Otaku USA Magazine
The Stakes are Ridiculously High in No Game No Life

We’re all good at something. For many of us, that something happens to be video games. That’s the case with Sora and Shiro. They’re basically shut-ins, proponents of the hikikomori lifestyle, but you wouldn’t know it if you came face to face with them in the world of online gaming. Partnering up as Blank, an undefeated duo known far and wide, Sora and Shiro are a force to be reckoned with … that is, until they’re challenged by a god named Tet to a game of chess. They win (of course they do!) and are offered the chance to live in a land where games are the deciding factor between life or death, in many cases. This is No Game No Life, and in the world of Elkia, the stakes are always ridiculously high.

Game On!

Sora and Shiro, shut-ins that they are, find themselves wandering around in the new land of Elkia, where everything you can possibly think of, from small tiffs to crowning royalty, is decided through games that require chance or skill, depending on the circumstances surrounding them. The pair complement each other well, playing off each other’s strengths and weaknesses, which makes for some hilarious on-screen camaraderie and even a few uncomfortable moments once you realize Shiro has a bit of a thing for Sora, as young as she is.

Still, the dynamics between them are quite entertaining. Shiro is an actual genius who’s calculating and shrewd. Sora is nowhere near as intelligent when it comes to logic and making the best moves; his strengths lie in reading people and exploiting their weaknesses for his own gain. Because of this, the two play off each other and join together to read the opponents and then calculate the best moves to bring them down. Truly, they’re one of the most perfectly attuned pairs you’ll find in the realm of anime and manga, and for good reason. Perhaps that’s one of the biggest reasons they see fit to shut the world out—they believe they only, truly need each other because everyone seems extraneous in the larger picture.

Get On Disboard

The world of Disboard is a frightening one, especially when you stop and think about serious things like murder trials, the passing of the crown, and other important events being decided by emerging victorious from a video game. That’s exactly why Shiro and Sora feel right at home, and presumably why you will as well. The entire world, in fact, is a game itself, with 10 rules that the 16 different races who live there must follow. There are to be no murders, no theft, and cheating is allowed as long as you’re slick about it. In the blink of an eye, an entire race of people could be wiped out because they lost at a certain game. It’s a terrifying thought that conflicts must be resolved by games alone, but our heroes are confident they can pull through.

When you actually win a game, your wish is granted, though the severities of having wishes granted are bizarre and austere on their own. That’s part of the fun. Luckily, since Sora and Shiro are generally undefeatable and the show poises them to win at every turn, you’re always made to wonder about how exactly they’re going to pull through. This makes for some wonderful mind games that aren’t always simple to decipher, even for brainier fans who may think they know the answer.

But even with all the brainier parts and clear indication that those with higher than normal intellects will likely be interested in watching, No Game No Life is still accessible in the extreme. If you’re already a video game fan and understand the inner workings of games, the unspoken rules between players, and tabletop mannerisms, you’ll feel right at home with this anime.

But just because you know how certain games work and how their rules are in the real world, that doesn’t mean you’ll automatically know how things go in the world of No Game No Life. For instance, there are several different diversions depicted in the show that real-world gamers obviously won’t know the rules or setup to, and that’s half the fun. Like the ingenious Liar Game manga, there are dozens of cutting-edge setups and logic puzzles to wrestle with, keeping your brain busy along the way.

While the focus of the series is undoubtedly on the world of Disboard, Elkia, and the companions Shiro and Sora meet along the way, plenty of focus is centered on their relationship. Shiro is Sora’s younger step-sister, which can make for some strange, some would say incestuous, tension between the two, especially with an overabundance of panty shots throughout the show.

Unlike most romantic relationships between brothers and sisters in the world of anime series, the one between Shiro and Sora is best left to subtext, making the show even more of an accessible adventure that eschews weirdness for realistic interactions. That shouldn’t be a turnoff for those looking to explore the series, however—especially given the fact that our favorite pair aren’t always the center of attention.

Striking Attention to Detail

Beyond its rich worldbuilding and interesting types of games, you’ve got to hand it to the show for serving so many different types of races and people as a backdrop. Not only do Shiro and Sora have to conquer one race, but they’ve got to conquer them all. A lot of work goes into creating a fantasy world as it is, and even more still to flesh out a set of unique races like the Warbeasts of the Eastern Federation, the Elven Garde, Dhampirs, sirens, and more. Even Shiro and Sora’s companion Stephanie Dola, the previous Elkian king’s granddaughter, is an interesting specimen, as she’s terrible at games but possesses a glut of practical knowledge.

But the characters and personalities aren’t the only reason you should be giving this series a watch. The energy of the protagonist pair is channeled through both the artwork and music of No Game No Life, but the artwork itself is to be admired. While it’s certainly got some familiar “moe blob” animation in some areas, for the most part you have to take in the pastels, bold colors, and even the red outlines of the characters themselves that look absolutely nuts in contrast to most other series that are confident to keep things pretty low key. You truly feel as though you’ve entered a completely different world, simply by the way everything looks.

Emerging Victorious

No Game No Life is just as refreshing as its manga counterpart. It’s an especially great-looking example of a title that just might slip off your radar if you aren’t careful. A tight plot, likable characters, and plenty of other bits of quirk should be plenty to hold your interest. Just don’t ever think you’re good enough to challenge Blank — you’ll be proved wrong tenfold. You can’t defeat the power of siblings.