NEETs are usually referred to as people who take a long break from society to do whatever they please, causing others to view them as “lazy” or envy them for having freedom. But if NEETs were born with superhuman intelligence and prove to be more noteworthy than your average student or professional, they deserve a lot more respect.
Meet No Game No Life, Madhouse’s new light and playful production, featuring NEETs with an objective to become God of a new world. It’s understandable that NGNL is a fantasy where you can use your wildest imagination and can’t possibly go wrong, but a common mistake that fantasy anime like NGNL fail to do is abide by its principles. A fantasy still needs some sense of logic for slamming two geniuses who are capable of doing anything into its story. NGNL presents itself as a brilliant, captivating series but progresses to show little-by-little how it moves away from intelligence, proving how the protagonists are not as invincible as portrayed to be.
Blank, a brother-sister duo named Sora and Shiro, is quite peculiar. All of their wins are accomplished by teamwork, and one brain cannot function well without the other nearby. They make their debut as a couple who’s unbeatable and leaks intimidation. NGNL presents these protagonists with unexplained abilities, which makes their brilliance invalid. You learn nothing about Blank besides the fact they’re undefeatable and possess genius-level intelligence. They both suffer from a social disorder that causes them to freak out when separated and gives Sora enough reason to sit outside the girls’ bath to stay within a certain distance of Shiro. Besides a vague backstory of their first encounter, NGNL reveals nothing about their parents, their lives in Tokyo, or any kind of self-narration to back up their intelligence or social disorder. This results in NGNL’s inability to follow through on its brilliance. Despite being undefeatable, Blank faces dead ends, admits defeat, and gets miraculously saved at the last minute. Even if there were changes in games or situations entirely, you’d expect clever approaches from super intelligent protagonists besides raising the white flag. Like always, NGNL disguises such inconveniences with gag comedy references to please jaded views.
One of the aspects noteworthy in NGNL are the games ranging from as simple as rock-paper-scissors to majorly complex and fun like a simulation game. Blank’s immediate drawbacks and impressive comebacks make it more watchable. The explanations of game plans were interesting. This makes Stephanie Dola a great add to the series, because someone has to play the simple-minded character to dumb down the complex moves and game rules for everyone else to understand. The games have their flaws though. Blank arrives into a world decided by games, ran by 10 pledges, and ruled by a little boy who only became God by default because of incompetent adults. The 10 pledges are a nice gesture to keep world order, but it is just another excuse to make Blank seem intimidating. There’s a pledge that denounces cheating, giving gamers an automatic loss if caught. Most of the games consisted of someone cheating or trying to overcome a cheat. Still, this brings two conclusions. Either Blank is indeed genius, or everyone in the new world is incredibly stupid and uses cheats to hide the fact they lack wisdom and the appropriate skills to win. Blank faces every opponent with a confident attitude, expecting a 100% win. Then the show becomes predictable, because Blank is always right. None of their opponents are challenging enough to take them on. The pacing was just right, so 12 episodes was not enough to fulfill the primary objective and ends with a cliffhanger.
The majority of the cast is female, giving Sora several chances to play the dominate male and open pervert. This makes characters appear as airheads or suffer high risks for Blank's purposes. The characters vary in personalities and abilities, and NGNL did a great job dividing their abilities based upon their race. Some had their own fetishes as well. Each of them played a role in Blank’s overall objective, so each one has his or her own unique trait whether it’s attractive or vice versa. Since this is a comedy, characters freely act outrageous after a serious moment in an attempt to get a laugh. It is only regarded to a certain extent, because they do not always act appropriately to certain situations, making it hard to distinguish the comedy and seriousness. Their sudden reactions to surprises are mostly hilarious, especially Blank’s reaction when Stephanie says something bright for a change. Some of the characters share backstories and relationships that can possibly give viewers a different impression of them.
NGNL takes ecchi over the top with its fanservice. Awkward cliché scenes of falling and landing into boobs make it annoying and close to a harem. Most games consist of girls losing clothes or undergarments sometimes as an excuse for virgin Sora to get his feels. However, I disregard this a little considering that NGNL is clearly within the ecchi genre, so this is expected. I mainly mentioned it as a warning to those who despises the abuse of ecchi fanservice. The only flaw is how this makes every game predictable, because each one seems to need fanservice for strategic purposes or solutions.
The pastel colors are initially what makes NGNL so lively, and I applaud Madhouse for taking a different approach with unique artwork and animation. As someone who is not a big fan of ecchi, I found it to be tolerable because of the pastel colors. The settings and character design were unbelievably gorgeous, and it is greatly necessary to distinguish the vast races and their territories within the world, including the elves and warbeasts. Except NGNL seems to care more about their appeal than abiding by the law of gravity. Clearly, you cannot hold onto a floating cloth in the sky as if it’s an airplane wing or Aladdin's magic carpet. Characters hang upside down and their hair doesn't follow their lead. Even if gravitational failure is not a big deal, it makes NGNL misleading considering that an arc touched on the concepts of science a great deal, including gravity.
The background music was suitable for the game theme of NGNL, but there are music references from other games to make the OST seem unoriginal. Sometimes it was confusing. NGNL seemed to have a hard time differentiating between comedy and seriousness, and the music gives it away. Something unexpected happens, characters make a big deal out of it, and yet the music is just as cheerful as ever. The OP and ED were very good, and the lyrics fit the show’s theme and Blank’s relationship quite well. There are no complaints about the seiyuu either, because they all switched their tones appropriately during certain situations, especially Blank. They succeeded with the sound effects, too, and it brought out the comedy more.
NGNL was a fun show to watch, and I looked forward to seeing a new episode every week. Impressive strategic gameplay, clever comebacks from Blank, and the beautiful animation with pastel colors are a few things that intrigued me. Despite how much I loved it, NGNL doubtlessly lacked the maturity and logic it needed to achieve the pursuit for powerful, undefeatable characters. The fantasy genre can be imaginative, as long as the show supports their ideas with some kind of explanation like NGNL failed to do. If you want to introduce super intelligent NEETs with an objective to take over the world, perfect. But to make them into something overly invincible with unexplained abilities without any backstory or presentation of evidence? That’s a tough cookie to break. Since NGNL won as the hype of Spring 2014, there’s no doubt in my mind that there’s a sequel awaiting us in the future.