An Anime Review: No Game No Life
«People trapped in virtual realities» have been a trope in science fiction for a long time now. A new version of this idea that has been the «trapped in a video game» genre, with examples like «Sword Art Online» and «The World God Only Knows»(which was basically this). No game No life is not a strict member of this family, as our main characters find themselves trapped in a fantasy land where games rule, rather than a straight out video game. I suppose in a way it has more in common with «Liar Game», where our protagonists battles against different types of games, and where wits and intelligence are your main weapons.
But to start with the beginning(as I am a fan of ordering things chronologically) we open to our two main characters Sora and Shiro, a couple of expert video games who forms the duo “Blank”. They are siblings, Sora being the older brother to the girls Shiro, and they have no life outside of their games. But one day, after defeating a stranger at chess, they are transported to a fantasy world, one where violence and war no longer exists. Instead the supreme God of this world has made it so that all conflicts are decided by games, and the loser is magically forced to honor his or hers wager. Our two siblings obviously fit in well in such a world, which otherwise looks like the Medieval Europe with the usual magical races and magic you might find in a fantasy set in such a location. They quickly go after the throne of the country they landed in and after that for even greater feats, using all their skills and abilities to achieve their goals.
The main character of the anime is Sora, the older brother. While some might say that the two siblings are equally much the protagonists, Sora is certainly the one with real agency, with ambitions and comical flaws and the charisma that pushes him up on center stage while Shiro is helping from the sidelines. Sora is a teenage who are stuck between his pride as a top gamer and his shame of his failures in all of life's other aspects. He has something to prove and something he wishes to gain. Shiro never seemed as interested in everything they try to accomplish.
Sora is an asshole of a protagonist, but mostly in a good way. He swindles and cheats and is dominated by his pride, shame and lust for girls. His sexual urges is not as bad as in a lot of other anime teenagers I could mention, and it is usually not annoying. While perfectly willing to abuse other people, he does in the end have a good heart and and tries to help, and to his credit he rarely tries to punish his opponents after they lose to the siblings. Instead he often comes to an agreement both sides can support. Other than, he has a disturbing codependent relationship with his sister.
Shiro is the little sister of Sora, and is a variant of the cute, emotionless computer. She is often silent, but is quite a lot more intelligent than her brother. She does not have high ambitions, seemingly happy playing games with her brother. She either joins him in his ambitions or else remains neutral, with the exception that she takes more pride than him in not losing. Much like her brother, Shiro does have complexes about being alone, and this seems to be her primary issue throughout the show. Shiro also has the intelligence of a computer and is able to do quite frankly impossible calculations in her head.
The other main characters are mostly villains and additions to Sora's ever increasing harem. The first of these is Stephanie, who is recruited in a quite disturbing way. She loses a game, and is then forced to love Sora, by the use of a loophole in the rules. The use of mind control is quite common, but erasing memories and parts of the personality, to making someone your slave. The ethical implications of this is never discussed, though Sora is at times looked upon as slimy for his use of this. You might say that since this only happens after the mind controlled lost a game they freely entered this is not a big deal, but I must disaggree, especially in the case of Stephanie who had no idea what she was aggreeing to. The use of mind control does not seem to be getting old anytime soon, though I suppose it may serve as a metaphor for the human rights issues the Middle Ages in general had. I will say that the characters are at all distinct in personality, and often amusing. Each addition to the heroes seems to add something.
Enjoying the Games
So, to the games. I must admit I had my hopes dashed a bit here. A world where games rule all is certainly interesting, as it replaces military might with pure intellect. The cleverest rules, one might say. In the beginning we get some simple games where game theory is used, and for a while I thought No Game No Life was taking the route of Liar Game, setting up realistic games and exploitiong the rules that had clearly been laid out. This was not it at all however. Very often victory is instead assured by Shiro's almost supernatural brain and ability to predict, so while there is usually some kind of outsmarting of the enemies, it is not in a way that the audience could guess ahead of time. Sora's cleverness and sly nature may make him seem like Lelouch or Light Yagami, but these arent great games between enourmous intellects we are watching. Too bad, really.
But is it fun? Oh yes. The animation is extremely colourful, truly giving the impression of a fantasy world different than our own. The games are fun and enganging, despite Shiro being dragged out as a trumph card one too many times. The world and its different races feels large and mysterious, and with wonders at every corner. No Game No Life is one of the most entertaining animes I have seen this year, and while it neatly dodges the ethical issues that raises their heads, its really worth watching.
And as a final note, I do enjoy how Sora and Shiro turns their country around using the knowledge of modern farming and such the medieval humans do not have. Not many seems to have considered that a modern human transported back in time could really change things with, to us, rather basic information.