No Game, No Life’s opening splices the frenetic, highly stylised in-game scenes with the real world, itself rendered with a chaotic, luminous glee. Behind the four uber-powerful characters bumping off every other player, are the brother and sister duet collectively known as Blank. It’s not so much nihilism that 18 year old Sora and 11 year old Shiro subscribe to, but apathy from instant gratification and constant interconnectedness.
No matter how complex or innocuous, there’s no game they can’t beat. It’s curious that they seem driven more by compulsion than enjoyment, something the first episode is keen to point out. Life to them is a game, and a poorly made one at that. None of the rules make sense, and every aspect contradicts another. An online chess challenge, looking surprisingly like malware, turns out to be a screening assessment. Checkmating their enigmatic competitor presents them with a tantalising offering. Brushing off claims of a game world, the duo accept and are sucked through the screen by mischievous boy-god Tet, who’s hungry for fresh challengers.
They’re anxious in urban surroundings, the sprawling Tokyo bring them out in shivers, and both are at ease in the vastness of the game world. Being outsiders in their own home is a theme that Yū Kamiya infused in the light novel source material. Born in Brazil, with a South American/Japanese heritage, Kamiya brings an edge which carries through into the anime.
The world of Disboard is a clever ploy on the trapped in video game trope, albeit with willing captives rather than opportunistic hostages. The candy-coloured palette is like a surrealist visit to the arcade, and the monolithic chess pieces on the horizon mark the world out as something Lewis Carrol might have conjured on a laudanum bender. Its weird appearance doesn’t mask the generic political situation – which functions on the winning and losing of games – and the drama tends more towards the tedious. The societal divides don’t do much to sell No Game, No Life, with each species another fetish to ramp up the fanservice, but the central twosome captivate.
Shiro and Sora are two halves of a whole. Each is incredibly smart, but in a way where the other is integral. Beneath the more perverse side of their relationship, and the barrage of lolicon servicing, is a well-crafted bond, one that’s honest, refreshing and believable in its own bizarro kind of way. Each of them is emblematic of the quality English dub, with the actors inherently understanding the relationships and the nuance needed to convey the intricate sibling bond and quirky humour. Shiro’s voice is barely above a whisper, while her boisterous brother has lungs enough for both.
The convoluted explanations of chance, game mechanics and theory crafting do wear thin. Yet the call back to earlier explanations means that No Game, No Life is a series that warrants constant attention, or the viewer runs the risk of confusion. The creepy closeness between Sora and Shiro, the unabating fanservice and the steady cliché mask a series with a great poker face but a poor hand.
Special Features: Commentary / Shorts / Previews / Commercials / Trailers / Clean opening and closing
NO GAME, NO LIFE / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: ATSUKO ISHIZUKA / SCREENPLAY: JUKKI HANADA / STARRING: YOSHITSUGU MATSUOKA, AI KAYANO, YOKO HIKASA, YUKA IGUCHI, MAMIKO NOTO / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 29TH