the biggest issue is the cliffhanger ending at the very end.

I bet most of my review came off pretty positive though, if not neutral. I just had that much fun time with the show. Likewise, if you’re looking for something fun and that makes you wonder “how are they going to pull this one off?”, No Game No Life won’t fail to deliver. Just, uhhh… don’t say I didn’t warn you about the ending.

Rating: Great
Recommendation: Watch It
+++ fascinating to watch Sora/Shiro fight their way through the games, bright colors and red outlines, the various references
— the cliffhanger “Gainax ending”, Steph is constantly belittled and made fun of, Shiro feels a bit unneeded

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