No Game No Life
Seinen – Adventure, comedy, ecchi, fantasy, harem, isekai
8 Volumes (ongoing) of 10 Volumes (ongoing)
Eighteen-year-old Sora and eleven-year-old Shiro are legendary expert gamers, but they’re also societal shut-ins. After beating a mysterious challenger in chess, the siblings are summoned to Disboard, a land where games decide everything. Is this land perfect for Sora and Shiro, or will all the other races finally defeat them — and humanity at large?
No Game No Life is one of those series best enjoyed if you can ignore its problematic ecchi aspects.
At its core, No Game No Life is no different than most battle or psychological manga, just one set in another world. The games Sora and Shiro play are always going to be one of those “I knew that you knew that I knew” or “how could anyone have the skills to do that” situations. Considering the high stakes ” ” (Blank, the gamers’ shared screenname), they really can’t lose. Because if not, they could doom all of humanity.
You see, in Disboard, there are sixteen races, but they all must stick to the strict rules of no violence, only bet in games. The Immanity (humans) are the bottom of the societal pyramid, and the race is down to one city-state called Elkia. Thanks to their mysterious challenger, the god named Tet, Sora and Shiro arrive just in time to win the monarchy. Now they’ve set their sights on bringing all races under their kingdom’s flag and once again face Tet.
Like the protagonists of many other such isekai stories, Sora and Shiro — who are technically stepsiblings, although they address each other like blood siblings — considered losers by society-at-large. But they do have a special talent: gaming, and because they’re already gifted in that aspect, they don’t receive any special power-ups in Disboard. So they’re armed with their genius-level talent, a small assortment of electronics, and the crippling need to be near each other at all times.
Which starts into the more unsettling aspects of the series. One of the running gags is Sora’s never having a girlfriend (or a fling) before, and so one of his first commands is to make the previous king’s granddaughter fall in love with him. Stephanie becomes the buttmonkey for most of the series, which includes:
- Making her act like a dog,
- Forcing her to give up her underwear,
- Being groped.
Stephanie protests, but she is never able to really admonish Sora and Shiro because of the world’s covenants. The series goes even further with the siblings making videos in the bath (although “clean” versions which would be acceptable in video games), risque images of eleven-year-old Shiro, and repeated implications that Shiro is in love with Sora. Sora doesn’t realize this and also emphasizes the fact he doesn’t want any of his home movies to include images of minors, but the lolicon implications are impossible to ignore completely. Plus, those sexual harassment examples above? Shiro participates in all of them in some way or another, claiming she’s “just a kid” who doesn’t understand when everyone starts questioning her behavior. Even though it’s possible that Shiro could be considered autistic or have a similar condition, and even though Shiro is gifted with genius-level intelligence (she knows a bunch of languages and has soundly beaten sophisticated AI software in chess), it’s still disturbing to see a young girl wearing another girl’s underwear on her head.
In short, this is not just a typical harem. No Game No Life does lampshade this a bit, calling bathing together an induction ceremony to the kingdom and Sora and Shiro’s adherence to making everything rated R-18. Still, though, the series crosses the border from psychological co-dependency to reader fetishes at a regular basis, particularly due to Shiro’s looks, talents, and speech patterns all making her lolibait.
Wow, I spent a lot of time on that, but it’s because these sorts of things make up a large part of the story. Even an old man makes a rather… blunt request. Sora and Shiro say that R-18 stuff is off limits, but they aren’t far off, particularly if the light novel is going to aim for one particular end couple.
Sora and Shiro are amazing talented, learning game rules and languages in a fraction of the time it takes a normal person. (I wish I could learn Japanese in an hour or so.) But because they grasp everything so easily, there’s no way for a reader to figure out the puzzles before they are revealed. Stephanie, besides being the siblings’ plaything, acts as the readers’ proxy, completely confused as to how Sora and Shiro are able to turn things around. I think I’d like the series a little more if we could solve the puzzle. It’s possible, I guess, to figure out who’s lying in some situations, but no way could anybody guess how syllables in a made-up language are translated into an attack in Sora and Shiro’s language. Rather than being a mystery, No Game No Life is more like how Yugi in Yu-Gi-Oh! always happens to have a new trump card in his deck, never before seen to the audience. Those types of shows definitely have appeal, but the siblings always feel way far ahead of the reader, and so I don’t feel as invested in their matches. But while a lot of the games are complicated, the actual games themselves are very cool: a Civilization-like video game, extreme hide-and-seek, board games of death… I can’t help but want to see them all in an anime.
I do like how No Game No Life establishes a clear goal — rechallenge the god — early in the series. More interestingly, it’s because of their self-confidence to win rather than a pure-hearted desire to save the world. Yes, Sora and Shiro’s brilliance do help Elkia, but turning the land into a peaceful utopia isn’t their main objective. In a genre full of clueless and unsure protagonists, the siblings’ pride does stand out. Plus, having the world ruled by games eliminates the fakeness of how other lands in isekai stories are game-like.
In addition, there are 16 races/species in Disboard, and the power struggles between these vastly different beings is a highlight. Animal people, valkyrie-like girls, vampires — lots of different humanoids, and some quirky characters to boot. Werebeast Izuna, for instance, looks (and normally acts) quite young, but she’s got a potty mouth. The Flügel love knowledge. Sirens live under the sea. If some of these sound familiar, it’s because Kamiya took inspiration from real-world mythology. Still, I like seeing humanoids play out in a slightly different way that you might expect or be used to. Like Sora and Shiro, pretty much everyone has a kink or a quirk, but as much as the others try to sabotage or support Sora and Shiro, this is clearly their story.
That being said, as more is revealed about the history of Disboard, they may be more connected to this world than you’d think. (Although a certain movie may have spoiled this reveal already…) With the ultimate endgame already established, it’s good that each volume doesn’t follow the same pattern of meet a new race, challenge them, win. Sora and Shiro are slowly circling the wagons, waiting for the opportune moment to strike. Volume 6 in particular has a different focus, and the seventh and eighth entries cover one large game and several smaller ones. So No Game No Life could continue for a while still, and it is enjoyable that, for as many flaws as they have, to see Sora and Shiro practically trademark trolling in real life. But again, readers are probably going to be Stephanies and need and explanation for what happens even though it’s fun to watch the siblings lord their victories over their opponents.
Kamiya is also talented at drawing. He was originally a mangaka, but he switched to light novels because it was less strenuous work. But the images have an extra depth since they’re how he imaged the scenes to be. It’s a unique style, most evident in the color inserts with a lot of 90s pink and pale neon colors. Do expect some more fanservice in the pictures to go with the fanservice in the text though. Major fanservice with naked girls with private areas covered up, which can be very awkward considering the ages of some of the characters. It was hard to even find a relatively tame one to post here, but this one is pure compared to at least half of them:
Honorifics are generally not used. They’re only used when Sora is supposed to be speaking a foreign language that the residents of Disboard don’t understand. So Shiro’s “Nii” is “Brother” here, and -dono is Lord for both siblings. Speech quirks include repeating letters (gaame) or please (desu).
Chances are, if you’ve read any reviews for No Game No Life before, you’ve probably heard the sexual innuendo and related ecchi aspects are unnecessary. It’s certainly true, as the series goes heavy on sexual innuendo and harassment. This can make readers feel uncomfortable, which is a shame as conquering the world through game mastery is a plot a lot of Japanese media fans would get behind. Even the lampshading effect of saying “No R-18!” doesn’t help, so it’s up to you how much a preteen girl allowing a non-human to lick her feet bothers you.
Seven Seas licensed the original manga adaptation while Yen Press is releasing the No Game No Life, Please! spin-off. Crunchyroll has the anime available to stream, and Sentai Filmworks released it and the movie prequel on home video.