Sora and Shiro are hikikomori siblings who don't care for the real world, but dominate any game when they work together as "Blank." When Blank gets a mysterious invitation to a world where life is structured by games, the pair doesn't think twice about leaving their mundane lives in Japan. Sora and Shiro soon learn this strange world, Disboard, is rife with political turmoil. After gaming their way into becoming king of Imanity (the Disboard equivalent of humans), they hatch a plan to gain further power and return their race to its former glory. With an exciting mix of fantasy, game-based action, and comedy, No Game No Life is a standout of the spring season.
A Great Premise That Delivers
One of the most exciting things about watching anime is the breadth of new, outlandish, and intriguing premises that show up every season. The downside is that many shows don't live up to their pitches. Fortunately, No Game No Life takes an interesting setup and doesn't fail to expand upon it and deliver a satisfying story. It creates a rich in-universe mythology that is slowly deepened as we learn more about the show's world. Disboard is governed by complex rules and societal structure, and the plot and how the characters react and respond to them stays internally consistent. I'm happy to say that No Game No Life never stops being what it set out to be, and the world-building stays tight throughout.
Dynamic Duo (and Trio, and...)
Blank is the glue that holds the show together. The way the siblings use their unique strengths to solve problems and win games is always a joy to watch. Sora has an unhinged, Okabe-like charisma with a dash of Lelouch in there for good measure. Genius and deadpan Shiro often chimes in with offbeat humor, making her sassier than your usual emotionless cutie type. I can't emphasize enough how compelling they are as protagonists. The other characters that join the team throughout the season also have something of their own to offer. Stephanie Dola, the granddaughter of the late king of Imanity, is a particularly good asset to Sora and Shiro. Although lacking the gaming chops to flourish in Disboard, she handles much of the bureaucratic red tape and seems more grounded in reality than her companions. Rounding out the group is Jibril, an angelic being with encyclopedic knowledge, Kurami, a scheming enemy-cum-friend, and Fil, Kurami's magically adept elf partner.
This is simply a stunning anime (as evidenced by the fact that I can't help making this a picture heavy review). It has one of the most eye-catching and unique art styles of the season. It's also refreshing to see such a bright color palette. I like to think it speaks to the fact that although the stakes of Blank's games are very high, they're jubilant to finally be in a world where they belong.
Not that kind. No Game No Life is packed with that, but it also has a different sort of pandering in the form of references. Most episodes are full of clever nods to other anime and games, including Ace Attorney, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, Evangelion, Hyouka, and many more.
Why is it that in a certain type of show, when assembling a motley but able crew of comrades, there never seem to be any capable dudes around? Well, because harems, of course. Although I like the whole cast of characters, I personally find these harem elements lazy and a bit irritating (it also plays into my next point). Your mileage may vary of course. Sora is a great male lead, but I hope in upcoming seasons we see some interesting characters of both genders show up to help Imanity.
Mixed Bag Humor
Sometimes, No Game No Life was genuinely funny. Sometimes, it had me rolling my eyes. The writers prove that they can do physical comedy, hilarious references, and witty quips. So it's disappointing when the show reverts to really immature, mostly sexual humor. And it's not even that there aren't some sexual gags that made me chuckle...
What a Tease!
I have no issue with the pacing of No Game No Life. Most episodes have a great balance of action, explanation, and comedy. It's a little hard to come to terms with the fact that we don't know when we'll get a second season, though. Episode 12 masterfully finished up an arc while simultaneously opening the door for the next one. Let's hope we get news of more episodes soon!
And this time, I mean that kind. It's just an unfortunate blight on a very good show. Every female character is exploited for fanservice, and this is especially disappointing when it centers on Shiro. Just a reminder - she's 11. She's an incredibly talented and smart prodigy, and she gets introduced via a panty shot.
If it's not obvious, I highly recommend No Game No Life. If you can look past its few (but perhaps not insignificant) flaws, you'll find a refreshing ode to gaming that you can really get invested in, full of wonderment, suspense, and quirky humor.