I think I’m on the brink of something large
Maybe like the breaking of the dawn
Maybe like a match being lit
Or the sinking of a ship, letting go gives a better grip
It’s the difference between living with the world on your back, or living with the world on Atlas’s back. It’s the heart of gamification that underlies the premise of No Game No Life. The fact that our protagonists are considered worthless human beings in light of their pre-existing surrounding and god-tier miracle workers in this alternate universe is fancy and enjoyable to some degree. But just how are we suppose to enjoy Tet’s giant chess game? Just how unreal is a virtual reality in a fantasy world where gamers game and gamble everything and anything from nipples being non-existent to people being non-existent? So meta.
If the ultimate idea at the end is sort of the head trick that we’re headed, as far as character development goals and thematic understanding of what’s happening, the show is full of them in other ways. The common anime/manga/game/light novel trope about having fun while doing it is a common one; but to me the trick was more about how using that concept as a trick to get somewhere else. In that way, when the Kuuhaku extended their hands to Izuna it felt like a “hello kids, the moral of this story today was XYZ” moment and it makes me want to point fingers at a certain type of people who talk about plot and character development. You know who I’m talking about. That is never really what makes this show special, much like how the Warbeasts never get what the Kuuhaku is trying to do.
It’s easy to say that I enjoyed NGNL enough to link to a Kotaku article, gasp, but more over my enjoyment and endorsement exist in light of, and over, my objections to its flaws. And I just want to talk about that–it’s about letting go and let yourself enjoy that head trick. Don’t be a Steph. Which is basically anyone who rated this show below a 7 on MAL.
Joke aside, I do want to mention its Steph shaming schtik, which depends on what context you are coming from, can rub people the wrong way. I came from the “Yoko Hikasa makes the best tease character” angle so all the Steph jokes are a delight. Just to know that it’s merely a head trick–to the extent that fanservice is definitely biased in this series towards our garden variety harem setup. In those ways, NGNL feels rather mundane, and perhaps it is. It’s a little bit like Seitokai no Ichizon in that the real strength of the material is what they actually talk about, eg., not the fact that Mafuyu might be a fujoshi, but that Mafuyu takes a fujoshi point of view in the otaku culture roundtable. Or that there’s a otaku culture roundtable to begin with. NGNL does the same thing, not only in that as gamers would know it’s more fun to talk about games by playing games rather than just talk about games in a room, but that the act of talking about games while gaming is really the end game. It’s not so much that we’re watching a light novel adaptation take on Gal-Gun, but we’re talking about how the anime take on Gal-Gun along with the characters in the story.
For me, the persistent and well-distributed meta–like yeast in the biblical dough–is what holds the show together. No Game No Life occasionally shows you the seams, but in good faith usually. The few times it didn’t I can probably forgive it on the grounds of “go read the light novels” as even in its worst moment, it’s still better than, say, Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere. The thematic consistency about letting go, holding on, and how those things interplay with each other is kind of the obtuse way to describe the effects of gamification and the various head games Sora and Shiro play with each other and with the rest of the world, including viewers like us. Anime is the perfect medium for this kind of a narrative.