I’ve made more than few comments on the Isekai boom, and that the genre is squandering it’s vast potential by focusing on the same story beats over and over again. As of this era in the anime world, I consider only a handful of series to be the truly excellent, well done and just plain ‘good’ Isekai. These big four: The Saga of Tanya the Evil, ReZero, Konosuba and Overlord. There are other series that are of course good, I always have a soft spot of love for In Another World with my Smartphone, but I do believe that “The Big Four” are the best the genre has had to offer fans.
However I might have to change that number, because I’ve finally gotten around to finishing this one. After the cut let’s take a dive into the series No Game No Life.
If you look at NGNL on paper, it probably shouldn’t have worked as well as it had. The idea of a shut-in NEET gamer being thrown into a world of games, where his abilities raise him to a near god level, getting to run his own country and be surrounded by an increasing harem of busty girls. If you’ve spent any time in the anime world, you are probably going “wait, haven’t we done this before?” and we have, such a premise is at the basic foundation of what the Isekai is, but what makes NGNL work as well as it does is two fold. The first reason is that NGNL is a series that is brimming with creativity and production value. Instead of the generic fantasy world oh so common in anime, we see a world with fun takes on familiar fantasy creatures and a robust and logical rule of law all about playing games. The games themselves, the heart of the show are full of imagination, cute references to the real world, and never takes themselves to seriously, even if they can be confusing sometimes. Each game feels like there was genuine effort put behind creating it, and the same effort was put into making the spins and rules of the games make sense.
The production of the anime itself is full of personality, with a unique color scheme that makes everything pop and feel alive and just so full of feeling and love. Where so many Isekai anime can be seen as just reusing art styles and going for the easy win, NGNL is wise (and blessed) enough with creators who took that extra step in creating it’s world and design. The second reason though is far more important, and that it is simple one thing: Shiro.
Shiro is the one thing that takes NGNL and raises it from a good Isekai, into a great one. It is Shiro, Sora’s other half and little sister that helps ground the plot and give so much leeway in the use of NGNL’s classic tropes and archetypes. While Sora on his own would have done the story just fine, it would have been another story of the NEET guy loser saving the world with his bullshit powers. Anyone who has watched TV in the last decade is well aware of the “asshole genius” character, the asshole that everyone puts up with because they are the best at the thing they do. Sherlock and House are both examples of this, and while that is fine for awhile, it can also become grating, annoying and downright unpleasant.
Putting Shiro in there, having her be Sora’ equal and other half, and having both characters depend and rely on each other so much does WONDERS in humanizing Sora. He is still cocky, overconfident, and with all the trappings of the classic genius asshole, but he is also kind, vulnerable and humble enough to know that he would lose if he tried to play some games himself. Their past, only hinted at in these twelve episodes paints of picture of two lonely children who discover each other through a love of games and fires of competition. Like with Rin Tohsaka and Shirou Emiya from Unlimited Blade Works, their relationship is one of equality and respect. Sora needs Shiro just as much as Shiro needs him and their relationship is at the very heart of NGNL, and what raises the show to greatness.
I want to say more, but I am afraid that if I do, I’m robbing viewers of the experience. No Game No Life is a show that has to be watched, not talked about. Very much like Konosuba, it is a show that you can’t really explain, you just need experience. What I can say though is that No Game No Life is a unbelievably unique, fun and polished Isekai anime with two excellent protagonists, and great supporting characters (Oh Steph!). The fact that this series has gotten OVAs, a movie, a probable appearance in the upcoming Isekai Quartet, video games, everything BUT a second season is frankly criminal. While I don’t think it yet gets a place among the genre’s Big Four, No Game No Life is absolutely at the top tier, and it deserves it one hundred percent.