This Review is 98% Spoiler Free
Recommended Age – 15 (Ecchi and Adult Themes)
Let me just start out by saying ‘dis’; I enjoyed No Game No Life (NGNL) IMMENSELY. Everything from the characters to the games and especially the soundtrack. Ohhhhhh the soundtrack. Quite literally within the first 30 seconds I knew it was going to be an amazing show. And it IS, though I have not seen the OVA’s as I’m writing this and this show is definitely not finished. With all the details and references/shout-outs to other anime and gaming culture, it’s hard not to enjoy at least something about this show. But, as we all know a perfect show is near-impossible. Mistakes are made, things can get complicated, and sometimes it just gets out of hand. While all these factors play a role in this show, it is still quite enjoyable (to the point where I started re-watching less than two weeks after starting it).
Story and Setting
The story takes place in a land named ‘Disboard’, a fantasy world where sixteen different races reside. Each race is ranked on their affinity to magic, with the bottom races (such as Imanity and Werebeasts) having little to no magic at all. Our protagonist Shiro and Sora -or ‘___’ (literally Blank)- are sent to this world after beating the God of this world (Tet) in a game of online chess. While they are being sent to this world, Tet explains how there are ‘Ten Pledges’ that must be upheld…
- All murder, war, and robbery is forbidden in this world.
- All conflict in this world will be resolved through games.
- In games, each player will bet something that they agree is of equal value.
- As long as it doesn’t violate pledge three, anything may be bet, and any game may be played.
- The challenged party has the right to decide the rules of the game.
- Any bets made in accordance with the pledges must be upheld.
- Conflicts between groups will be conducted by designated representatives with absolute authority.
- Being caught cheating during a game is grounds for an instant loss.
- In the name of god, the previous rules may never be changed.
- Let’s all have fun and play together!
Memorizing each pledge isn’t needed for full enjoyment of the show, as they say them quite often. Some pledges are obvious in what they mean, while others are a little situational. Take Pledge 6 for example…
Any bets made in accordance with the pledges must be upheld
Even though this makes sense to the average viewer as a “I win, so you pay up” sort of rule, it’s not ‘exactly’ what it seems. One use of this is when someone bets that they will follow one request of the other person if they win. When they lose, that person says “Fall in love with me” and from that point on (or at least until the show decides that the joke has gone on far enough) whenever that person looks/thinks about that person they “fall in love” with them, but afterwards they bash their head against the wall (literally) to try and keep their willpower strong. What this means for the show is that sometimes a pledge will be ignored if it would contradict where the story/humor is headed. This isn’t ‘bad’, but it can get a little tedious at certain times where you would be thinking “doesn’t that mean X should do Y, or this should happen here?” Personally, I liked when the show would decide to throw its own rules out the window for entertainment even if it wasn’t what they promised. What IS promised is a really fun ride, even if the ending makes you feel a little cheated (season two if we’re lucky). As the story progresses, it’s made clear that the end game is to conquer all of Disboard through winning games and then eventually having a rematch with Tet.
‘___’ or Blank: Our main protagonists are named Sora (18) and Shiro (11), but they go by Blank when referring to themselves. When we first see them, they are playing an online game against 1,200 other players and winning. More than just the average Otaku, they are NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training). They are inseparable, to the point that whenever they are not near each other they curl up and rock back and forth as if they were afraid to be disciplined. It’s not too much of an issue throughout the show since they are little more than a couple feet at most from each other the majority of the show. Sora is incredibly smart, but the majority of his skills come from the ability to know when to bluff. And bluff. And BLUFF. Seriously, he’s good at it. Sora makes up for Shiro’s inability to bluff since she is quite young and never interacts with others (she never goes to school), but Shiro is a genius. In every sense of the word. She knows 18 languages (she learns Imanity in a matter of minutes) and knows how to ‘beat’ chess, meaning she knows every possible board position and how to win from that point. They rely on each other to the point where Shiro is always clinging on to Sora, and I’m even guessing they go to the bathroom together (although Shiro doesn’t take baths because she doesn’t want Sora to see her naked, go figure…).
Stephanie Dola (18): A close friend of Blank (though she’s more of a servant than friend at times), she is the granddaughter of Imanity’s deceased king. She is a little bit of a ditz, and the show has her in a lot of sexual situations for a good portion of the show (at least a D cup). She is very smart AT TIMES though, as if the show has a switch that flips between her being dumb and smart. Once again, this isn’t ‘bad’ BUT I can understand why it would be hard for someone to like her for her personality. She seems to like Sora, but other than a couple scenes there really is no way to tell (although she seems to be leaning toward Tsundere).
Kuramī Tseru (18): Hmm… To be honest, if I was to change anything about this show it would be how this character played out. She is a weird archetype of character that is both an ally AND an enemy, but never actually a bad character. We first see her playing poker against Stephanie, and from then on we learn that she is intent on becoming ruler of Imanity. Unlike Blank though, she has different ideas for Imanity’s future. Ones that don’t involve them coming out on top…
Fiel Nirvalen (52): Kurami’s closest friend, and technically owner (slave). Known better as Fii, she is of the Elf race. Although she is 52 years old, she looks more like 17-19. Her family has owned Kurami as long as she has been alive, but Fii has only thought of her as a friend. She is able to use magic and helps Kurami with her powers to basically cheat, but it’s never really revealed EXACTLY how she does it. Fii is by far one of the most pure characters in the show, always sticking close to Kurami and helping whenever she can.
Jibril (6407…): A very old character, yet she also looks to be about 18 (some races don’t seem to age much at all) and she is infatuated with knowledge. She is of the Flügel (German for ‘Wing’) race, which stands for ‘Angel’ when reading the Kanji. Blank meets her when looking for information about Imanity’s history in the giant library Jibril won from Imanity’s previous king, and she agrees to a game against Blank and even joins them afterwards.
Hatsuse Ino (98): One of the only old characters in the show that actually appears his age, he is a Werebeast and the assistant ambassador to the Eastern Union (Werebeast territory). He lives there with his granddaughter, and is very protective of her. He has the ability to tell when someone is lying by using an ‘x-ray’ ability to see if their heartbeat is beating irregularly. He initially doesn’t like Sora, but he shows him respect even when Sora “disrespects” his granddaughter. Even at his old age, he has 30 wives though none of them appear in the show.
Hatsuse Izuna (8): An extremely cute fox-eared Werebeast, and the granddaughter of Hatsuse Ino, desu. She is similar to Blank in that she lacks common sense, is exceptional at gaming, and arrogant towards others, desu. She enjoys having Sora and Shiro pet her fur, much to her grandpa’s dismay (she even mentions she prefers them petting her), desu. She also has the incredibly rare ability Blood Destruction which greatly enhances physical strength and speed, but it can only be used for a few seconds without risking damage or death, desu.
Tet (Unknown): The God of Disboard, Tet sends Blank to his world after losing a game against them online and then asking them if they believed they had been born in the wrong one. While he is a guy, there is no reason he shouldn’t be unable to change his gender at will since he is able to change his appearance. After losing to Blank he wishes to challenge them again, but only after they have proven that they are the best by beating every other race in Disboard.
Art and Presentation
The world of Disboard is big, but hard to say just HOW big it really is. It’s beautiful though, imagine a mix of fantasy elements ranging from castles and bustling towns to Elven magic zones to ancient Japanese areas. Then take all the colors that pop out and make those even MORE colorful. It’s definitely one of the most visually appealing shows I’ve ever seen. Each character is clearly defined to the point that if I put every character in a lineup it is very easy to distinguish between each of them. It also seems as if ugly characters don’t exist in this show (not including VERY minor characters).
The soundtrack… While the vast majority of the songs are good-great, the few that rise above those are SPECTACULAR. One example of this is my personal favorite song from the show; The Bluff. This is used when Sora explains how he won/used the rules to his advantage, or just when the show needs to get awesome. This Game is the intro to this show and it fit very well. Not only was the music very inspiring to “get up and do something about it”, but the visuals were very pleasing to the eyes. Oracion is the outro and let me just say that it is very special. Normally I would recommend watching both the intro and outro at least one time to see if you like them and then choose to skip if you want… BUT NOT WITH THE OUTRO. Something very special happens during one of the episode’s outro and if you miss out on it you will be missing out on one of the best reasons to watch the next episode immediately.
No Game No Life is a very well thought out concept and is well executed for the most part. The setting is nice, the characters are pretty enjoyable to watch, and every game is entertaining to see how they are going to “pull it off”. Many people who hear about or watch this show relate it to Sword Art Online, and I just don’t see it. I guess anytime an anime is made that involves ‘gaming’, there will always be people claiming “it must be a rip-off of SAO” (even if it’s not the first time that concept has been used). They are two entirely different shows and they aren’t even in the same genre if you ask me, unless gaming is now a “genre”… But that’s unimportant. What IS important is that this show only has 12 episodes (plus OVA’s) which means that for a full review of this show in it’s entirety we will have to wait to see if they ever make a season two (which is actually 50/50 right now because the artists were found to be tracing some scenes from other works of art). I originally watched this show in Japanese, and I definitely recommend it compared to the English. I don’t know why, but they just couldn’t replicate the voices that both Shiro and Izuna had.
Should You Watch It?
Yes, UNLESS you are very picky about a serious show being silly at times. The ecchi in this show is about a 8-9 (lots of fanservice such as panty shots and bouncing boobs). I recommend watching the first 2 episodes to see if you are going to like it; you can get a feel for the characters in how they act and also see if you can either enjoy OR ignore the ecchi (it will be there). This show has a LOT of dialog in it, so make sure your brain is ready for it before you watch. Past episode 2 is up to you, but if you like gaming in general (board/video/card) then you should at least enjoy that part of this show.
If you want to watch this show legally, you can find it on Hulu with a subscription OR you can find the dvd and blu-ray on Amazon ranging from $40-60. It’s worth it either way.