Sora and Shiro are a pair of gamers that collectively go by the name Blank, and Blank never loses. Because of this they have become quite bored and are slightly interested when they are challenged to a game of chess. On winning the game they get asked it they want to go to a world where games decide everything. This is an absolutely intriguing premise for a story and in honesty the world of Disboard, and all its psychedelic colours, is a fantastic concept. However the anime isn’t without a few problems along the way, the biggest of which being its lack of resolution and no sequel anime ever coming out.
I’ve re-watched No Game No Life again and again because it is one of those anime that intrigues me because of its premise, world building and visuals. The first time I watched this series I absolutely loved every minute of it. However progressive rewatches have made sure I am well aware of some of the problems within this anime. That said, I still recommend it to people and sometimes it is an intriguing anime to show people who haven’t watched a lot of anime. The concept usually draws them in but some of the other elements push them out of their comfort zone.
Basically, the first viewing of No Game No Life is one where you are either drawn in an absorbed by everything going on and so the flaws just kind of get swept under the rug. When the pretty and wow factor have faded and you already know the outcome of the games there’s less distraction from some of the weaker elements such as the characters in this story.
Are 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. They are just so extreme in their personalities and lack nuance or variety to their responses. This means that characters who hang around for awhile ultimately become a little repetitive even in a single season show.
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. While it does play into their overall lack of experience with human interaction it makes it a little more difficult to truly get behind their plots and to really want them to succeed. Then again, the people they are playing against are also jerks so it maybe none of the characters really end up being ones you want to see victorious.
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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 (though there wasn’t a lot of competition here).
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 war when she apparently single-handedly wiped out many elves and that was pretty dark humour being thrown around in that scene.
So are the characters good or bad? That is entirely going to depend on whether you find them all smug beyond redemption or if they start to grow on you. I’ll leave each individual to make that call.
However bigger problems start to emerge when you look at the plot beyond just a cool concept of a duo that never lose at games in a world where games decide everything.
They play games. They win games. 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.
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.
Is this worth watching for the story? I don’t mind the excessive exposition but I’m sure there are others out there who find it irritating. The stated goal of the protagonists is clear and they systematically cut through all their obstacles. Pretty straight forward adventure really. And it would be fine if there was a resolution because it would make the journey feel worthwhile and rewarding but instead the plot cuts off just as the world is beginning to open up and new challenges, that might even be challenges, are appearing.
However, while I might criticise the characters and the plot, even on a rewatch, Disboard is beautiful.
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. I loved getting lost in this world and honestly, the story holds together well enough so let’s 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 are an excessive number of bathroom sequences and scenes where characters lose clothing for some of the most contrived reasons ever heard (even in anime). 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?
While it might seem like I’m running this series down, I kind of love No Game No Life. There’s excitement in the games despite knowing the outcome and I like that the characters aren’t just proclaimed to be smart but then never act smart (yes, I am looking at you Devil and Realist). Visually it is gorgeous and there’s some funny moments and moments that do make you care about our protagonists. It isn’t without flaws but it is definitely one that I’ll happily watch again and again.
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