I don't normally write reviews, mainly cause I don't think that many people will be interested in my totally subjective opinion, but this time I decided to make an exception. Mainly cause I can't stand to see so many people slamming this series with the same repeating arguments, completely ignoring the positives.
As I've said, I have very much subjective and in many ways probably biased love for the series. I assume it's mainly because it saved me from the rot of meaningless flashy series, where fan service replaces story and various "grabs" are there instead of plot twists. But isn't this virtually the same? I have to strongly disagree.
Firstly, lets get the initial impressions out of the way. Art here has a nice modern touch, clean graphics, tight animations and it's nice to see designers using after processing to add a style, not to obscure shabby production quality. Although I think style overall suits modern day setting more than fantasy world, making opening scene and city battle at the end of season most visually impressive.
Character design is the only complaint I can rise here, mainly among humans. Not that it's bad, but somewhat samey. Good thing we have 15 more races to look at.
Now, regarding the setting itself, I kinda love it. On surface it looks uninspired: yet another parallel world where main character gets wisped away to, fantasy races, magic, dragons and villains. Oh and there's a princess also, who falls in love with main character, but she's kind of tsundere. Oh and they live in her castle.
But that's what makes this one of my favorite series: the ability to take the most overused and boring setting, so dull, that Le Blanc de La Vallière, Louise Françoise might confuse it for her homeworld, and twist it in to something crazy and interesting.
Yes, we had anime about games before, be it SAO, Log Horison, Ragnarok or //hack, but they all tried to bring real life in to game, while NGNL does the opposite: it brings the game back in to life. If anything, it's closer to Kaiji, just less depressing and unfair.
But what I really like about the subject, is that unlike majority of game related or themed anime, this one manages to appeal to gamers as a whole, instead of pandering to or focusing on Asian aspects of gaming, specifically their mmos and VNs. Yes, tehre's still influence, but it's not so absolute. I don't mind watching things like SAO and Log Horizon to better understand tropes and intricacies of Asian gaming, but for once I want something I can just enjoy and relate to.
It saddens me how few gamers I see around here, or at least it seems so, cause how else would one explain such widespread misunderstanding of setting and main focuses of the series. For me it's an amazing, impossible world, for once created by gamers, not just for gamers. It's as MCs said in the first episode: real world has no clearly defined rules or objectives and everyone makes whatever moves they want, i.e. just a shitty game.
It's a fantasy of any gamer to be unbeatable at everything, so it makes easy for me to relate to MCs. They also manage to avoid the oh so common trope that being transported in to a different world makes you slow and docile. MCs get right to business abusing the world for their own gain and enjoyment and it's a breath of fresh air from typical goody two shoes I will protect you OJSB of a MC that we have so often.
But the one thing that can make or break series for me is humor. Will it make me laugh or cringe? Will I be bored enough to check how much of an episode is left? Well, NGNL managed to do something anime has failed for me since Lucky Star: it made me literally laugh out loud every episode, to the point where my room mates would come over to check if I'm going insane or not.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly what made me like it so much, probably the combination of verbal humor with spot on body humor, references , selfish attitude and in-jokes between the siblings. That, combined with the general gaming theme made it easy to digest and relate.
If one would take the plot and development at face value, it would on impress much, a rather generic battle to save humanity and prove that they are not the weakest. But you need to move away from typical anime tropes to realize that it's not about humanity, beating the god or any other vague "greater good". This anime is really just about two siblings, gamers, who are having fun in a world they understand very well. Everything they do is to advance their own agenda.
Something I do have to mention though. Sound, overall, was serviceable, but what annoyed me the most was soundtrack. It felt... uninspired. Both in terms of opening/ending and music during the show itself. One would think that by this time directors understand the advantages of memorable music, but here it was mostly generic fantasy/fighting anime scores, completely alien to the nature of the show. I strongly feel that having some metal/electronic (or better both!) mash-ups would of suited gaming theme a lot more. Not to mention that they have quite a few gadgets along with them, yet they rarely use them for anything than taking notes or reading books.
One final thing I need to cover is fan service. To be completely honest here, first time I've watched the series, I did not notice it at all. Considering that I'm not a fan of it normally, it was rather strange. It took me a second viewing to realize what was different. It fitted, which happens never. Both MCs lived in a world exposed to ungodly amounts of it, to the point where it became somewhat of a background thing. As a result they were using it for their own entertainment, as opposed of ham-fisted"accidents" that plague anime nowadays. It was also employed by them for their own need, be it to tease or to distract, as well as a nice addition the their, honestly, rather unhealthy relationship. I can only wish that, if we have to have fan service, it would be done in similar, organic way.
And there you have it, this is why I don't normally write reviews, I tend to get carried away. As a conclusion, I would say that NGNL is often misunderstood for mediocre anime riding on populat tropes, but I see it as an amazing melding of Asian and western cultures. We learned to enjoy Asian quirks and their way of life, but this one hits it close to home, to a closer culture.
It's a must see anime for anyone, but you might not understand what it's trying to do, but that's normal with anime, isn't it? And if you consider yourself a gamer, it's a wonderful treat, something that rarely happens outside of youtube.