No Game No Life (2014)


Season 1

No Game No Life - Season 1 (2014)

Director: Atsuko Ishizuka
Studio: Madhouse
Starring: Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Ai Kayano, Yoko Hikasa
Episodes: 12

A pair of hikkikomori siblings are transported to a world where all disputes are decided by games.

I don't know what inspired me to watch this show. I saw a passing mention of it but had no other information going in. Usually I'm drawn in by something like the character designs, the premise or the pedigree of the cast and crew, but none of that was true here. Once I started, I had some reservations but was hooked enough to keep going and ultimately marathoned ten of the twelve episodes in binge that was perhaps ill-advised. So, what exactly was it about this series that took hold of me and kept my attention? Well, shows with chessmaster-type leads tend to appeal to me, such as Code Geass and Death Note. Setting up these big games are a lot of fun, especially when a lot of thought is put into the win scenario. There's a lot of gaming humor, obviously, so that's an extra fun element. I also was drawn in by the character dynamics. Take the leads, Sora and Shiro, for starters. There's definitely a creepy pseudo-incestual thing going on there, but their relationship is nevertheless rather adorable (the fact that Sora doesn't regard Shiro as a sexual object helps reduce the creep factor significantly, but the weirdness is lampshaded in-universe). Even characters that seem like nothing more than exploited chew toys like Stephanie have a fair bit of depth to them and layers to their characterization and things like that do a lot to hold my interest.

As far as downsides go, while Sora and Shiro do face challenges along the way, they may be seen as boringly invincible to some and the less charitable while rail on someone like Sora as being petty wish fulfillment for nerds who have no real contribution to society (Sora being a dedicated NEET and all). The ecchi factor is higher than I'm comfortable with. (Not so bad that I wouldn't watch it again, like Golden Boy, but still dialed up a few notches higher than I'd prefer.) A number of reviewers (namely on this side of the pond) have raised objections to using the 11-year-old Shiro for fanservice and I'll agree that it does add some creep factor but thankfully she's not played as hard for fanservice as a character like Steph. I have somewhat mixed feelings about the art style. I more or less like it but at times, particularly in the beginning, it felt a bit off to my aesthetic sense.

While I ultimately found this show to be a rewarding viewing experience, it's not for everyone and I suggest giving it two or three episodes if your interest is piqued and if you're turned off, don't go any farther. If you can appreciate the show for its merits, though, you'll be in for a treat.

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