What They Say:
On the internet, they’re legends: the tag-team duo known as BLANK, famed for their incredible game-playing skills. In the real world, however, the lives of 18-year-old Sora and his 11-year-old stepsister Shiro have been spiraling out of control. Now existing as shut-ins, they rarely leave their house and are unable to be separated without suffering panic attacks. Games, for them, are the safest retreat from reality. Until they win a chess match against a mysterious opponent known as Tet and find themselves pulled into a game bigger than any they could have ever imagined. Now, in a world where the outcome of games determines the fates of both civilizations and species, they must defend Humanity in the ultimate challenge, vying against a host of otherworldly competitors for the right to rule them all! But if they fail, it means slavery or destruction for all mankind. No pressure, of course! Can two misfits who can barely handle their own lives somehow rise to the occasion and save the human race? The competition is on as their battles begin in NO GAME, NO LIFE!
The disk set is available in two language formats with Japanese with subtitles and an English dub. However, while the English dub is fine for most of the characters, when Shiro speaks – which is often since she is a main character, you can barely hear her over the background music or sound effects. In order to fit her shy personality, the voice actress needs to speak in a whisper; but, this works against the soundtrack since Sentai Entertainment did not adjust the rest of the track volumes to compensate for her softness. Sometimes, it almost sounds like her voice is only reverberating from one channel, although the display shows all working in synch. This is one time where you are better off reading your anime; the Japanese seiyū are wonderfully balanced with the music and effects to produce an encompassing world of fantasy.
The widescreen format really helps to define this series: starting from the gloomy glow of computer monitors in which the pair have encased themselves for protection from the cruelty of the real world, to the oversaturated colours of Tet’s domain and finally into the warm atmosphere projected by the plane of Disboard. All of these disparate realities are essentially the same in their familiarity to Sora and Shiro, but it is only the latter two which welcome them. Their self-imposed isolation into the world of gaming has made them shun the light and yet these strange surroundings are comforting. The panoramic views helps to draw the viewer into their existence as if it is a live role-playing game, which makes it all the more engaging and fun.
The beautiful usage of electronic pink from the anime is amplified onto the disk case by using that same colour scheme to amplify this foreign world. While such an extreme tone would normally be overwhelming in a normal setting, in this fantasy world, it helps to create a subtle strangeness which alerts the viewer that this not reality, but all just a game. Then adding a collage of the main characters surrounded by gaming paraphernalia with a psychedelically coloured Tet overlooking all plus the title displayed in 8-bit lettering just helps to reinforce this reality.
While they may be basic, Sentai Entertainment kept the same decorating scheme from the disk case and used it for the menus: the usage of gaming paraphernalia for the background and a set of characters for the foreground plus all of the text in 8-bit letters really ties the entire package of case, disks and menus into one. And to accent the usually boring menus, they are decorated by game icons including a Mario World Super Star! Unless the viewer is familiar with this gaming franchise, this subtle change may go unnoticed, but for the avid gamer, it is another Easter Egg that makes this series all the more enjoyable.
Although Sentai Entertainment may have included their normal additions of the series’ textless opening and closing animations plus some trailers for their other acquisitions, the unusual bonuses in this disk set is what makes this assemblage unique. Whereas the addition of original promotional materials, commercials and the No Game, No Life Shorts would have been enough to please an average otaku, the Japanese Commentaries are what make this set an exception to the rule.
While English commentaries are available in other series, they are usually boring conversations between the voice actors about the episode and problems they had in the recording sessions. However, what makes these extras unusual is that the seiyū are in their character voices the whole time! To hear Sora and Shiro berating Steph to get some games and ramen, the Foolish King explain himself to his granddaughter or Tet trying to outline his reasons for using the siblings to Izuna – it’s all hilarious! And of course, this occurring in a recording booth in the real world, with the audio directors trying to rein in this insanity; but, it never goes as planned since after the obligatory “Thanks for buying the DVD” line, the first thing they all do is tear up the script! They never comment on the events of the show, just go on wild tangents of whatever hits their minds. Most of these are just as good or better than a normal episode!
NEET: Not in Education, Employment, or Training; or as some may conclude, those who have rejected the accepted social model of adulthood. This is the description of Sora – an eighteen-year-old virgin with communication problems and an addiction to games. Unfortunately, his eleven-year-old stepsister Shiro is also falling into the same pitfall and becoming a truant. The strangest thing of all is that they are both geniuses, with the latter being the smartest of the two. And yet, they waste their days in a dark room glued to monitors playing online under the gamer name of Blank, until one fateful day when someone sends them a cryptic message.
He asks the siblings if they feel like they were born into the world, to which they answer that this place is a boring game. The messenger is impressed by the response and challenges them to a chess match; after a stressful victory, they are sent another message asking them if they would like to live in a world of where games decide everything. With little hesitation, they click the attached link and are torn away from reality, thrust into an unknown world.
As Sora and Shiro exit the portal, they find themselves plummeting towards certain doom, a few thounsand metres above the ground with a small boy happily floating next to them. He explains that he is God, or as he would like to be called – Tet, and this is place is called Disboard. Of course, they don’t care who or where they are, but are screaming at the top of their lungs demanding that he save them! Ignoring their pleas, Tet calmly explains that in this world, all disagreements are settled by playing a game with those matches being governed by a set of rules called the Ten Pledges. With a ground shaking impact, the siblings find that they have survived their entrance into this world and must now figure out how to adapt in this strange land.
After a small challenge from some brigands, they soon learn that they are in the land of Elkia, the last stronghold for Imanity or humans. The kingdom is in turmoil with the passing of the last ruler, nicknamed the Foolish King, since he decided that his successor will be decided in a gambling tournament: All who wish to participate for a chance at the throne must compete until there is one left – with all games being bound to the rules of the Pledges. But, they immediately realise that while the Pledges seem rigid, they can be manipulated for their own advantage. Unfortunately, the pair soon see that no one is exempt from participating, including the King’s own granddaughter, Stephanie Dola; while she may seem like a competent person, she is a simpleton when it comes to winning.
They quickly find out that she will not be the next ruler when a disheveled Steph knocks at their door, pleading for help. With little effort, the siblings win her subjugation and are soon enlisted to become her Champions in the fight for Elkia. They learn that Imanity is the lowest of the sixteen Exceed, judged by their ability to use magic. And of what was once a thriving kingdom, has now been reduced to this last city-state due to the last king’s poor mistakes. Experience and wisdom may be the only things that can now save them, but will Sora and Shiro be able to outsmart the other challengers before everything comes crashing to an abrupt Game Over?
The exploits of a pair of hikikomori may sound like a bad idea for an anime, but you soon realise that Shiro and Sora are anything but ordinary, by their skillful usage of strategy and insightful knowledge. While the series may seem to be just a goofy comedy, it leans more towards something else – a social commentary on how those who may feel like there is nothing for them in life, if they apply themselves, can turn their skills into something more.
The adventures of the siblings are hilarious on their own rights, but for those otaku who enjoy looking for Easter Eggs while playing or watching, this series has too many to count! From overt references to Phoenix Wright, fantasy RPGs in general or obscure ones from specific games or anime, this treasure hunt makes viewing these episodes more enjoyable than your average series. Once you translate this hidden language, the jokes make more sense when you reference them towards the original source.
But the best part of the series was the comedic separation anxiety of Sora and Shiro! Since their names do mean sky and white and then combine into their undefeated gaming identity of Blank, it seems appropriate that separately each name is a synonym for openness and/or lack of colour, but at the same time, either can be defined as a definition of that combined name. However, while the names may denote loneliness, it is their co-dependency that makes the series so captivating; as they remind us so many times, while they may be defeated alone, if they are together, they cannot be vanquished. This absolute belief in each other is the core of this anime – to have this much trust in a partner is rare and it not something that can be easily earned or won.
All in all, while No Game No Life may seem to be just another wild romp into the hectic world of gaming, it shows that those players are still valuable members of society, despite what psychologists may say how playing video games rots the brain. We can all relate to Sora and Shiro’s wanting to blow off some steam sometimes, however to carry it to their extreme can be drastic, but who knows … perhaps this fantasy will also become reality by allowing us to also ruling a kingdom?
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese Commentaries, Promos & Commercials; No Game, No Life Shorts; Clean Opening Animation; Clean Closing Animation
Content Grade: A+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: A+
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: July 28th, 2015
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sharp LC-42LB261U 42” LED HDTV and Sony BDPS3200 Blu-ray player connected by HDMI