In ancient Disboard, Riku is an angry, young warrior intent on saving humanity from the warring Exceed, the sixteen sentient species, fighting to establish the "One True God" amongst the Old Deus. In a lawless land, humanity's lack of magic and weak bodies have made them easy targets for the other Exceed, leaving the humans on the brink of extinction. One day, however, hope returns to humanity when Riku finds a powerful female Ex-machina, whom he names Schwi, in an abandoned elf city. Exiled from her Cluster because of her research into human emotions, Schwi is convinced that humanity has only survived due to the power of these feelings and is determined to understand the human heart. Forming an unlikely partnership in the midst of the overwhelming chaos, Riku and Schwi must now find the answers to their individual shortcomings in each other, and discover for themselves what it truly means to be human as they fight for their lives together against all odds. Each with a powerful new ally in tow, it is now up to them to prevent the extinction of the human race and establish peace throughout Disboard! [Written by MAL Rewrite]
No Game No Life (TV) is, to me, a flashier version of the detested Sword Art Online as both anime share many similar strengths and faults. These similarities include poor pacing, overpowered characters and an outstanding soundtrack. However, unlike Sword Art Online which, aside from the gradual deterioration of its concepts, has relatively consistent quality, No Game No Life throws many of its strengths out in No Game No Life: Zero, the prequel to the TV series.
One of the most noticeable changes is the shift from a vivid palette to a duller one which helped enforce the movies more serious and dismal tone. Unfortunately, despite the visual adjustments, the writers could not get this tone across as the utilized poorly placed jokes to lighten the mood. These jokes, though humorous, ruined almost all of the more serious, melancholic moments this movie had to offer, altering the atmosphere and creating a lighter tone. These tone setting (and ruining) jokes made the visual modifications futile as the only offered to deduct from No Game No Life: Zero’s quality.
The creators of No Game No Life: Zero, despite changing the palette, fail to improve the overall caliber of its animation, keeping its quality relatively the same as the TV shows. This lack of color, however, expresses the negative aspects of the movies animation as it flaunts the numerous errors that passed us by in the first season. These poorly animated scenes, though prevalent in the TV series as well, were less prominent as the series used vivid colors and unique backgrounds to divert our attention from their errors. However, without the palette No Game No Life is so well known for, this facade is easily seen through.
Battles in No Game No Life: Zero are the exception when it comes to the animation quality as it revives many of the shows vivid colors and combines them with fluid animation. Many of these astounding fight scenes were, unfortunately, ruined by the CGI that accompanied them. Though I don’t believe this CGI is necessarily bad when compared to many other anime, I do feel CGI itself has a long ways to go before it can consistently and excellently be implemented into anime without ruining its overall quality. This poor CGI animation was only made more evident because of its brighter pigmentation, creating a stark difference between it and the somber background of the show.
Aside from their shabby attire, the characters themselves are quite aesthetically pleasing, using many of No Game No Life’s original character designs as templates for No Game No Life: Zero, retaining at least some of the artistic choices the series is so well known for. The characters themselves, however, are riddled with a multitude of flaws.
One of the more noticeable flaws these characters exhibit is their lack of rational thought. Throughout the movie, almost every character, both main and side, make irrational choices that only serve to push the plot forward. Riku, for example, uses his anger at the world (and how unfair it is) and presumed thirst for vengeance as the driving forces behind his will to survive. However, despite knowing Schwi was the one who destroyed his town and forced his neighbors underground, he is willing to take her in and care for her. This hatred and fear for AI among the humans is also demonstrated when Riku forces Schwi to conceal her identity from the rest of his group for her own safety.
Similarly, Schwi, hoping to learn about the human “heart” leaves her swarm, cutting off all connection to them to be with Riku.Why an AI, which is known to only make rational decisions, left in the first place and why she was allowed to, however, is never explained. What is explained, upon Riku and Schwi’s first encounter, is that Schwi is under the misconception that to understand the human heart she needs to have sex. This misunderstanding prompts her to consistently request Riku’s body. Surprisingly, it is later revealed that Schwi is incapable of having sex, making her reasoning for leaving the safety of the swarm in a chaotic world pointless (and therefore irrational). Why Schwi left her swarm to understand the heart despite physically being unable to (because of her misconception) is also beyond me and the rationale behind it is never explained within the anime.
No Game No Life: Zero’s cast also lacks a backstory of any kind. What Schwi did in the swarm, how Riku survived the destruction of civilization despite being a human child and how he becomes the leader of his group of dwellers (among many others) are never addressed and are only there for plot convenience. Without Riku having survived we couldn’t have had this story, without seeing Schwi’s actions in her swarm we can grow to like her (as she presumably made some inhumane choices which is why Riku is wary of revealing her identity to his fellow humans) and without Riku being his clan’s leader, he could never have ordered his allies to die for his sake and therefore would never have fallen into as depressed a state as he did (if he had still managed to survive) therefore giving him little to no motivation.
Regardless as to whether you want to know the backstories of the characters or not, their futures are just as poorly written. Aside from the cute and entertaining interactions between Schwi and Riku, there isn’t much depth to their relationship. In the anime, you see the dynamic duo meet and their first interactions and then there’s a one year time slip that leads to an anti-climactic confession.
At this point you’re probably extremely confused and are asking yourself, “What time skip?” I myself didn’t actually notice it but, researching the anime on several different sources, I discovered there is a major one hidden within the anime as the movie itself spans roughly a year and a half. What exactly happened over this year, however, is left up to speculation.
This major time skip, however, affects the shows pacing dramatically as it rushes major events with little to no actual build up. Because this movie also tries to cover such an enormous amount of events in so little time, the buildup and excitement meant to be felt in a lot of these scenes is lost and the anime itself feels rushed as it jump from one major plot point to another.
To make up for the lack of emotion presented in and around (chronologically) these major scenes, No Game No Life: Zero implements multiple “shock factors” to move the audience. A prime example of this is with Ivan, a deceased human whom we see sacrifice himself (at Riku’s command) so that others might survive on an outing during the first 5 minutes of the movie. Apart from knowing his loyalty to Riku and his clan, the only thing we really know about Ivan is that he has a (presumably young) daughter. After this scene ends (where Riku and another young man escape the crashed Dwarven ship), the anime cuts to a makeshift classroom where a young girl proudly proclaims that she can write her own name and can’t wait to show her father. Aside from this and a name, nothing else is known about poor little Nonna.
The movie then transitions to Riku’s return where Nonna rushes out to greet her father. The father who didn’t come home. The movie then tries to play this off as Riku’s breaking point (ruining it with a bad joke mind you), making us feel pity for both him and Nonna; characters we know next to nothing about.
Emotionless scenes similar to that one are abundant in No Game No Life: Zero as they express where certain characters relationships are in the movie. However, because of the time skips, these relationships aren’t fully expanded upon or developed and we’re left with poorly written shock factors and our own assumptions to fill in the multitude of blanks.
To make up for its poorly written “emotional” scenes, No Game No Life: Zero implements a heart wrenchingly beautiful soundtrack. Though the songs themselves aren’t as catchy or memorable as the TV series, they’re much better at eliciting the desired emotions from the audience. Unfortunately, No Game No Life: Zero, despite boasting a beautiful soundtrack, misuses its OST which, more often than not, takes more from a scene than it gives to it. Music in most anime (including No Game No Life: Zero) is meant to add to the scene and the dialogue but, in No Game No Life: Zero, the music competes with the actual dialogue for the limelight. This competition takes a lot away from the scene and I found myself becoming much more emotional because of the unbearably loud music than the actual dialogue or story it was supposed to be aiding in the delivery of.
Overall, despite being satisfied with the concepts No Game No Life: Zero had, I found the experience ruined by a multitude of factors ranging from poor writing to poor volume control. These negative aspects took so much from the actual experience of the movie that I just couldn’t bring myself to enjoy it, especially as it became more evident that my burning questions wouldn’t be answered.