Rule Number 10: Let’s all have fun and play together!
No Game No Life started off life as a light novel series, like a lot of anime in the past decade. Written by Yu Kamiya, the novels, and indeed the anime, focus on two introverted siblings, the cocky brother Sora, and the quiet sister Shiro, master gamers who go by the name Blank (well, mostly it’s literally a blank space) who are afraid of the real world and bored of how easy the gaming world is. The duo are then challenged to a game of chess by a mysterious person named Tet, who turns out to be the God of a world made up of games, who then proceeds to transports them there. The duo are quick to grasp the rules of the world, 10 commandments that can’t be broken, which include no killing, everything must be settled via a game, and the challenged party is the one who can chose which game they play.
The series is pretty much split into two categories. On the one hand, watching Sora and Shiro outsmart their opponents in various, increasingly convoluted, games is great. Often well written, animated and acted (on both audio tracks), something as simple as chess (albeit a very odd sort-of-real-life chess) is made exciting via this combination, and in later games you’re left wondering how exactly they’re going to pull off a victory, even if you’re pretty sure they will.
The other half of the coin is less fun. The gaming siblings are slowly surrounded by a rather predictable array of female characters. Stephanie, the stupid, whiney fit-throwing character who falls in love with Sora (but doesn’t want to admit it), Jibril the overly-eager female who’s fine with anything sexual being granted and generally confused as to those who aren’t (and who’s a member of a once war-hungry angelic species, which isn’t as predictable, I’ll admit), and Kurami, the straight-laced, anti-fun woman who’s insecure about having small breasts. Oh, and an elf. Got to have an elf. Now this would be fine if the comedy was good, but sadly it’s just standard accidentally falling on someone’s breasts or trying to take a picture of them naked in the communal baths via sneaky means stuff. There are some laughs to be had, normally at the expense of the lead characters and their inability to socialise, but there are long drawn out scenes of sexual humour that failed to resonate with me.
The world they’re drawn into, it has to be said, is great. The art direction of the series is excellent, the backgrounds are detailed and sweeping, the actual characters have that slightly pale stylised look that works well with the setting, and everything kind of has a pink haze to it. The backstory, that there were 16 different races that fought a war over the right to be God, then Tet became God instead and forced them all to live side-by-side, only gaining each other’s land via challenged and accepted games, is really unique and interestingly fleshed out. Each race has a “race piece” that’s based around chess, and generally the world has a lot of chess pieces in the far distance, and a lot of tiled grid effects. It does feel like a weird world created by someone who likes to play games (specifically chess…)
The opening is “This Game” by Konomi Suzuki, and a very catchy tune it is too, while the ending theme is a pleasant melody called “Oracion”, sung by Shiro’s voice actress herself, Ai Kayano. The actual soundtrack for the episodes themselves, it has to be said, is unmemorable. It’s that middle ground, you won’t remember the series and think, “oh, that had an awful soundtrack”, but you won’t be humming any tunes after watching it. It does at least add to the drama and action at the right points, though you probably won’t notice, given the visuals going on.
There is a rare Japanese commentary track available, featuring cast and crew, if that’s your thing, and it also comes with a bunch of comedy shorts, that being short episodes rather than a funny piece of clothing. They can be amusing, but also can repeat some of the not-so-funny parts of the series. But as extras, you can’t complain. All that and the normal clean opening, closing and trailers.
One let-down has to be that No Game No Life is still ongoing, and this series adapts the first three novels, therefore we get a lot of world and character building, then the first major showdown, before it ends. I guess it says a lot about the series that a negative is that it ends too soon, but there you go. Throughout the good and the bad, it does leave you wanting more.
No Game No Life then, is a mixed bag. I would say that the good outweighs the bad, the actual game parts of the series form the major set pieces, and they’re great fun to watch. Both voice casts do a fine job, though a word game sequence in the middle of the show may be a bit confusing in the English dub due to obvious written language issues. I would definitely recommend this series, unless you’re easily offended by blatant sex and nudity based gags, as you’ll enjoy the battles of wit themselves, especially when they get the mix of drama and humour right (which does happen during the major games). A fun 12 episodes.