No Game No Life – 09

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It’s rare for me to be as royally stumped as I was at the beginning of this episode, with regards to how things were going to sort themselves out. Sure, I had an inkling some kind of game was being played, but the manner and result of the game escaped me completely, disoriented as I was, like Shiro, by the sudden upheaval of reality.

Steph and Jibril quite reasonably assume Shiro lost and had her memories altered. But there was a very good reason why Sora spoke so clearly and deliberately to Shiro before vanishing into thin air a day and a half ago: he was providing her—and me—all the clues we would need to figure out what was going on and how to proceed. Slowly, but surely, we piece this impeccably-structured mystery back together.

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“I believe in you.” Upon first meeting him, the young Shiro told the young Sora how “empty” he was. She didn’t mean it with malice, but because she made connections no one else could (or would). But there also happened to be some truth to it: there was indeed an emptiness in Sora’s existence, one that was filled upon meeting his sister.

“The two of us are always one.” But that void-filling went both ways: just as Sora’s name suggests an empty sky, Shiro’s denotes a similarly vast expanse of whiteness. Upon meeting each other, everything turns to the vivid color we’re used to when this show is in normal operations. What they have is beyond trust; beyond faith. So Sora knows he’ll be able to count on her not to let Steph and Jibril cut the game short with another.

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“We’re bound by a promise.” Shiro thinks hard, even if she “blows out”, for while the pledges of Disboard are almost infinitely interpretative, there’s a canny inexpungibility to her bond with Sora, one the pledges can never completely overcome. Shiro searches her vast repository of memory, and recovers the knowledge that a day and a half ago, Sora challenged Kurami Zell to a perilous game of “Existence Othello.” Yikes!

“We’re not the heroes of a shounen manga.” In another memory Shiro recalls, Sora tells her “you don’t change yourself. You change how you do things.” This conundrum won’t be solved with brute force, or yelling, or by changing herself, but by looking things differently, which she achieves by having Jibril scan her room for magic and finding…lots.

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“We always win a game before we start.” The game is still in progress, in that very room; Sora’s existence hasn’t disappeared. And it’s a game he would not have started had defeat been possible. Even when he’s on the cusp of defeat, he has faith Shiro will take over, using the last three white (=Shiro) stones he left her to turn the tide and soundly beat Kurami, returning Sora into physical being and ending the illusion.

“I’m going to get the last piece we need to bring over the Eastern Federation.” What’s most amazing about this whole epic ordeal is that it didn’t involve the Warbeasts at all, nor was the primary purpose of winning to defeat the adversary (again, this isn’t shounen). The “piece” he spoke of was Kurami Zell, along with her elf associate Feel.

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She would never trust him the way Shiro did unless he could unpack the entire width ad breadth of his existence, which he did by intentionally losing right up until the end. The two demands of his choice he asked for as the reward for victory gives him his piece: restoring each others’ memories, but keeping copies of the ones they took from one another. I’m very much looking forward to the new Kurami he made.

When the “sky walk” is over and the dust settles, Sora and Shiro and Kurami and Feel collapse into two bawling heaps of exhaustion. The extreme nature of this game served to underline how important a united front against the Warbeasts was to Sora, and how seriously he takes them as an opponent. And all of this was hidden in his monologue last week.

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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 – 06

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In preparation for the next NGNL, I reassessed my perceptions of the show by watching a couple of episodes of SKET Dance. That’s not meant as an affront; SKET Dance is one of my favorite comedies, because when it was on, it was really ON, even if it wasn’t necessarily doing comedy that week. SKET and NGNL are alike in possessing vast stores of thematic material to draw upon, their ability to cultivate the belief that in any given episode, anything could happen, and that they’re not afraid to get really silly.

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This week, pretty much everything does happen, as the Flugel Jibril agrees to wager not just her library, but literally “everything she has”, so confident is she that she’ll win. If she wins, she gets an iPad containing 40,000 e-books’ worth of knowledge from another world. The game she picks is a kind of Shiritori not possible in our world: “Materialization Shiritori”, in which every word spoken affects their environs. This is a very cool concept with near-limitless potential.

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With such a wide-reaching game, one would expect things to go off the rails pretty soon. They do, when the first word Sora utters is “hydrogen bomb.” If he can kill Jibril before she can respond, he wins, even if he dies. Yes, this means when the game ends everything that happens is reset, but this is one of those rare instances where that knowledge doesn’t lessen the peril or suspense in the slightest. After all, Sora and Shiro are risking their iPad; the only iPad extant in Disboard! (I’ll set aside the matter of how they’re charging it).

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After that H-bomb, the competition remains fierce, and the words are exchanged at a fine quick pace, interspersed with a back-and-forth regarding Jibril’s unapologetic arrogance. As a Level 6 Exceed, she’s used to looking down on Imanity as ants, which is why she’s so convinced she’ll emerge victorious. But inspecting Sora’s erogenous zone (his armpit) should have tipped her off: she’s not dealing with run-of-the-mill humans.

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Much of the game is also played with Jibril, Dora, and Shiro relieved of their clothing thanks to Sora, but because their privates are gone thanks to another word he used previously, it’s a PG-Rated affair. What makes this kind of Shiritori so devilishly awesome is that the players must keep track of every word not just so they won’t repeat it, but to keep track of what’s gone and what isn’t. This results in Sora vanishing away the Mantle, Crust, and Lithosphere from the planet.

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Things escalate from there into a war of attrition with various gasses being removed, along with the ability to speak. The back and forth reaches an apex when Jibril throws the term Sora used to describe her—”Empty-headed Academic”—back in his face (writing in the air) as a coup-de-grace. But Sora was counting on that, and already has his pre-written, decisive response: Coulomb’s Force, the removal of which causes a hypernova.

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What had started with the vanishing of some candles and the ladies’ clothes ended up with the rearrangement of the cosmos. Back in the library they’ve won, Jibril graciously concedes defeat. When Sora allows her access to the iPad and library anyway, she admits she’s finally found someone worthy to serve as her master; someone who can overturn everything she knows. And since Jibril knows pretty much everything, that’s saying something!

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