No Game No Life

24 Jun , 2014,
Panther
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No Game No Life - Sora & Shiro

Our all-too-likely protagonists, Sora and Shiro. Siblings unrelated by blood, they represent the penultimate NEET gamer genome.

One of the stronger shows this season has been No Game No Life. By its name alone, it would have warranted at least a chance, but I would say that very few expected that a show which started strong actually got stronger. Indeed, it has gone past Knights of Sidonia to be the personal best of my spring season anime series. Unlike the previous post on Mahouka however, I agonized over what to actually say about this show, and then I realized – is there even a need? I merely need to show you what has caught my absolute attention for this show, and why I think it is well worth your time to watch and finish this series.

Some of the text in this post comes from my posts in my own personal Tumblr when I first wrote about the anime’s first episode. I believe they are worth reiterating here for emphasis.

The One True God, Tet. The very same one who brought the siblings to the world of Disboard because he lost to them at chess.

The One True God, Tet. The very same one who brought the siblings to the world of Disboard because he lost to them at chess.

No Game No Life, or Nogenora, the official Twitter hashtag for the show, has a rather generic-sounding synopsis. A pair of siblings, Sora and Shiro, are so good at gaming that even with cheats, no one can beat them. Known collectively as Kuuhaku (or Blank, in English), they have set records in games beyond the reach of others, but the reality is that they are both NEETs who have withdrawn from society. Into this background comes Tet, who challenges the siblings to a game of chess and loses. Using his divine powers, Tet brings them to Disboard, a world where everything is decided by games, and where murder, robbery and other similar crimes are not allowed.

Of course, in this world, magic also rules, and Sora and Shiro find themselves playing various kinds of games, starting out in the region where the Imanity, or humans, live. It is not just their fellow Imanity that they will face in the games to come, but also those who are able to use magic for their own benefit, and perhaps worse…

Sounds generic enough? Read on.

Stephanie Dola

Stephanie Dola, a major side character that assists Sora and Shiro in their quest…and also serves as one of the best comic relief characters this season.

At the very first episode, No Game No Life struck a deep chord within me when Sora puts reality in terms of a game. “The world is chaotic, unreasonable, and unfair. There is no way to know the rules or the goal, or even the genre, yet there are 7 billion people making whatever moves they want. The world is just a crappy game.” At the time, I wrote that:

This hits so close to home it hurts. It is also very true. But then again, is life also a game? This is but one of the many viewpoints with which to approach life. In the end, there is no one true viewpoint with which we can view life, because we all view our lives through our own subjectively colored lenses, and we will never know what another person is truly thinking, nor if the world was actually a gigantic game made by some bored omnipotent presence for (fun).

All is, indeed, not fun and games in life. Nor is it so even in Disboard. By allowing only games to decide everything, suddenly, the game is no longer something “fun” to play with, but a “battle” in which you might even have to stake your life on. Now that I think about it, this may even be an allusion to the way gaming has changed in the last decade or even less – many more people suddenly play to win, forgoing the old idea of “fun”, where you actually enjoy playing the game, for a newer concept of “winning is fun”. And when kids decide that paying to win is “fun” because it allows them to win…well, I digress, but you get the idea.

Disboard is, however, governed by a set of Ten Commandments. These Commandments are a good recurring theme throughout the anime, and are what determine how games can be started or played throughout the world of Disboard. This gets very important down the line, which you will be able to find out for yourself as you watch the series.

Clammy & Feel

Clammy Zell & Feel Nilvalen, Kuuhaku’s first real opponents. Yes they border on the yuri side of things.

You may assume that the games in No Game No Life would be rather uninteresting variations of what we might have. Chess, for example, was one of the games used in the series, and what could you do, really, to make such a game interesting?

You would be dead wrong.

Clammy and Feel, pictured above, used the concept of chess to make a different kind of game, one that strayed considerably away from the primary idea of chess, and used elf magic to insert a sort of “cheat” into the system. The game itself did not play out in the manner of chess, but more of a strategy game near the end. Further, the logic and means by which Sora and Shiro used to arrive at the solutions out of various situations, not just in the chess game but in others, add on to the flavor, variety, and most importantly, the realistic nature of the game itself. Kuuhaku not only knew how to play games, they also had the vast knowledge required to win a game before it starts. No game is ever fair, Sora argued in one of the episodes, because there is something called prior knowledge.

With regards to the cheating, one of the commandments mentioned that a game is only forfeited by a party if that party is exposed to be cheating during the game. In other words:

So according to the implications, this world is all about cheating in games without being found out. Even if that cheating meant making use of magic, apparently. There is a lot of possibly dark and shadowy stuff that might go on in games, and both Sora and Shiro are, of course, no stranger to such things.

This is perhaps what makes the anime interesting, and raises a good point – is it impossible to be good at games without cheating at something? The “cheat” might not be a tangible aspect of the game – we often hear gamers say “Koreans are automatically broken at gaming” (true almost half the time or more anyway). Is it something in their culture, something in their genes, or something else entirely? That is what the anime here seems to call into question – the concept of “cheating” as we look at it in our world. I like this particular point of view as a gamer, and I hope they expand on it a little more later on.

Jibril

Jibril, a character that first appeared in episode 6, is like the icing on top of an already delicious cake, but managing to somehow be the most delicious part of them all added last.

The knowledge that went into a game’s workings as well as how to play the game according to the different variations used in the anime series itself also lends a whole lot of charm. In episode 6, Jibril the Flugel, pictured above, made her appearance. As a weapon created to kill, she now held knowledge as dear to her, as much as her life. Sora challenged her to a game in order to win her abilities and the library she owned over to his side, and the game they played was Materialization Shiritori (see Wiki link regarding what shiritori is). One of the rules was that they could use words in whatever language so long as either party understood it, and Sora used it to immediately bring a hydrogen bomb first when he started.

The best part about this entire game was the completely well-meshed parts of both science and humor. Yes, there is a whole lot of anime humor to be had in this series, nothing that you would not have seen before, but the way they did it using references to other games and anime (Doraemon, for example, was referenced rather directly) is more than just admirable, bordering perhaps on sheer genius. Yet each game does not only have its funny parts, it also has its logical parts that the creator of the series has clearly done a lot of research on. As a fellow writer, I understand that anything you wish to write on requires research beforehand in order to write adequately about the subject, or you risk being called out for saying the wrong things. So when it comes science fiction or fantasy shows like this one, there is clearly quite a bit to be done with regards to studying up on the topic areas the writer would write on.

Shiro, Sora & Jibril

Jibril’s thirst for new knowledge thanks to the arrival of the outsiders Sora and Shiro sometimes makes her break out in a panting sequence. Voiced by Tamura Yukari, it may be Yukarin’s best work for me to date.

What I did not expect was to actually learn more from an anime series than I would think about taking away from it. Sora used the physics of the very small (collectively known as quantum physics) in his ultimate triumph over Jibril, calling into effect the result of his vast knowledge gleamed from reading widely just to be able to win at games. Specifically, Coulomb’s Force was something I never read about, and the result of the disappearance of this force brings about something even bigger than a supernova, a variation called the hypernova. This was the first time I heard about a hypernova, and I have read up on astronomy and dabbled in a little bit of basic astrophysics before, so this came completely as a great surprise. I never knew there was something even more powerful than the normal supernova. Who says you cannot learn things from anime?

This perfect blend of the serious and light-hearted sides of playing games, along with the deductions that each side in a game used to get their own advantage over the other, has resulted in a really strong anime series that has broken the norm. Even as it brings out the humor you often see in anime, it also manages to slip in a lot of critical thinking, reasoning and other kinds of skills you would definitely need not only in games, but also in real life. It goes to show that games are not just for “fun” sometimes, but even so, Kuuhaku manages to have a lot of fun in thinking through their opponents’ moves and winning with style, oftentimes in really close games. “Fun” is a secondary effect, and the people of Disboard are obviously short on it since the only real entertainment, games, has been made into a competitive arena.

Jibril

No Jibril No Life

Unfortunately, No Game No Life was only slated for 12 episodes. The last episode will air Wednesday night in Japan, and it will be an awesome finale to be sure. I am more than content to let it end on this note, but there is definitely a lot of awesome potential to be used for a second season, and I hope the series gets one. For now, I shall enjoy whatever remaining references it might have to give, both physical and mental action, and the game’s finale as it winds down to the very last climax of this season in what was surely among the better, if not the best, anime series of spring 2014.