NGNL fell short of everything I wanted it to be. Obviously, I never expected it to be sophisticated like Paranoia Agent or epic like Seirei no Moribito, but I hoped it would be a silly, entertaining bit of fluff I could watch with my brain switched off. Sadly, it aimed for a little more than that, and the result was a mess I mostly found annoying.
The No x No Life formula is common in Japanese uses of English. Tower Records in Shibuya has a huge plaque reading ‘No Music No Life’, for example. No Game No Life, unsurprisingly, centres on two characters whose entire lives are devoted to playing games. Instead of an amusing Welcome to the NHK study on a NEET not fitting into society or a Rozen Maiden take on how a fantasy adventure can lead to a person making changes in their everyday life and getting over psychological issues, No Game No Life is a wish-fulfilment fantasy. Though it is interesting in that the light novel was written by a writer who was not born in
– Brazilian born Thiago Furukawa Lucas, who writes as Kamiya Yuu – ultimately I
am quite surprised it’s as successful as it is, even with its heavy fanservice.
Two siblings game together as ‘Blank’, largely online. They hate the larger world and have no place in it. They also have a rather dubious relationship – 18-year-old big brother Sora and 11-year-old little sister Shiro are attached to one another in a way clearly designed to appeal to loli fans. After being approached by a god who takes the form of a little pageboy named Tet, they are sucked into another world where everything is a game. Of the sixteen races – equivalent to one side of a chessboard – humans are ranked lowest, but with Blank on the scene that’s all going to change.
The drama of the series has no tension at all. Blank are ridiculous. They are so good at games that they surpass human limits, can effectively predict any enemy’s actions and have the physical ability to do things like force a tossed coin to land on its edge by moving a pavement slab with a foot. They are overly perfect despite having lived an absurdly unhealthy life, with Sora handsome and suave – with women constantly throwing themselves at him – and Shiro blank-faced, submissive and prone to getting naked a lot, as well as acting suggestively to other girls. Both have the ability to play games on a level that’s plain stupid, and though sometimes the way they win is clever – like when they use an NPC’s movement to put a team member in the right position to counteract cheating – sometimes it’s just unnecessarily convoluted to give the appearance of something smart, like with ‘dematerialisation shiritori’.
These overly perfect protagonists quickly assemble a harem of girls who lack any sort of character whatsoever. There’s the stooge girl, the subservient angel, and the two former antagonists who are in somewhat of a lesbian relationship, but of course so enamoured by Sora that he becomes centre of their lives. Later there’s the cute girl with the animal ears who is their final challenge in this series.
Other than social anxiety, which is played for laughs, and an absolute need to be with his sister, Sora is without flaw. His mind runs calculations beyond those anybody else who has ever existed can possibly manage, he is capable of impressive physical feats with a gun, and he is handsome enough that every woman is beguiled. People complain about the Mary Sue archetype, but Sora is a Gary Stu of an order that makes Kirito in Sword Art Online look like a joke. Since every other character is either there to look stupid so that Sora looks good, or look impressive until Sora makes them his sex slave – including 11-year-old Shiro, if we’re honest – there isn’t a single likeable or fleshed-out character in the entire cast. I could probably deal with this if the humour had been good, but it was terrible – all ‘look, her panties are showing!’ or ‘look! Sora doesn’t care about Stephanie and so she gets hurt a lot!’ It doesn’t even get old – because it was never funny at the start.
Add to this the fact that the series doesn’t actually get anywhere near a conclusion – only to the defeat and takeover of one other nation – and you can see that this is a story not even half-told, and thus deeply unsatisfactory. I don’t really want to see more, but I probably will now, because not finishing a series I’ve started irritates me – part of me still itches to watch the rest of Hidamari Sketch. The saddest thing about this series is that its success clearly shows this IS what a lot of young Japanese males want to be – removed from their world and put in another one where they can be lauded by all for their cleverness, have little girls and big-boobed women alike throw themselves at them, and never think for a moment that they should think for themselves or dislike being used. Sure, it’s wish fulfilment – but I can’t approve of those wishes.