No Game No Life Series Review – Life Is Just A Buggy Game Until You Get Sent to Disboard

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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.

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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.

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The dazzle of No Game No Life means more than one viewing is needed.

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.

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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.



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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 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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Karandi James


No Game No Life Volume 1 Light Novel Review

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Overview:

I really enjoyed the anime of No Game No Life so while I’ve been trying to avoid too many books of anime I watched (Grimgar being the notable exception), I decided I wouldn’t mind trying this series to see if I could find out what happens next given the anime just leaves us hanging. So what is this book about? Sora and Shiro are brother and sister who play games under the name ‘blank’ and they never lose. However, they are summoned by a boy calling himself god into an alternate world where war is forbidden and all conflicts are determined via games.

Review:

I’ll apologise in advance because this review is relying heavily on comparisons to the anime series and it also contains spoilers.

As I said in the overview, I really kind of enjoyed the anime of this series. It has its over the top fan-service moments and the main characters are protected by the absolute plot armour that is ‘blank never loses’, but the fantastic build ups in each game, the sheer craziness of some of the set ups and just the overall feel of the show kind of carried us through the less than stellar story moments. So what happens when you read the same events?

Honestly, not much. If I was brutally honest, I was kind of bored while reading this. Possibly if I hadn’t seen the anime and hadn’t known exactly what to expect from the plot it might have had a bit more impact, but the writing here is pretty straight forward with an over-reliance on dialogue at times and it never managed to wow factor that accompanied so many of the scenes in the anime. And stripped of its colourful dressings, fantastic music and just the sheer strength of the voice acting, this story is not exactly compelling. And while it might be mean to compare it to the anime, even forgetting how it presented the situations, the bottom line was I didn’t have a lot of fun reading this.

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The ever problematic Stephanie in the series comes off even worse in the book. There’s no dismissing the way her character is treated or pushing it aside. Reading the scenes actually made me a little uncomfortable. Particularly when Sora and Shiro were essentially playing dress up with her. And while it is not any worse than what is presented in the anime, there’s something a little more disturbing about reading a description of someone being treated in such a manner. That might be a really biased view on my part but I was not a fan.

This volume takes us through Sora and Shiro’s set up as brother and sister and unbeatable gaming duo, their summoning into the world of Disboard, finding their way to the last kingdom of Imanity and then game their way to becoming the new King of the country before declaring war on the rest of the world. There are a few changes from how some of these events play out in the anime, but basically the story is much the same. And it is a decent enough set up into a series of fantastical gaming matches against the other races, and yet I don’t really feel compelled to read any further. Watching the series, I really wanted to know what they would do next, but here I’m kind of happy to leave Sora and Shiro go about their next steps all on their own.

One thing I did notice specifically with the writing, and it was quite a distraction, was a heavy reliance on dashes. Dashes used at the start of paragraphs, and usually they seemed to indicate the narrator was directly addressing the reader, are scattered liberally through the entire book. The end result is a tone and flow that doesn’t really feel consistent and continues to knock the reader out of the immersion they are probably seeking. It keeps the reader at arm’s length from the characters and makes it difficult for us to really care what is about to happen. The dialogue also relies heavily on the use of ellipses and while I get that they are trying to show us that these characters are awkward in social situations, again it just disrupts the flow of reading when used with such abundance.

Anyway, between distracting punctuation, characters that are not exactly likeable and an absence of distractions from some of their more negative moments, and a story line that does what it needs to but not a lot more, there just doesn’t seem to be any reason to continue with this series. Other than the whole anime not finishing thing and leaving us hanging. Even then, there are many other series that didn’t get a second season that might be more interesting to read and so I’ll probably continue to seek those out.

I was definitely disappointed by this one as I was looking forward to it. That said, it isn’t unreadable. It didn’t work for me and I definitely preferred viewing the anime, but this series is quite popular so clearly other people find something to enjoy in them. Feel free to share your views in the comments below if you’ve read the series.

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If you’re interested in reading No Game No Life Volume 1 it is available on the Book Depository.