No Game No Life – 08

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Last week revealed the means by which Sora and Shiro could study the Warbeasts in preparation for their challenge, and this week shows their strategy in motion, but there’s no in between. I think that was a very gutsy but shrewed decision. It’s been clear for some time now that this is a show that’s not so concerned with whether Blank will prevail, but how.

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That the show can belt out an episode that remains entertaining throughout while withholding even that “how” is an accomplishment in and of itself. Because the fact of the matter is, we’re as stumped as the Warbeasts about what exactly Sora has planned. All we know is that he enters their embassy and entreats with the adorable Hatsuse Izuna (Sawashiro Miyuki in Full Chibi Mode) as a mere formality.

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By forgoing the precise manner in which Sora aims to defeat the Warbeasts, the show is asking us to have faith and trust it will show us, and it’s earned that trust these last seven weeks. That doesn’t mean this episode is bereft of juicy logical deconstruction. Clearly, Sora has carefully studied the old king’s notes and devised an intricate plan. We only see the opening moves of that plan, but as I said, that’s sufficient to build up enticement.

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Even in the way he informally invites himself to the embassy—using his smartphone’s camera zoom to locate Hatsuse’s gramps and gesture his intention to visit—provides Sora with ammunition to fuel his case that the Warbeasts aren’t as implacable as Imanity believes. He even proves that they can’t read minds, by acting in ways they’d surely have responded to if they truly could.

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He also deduces that the Warbeasts have been defeating their adversaries with video games, a medium at which Blank excels. When he stakes the Imanity Race Piece against all of the Warbeasts’ territory, Dora thinks him mad, and many of his people protest. But neither he nor Shiro care what they think: they’re not going to lose at video games.

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But even Shiro doesn’t see all of what Sora has planned when the episode’s transitions grow more distorted and Sora vanishes from her sight. Do you usually skip the ending sequence? If so, you missed the fact that Sora was totally erased from it; a very nice touch that raps against the fourth wall. In the cold close, Shiro is curled up in a fretful ball, and Dora has no idea who Sora is. I thought I knew, but he keeps surprising me.

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No Game No Life – 07

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Following up the best outing of the show so far is no easy task, yet this episode succeeded admirably, in part by changing gears: No game this No Game. The Warbeasts continue to be built up as an exceedingly formidable enemy, so it wouldn’t have made sense for Sora and Shiro to rush headlong into battle without knowing anything about them. The Elves challenged them four times and lost all four, and even defeated Jibril’s Flugel. Worse still, when they lost the games they also lost all memories of said games.

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Sora and Shiro value information above all else, so the prospect of facing an opponent that has absolute control over it is immensely frustrating. When Jibril shows them that Dora’s grandfather inexplicably challenged them eight times and decimated Elkia’s territory, he grows even more irate: How could a king be so foolish? In the heat of the moment, he spews harsh things he shouldn’t have, causing Steph to flee in tears. Lest we forget, Sora and his sis aren’t the most sociable or tactful creatures.

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After much harmless teasing and messing with Steph, Sora’s crossing the line makes her question whether she should give him the “Key of Hope” her gramps entrusted to her, to give to the person who shows up later in her life to whom she can entrust Elkia. But how can she trusts someone who calls all humanity “crap?” Jibril rustles her from her brooding to return to the library, where Sora and Shiro are still hitting the books hard. There, without knowing Steph is listening, Sora gradually changes her mind.

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Once he calms down and tries to find a method to the old king’s seemingly foolish actions…he finds one: the king knew he couldn’t win all along, but fought the Warbeasts again and again anyway to gather information, wagering strategically marginal resources each time. Certain the king would never beat them, the Warbeasts didn’t bother wiping his memories, but made him pledge never to tell anyone as long as he lived. The king used that loophole to fill a journal with precious info on the Warbeast games, then locked it away with his porn stash in a hidden chamber, for a future king to use.

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It’s an awesome unraveling of a mystery and causes an immediate reversal in Sora’s opinion of Steph’s grandfather: he was a great man who created a legacy of foolishness so that his successors could defeat the enemies he couldn’t. And that will be Sora, because his moving speech—about the mankind’s potential and the rare “real deals” like Shiro (and Steph) who embody that potential and propel all humanity—convinces Steph to give him the key. I’ll tell you what else was the real deal: this episode.

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Stray Observations:

  • Jibril is a great addition to the cast. Steph can be a bit much in too-large quantities, but Jibril’s presense naturally breaks those quantities up.
  • We also like how her arrogant consdescention of humanity is softening in Sora and Shiro’s presence, and how she realizes Steph likes Sora, even though her love spell wore off.
  • Lots of anime references in this one, including Sora as that finger-tenting bastard Ikari Gendo; the Giant Warriors of Nausicaä, and Sora as Mr. Despair. The king’s secret room also resembled Nausicaä’s. 
  • We enjoyed the brief time when Steph thought the key was to her gramps’ porn stash after all, thus rendering her life a mistake!
  • When Sora first met Shiro when she was three, her first words to him were “You really are empty”, a play on his name “sky” and the fact he was fake-smiling. Sharp gal.
  • As you can tell from the shots above, this was yet another sumptuous-colored episode in a sumptuously-colored show. The environments are consistently gorgeous and imaginative.

No Game No Life – 05

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When it comes to games, say Blank, “They’re always serious.” The same, ironically, can not be said of the show they’re in. NGNL showed a glimpse of its serious side in reiterating the importance of—and difficulty in—saving mankind from subjugation at the hands of the Exceed, and even though there’s no war, the pledges have done plenty of damage all the same, to the point where the three million people of Elkia are scared and anxious about the future.

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But like I said; only a glimpse of seriousness, and just a teensy one. The majority of the episode is devoted to Steph challenging, losing, and being humiliated over and over by Blank, in an intermittently humorous effort to make Sora a decent person. But it’s unnecessary because despite looking like they’ve done nothing but eat, sleep and play games (as NEETs are wont to do), Sora and Shiro have been working furiously for their new kingdom. Their only problem is, they’re not sure how to proceed.

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While Steph’s string of consecutive losses to Blank in supposed games of chance forces her to act the goat (or rather, the dog)—and a very skimpily-clad one at that—it’s revealed she’s not as much of an idiot (or a “steph”) as Sora and Shiro thought. Before they arrived on the scene and after when they researched in seclusion, she was ruling Elkia, gathering support for their reforms and neutralizing the opposition. When it comes to Imanity (the ones not being supported by outside nations), she’s done pretty well.

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What she hasn’t been able to do is regain any of her country’s lost territory, and that’s where Sora and Shiro come in. Sora first targets the Warbeasts (or “Animal Girls”, even though there are guys) for conquest; a gutsy move considering their vast land holdings and ability to read minds, nullifying strategy and bluffs in any games. However, Steph happens to have a “Flugel” up her sleeve (convenient, that) who could help them in the coming fight, which will most likely be seasoned with more rapid-fire, spaghetti-on-the-wall comedy.

Oh, one more thing: the Castle In the Sky reference was most appreciated.

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No Game No Life – 04

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With the proper wisdom, the weakest can defeat the strongest—that’s the credo of King Blank; the newly-risen combo of Sora and Shiro, having beaten Zell fair and square at one of the most ludicrous games of “chess” I’ve ever witnessed. Even her massive and egregious amount of cheating with Elven magic couldn’t topple the formidable wisdom Blank possesses. The One True God Tet plucked them from a world where they were only kings of a small room into a world seemingly designed to be ruled by them.

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After dipping into his expertise in dating sims to win the crown, Sora uses his experience playing Civ to iron out the domestic problems with Elkia, then delivers a long and stirring (and long) motivational speech to its demoralized populace. He tells them Imanity had the monopoly on weakness and wisdom before war was banned, and the first step to regaining their old stature is to acknowledge and embrace it’s position as the weakest race in Disboard. Dora is dazzled by their proficiency in matters of state and knack for igniting a crowd.

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Lounging in their new royal chambers, the siblings are visited by Tet once more, who asks them how they like the place. Sora cuts to the heart of matters: when Tet lost to them at chess, it may well have been the first time Tet lost at anything. Therefore, Tet brought them to Disboard as a challenge, the first stage of which was to become King of Elkia. The next step is to conquer the world—commanding all sixteen races like sixteen chess pieces. Then they’ll be ready to take Tet on.

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After that tough battle in which their opponent brazenly cheated, Blank’s victory and rise to the throne was satisfying (and Zell bursting into tears was an amusing surprise), but I’m curious to see where the show is going. If Sora and Shiro really aren’t ever going to lose a game, the show’s success will hinge on how craftily and awesomely they win (and the opponents not always being pushovers). Delivering a show in which winning is a forgone conclusion will be tough to pull off, but despite their recent success Blank still feel like underdogs, so we look forward to the endeavor.

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No Game No Life – 03

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Now that Sora finds himself in a world where he feels he belongs, and moreover, feels like he’s the best (and hasn’t yet been proven otherwise), of course he’s going to crash Kurami Zell’s coronation. Zell accepts his challenge, which means she gets to pick the game they’ll play to decide who rules Elkia. This results in Sora and Shiro’s toughest challenger yet, quite a step up from the flustered Dora, who’s still wrapped in a sheet for some reason. Change your clothes, girl!

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Not only do they get a tough challenger in Zell, who selects a game of chess that turns out not to be chess at all (more on that in a bit), they also figure out that Zell rose to the top with outside help. Humans being at a tremendous magic disadvantage in Disboard (where Elkia is dwarfed by all the other countries), Zell, ostensibly looking out for her people, decided to hitch her wagon to the Elves, the most powerful of the rival nations. When she officially comes clean with this and states her case, it makes a lot of sense, both to Dora and to me.

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But standing by and let Zell be a puppet king for the Elves (even if she says she won’t be one) isn’t Sora’s style. He doesn’t think Zell, someone who relied on cheating through the magic power of the Elves, deserves to say whether humans can’t survive without subjugating themselves, and she certainly doesn’t deserve to rule if she blabbed all this to Sora and Shiro, when for all she knows they’re also being backed by an outside country. Sora thinks humans are being sorely underestimated, and they’re going to do something to remedy that.

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In a standard game of chess where the pieces move how they should without hesitation, Shiro is unbeatable, but here it isn’t the pieces you move, but their wills. and Shiro is frustrated to tears. If Shiro were a single player, it would be over, but Zell is playing Blank, a two-player team, and Shiro’s difficulties help her brother determine the true nature of the game they’re playing, and the path to victory. The pieces are basically now literal soldiers in literal armies commanded by Zell and Sora, and whoever is the strongest and most inspiring leader is going to win.

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When Zell cheats again by brainwashing Sora’s pieces into defecting, Sora counters by flipping Zell’s queen with his dating sim skills. It’s all very stirring and fun, if a bit ridiculous. The battle isn’t over yet, but things aren’t looking good for Zell, which is good for Imanity. And she has yet to learn Sora and Shiro aren’t being backed by anyone; if she did, she might have already conceded that it’s too early for humans to be throwing in the towel and accepting protection from the Elves.

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