Following in the noble tradition of Sword Art Online and Log Horizon, this season’s ‘I’m in a game world’ anime is No Game No Life. But one of these anime is not like the others. No Game No Life isn’t actually inside a ‘video game’ per se, No Game No Life takes a pair of shut-in prodigy gamers known as ‘Blank’ – since they always leave their usernames empty – and transports them into a world where games are life: Disboard.
Disboard is a true fantasy world – complete with demihumans of all sorts, magic, and a crazy deity. Disboard’s deity Tet has decreed that the world shall be governed by games and has set forth 10 gaming commandments known as the ’10 pledges’ that all life is ruled by. These pledges forbid things like murder and thievery while decreeing that all conflict and fighting must be solved through games. Not in the sense of video games, specifically, but rather in the sense of challenges or competitions. Whether these are things like guessing games, things like chess, or more esoteric challenges – anything is fair game as long as the pledges are followed.
This premise is both unique and intriguing, and it provides a world that operates in a way that creates opportunities for interactions that wouldn’t really be possible elsewhere. And this is where the main characters, Sora and Shiro, come in. Sora is 18 years old – adept at games involving trickery and outsmarting people as he is exceptionally good at reading people – while his 11-year-old genius sister Shiro excels at anything requiring calculation or mechanical skill due to how deep an innate understanding of mathematics she has. Together they form the aforementioned ‘Blank’, a team of infamous online gamers who have never lost at anything. Their life changes one day when they get challenged by a mysterious opponent to chess. After winning this strange chess match, their opponent – who turns out to be the deity Tet – asks them what they feel about their world and then takes them to Disboard.
The relationship between Sora and Shiro is one of the defining aspects of the show. The two of them are inseparable and when apart become terrified and despondent. But the trust they have for each other is what makes their relationship so fascinating. That, and the fact that they’re both (understandably) perverts. Why is that a good thing? Well, Shiro is 11, so every time perverted stuff comes up they have an excuse to ‘keep it PG’, which makes for some absolutely hilarious moments. And why is it understandable, you might ask? Well, quite simply… put yourselves in his 18-year-old single, shut-in shoes: who among you wouldn’t be at least a bit of a pervert? And on her part… the only person she has to learn from is him.
One thing No Game No Life does extraordinarily well is developing side characters. Even from their introduction, secondary characters are given life in a way few shows manage to pull off. You get to see their personalities, and few of those personalities are truly one-dimensional. It was enjoyable seeing Steph show that she’s not just a ditz in a few episodes, or getting to see the true relationship between Kurami and Fil later on.
Mods and Maps
Probably the true star of the show; however, are the games themselves. As mentioned earlier, everything is settled through games and throughout the show you see a variety of different games, both esoteric and expected. You’ll see card games, word games, board games, and even video games… but none of them behave quite as you’d expect. Imagine a game of chess where the pieces have thoughts and can decide whether to follow your instructions or not… or a word game where everything you say either becomes reality, or vanishes if already present. How about a video game where mind control actually functions? Watching this pair of prodigies participate in a wide variety of games and trying to predict how things are going to end is fascinating. Although, in a few cases there are some minor inconsistencies, they’re easily ignored due to how well presented everything else is.
No Game No Life is a show that, at first glance, appears like it’d be really boring. Shut-in, antisocial, perverted main characters are not typically terribly relatable… and with the entire core of the show being just watching these two characters talk about and play games. But, through well-developed side characters and a huge variety of unique twists on well-known games… No Game No Life surpasses expectations and ends up being a very interesting, cerebral, and hilarious experience.