Anime Review: No Game No Life Zero

[CAUTION: SPOILERS] In his first article for SC, Ya Boy Jack reviews the prequel to No Game No Life. If you're not familiar with the source...
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    Genre: Game, Supernatural, Fantasy, Action
    Studio: Madhouse
    Director: Atsuko Ishizuka(No Game No Life, A Place Further Than the Universe)
    Release Date: July 5, 2017
    Source Material: Yuu Kamiya(No Game No Life)
    Runtime: 1 hour 46 minutes.

    Story
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    If you haven't read the original light novels, No Game No Life Zero might be the prequel story that you were least expecting. It takes place in the world of Disboard thousands of years before Sora and Shiro ever arrive. The Old Deus, along with the races that they govern, are in an all-out war to settle the issue of who will become the one true god. In the middle of that war and also on the brink of extinction are the Immanity. With no unique powers and no ability to sense the magic of others, they might as well be as good as dead.


    One day, Riku sets out on his own to explore an abandoned elf city, when all of sudden he stumbles upon a member of the Ex-Machina race. With the Ex-Machina having no name, Riku decided to call it Schwi. Together, the two use their strength and wit to help humanity survive in the ever violent conflict between the sixteen sentient races.


    It would be lying to say that I was only a little impressed by how the world of Disboard’s story was told. The first and probably the most impressive part is the relationship between Riku and Schwi. Given the 46-minute runtime, one might assume that there isn't enough time to make the relationship between the human and Ex-Machina seem anything other than rushed and unnatural. However, that is absolutely not the case here.


    Riku and Schwi’s relationship is not only compelling on its own, but their struggle to end the war makes for a great tale as they explore the world of Disboard. Through their mission, they explore not only the other sentient races and the various factions associated with each, including the dwarves, elves, and the Old Deus, but they also come to learn what exactly it means to be called human. Schwi’s fascination with the human heart leads her to understand what makes humans so strong in the first place: their will. She comes to accept that for humans, the illogical is often times necessary.


    Characters
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    Sure, together Riku and Schwi have great chemistry, but even when considered separately, the two have many compelling aspects about them. Riku, even being an obvious parallel for Sora, is very different from him in the beginning. Riku starts out believing that games are pointless, a waste of time and that they do not solve anyone’s problems. As such, he remains focused on making sure that humans survive no matter what. However, he also recognizes that every time he tries to help the other humans, he sacrifices lives in order to do so. This causes him to hate himself, and question: why it is humans even try to continue living?


    Riku’s character is compelling for that reason. War and the loss of loved ones in and of itself is a traumatic experience. Those who fought and lived through World War 1 and came back to write about it were called the lost decade. Those such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, who authored The Great Gatsby, focused on how life can often mean nothing without loved ones to share experiences with you.


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    Schwi starts off in a similar place. Despite wanting to understand the human heart, Schwi is fairly clueless as to what that actually means, and still acts very much like a robot. As a machine, she sees the human heart and the continued survival of humans as just an anomaly, and that their drive to continue is illogical. In the same vein as Riku, Schwi can be considered similar to and yet quite different from Shiro. While Schwi spends most of No Game No Life Zero trying to understand the human heart, Shiro understands it all too well.


    Also like Shiro, Schwi is absolutely adorable. The moments where she finds out more about what the human heart is are the moments where she truly comes into her own. The one criticism I have of her character, which is really more a criticism of Riku and their relationship as a whole, is that the two of them fall in love even after they both realize that Schwi was the one to take out his family. It is a bit weird. Although, to be fair, it does make a bit more sense given the setting and the situation that Riku and the other humans have been in for so long.

    Animation
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    If the original No Game No Life had one thing going for it, it would be the animation. It has a smoothness to it that made every part, especially the games, look absolutely breathtaking. Even singular frames look gorgeous when taken as a still, and almost every single one would look gorgeous as a poster. No Game No Life Zero has an even higher quality than that.


    Since it is a movie a higher production value is to be expected, but No Game No Life Zero goes absolutely above and beyond. The fight scene at the end with Schwi and Jibril, most notably, looks like it took a lot of work and was absolutely well worth it. "Fluid" seems like a word that is often overused to describe animation, but it feels particularly appropriate here. The movie is also coated in the same visually addictive purples that are used in the original No Game No Life, even during the beginning of the movie where everything is mostly doom and gloom. This artistic choice really gives the movie a unique artistic style that a lot of other anime lack.


    One other interesting thing, I thought was worth pointing out, is that the Art Director for No Game No Life Zero is the same as for the original series, Eiji Iwase. Iwase also happens to be the art director for a kids show called Bakugan: Battle Brawlers. How he went from that to working on a visually stunning work like this one I do not know, but I am certainly glad he did.


    Conclusion
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    To say that any anime series/movie is perfect would be lying. A nitpicker might even say that No Game No Life still has a few problems. For instance, maybe there should have been more screen time devoted to exploring Riku and Schwi’s relationship before Riku got on his knees and popped the question only to get awkwardly rejected and then accepted. Maybe there should have been more time devoted to seeing how the other sentient races acted during the great war.


    However, nitpicking is something that people will do simply to avoid an obvious conclusion: that No Game No Life Zero is a fantastic film. It brings together all of the elements that made the TV series so great and made it into something brand new, while also exploring the lore of Disboard. If you have seen No Game No Life, but have yet to watch Zero, then do yourself a favor and check it out.
    Shannon Apple likes this.

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