Unpopular Opinion: No Game No Life

No Game No Life is a series that I initially had a lot of fun with and then found upon closer inspection to be lacking in a variety of ways.  It had a lot of things that made it stand out and it was clearly popular, but it also has some serious problems.  So let’s examine in more detail the pros and cons of No Game No Life. There will be spoilers ahead.

Let’s start positive.  No Game No Life looks great.  The art is incredibly vivid and the red outlines mixes very well with the bright color palette.  The world and the people in it all look very nice.  Likewise the visual aspects of the various games are extremely well done.  This is best shown in the Materialization Shiritori, my personal favorite of the games played in the series.  Probably the only issue I have with visuals is some of the truly tasteless fanservice shots.  Like don’t get me wrong some of these scenes were funny and I’m no stranger to fan service, but even among fanservice shots there are some standards and I found No Game No Life to hold itself to a very low standard in this regard.  And the fact that it has such great visuals actually makes these scenes worse because it’s a waste to see gorgeous visuals squandered on pretty poor fanservice.  Moving on.

The dialogue in this show is great.  The show really dramatizes the dialogue but it never feels like we’ve hit the realm of cheesy over-dramatization.  Likewise the dramatic timing of key lines of dialogue is handled flawlessly, adding psychological tension and intrigue with a few well timed words or change in tone of voice.  This is perhaps the most well executed part of the entire show, the director really knew what they were doing in terms of voice acting and dramatic timing.  There also plenty of funny gags to be had as well.  Unfortunately one particular kind of dialogue was mishandled, the exposition.  When you have genius character making plans the most common ways of letting the viewer in on said plans is either via soliloquy or just having the genius explain it to a bystander.   No Game No Life went the bystander route and Steph was the unfortunate target.  In order for the bystander style of exposition to work the bystander has to appear stupider than the genius.  The problem here lies in the fact that show is constantly forcing Steph to switch between stupid bystander and intelligent woman, since she has a good education and is the primary source of information for Sora and Shiro about Disboard, the world they’ve been transported to.  That kind of inconsistency is bad and it just added to some of the more tasteless elements of the show which were mostly centered around Steph.  Next up, characters.

The characters are a bit of a mess.  On the one hand Sora is fantastic, but he’s about the only one.  As detailed above Steph is made inconsistent, Jibril would have been great if she didn’t drool whenever she saw technology.  Honestly if her character had been allowed to be more dignified that would have been awesome.  Shiro is a genius but she isn’t given anywhere near the same kind of care and respect as Sora.  If anything Shiro is more like Sora’s mascot or cute gimmick, almost all of the important dialogue comes from Sora, so much so that no other characters ever get to shine.  Now I like Sora, but I don’t think everyone else should be damned so I can like Sora.  The characters needed to be balanced better, their strengths divided to some degree so that they could complement each other during the games.  Instead everyone always relies on Sora and occasionally Shiro.  This is not good because it restricts character interaction.  If you remember back to my Kekkai Sensen review (assuming you read it), you might recall that I thought Chain was one of the most important cast members even though she didn’t do much.  The reason why was because although her actions were limited, her interactions with the other characters were great and they breathed a lot of life and humor into scenes which a lesser character would have allowed to fall flat.  No Game No Life does the reverse, it has one character do everything and lets the rest allow scenes to fall flat, or at least flatter.  The focus is too narrow and it damages the rest of the story.  Ok, this sounds bad, so what could be worse?

No Game No Life restricts its own narrative the same way it restricted the character interactions.  The problem with No Game No Life’s story is that Sora and Shiro literally can’t lose, not because “Blank never loses” but because the story would fall apart if they ever lost.  See the story moves forward with a relentless momentum.  Each game Blank wins is bigger and more important than the last.  And based on how the show ends this trend will continue.  From this point on Sora and Shiro will only ever play high stakes games that they can’t afford to lose because then the story would be over.  At first glance having bigger flashier games with higher stakes seems like it would be a good thing, it brings more tension and drama to the story.  However the tension and drama from a high stakes game only appears because both parties can lose.  If one party can’t lose for the sake of the plot, then the tension is gone and the story gets predictable.  I will give No Game No Life some credit and say that they at least made the games themselves and the methods Blank uses to win interesting.  However that’s all they can do at this point because otherwise the series would get boring and some of the shit Blank does smells a bit more like an asspull than a well thought-out strategy.  Unfortunately the story has trapped itself into a very predictable pattern and while journey might be fun to watch, the destination is set and obvious from the start.

That about wraps up this review.  For any who are interested in NO Game No Life and would like to see a less restricted story in the same vein, I recommend Mondaiji-tachi ga Isekai kara Kuru Sou Desu yo aka Mondaiji aka Problem Children.  It shares many similarities with No Game No Life but never restricts itself and manages its characters better.  It has much lower production values but if you like this kind of story give it a watch, you might just enjoy it.  Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed this and I’ll see you in the next one.

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2 thoughts on “Unpopular Opinion: No Game No Life

  1. An interesting point. Not to be critical, that’s a flaw (if you can call it that) common to most heroic stories. The hero has to win, otherwise he wouldn’t be a hero. Part of the hero’s journey is one of overcoming. Sure, he may have a small hiccup or a loss, but he’ll always win in the end. We know this. The storytelling is in the how they get there. That’s why things like House (a popular medical drama) work – problem-> shenanigans -> problem evolves -> more shenanigans -> gonna die -> problem solved in the nick of time.

    Based on the depth of your posts, I think you’d be interested in a book called The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell (if you haven’t read it already). It’s a great dissection of the various heroic archetypes and journeys by examining heroes in various mythologies.

    Another thought-provoking piece. Keep up the good work!

    Like

    • You’re quite right that heroes do have to win in the end. My problem was that in many stories heroes can stumble along the way or even outright fail so long as the failure’s consequences are relatively small and manageable, but No Game No Life doesn’t allow such things to happen because every game is a high stakes one that dooms the whole story to failure if the heroes lose. So the story has a lot less variety to it because of the structure the creators set up. Thanks for the book recommendation btw it sounds very interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

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