No Game No Life Series Review: It’s Not Just a Game

This is part of a series of re-posts of older reviews on 100 Word Anime. The original review came out in June 2016 and can be found here.

This review was initially written in a style I very quickly dumped and that was separating out the characters, plot and setting under heading and discussing them in isolation. While I haven’t really changed my view on this anime, I have restructured the review quite significantly.

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This is a series I’d rewatched even before my first review and I noted that while the show remained ridiculously fun, the flaws of the series become far more glaringly obvious when the pretty shining colours and wow factor are less distracting and you already know the outcome of the games (though you kind of new the outcome in the first place it was more how they were going to pull it off).

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It is worth noting that realism is not what this anime was going for. All of the characters are complete and over-the-top parodies of human beings (even though the vast majority aren’t human). And while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does make it hard to feel sympathy, empathy, or anything else for the characters. This problem was actually made worse when I finally got around to reading the first light novel hoping it would perhaps shed some light on some of the character’s back stories (note, it doesn’t at least not in volume 1).

And just when you think Sora and Shiro aren’t so bad afterall, Shiro’s outright lack of human emotion will punch you in the gut or Sora will follow up a truly brilliant dialogue with a panty joke or something equally jarring from the flow of the show.

That said, there is something amazing about these characters. My personal favourite is Izuna, who unfortunately doesn’t come along until close to the end but is actually the character I found the most sympathetic.

Jibril has some shining moments (anyone who values libraries and knowledge automatically gets some brownie points) and her adaptability is something to behold. But, those moments are contrasted with their attempts at using Jibril for comedic purposes that mostly fall flat. She was at her funniest when recalling the previous wars when she apparently single-handedly wiped out many elves. That was some pretty dark humour being thrown around in that scene, though that’s fairly consistent within No Game No Life. A lot of what you will be amused by within the context of the anime is actually quite dark and problematic when taken out of that context.

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The plot here is really where some people will start to drift away. They tell us early on that Blank  will NEVER lose. Seriously, they weren’t joking. Doesn’t matter what the situation or odds, these two are going to find a way to win. Whether you find the incessant rationalisation and explanations for how they managed to win charming and amusing or just pretentious will really determine how much you enjoy the story here.

More importantly, it kind of cuts off just as it’s getting interesting. They are progressing toward their stated goal but still have a long journey ahead of them and that’s it. Game over. Or, anime over. Perhaps we’ll eventually get a follow up, but for now, we’re left with Blank ready to start on their journey to challenge Tet (the god of Disboard) and yet we don’t get to see that journey.

There isn’t really anything resembling a subplot in this. There are supporting characters and something about a potential rebellion in Elven Garde but mostly this just serves as more fodder for explanations about how Sora manipulated the situation to win. What back story there is revolves around the previous King who lost a lot of Imanity’s (Humanity’s) territory to the War Beasts, and again, it isn’t a subplot so much as another piece of a long and convoluted explanation of victory.

However, where the characters might be questionable in how they are presented and the plot will only work provided you enjoy watching how they win rather than feeling any tension about whether they will win, the visuals are distinct, to say the least. Even on a rewatch, Disboard reamined beautiful.

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Okay, the colour palette is a little on the insane scale but it is supposed to be a fantasy world ruled by a god who thinks games are the best way to solve conflicts so we can probably let that go.

The music works but is reasonably forgettable and the voice acting is neither particularly good or bad. Shiro’s voice annoys me because it feels like everything she says has been put through a filter and is just that little bit too high and whisper like. Maybe this was supposed to make her sound cute but it drove me crazy by the end of the series. Fortunately, Shiro doesn’t talk anywhere near as often as Sora.

There’s fanservice here. Lots of it. Bathroom sequences and female characters losing their clothes for some fairly flimsy plot points. While bathroom scenes aren’t by themselves a problem their lack of purpose in this case is. It seems at times the entire plot just screeches to a halt while they chatter about random things while covered in suds. Could they at least talk strategy while showering? And seeing Sora using his phone to try to get photos of Stephanie in the bathroom is just all kinds of creepy.

Despite all the problems this series has that keep it from being a must watch, I like the set up and enjoy the games that are played. I like that the characters aren’t just proclaimed to be smart but they actually are planning ahead and have a vision of what they are trying to accomplish. The value of knowledge in this anime is expressed over and over again and that is something to be celebrated. That and the whole thing is so over the top and fun. While it won’t be for everyone, you can do a lot worse than No Game No Life.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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29 thoughts on “No Game No Life Series Review: It’s Not Just a Game

  1. Considering this is on some people’s favourite lists, I can kind of see why but…well, pointless fanservice. I don’t need to repeat what you or anyone else has said on that.

    I’m actually alright with the crazy colours, because bright colours like that can build a show’s identity.

    I think, going into this show, I kind of expected game theory to appear and be explained (well, it kind of is expected with “Game” in the title), so that was vaguely disappointing…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think they definitely could have done more with strategy, though at least Sora didn’t just blunt force his way through every conflict. Still, a little more genuine strategy outlines could have really helped elevate the plot a bit.

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  2. I wanted to like this anime but I just found it quite average. I see a lot of people saying that the fanservice put them off but i honestly didn’t think it was that bad

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Despite normally being uncomfortable with this level of fanservice, I was surprisingly alright. But honestly, it was ultimately kind of forgettable.

    I do, however, remember trying to find a way to read the light novels (in the days before it was normal for them to be published in English). Now that you’ve remined me, maybe I’ll go back…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I was still pretty disappointed with reading the first volume of this one. I really wanted to get into the books so that I could continue the story but I just didn’t like the writing enough to read on.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m going to take a guess who is going to add this one to their to watch list if they haven’t already seen it: It starts with Cactus and ends with Matt 😂😂
    Honestly though, this show doesn’t sound half bad. Those colours though…wow…😎😎

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It is a pretty fun watch. I wish there was another season of it as I’d like to know what Sora and Shiro do next, but it was fun for what it was and certainly very interesting the first time provided the fan service doesn’t turn you off.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I’m kind of curious why you think that the problematic bits of NGNL take away from it…
    I think they highlight how powerful absolute and arbitrary rules can be. It is only because the world is based on an arbitrary system that the protagonists can do anything! But because of these rules, people like Steph are similarly at a disadvantage. Who is allowed to say that wit is a more fair test than strength? Either way, someone will benefit and someone will suffer as a result. (still, the Imanity suffer either way with their comparatively limited options)
    I think it’s an interesting show from the perspective of culture and systems… definitely colorful though!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It is true that regardless of the rules someone will always be at a disadvantage while others will manipulate rules to suit themselves. However, it isn’t even the disputes will be settled by set games. The characters literally make up the rules for the game allowing all sorts of systematic unfairness that could have been prevented if Tet had really wanted to.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Systematic unfairness?
        Set games?
        That honestly seems like it would produce worse more unfair results. Not tactically smart people are at least given the chance if they can negotiate a game that doesn’t play to their weaknesses under Tet’s rule! I can’t say that any party would be fair to enforce more restriction on the populace.
        If you think any rule or system could eliminate unfairness for all parties, then you and I define fairness in different ways. More rules would be more abused, by my reckoning.

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        1. I value transparency in terms of fairness where people clearly understand the playing field. A set game would allow that whereas this situation allows people to manipulate the situation, hide their intentions, or deliberately misconstrue their meaning in their explanations. It all lends itself to manipulation and cheating rather than this is the game, practice it, learn it, understand it, get good at it.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Good at it is exactly the problem. Increasing returns from hard work may seem fine and all for you, but when your entire country and existence is at stake… well, let me tell you that the ones who got good will dominate and quickly monopolize most of the resources. Meritocracy is its own type of tyranny- just one that we have trouble comprehending given the state of our world.
            (it also negates the final and most important rule btw)

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Have fun? That’s not the important part! The important part is “together”! “Lets all have fun and play together!”
            It’s obviously a cry for inclusivity…
            So I guess my point that increasing marginal returns will lead to the best gaming the system and monopolizing resources didn’t make sense? The games will stop being games! They will be jobs and social structures when codified! The strong will crush the weak! The weak will never become experienced like Sora and Shiro, and no underdogs will emerge! And that’s not fun or inclusive! That is the point in the dog girl’s character arc!
            And that sounds awful. Rules and laws by their nature are oppressive- Beneficial oppression when in moderation, but when absolute like this- horrible. It stops being a game when you bring people’s lives into this.
            And that’s the interest in NGNL for me. I realize you probably just see it as dumb fun, but I think that’s a real diminishing way to look at something that actually had thought put into it!

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          3. I just think a system that is as open to manipulation and lies as the one presented in No Game No Life would be absolutely dreadful to live under with the fear that one mistake that you wouldn’t even realise you were making could cost you so much. That isn’t fun. That is terrifying. People do not feel safe in uncertain times and laws exist to promote stability and feelings of safety which allow happiness and fun.
            I understood your argument, I just disagree.

            Liked by 1 person

          4. Ah…
            I feel like the feeling of safety is taken for granted. It’s a double-edged sword, in my opinion. In No Game No Life, the best assumption to make is that everyone you meet is cheating. You can out-cheat the cheaters, but it’s far more depressing to realize that all your efforts will never amount to anything because you lack talent.
            With transparent honesty, fantasy worlds like No Game No Life are existentially horrifying. The movie serves to demonstrate that. So, I just don’t understand an alternative set of rules that is more honest than that without it turning into a grimdark hell-hole? (I’m kinda just an edgy teen who’s played games and watched anime, so I honestly don’t know)

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          5. I think saying that you need to assume everyone is cheating kind of speaks volumes about what the psychological state of every citizen would be under such a system. No trust between individuals so even when people come together it is under the assumption they might get stabbed in the back at any stage.
            Not saying there isn’t an interesting thought behind the design of Disboard as a fantasy world, but in terms of functionality in reality there’s just a few issues.

            Liked by 1 person

  6. I definitely wanted to like this series, and I do appreciate how clever the protagonists sometimes are (remind me of Death Note and Code Geass in that regard), and the concept of “everything is resolved through games and rules” is a very interesting concept, but the persistent need to pander so much with fanservice definitely detracted for me, particularly since, as you say, it didn’t really feel necessary.
    I particularly liked the conflict between the protagonists and Jibril was particularly interesting, as it really offered a lot of creative possibilities.
    As you say, an interesting series that sadly ended just as the story started to gain momentum.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I was hoping to get into the light novels of this story to learn more but honestly after reading the first one just didn’t want to read anymore. The story was still interesting but the writing style didn’t work for me at all. So I guess I’m stuck never finding out what happens next with this one.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, when in doubt I make it up for myself.
        This past summer I was actually in theaters to see Antman 2, but about 15-20 minutes before the end the projector broke and they couldn’t fix it. So yeah, I just “imagined” my own ending.

        Liked by 2 people

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