No Game No Life Zero was released into Japanese cinemas in July 2017, deciding to adapt the story of how the world of the series came to be instead of adapting further adventures of the lead cast from the original anime. Looking at my original review of the series from nearly three years ago now, this is a mixed bag as. While I said that “Throughout the good and the bad, it does leave you wanting more” I also said that I really enjoyed the world the series presents, specifically noting that “The backstory, that there were 16 different races that fought a war over the right to be God” was really interesting, which is exactly what this movie goes into detail about. So I got what I wanted, while at the same time, didn’t?
Well, either way, let’s take a look. Ignoring the framing device of the God of games (and general God of this world) Tet playing chess while telling the story to Izuna, one of the characters from the original series, the main crux of Zero takes place 6,000 years into the past, and focuses on Riku, one of the leaders of the last group of humans who are managing to stay alive despite the massive, multi-race war that’s constantly raging around them. He soon meets a robot/angel…thing called an Ex-Machina, eventually naming her Schwi (though pronounced “Shuvi”). This is where the story starts to play with the cast of the original show, with Riku being the spitting image of lead male character Sora, and Schwi being pretty much a copy of lead female character Shiro. We then start to meet a few other characters who either have direct parallels to characters from the original show, or are characters from the original show. These doppelgängers are voiced by their original vocal counterparts as well, in both languages. It’s an unusual decision, but it’s fine, if nothing else both voice casts are perfectly fine in their roles, so it doesn’t damage it much.
There are some real nice moments between Riku and Schwi, as the latter slowly gains humanity through the actions of the former as they fall in love. I’d talk about the rest of the cast, but there really isn’t much of one. Corounne is the Zero version of original series character Stephanie and acts like a concerned big sister to Riku, but only appears here and there. The only other character of note is Jibril, the same Angel from the original series back when she was a bit more action-ready and less librarian…
Towards the end there are some properly high-budget battles and moments too, so it’s a good blend of drama and action, despite the clear fantasy setting implying a more action-heavy series. There are also far fewer fan service moments and only a few gags based around sex and/or failed romance, and a couple of them were actually funny, so Zero certainly scores several points over the original series there.
I will register my disappointment that they went with a prequel (really long ago prequel too!) instead of adapting any more novels, or even creating a new story with the original cast, but frankly this story is so good on its own, so I’m not sad it exists or anything, it’s just funny that it ends with the original cast of the anime standing on a cliff ready to continue their adventures, which is exactly where we left off last time…
The musical score by Yoshiaki Fujisawa is… alright. It didn’t let any moment down, but I can’t say I actually noticed it, which is exactly the same problem I had with his score for the anime series GATE. He’s not bad, but he’s not particularly memorable. The animation has benefited from the movie budget, it’s clear, bright and smooth, especially the final half hour.
The only extras are the original Japanese trailers and a short behind the scenes documentary with Sentai Filmworks. There is a Collector’s Edition of this film coming to Blu-ray in roughly a month’s time, which although it doesn’t contain any more on-disc extras, it does come with an 80-Page book.
So No Game No Life Zero is actually a really fun and well written slice of rather odd action, and sets up the bizarre world of the original series really well. While it’s a shame the original cast were merely extras in a framing story, the new story they did tell was good enough that I can forgive them for it.. It’s just a good stand-alone story that really adds to the original work, while also being just a good film.