Sam Halford reviews season one of No Game No Life…
When I think back to some of my favourite anime battles it wasn’t the characters with the biggest swords or those who caused the biggest explosions, it was when the show was able to balance great action with the ability to out-think the enemy. This is why Bleach still reminds one of my more enjoyable animes – the show ventured into some truly terrible paths but the fight scenes (at least the cannon fight scenes) didn’t just rely on strength; at times when facing certain defeat the character resolved to using strategy to beat their opponent. With this in mind, here comes an anime that is all wit, intelligence and strategy. Without a single sword, explosion, long shouting match or even a single drop of blood spilt, No Game No Life manages to create some truly amazing battle scenes.
Sora and Shiro are two legendary gamers that form ‘Blank’ and roam from game to game defeating every player to win. The games range from action RPGs to chess, quizzes, word games, you name it. While other players speculate that they may be cheaters, in reality they’re a brother and sister team, NEETs who isolate themselves away from the rest of the world. Despite their social skills leaving a lot to be desired their intelligence is unmatched. After an intense chess battle from an unknown player they’re asked if they consider themselves born into the wrong world, that if a world exists where everything is decided with a game shouldn’t they have been born there? Without doubt they agree and are summoned into that very same world.
They find themselves in a place where no crime can be committed, no bloodshed can be caused, everything from muggings to political decisions to even taking over another country’s territory is decided with a game. There are ten pledges that every citizen must agree to that ensures fair play and that these rules are upheld. Little time passes before Sora and Shiro rise through the ranks of the kingdom, after all they form blank and blank ‘never loses’. They discover that sixteen races exist in this land, from warbeasts, elves and even angelic creatures, and soon their sights are set much higher than the rulers of just one kingdom, especially since they realise that God himself can be challenged.
The games they play are easily the most enjoyable part of the show. Despite their opponents being able to use magic or constantly trying to cheat (you can cheat as long as you don’t get caught) in the end it doesn’t matter, when they said ‘blank never loses’ they meant it. Each game is thought-out with precise strategy, various skills and planning. For example when playing life-sized chess they discover that the pieces have free-will which immediately changes how they play; they begin to use moral speeches for the pieces, military style advances and even seduce the enemy Queen. In one episode there’s a good portion dedicated to an intense rock, paper, scissors match and the use of the double bluff. In all the games, Sora and Shiro have considered every possible detail and scenario – when they face off against all odds and certain defeat, they show how clever they truly are.
The world they’re born into is beautiful to say the least, taken straight out of a fantasy type setting but with a lot more added. Huge chess pieces are forever resting in the horizon and the areas for each race are unique and completely suits what we know of that race. It’s a minor detail of the show but one I think gets overlooked a lot, and it’s clear the creators of both the manga and the anime put a lot of thought into it, even if a lot of the design is based on fantasy tropes. The only downside to this is that they spend a lot of time within the same kingdom. I really hope next season we get to see a lot more.
There’s also some very enjoyable moments outside the games, and the humour is very funny even if most of it based on quite perverted jokes. It’s not all fun and games however; there are some deep scenes and interesting character development, we also learn about the land before the pledges. Yet it is here where we find the problems; while some character development exists it is almost completely forgotten after it’s happened, and that’s the characters who get to be developed – some of them just exist as a punchline or another woman that gets naked. My major compliant however is with Shiro – not the character, but rather part of the sexualised jokes about her and her relationship with her brother, because she’s meant to be 11 years old. It never gets to a point where I grow immediately concerned, or that her and her brother enter into a Lannister type relationship, but at times I genuinely feel very uncomfortable.
No Game No Life has been dubbed the show for gamers, which is true, but for all gamers – not just the video kind. Ultimately though, I think any anime fan can get behind this. It’s refreshing to see battles fought with brains rather than brawn. If you enjoy the thinking man’s route, or enjoy perverted humour then check it out (and even if you don’t I’d still recommend it). This is a great anime and could easily turn into the next big thing, just be prepared to feel a little uneasy from time to time.
Sam Halford – Follow me on Twitter