My longest review yet.
Please watch the Youtube video if you can.
No Game No Life (REVIEW)
Youtube Review (Please watch this if you can!)
No Game No Life was a show I greatly looked forward to before it even aired, and it was something that quickly became the most hyped show of the season. Now that the twelve episodes have ended, it has also become the top 20 or so anime of all time on MyAnimeList which also makes it one of the most controversial anime in recent years. Is it really overrated? What could be some reasons why it is rated so highly? Do the games make sense? Is it just full of ass-pulls? Is it well thought out? Does it go beyond pandering? Is it just wish fulfillment nonsense? Why is Jibril’s sideboob the best sideboob? What makes this anime enjoyable? Those are some of the questions I’ll try to tackle in this review. Sit back and relax because it’s going to be a long one.
So first off, what’s this anime all about? Well, it’s about two genius hikikomori NEETs named Sora and Shiro who detest their world and play video games all day. They are so good that their alias, “Kuuhaku” or otherwise known as “Blank,” becomes an urban legend. As if heeding their call to be born in a new world, the God of play, or the One True God Tet, transports them to Disboard after losing a chess game to them where they can play games to their heart’s content. The world of Disboard is guided by the Ten Commandments which forbids things like war and bloodshed while forcing disputes to be settled through the outcome of games. Almost anything from national territory to money to one’s mental state to even individuals themselves can be wagered. Sora and Shiro then begin to do whatever they need to do in order to challenge Tet to one more game.
From this premise, it’s clear that a lot of this anime is about the overarching game with Tet and the individual games that build up Sora and Shiro’s position in the world so they can fulfill their ultimate goal. It only makes sense that we need to look at each of the games in order to fully understand what this anime has to offer. Without spoiling what actually happens, using abstract terms, I will outline the general idea of what the various games do well, and what they don’t do well. So let’s first put aside the overarching game and discuss the smaller individual games. These twelve episodes contain four major games, and it all starts with the chess game. Oh, the glorious chess game that many people say is full of ass-pulls, and contrived situations. While I didn’t hold that perspective when I watched it, why is it that so many people have this viewpoint? Well, it has to do with the nature of the games in No Game No Life as well as our main protagonists. In this anime, and especially in this particular game, the rules are very open. That is, there are many, many ways to tackle the game because the rules are very unrestrictive. In one way, this greatly adds to the surprising element of the show as the characters tackle the games in ways you may not expect, but at the same time, the logical strength of the games suffer.
To me, the first game makes enough sense. What happens in the game does not go against the initial guidelines set out in the beginning. As long as you switch your mindset according to what it becomes, because it’s not really a chess game at all, the jumps in the progression of the game make at least a minimal amount of sense for me. However, it can seem like a stretch at times because Sora plays to exploit as much as he possibly can from the games themselves. He bends the rules as much as possible without outright cheating. Personally, I liked how the characters thought outside the box, and I didn’t view it to be too much of a stretch even when I looked at it a bit more closely. Actually, when I analyzed it a bit more, it made even more sense. Certainly, this is no Kaiji. Comparing it to that in terms of logical strength is pretty silly. But you have to keep in mind that this anime isn’t about blowing your mind with its logic. Its games are lateral thinking games. Creative games that keep you on your toes and surprise you with how the games unravel which in turn make them exciting to watch. It’s important that the games have to at least make a minimum level of sense. Otherwise, if I find them to be unbelievably illogical, then it wouldn’t matter how creative they are. So while what happens in the first game can be a bit of a stretch, it’s definitely not enough of a stretch for me to call it full of ass-pulls. That’s simply too strong of a statement. The more appropriate statement would be if someone said that it’s not as logically strong as they’d like it to be or that it could be far more logical by tweaking the rules or something along those lines. Not that I think this anime is smart or that this game is very well thought out. It’s not, and I’ll discuss this more as we progress, but it’s just not so full of stupidity like some people say it is.
While we’re on the subject of logical strength, we may as well talk about this part. (Link to video for this part) Before you re-evaluate your life, I must note that this scene happens during what seemed to be a serious explanation. This in turn caused a lot of people to cry out how ridiculously stupid this cuteness part is. While I absolutely agree that this part is very poorly implemented, some people seem to be attributing this part to be a problem of logical strength rather than comedic or entertainment execution. Basically, some people are saying how stupid it is for the author to write that “the one unchanging righteousness in the world is cuteness” because it doesn’t make sense in real life and it’s simply not true. But that’s not looking at it the right way. The author is obviously not serious when he wrote this part. Just some moments before, he made some serious and reasonable statements. I’m not saying that the logic of the game is completely unaffected by this scene, but the primary fault is the comedic execution which means we should be mostly criticizing that instead of blaming it all on how illogical the statements about cuteness are. Anyways, I think at the very least, this chess game overall meets the minimum amount of sense for me to appreciate the creative side. If there are enough people who say that I’m spouting nonsense and that the chess game is truly retarded, then I’ll do an analysis defending this point later on.
Then, there’s the second game which many agree to be the best game that the show has to offer. It’s one that reflects the exciting nature of the show better than any of the other games with one exhilarating move after another, and makes a lot of sense… at least at first. The interesting thing about this game is how the more closely you look into it, the more holes you can poke at it unlike the first game where the more closely you looked at it, the more it made sense. These holes aren’t small ones either. They actually throw doubt into who actually wins these games. To add on to what I mentioned previously, another significant factor that also undermines the logic in all these four games is uncertainty. Characteristics like endurance, speed, charisma, and other factors that I cannot mention because of spoilers are not strictly defined. Things like the distance between objects, the difference in constitution between the human body, Warbeasts, Flugel, the other races, and things like that all matter in these games, but there are a lot of uncertainties surrounding these things that throw doubt into both the conclusion and the progression of the games.
Let me give you an example that’s not from the show. Let’s pretend that there are two armies of equal strength by themselves. One is called Army A and the other is called Army B. The factor that determines the difference in strength between the two armies is the general on either side that can strengthen his troops in various ways. It could be with magic, it could be with charisma, and so on. Let’s say that the general of Army A only uses magic to bolster his forces, and let’s say that Army B’s general incites his forces with a glorious speech greatly boosting morale and nothing else. Now, if the armies clash, which one do you think will win? Well, we have no idea of knowing, right? We don’t know how much the magic bolsters Army A’s forces and we have no idea how much Army B increased in strength because of the speech. It’s only when the armies actually clash that you know which is stronger. This means that the scenario could be manipulated any which way to be convenient for the writer rather than be something that’s well thought out. This is what happens quite often in No Game No Life. The writer could state that Army A wins, but as viewers, we may not be convinced by the lack of evidence.
With all that said, I still think the excitement of these two games more than make up for their logical flaws. I never really viewed the phrase “Blank never loses” to be a bad thing because even though we know they’ll win, their situation can be quite hopeless at times which can make you excited wondering just how they’re going to turn it all around. It’s how the games turn out that matters, and at least for the first two games, how the games unravel through the various twists and turns is very thrilling to see. But for the last two games, things change for the worse. A lot of the charm of the first two games was the fact that anyone given the right mindset, can do the things Sora and Shiro do in order to win. You need to think outside the box, but you can reasonably reach the conclusions of those two games or something similar given the foreshadowing prior to them. In the last two games, you can’t. They just happen. A lot of how the last two games play out, much more so the last one, depend mostly on Sora and Shiro’s genius. That is, the ability to compute mathematical equations and other complex ideas in their heads unbeknownst to the viewers. The level of excitement ends up suffering as the progression and the resolutions of these games end up feeling contrived.
Sure, we can make sense of the games by saying that, well, Sora and Shiro are geniuses, so they can do those extraordinary things. But even if it may show the genius of the characters, albeit in a shallow way, it certainly doesn’t show the genius of the writer. It’s like seeing one of those cool trick shots except in anime format. It’s awesome in real life because it requires actual skill, but for a writer to just explain that “these guys are geniuses so they can calculate everything in their brains to do the trick shot perfectly” is just lazy writing. It requires barely any creativity to think of random absurdities like this which make the games a lot less fun to watch. That’s not to say that they weren’t exciting at all. The execution of all the games, whether it be the voice acting, the sound effects, the soundtracks, the sound design, the animation direction, the natural flow of the games that continuously build up tension, and many other factors make even the most contrived game, somewhat entertaining, and the best game, remarkably entertaining. I’ll explain why the anime overall is exciting in much more detail once we get through some other things.
What’s just as important as these four games is the overall game. That is, Sora and Shiro’s grand strategies to challenge, and eventually beat Tet the One True God. People may have problems with how logically the four games play out, but this overarching game has few, if any, logical flaws. Previously, I mentioned how in Disboard people could bet almost anything. This means that it’s not only winning the games that matters; the wagers of those wins and what the characters sacrifice and gain at the beginning and at the end of each of the games make for some creative moments where Sora manipulates the smaller pieces of the overall puzzle so that he can continue to win. The winnings from every single game smoothly transition into giving Sora and Shiro a stronger foothold to win bigger and greater games in the future. It’s very satisfying seeing them unravel their strategies one by one because they plan so far ahead taking so many different things into account. The stakes become higher and higher with every passing game which makes for both a nice sense of progress and escalating intensity. This overarching game also gives the show a direction. By the end, it feels like the characters actually accomplished something. To me, this overarching game with Sora and Shiro’s grand schemes is definitely one of my favorite aspect of this entire anime. Even though I’d agree that the show overall isn’t smart or anything like that, this part of the anime is at the very least fairly clever.
Now that we’re done talking about the games, let’s move on to what I find to be the weakest part of the anime. It’s the characters. Firstly, I want to address the seeming inconsistency with Sora’s NEET background and his ability to communicate as if he were not a NEET. Without analyzing him a bit more closely, it seems ridiculous that such a secluded person would be able to communicate so efficiently. One person dug a bit deeper into the name “Kuuhaku” or “Blank” as well as Sora and Shiro’s names to give us some answers. Here’s the link to the post, but the basic idea is that after looking at the word “Sora” compounded with other words, things like “sorazorashii” which means “false” or “hypocritical,” and other words like that show up. What this means is that Sora doesn’t even view his conversations with everyone except Shiro to be real forms of communication. It’s as if he’s talking to NPCs to get what he wants out of them. He’s so good at lying that he’s able to lie to himself so that he’s convinced that everything is just a game. Deception not only to others, but also to himself is what allows him to do a lot of what he has done.
Some people also complain about their toxic world view and how terrible it is almost as if it were glorifying NEETs and their stance about the world. I do agree that their world view is toxic and that it ended up negatively affecting the show, but for quite some time I didn’t think the author was exactly glorifying NEETs. Honestly, until someone brought up the idea of NEET glorification, the thought never crossed my mind because the fact that they’re NEETs isn’t something the show repetitiously emphasizes over and over again. It’s more of a side factor than anything else which was enough for me to say that this anime isn’t glorifying NEETs. Their world view, however, is a different story, and ended up switching my perspective about NEET glorification in this anime once I considered it a bit more at the end. The problem isn’t so much that Sora and Shiro’s toxic world view is in and of itself bad. The writer could have just been using this world view as a premise for change within the characters throughout the series. The problem is when no such change occurs and their original toxic world view in the beginning of the series is the same toxic world view they hold at the end of the twelve episodes. Nothing really changes, so you have to wonder if the author really understands that this viewpoint is toxic and should be addressed or if the author is trying to justify these two NEETs’ stance about the world. There’s one part after the first game that reflects this very well. Sora says this to the enemy: “Our world isn’t as nice a place as yours. When it comes to war and killing, we have far more expertise than you do.”
Okay, so you’re telling me… two NEETs who shut themselves in and play video games all day know the true despairing nature of the world. Yeah… No. At first I thought some backstory about them would be shown for us to understand that maybe they did have a really tough life and that’s why they became shut-ins in the first place. It’s just that hardly anything of the sort happened. Though, after reading some parts of the light novel, I came to realize that there is actually some foreshadowing that shows that Sora and Shiro really did have a more serious past. Nevertheless, I cannot excuse the anime purely on this basis, and what’s even worse is that there is hardly such foreshadowing in the anime at all. I understand that there are only twelve episodes, but you can’t possibly expect me to overlook their world view for this long without much reasonable foreshadowing or minor explanations. It really does end up feeling like the anime is trying to say that these NEETs’ perspective is right and that only their world was what was wrong. That’s why now I think people are justified in saying that this anime is glorifying NEETs. Until more explanations surrounding this happens, Sora’s statement about the world is just silly, misplaced, and pretentious. That said, it’s not a huge emphasis, so it’s a factor that we must be aware of, but it’s not a hugely determining factor, at least not for me, when it comes to critiquing this anime.
What I do find to be a hugely determining factor is the relationship between Sora and Shiro. The issue I have with this is how the bond between the two is portrayed. There’s a part in the beginning where the show reveals that if Sora and Shiro are separated from each other, or at least when they think that they are separated from each other, that the two stop acting like their confident selves and completely lose their composure. While this is an example of showing instead of telling, it still is a shallow form of expressing their closeness because we have no idea why they are so close in the first place. The anime never gives any kind of significant backstory about their past, so we’re just being shown that they’re close because they’re close. We’re shown what happens after two people get close, and not the process which is a huge problem. The construction of the bond between the two is much more important from a viewer’s perspective than the end result. I know eventually it’ll fill up this hole, but it’s disappointing that it didn’t touch upon it much at all even after twelve episodes when it’s such an important part of the anime.
The lack of a backstory also affects the two characters individually. What Blank does is cool and entertaining to see, but I don’t really care about the siblings all that much. How did they end up being NEETs? How did they end up depending on each other? Why do they act the way they do? What are their inner motivations? These questions are things the show barely touch upon. There are bits and pieces sprinkled throughout, but nothing great enough for me to actually become invested in them as characters. I’m not saying they have to be extremely relatable. Some characters just aren’t, and that’s perfectly fine unlike what some people may say. It’s just that, Sora for example, has this one dimensional layer of being “badass,” and that’s pretty much all there is to the depth to his character. You may think I’m contradicting what I said earlier about analyzing Sora more closely, but keep in mind that a person analyzing it and the anime implying it and building upon it are two different things. That’s actually not even as bad as Shiro because she’s surprisingly not as involved as I thought she’d be in the games themselves. She sits at the side, and it seems like her ability to compute equations and things in her head just serves as the author’s awkward way of making her relevant in the games as if he’s afraid that she’d be useless otherwise. I understand what type of character she is as you’ll be able to read in the character analysis post I mentioned earlier, but she doesn’t feel as vital to the games as she should, given her position as the other half of Blank which also doesn’t help portray her apparently close bond with Sora. Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of potential when it comes to the bond between Sora and Shiro and the two characters individually. It’s just that this season doesn’t utilize it much at all which is very disappointing. Even Kurami and Fii got more backstory than they did… Good lord.
Then, we have Steph. Seriously, Hikasa Yoko does it again. Actually, I have to praise Matsuoka Yoshitsugu as well. Originally when I thought he was going to be Sora’s voice actor, I was thinking, “GOD DAMMIT KIRITO-
KUN CHAN.” He ended up doing a commendable job conveying Sora’s badassery. I guess we can thank Kirito- kun chanfor that. Anyways, Steph is this anime’s target to poke fun at for comic relief. Sadly, that’s all she really is. There’s some strange inconsistency in her character since she’s portrayed to be very slow on the uptake, but there are times when the show says that she’s smart. I get that this is part of the humor of the show, but it doesn’t help her as a character. Even though she obviously can’t compare to Sora and Shiro in terms of intelligence, she’s shown to be stupidly useless so that the anime can continue to humor us which ends up making her a very shallow character. In the beginning parts of the anime, she plays her role as the comic relief for this anime very well. However, looking back on it now, her comic relief role ended up being overshadowed by her “dumb and stupid” role. It’s a shame because there was bits of more serious motivation for her to better Imanity and potential for her to be useful in other ways. I would have still been fine with Steph being stupid for the humorous parts, and not actually stupid in the games despite the inconsistency that would result. That, or be useful in other ways. I mean, I definitely got some good laughs because of her, but it feels like she could have been that and then much more. She didn’t have to be restricted to the comic relief role, but she ended up being shoved to the side pretty hard.
As for Jibril, she’s a fan favorite, and her sideboob is the best sideboob. Thankfully, because Steph plays the dumb and stupid role, Jibril doesn’t have to. As such, she doesn’t have the same problems as Steph does. The introduction of her character, and her character overall is entertaining to watch because she can be the catalyst for some humorous moments and some badass ones as well. She’s actually the type of side character I wanted to see Steph as because she’s a valuable asset for the games and for the comedy of the anime. She’s an ideal side character for this type of show. She’s not too useless, and at the same time she’s not too useful. It’s actually quite important that she’s not too useful because the story should be centered mostly on Sora and Shiro above all else. Having her overshadow them would probably not be a good idea for the overarching game with Tet. So yeah, she’s a pretty good side character. As for all the other side characters… They’re more tools than anything else without much screen time for us to really get to know them, so there’s not really much to say about them. As for Tet, we don’t really know much about him other than that he’s quite similar to Sora and Shiro. When he talks to them about why he brought them to Disboard, it really feels like he’s just a gamer looking for some fun, and you know what? I think that’s good enough because this show is about having fun more than anything else. He’s got this mischievous and calculating side to him that mirrors the siblings which make me really excited to see how the overarching game will turn out. Since he also reflects the overall tone of the anime well, I think he’s a fitting “final boss” for this anime.
Alright, now let’s talk about the fanservice. For me, there are two major sides to fanservice. The first is the degree of intensity which is just the amount of skin shown, how much time is used to portray fanservice, and the overall emphasis of fanservice in a show. Secondly, there is the execution of that degree of fanservice shown which is how the fanservice is put in, the context in which it is put in, and things like that. No Game No Life shows a lot of skin, and that in and of itself is enough to put some people off. It is, however, a show well suited for this level of intensity when it comes to fanservice. If the same degree of fanservice were put in a far more somber show like Fate/Zero, it would probably be atrocious no matter how good the execution is. But since this degree of fanservice is put into a more lighthearted, fun-filled, and not as serious show like No Game No Life, the level of intensity is far less of a concern, and, at least in my opinion, should be treated more as a subjective point rather than an objective point. As for the execution of such fanservice, I’d argue that No Game No Life does a good job implementing it by making it an addition to the anime rather than a sole overwhelming aspect. Outside of the games, most of its fanservice is done in dedicated periods of time, such as when they’re showering, so it’s hardly intrusive to the more serious parts of the show. In the games, the fanservice is actually done in… intriguing ways. How it’s done in the second game is a good example. For the most part, I think fanservice is done tastefully in No Game No Life. You could still dislike it because the raw amount of fanservice may just be too much, and that’s completely up to you. But put that aside a moment and consider the delivery of that level of fanservice, and I don’t think there are too many issues with it.
Another part of the anime that is a major contributor to making it as fun-filled as it is, is the comedy. We have the typical slapstick comedy, the harem antics, the brocon siscon humor, and moments like that scattered throughout the entire series. Outside of a few moments like the cuteness part, which is just badly done, the comedy as a whole fits extremely well into most of the anime, and is actually funny. It’s not easy to balance the more serious moments with the more comedic moments in a way that they both add to the anime instead of interrupting each other in awkward ways that take away from the anime. Some may say that Steph’s contribution to the comedy justifies the kind of character she is, but I don’t agree. There are many, many moments where the show doesn’t rely on her character and end up just as funny, if not even funnier. The top-notch Engrish voice acting, the various obsessions of the characters, the otaku humor, and many other scenarios are all fun to watch.
And even though the comedy is well done, the most significant aspect that makes me enjoy No Game No Life as much as I do is still how exciting it is. Watching this anime really reminds me of the Valvrave days where one crazy thing happened after another. Except unlike Valvrave, the delivery of No Game No Life’s exciting events is more structured than just stupidly absurd. The twists and turns definitely play very large roles in making this anime as exciting as it is, but there are also many other aspects that greatly add on to each other to create the overall thrilling experience. The one thing that always really struck me when I watched every episode is actually the sound effects. Usually, the soundtracks are the ones that really stand out, and they do in this anime. It’s just that the greatness of the utilization of sound effects in this anime must be emphasized because it’s very unusual for a show to create and utilize them so well. The sound assets overall in this anime are beautiful, and nothing can illustrate this point better than actually showing you some examples. So here’s a mishmash of random sound effects to give you an idea of what I mean. Don’t worry, I’ll black out the parts that contain mild spoilers. (Here’s the link) Obviously, this is a jumbled mess, and it’s far better when you actually watch the anime. By giving this example, I’m only hoping that you did hear the wide array of unique sound effects that this anime uses to make each important moment that much more exciting. Some of you may think that is not such a big deal. However, remember that even though individually each sound effect may not add that much to the experience, when entire episodes are exceptionally furnished with them, it makes a big difference. It’s also interesting to note that some of these sound effects are also used in more recent anime like Sidonia no Kishi as well. It’s probably the case that these sound effects are very new, and are just now being used because I don’t remember hearing anything too similar in other anime released in the past two years. To back up this statement, if you listen closely, a recent episode of Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance, which is a show airing this season, also used bits and pieces of the sound effects used in No Game No Life. Though, the difference in terms of how well implemented they are is very clear.
While the soundtracks aren’t as exceptional relative to other anime as the sound effects, they’re still pretty good. Thankfully, I delayed long enough for this review for them to be released. The bad thing is that the main theme of this anime isn’t in this first volume, and I’m not going to wait for the second. (I put some in the video review so you can check that out if you want to hear some examples.) It has the softer upbeat soundtracks for the discussions, the lively upbeat ones for parts of the games, the orchestral piece that I think is the main theme soundtrack for this anime, which is quite glorious, and so on. They all fit very well into the various scenes, and I’d probably listen to the softer upbeat soundtracks when I’m doing something else as well. Most of the soundtracks aren’t superb, but they fit well into the anime as it’s often driven by Sora’s internal thoughts and dialogue. Though, the strange thing is, considering how often the main theme soundtrack is used, it doesn’t get old. At most climaxes, this same soundtrack is used, and yet I’m not tired of it. This goes to show that not only is that particular soundtrack good, but also that the sound design in this anime is just fantastic.
If you don’t know, sound design refers to how the soundtracks, the sound effects, even the dialogue, and just basically all the sound assets are integrated with each other, and with the overall anime. Without good sound design, it wouldn’t matter how excellent the sound effects or the soundtracks are. Put them in at the wrong moments, and it ends up disastrous. I think a big reason why I didn’t get tired of the main theme is because it’s always coupled with dialogue. It’s never the main thing I hear unlike Swordland in SAO which is a great soundtrack, but ended up being something I got sick of hearing because I heard it over and over again by itself with just action scenes. Anyways, the sound design when it comes to soundtracks is solidly done, but I mostly have a high regard for the sound design because of the sound effects. It’s one thing to implement the sound effects decently, but it’s another thing to implement them at the right moments to add that layer of intensity to the show. What can I say? I’m just really happy that it did such a great job in this regard because it’s usually something that doesn’t stand out. It certainly set a new standard for me when it comes to judging other shows’ sound effects and sound design.
Of course, we can’t ignore the animations. No, there’s no gradient hair which is a shame, but the quality of animations is very solid overall. Though, I’m more concerned about the animation direction when it comes to discussing how this anime portrays excitement. What exactly am I talking about when it comes to this? Well, it’s all about the camera angels, scene transitions, and other things like that. Even if you may not consciously realize that those things affect your viewing experience, they do on a subconscious level. If I am to touch upon even a large part of what this anime does well when it comes to animation direction, this video would be even longer, and it’s already very long. I’ll just give some examples so that you know what I mean, and so that you can find such bits of great animation direction yourself. One of the nicest examples is in the third game where you can’t see Sora’s eyes for the duration of the game. This little detail very nicely reflects the tone and the character involvement in the game. Saying exactly why this is so would be a spoiler, but people who have watched it will know exactly what I’m talking about. Secondly, there’s the close-ups. While I did talk negatively about Sora’s character previously in that he’s badass and that’s pretty much all there is to his character, the show portrays his badassery excellently. Whenever the characters, especially Sora, becomes a bit more serious, these close-ups happen, and when you couple this with the sound effects, it really makes everything… pretty damn cool. You can extend this outside of the close-ups into camera angles in general. You can tell that this anime has a sizeable budget with how often the scenes change to accommodate for depicting different moods and shifts in action in the games. Moreover, such scene transitions mesh with the back and forth nature of the games extremely well to give this anime a great level of excitement.
It’s clear that from a technical standpoint, this anime is fantastic. But it doesn’t stop there. The pacing of the games is also great. Some people simplify the progression of the games, and say that what’s really happening is just, “Oh, I’m winning! No wait, they have the upper hand! Nope, I do now! Oh no, they overcame that!” until Sora and Shiro win. On the one hand this is accurate, on the other hand it isn’t. It’s accurate in that these games have a lot of back and forth. No one has the clear advantage throughout the whole game which is good considering how boring that’d be. It’s inaccurate in that such simplicity does not do the execution justice. Yes, the common formula used is that they’re winning, and then they lose their advantage, and then they gain it back, but it’s mostly about how these shifts occur and not that they do that make the games exciting. The anime maintains a delicate balance by making Sora and Shiro vulnerable enough so that the back and forth exchanges are actually meaningful not to mention how some of the obstacles they overcome seem at first impossible to surmount. Even though we know they’ll never really lose, every single game ends up very, very close which is probably one of the biggest reasons why they’re still very tense.
Also, let’s just say that the way this anime does the buildup for the games is amazing. I’m not talking about the games themselves. I’m talking about the setup episodes where Sora and Shiro challenge new opponents, put the pieces of the puzzle together, and execute their plans. I can’t help but get chills whenever I watch that negotiation. Though, I don’t know if I would call it a negotiation or just outright badass destruction on Sora’s part. Holy… it’s not often you get to see shows that do the setup episodes so well. You’d think that since you know they won’t lose that there won’t be much tension in how they execute the high stake game proposals, but that’s not the case. At least not for me. The sound effects, the animation direction, the voice acting, the grand plans, the high stake wagers, the way Sora outwits the enemy in the most badass way possible and everything else come together to create moments that make me smile at how incredibly awesome they are. There’s also things like the way the characters speak, and many other smaller factors that would be good to analyze at some other point as their importance is not exclusive to this anime alone. For the purpose of saving time, I’ve simply laid out a few of the major factors so you can understand some of the reasons why a lot of people enjoy No Game No Life even if they may not realize exactly why they do. Couple these factors with the comedy, the silliness of the characters, the lively tone of the show, and you have an anime that’s a lot of fun to watch. But of course, because of the popularity surrounding it, naturally some people will have some remarks I have to address, so let’s go over them one by one.
The first is something along the lines of, “No Game No Life doesn’t go beyond pandering,” or “No Game No Life is just baiting otakus with its otaku tropes.” I think a commonality you’ll begin to see with these complaints is that they tend to look at the anime from only one angle and/or very extreme statements. Saying that No Game No Life “doesn’t go beyond pandering” is quite ludicrous to me. I mean, the greatness of the technical qualities are already enough to counter this statement. As for it baiting otakus with its typical tropes, I definitely agree that it does, but that’s not the only thing it does. Yes, in No Game No Life there are many typical tropes. You have the brocon siscon incestuous relationship, the lolis, the Warbeasts, the sideboobs, the Steph, the gamer tone, the genius protagonists, the NEETs, the fantastical world practically made for the protagonists, and many other things. But do these things in and of themselves make the show bad? No. The reason why the portrayal of the relationship between Sora and Shiro is weak isn’t because of the incest trope. It’s because the writing is simply incompetent in this regard. The same goes for NEET glorification. Yes, this show panders to get more sales, and it’s sad that this has to be the case to this degree, but the fanservice and some of the other typical tropes aren’t dealt with that badly. Things like the references are put in well, and it doesn’t feel like it’s going overboard most of the time trying to constantly please a certain demographic.
I also see complaints that say, “No Game No Life is just wish fulfillment,” or that “It’s just a power fantasy.” Again, I partially agree. The characters are extremely overpowered, and sometimes it is to this show’s detriment. However, the fact that they’re as overpowered as they are isn’t something that in and of itself hampers character development. Being powerful doesn’t mean the personality, and the state of the character cannot evolve. As I mentioned previously when talking about NEET glorification, it’s very possible for there to be great amounts of character development should the author use the proper avenue of growth. The writing is simply not so great when it comes to this, and yet some people fail to address this, pointing solely to the fact that “it’s a power fantasy” which explains very little about what makes the characters not so good. To be honest, I’m not even sure if this is as much of a power fantasy as some people say it is. This may sound ridiculous, but stick with me here. Sora and Shiro are portrayed to be abnormal geniuses from the get-go. They’re clearly not “normal” by NEET standard or any standard for that matter. They are so far detached from being “normal” that I don’t think people can really relate to them all that much which is what I think to be probably the most important thing when it comes to wish fulfillment. It’s not as if they were average Joes that got transported into another world and then they gained special powers and became overpowered. It’s not giving the message that “there is hidden power within you too” because they already had it in the first place. Of course, it still is a power fantasy to some extent. I’m just making the argument that I don’t think it’s as much of a power fantasy in the negative sense as some people say it is.
And you know what? You may not agree with my opinion about how this anime does pandering decently, and other similar subjective points. There’s nothing wrong with that, but even if I were concede the fact that the otaku tropes aren’t well done, or that the fact that it’s a power fantasy very much negatively affects the show, there is still the fun side to No Game No Life. The clever overarching game with Tet, the exciting games that make me anticipate the next episode almost every week, the comedy, the quirkiness of the characters, and other factors are all other significant facets to this anime that one must consider when it comes to reviewing this show. Even if it may be pandering to otaku, that’s not the only thing it does. This anime is not so simple that such broad and extreme statements can be made without proper analysis. There is a lot to this anime, and to disregard a huge portion of No Game No Life to make some comment that goes against the flow of popularity makes you no better than those people who say that “This anime is the best anime ever” or other absurdly positive statements.
I think No Game No Life, like many other very popular shows, severely suffer from this problem. There is the positive extreme, and there is the negative extreme both of which are the same in that they are, well, extreme. They tend to focus too much on the positive or too much on the negative. They’re the two opposite sides of the same mindset, and that mindset is not a good one to use when critiquing a show. It’s especially important to critique popular shows well as those shows tend to be watched by ones who aren’t very involved in the medium. It’s important that they go in with the right mindset, and can obtain proper analysis or they may end up being overly disappointed or overly surprised. How ironic is it that those very people who criticize others for rating this anime too highly proceed to rate it very low without making a balanced review which they thought others should have done? One of the most absurd excuses I’ve seen is that, “We’re just trying to even out the score.” Good lord, why does that even matter? Should you not strive to create a balanced perspective so that those who rate it too highly, or just anyone, will see your reasoning and be more careful in the future? That’s not to say that all people who rate it very highly or very lowly are not justified in doing so, and if you’re a casual viewer, just remember that my complaint is not aimed at you, but it is rather aimed at those who decide to take the role of the critic. There are some balanced reviews out there, but I don’t think too many of them are going to rate this anime 10/10 or 3/10 because this anime is very much somewhere in between.
When it comes to unbalanced reviews, I’m talking about those reviews that are blatantly ignoring some important factors in order to strengthen their opinions or those reviews that simply don’t look deep enough. Of course, I have much to learn myself, so don’t take this as me just criticizing other people. I’m also criticizing myself because I think when it comes to reviewers for anime, on the whole they are very lacking myself included of course. This becomes especially obvious when it comes to more popular shows like this. MyAnimeList honestly doesn’t have good reviews most of the time, but looking at the review section for No Game No Life makes me pretty sad. (Thankfully, it’s gotten a bit better now that things have settled down. Not that it means that much.) I mean, just the length of those reviews is… Wow. I’m not saying that length means quality. There is, however, a minimum requirement of at least a few thousand words because there’s no way you can create a balanced and thorough review for this anime otherwise. If you’re going to lambaste another work that has far more value than your critique, at least put the effort into it. Anyways, I’m sure you can check out the specifics yourself. In the meantime, I’ll focus on some different, more balanced perspectives and what they may entail.
When it comes to entertainment, things become extremely subjective, and the enjoyment one derives from No Game No Life, which is the heart of this anime, is perhaps even more so. Let’s make things simple and split the perspectives up into three categories. The negative, the in-between, and the positive. Yes, all three perspectives can be justified. Why wouldn’t someone like this anime? Well, they may just find the games to be too contrived for them to find the creative side exciting. This leads into my wholehearted agreement with the complaint that this anime isn’t smart. I think everyone needs to be aware of this. The games may be exciting set-pieces to get your blood pumping, but the show being “fun” doesn’t entirely excuse the lacking logic in the games. At the same time, it’s fairly reasonable to allow some of the logical flaws to slide to account for the creativity in them. The key is that it needs to meet at the very least an absolute minimum. The absolute minimum is the point where no matter how creative it is, beyond this point the game is just stupid and dumb. It doesn’t matter how exciting it is because when a show reaches beyond this point for an individual, it’s just complete nonsense. This was how I felt for the very last game. There’s also the relative minimum where if passed, the individual tolerates the logic in the game, but the creativeness of the game does not make up for the logical flaws. In other words, the logical flaws overshadow over the entertainment-side of things. This anime sometimes falls beyond the relative minimum, and sometimes doesn’t. It’s somewhere in between. Since No Game No Life is in a position where some people, like me, can view it to be sensible at least to a minimal degree for the most part, and others may not, it’s perfectly fine for there to be people who view it either way. Another reason for someone not liking this anime could be that they find this anime predictable. Some people are pretty damn good at guessing what happens next which would naturally destroy a lot of the tension in the anime. Some people don’t like the comedy, which is yet another very subjective matter, or maybe they don’t like the degree of fanservice. Others may absolutely adore the excitement that this anime brings every single week. Those people are perfectly justified in their perspective as long as they realize the logical flaws that this anime has among other flaws. It’s just that the excitement, and the fun overwhelms everything else to a great degree for them. That’s fine too.
Where do I fall? I’m leaning towards the more positive side but ultimately somewhere in between because the flaws with the characters, logical strength of the games, and other more minor things do hamper my enjoyment of the exciting games and the anime as a whole. If you asked me during the first half of this anime, I would have been far more positive in my viewpoint since I really, really enjoyed seeing how it would surprise me every week back then. But man, the way the last game finished is just… I was seriously not happy to see how it ended because that was my limit to how imaginative things could get. I actually didn’t mind the cliffhanger at the end that much because the overarching game had a good season resolution, and at that point I didn’t really care how it ended anymore because the last game simply was too contrived for me to care. Some of you may feel this way towards the chess game, or maybe even all the games which was what destroyed your enjoyment of this anime or was simply a negative factor that was made up by the other positive factors of the anime. My personal limit was the last game. The sad thing is that even though it touches upon game theory in its smaller games, it doesn’t do so in the bigger ones. It would have been incredible seeing how a writer could incorporate game theory with the magical state of this world well. If it could have done so with the execution that this season has, then I think it may be one of my favorite anime of all time even with its other flaws. Sadly, this is not the case, and if it wants to be labeled as “smart” in my book then it needs to do so.
No Game No Life isn’t as horrible as those haters say it is, and it’s not as good as those rabid fanboys say it is. Does it deserve a spot above the top 30 of all time? Do I really need to answer this question? It’s “of all time” that we’re talking about guys. What I think most will agree on is that on a technical level, No Game No Life is great. Aside from that, however, it seems for whatever it does well, it does something else not so well. The comedy can be quite good, but as a character, Steph suffers. The games can be really exciting to watch, but there are logical flaws in them. The pandering is fine for the most part, but then there’s the NEET glorification. The character interactions are interesting and often times funny to watch, but the bond between Sora and Shiro is shallow. Sora is one heck of a badass, but the depth of his character is lacking. The overarching game, the wagers, or just the buildup episodes can be extremely exciting to watch, but a few of the games can be much less so. Perhaps No Game No Life is even more subjective than it may first appear since it focuses on portraying thrilling events, comedy, and being fun. Whether the positives outweigh the negatives is ultimately up to you. The purpose of this review, or rather, all my reviews is to not directly change your mind about a show. The purpose is to provide different perspectives, and ultimately support you in molding your own opinions. I don’t want anyone to just believe me without thinking about what I have said themselves. That’d be no better than those haters or those rabid fanboys. Part of me made this lengthy review to address the extremities of the opinions surrounding No Game No Life, and an even larger part of me made this review to assist you all in thinking more seriously about this show. Perhaps if we did so more often, less shows would be unfairly crazily overpraised, and unfairly criticized. I really look forward to the days where more and more people will lay down their insults and their differing opinions to discuss rationally about a medium that I really love. Along the way, I’ll also try to continually improve as I’m nowhere near where I want to be as a critic. Did I enjoy No Game No Life? Definitely. There are times when I’m filled with a feeling of euphoria because of the fantastic execution. Personally, I love that feeling of excitement, and value it very highly. If a season 2 ends up coming around, and by the looks of things chances are pretty good that it will, I’ll be very much looking forward to seeing where it’ll go next. And as Sora always says… LET THE GAMES BEGIN! (You can check out my recommendations and my afterword here. If you haven’t watched the Youtube video yet, I highly recommend it as that’s where I put most of my effort.)