Not sure whether to be joyous or offended – Anime Critique: No Game No Life

no-game-no-life_oTitle: No Game No Life (NGNL, Noge Nora)
Format: TV series
Genre: fantasy, satire/parody, comedy, ecchi
Series Creator: Yu Kamiya
Series Director: Atsuko Ishizuka
Studio: Madhouse
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: April 9, 2014 – June 25, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fansubs

 

 


Synopsis:

“Siblings Sora and Shiro are inseparable, both in the real world and in the game world. Their individual skills combined make them an invincible team: Sora, with his astute intuition and penetrating insight; and Shiro, with her remarkable intellect that goes beyond prodigy-level genius. In the real world, they are hikikomori, reclusive and unsocial, but in the game world, the siblings together form [ ] (Blank), a mysterious group of undefeated online gamers who win every game they play with unbeatable scores. Because the account names of the players are always left empty, they become simply known as “Blank”. One fateful day, after beating a mysterious challenger in a game of online chess, the siblings receive an offer from their opponent to be reborn in his world, Disboard – a fantasy world where everything is determined by games. When they accept the proposal, Sora and Shiro are summoned to Disboard by that world’s God, Tet, who they discover to also be their former opponent. Together, Sora and Shiro begin their journey in redeeming the weak human race of Imanity and conquering the world to challenge Tet for his title of One True God.


Review:

There is a bad habit in many subcultures to lap up any mention from more mainstream forms -be it positive or negative- as well as lose one’s mind whenever a reference to something that we adore/worship/participate in is shown or mentioned within various media. Often such flashes are negatory in one’s favour yet one does love to have one’s passions & existence acknowledged by greater beings, do we not?

Visual media also loves throwing in as many references & acknowledgements as they can be they intentional or craftily snuck in & we consumers do love our little Easter egg hunts? Go on. Admit it. You look for them all of the time. As both a challenge & as a way to prove yourself superior in some petty fashion. There is no shame in such a thing –we all do it, after all.

Yet this is probably why, in the end, I felt myself a little ambivalent towards No Game No Life.

Because it praised us nerds, geeks & gamers with one hand -showing us as clever, resourceful & deep down well meaning people- & mocked us with the other -displaying us as socially dysfunctional perverts who cannot cope within a game in our hand or a pair of tits to stare all.

It attempts to pander too much to both sides, showering kudos & contempt equally.

Yet, it is not entirely without its merits.

Some reviewers have already praised it highly, even calling it “a must watch for any gamer” yet, as I said as a few lines above, it reeks to I more of pandering then any genuine affection for its greatest audience & consumers. Gamers & the socially inept have always been fair play for ridicule in media but at least NGNL attempts to be even handed.
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This is done through the stepsiblings, Sora & Shiro -who are collectively known in the gaming & online worlds as Blank. The undefeatable team who can destroy even the most skilful hacker or cheater with seamingly the greatest of ease. That is because they believe themselves to be a single unit, with super genesis Shiro masters games like chess & FPSs & all that comes with such intelligent or tactical games whilst the older sibling Sora uses his masterful understanding of people to use bluff, cheat or know when others are cheating. But they are both broken by their talents, scorned & ridiculed by their peers, so they locked themselves up in their room to play games all day. That is before the god Tet takes them from our world to the land of Disboard, where games rule & murder can never be committed.
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This is actually an interesting conceit because it establishes that Disboard is defined by 10 Commandments set forth by Tet that can’t be broken yet can be subverted. Such as the rule about cheating, where it doesn’t say you can’t cheat, just that you have to face the consequences if you’re caught doing it & it can proven. The Commandments hold everything in check & about Blank to push their plans forward by exploiting & obeying the rules as well as learning how others do the same.

Yet the trouble with this is that when they try to explain the rules for a wager or game & they flash by too fast or are stuck in a bunch of untranslated text (or the text is translated but that translation fucks with your video player something chronic!). It’s annoying that rules that are pretty bloody vital to the plot are rushed by; possibly so you don’t see any holes them or so you don’t try to guess how Blank will win.

My other major issue with the series is. . . Can you guess? Can ya? Can Ya? CAN YA?!

YEEEEEEEEEEEEEES! IT’S HYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYPERSEEEEEEEEEEEEXUALIIIIIIIIIISAAAAAATION!!!

This time perving on a fucking 11 year old (Shiro, who isn’t actually fucking but I can never go past a chance to swear. . . prick).

I honestly don’t mind that she’s rendered painfully cute, with a mouth too small & eyes too big even for anime standards but there must ALWAYS be a line drawn when you draw an 11 year old semi-naked (& fingers should be broken for drawing a naked 8 year old with a fluffy tail!). All the major female characters other than the one time antagonist Clammy are hypersexualised & the reason Clammy isn’t is because she’s mocked for having no breasts & using magic to make it seem otherwise during on of the many bath scenes.

Both Shiro & Sora share a perverted natured, as does the violent angel (Flügel) Jebril. Their usual victim is Steph, the granddaughter of the former king of all Imanity (Disboard’s name for humans) who is depicted as clever in terms of running the day to day functions of a kingdom but terrible at games, losing to Clammy before Blank take the crown away from her. The sight of Shiro wearing Steph’s panties on her head whilst making her act like a dog is monstrously disturbing, more so because Shiro acts so cute & innocent most of the time.
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I could beat the Hate Drum a bit longer, but I won’t.

Visually, this series is stunning. Incredible use of light, colour & fantasy settings as well as interesting (yet hypersexualised) designs on many of the characters. Because there are 16 races (equal to pieces on a chessboard), they each have to have very individual designs & they do stand out well. The elves are generic with blonde hair & pointed ears but the Flügel with their wings & halos are pretty awesome; whilst the werebeasts are your standard anthro-beings, which is played up for laughs with Sora -the virgin- wanting to conquer them so he can have a harem of cat & bunny girls.

The relationship between Shiro & Sora is also exceptionally well rendered. With each having absolute faith in the other & going catatonic if they are out of visual range for too long (which is actually genuinely funny). They also back each other up in games & contests when the other is lacking & transfer this knowledge to real life activities -such as running a country based on pacifist route in Civilisation. Even when they are backed into a corner by an opponent, they always rely on & trust each other utterly; drawing upon that the strength to win.
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The series also ends on a vexing note of noncompletion story-wise. Just leaves things open to a possible sequel series, which I’m not sure has been announced (unlike other 12 episode series from this season).

Despite how much this series gives with one hand & takes with the other, it was genuinely entertaining & fairly original in its story. There were some exceptionally clever bits as well as well done reference gags (even more than a few quick obscure ones). It is designed for nerds & gamers, especially in its sexual pandering, but it still mocks the culture that supports it. If you can forgive it that trait, you will probably take a lot of joy in the Easter Egg hunts as well as the clever solutions to the games through the series. Although if you enjoy the sexualisation of Shiro & Izuna, I’ve got a couple of bricks that I want to introduce you to!

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Twists, Turns & Curves but not Confusing – Anime Review: ⌈K⌋

k-anime_oTitle: ⌈K⌋ (K Project, King Project, Kings)
Format: anime series
Genre: supernatural, fantasy, action, comedy
Series Creator: GoRa
Series Director: Shingo Suzuki
Studio: GoHands
Series length: 13 eps
Original Airing dates: October 5, 2012 – December 28, 2012
Reviewed format: blu-ray
Distributer: Madman


Synopsis:

Yashiro Isana has lived a relatively ordinary, simple life. He lives in the technologically-advanced Shizume City and attends Ashinaka High School, a notable high school that is located on an island just outside the areas. Yashiro is friendly with everyone. Nothing ever seems wrong about him, except perhaps his habit of forgetting where his school-issued PDA is. However, nothing normal has been happening since the recent murder of Tatara Totsuka, prominent member of the infamous HOMRA. No one knows who exactly killed him but the man responsible bears an uncanny, identical appearance to Yashiro. Seeking vengeance, the Red Clansmen of HOMRA set out to get Yashiro and kill him. Everyone suspects that Yashiro is the murderer. Isana Yashiro was not the person who killed Tatara Totsuka but yet another mysterious character is pulling the strings behind the curtains, a person who is quite dangerous and powerful.


Review:

Two years ago I came to this mysterious series through nothing but an action based trailer but ⌈K⌋ quickly became one of my favourite anime series of the past decade.

The primary reason for this is because it mentally challenged me & kept me guessing as to what happened before we entered the narrative & what actually is going on. To me, this is a rarity because I’m so well versed in narratives that I often guess what will happen from gleaming tiny bits of information & whilst I figured out a lot of what was meant to be happening, it still cleverly kept me engaged & wanting to know more & more until the true unfurling of the background of things. This series is by no means perfect -which will be addressed later- but narratively speaking it is exceptionally clever & fairly original in many ways.

One reason as to why is because you are drip feed information & clues that are more easily picked up in later viewings. Nothing is deliberately obscured or confusing, there is a strong internal logic within the series, even if it is not always apparent at first glance. There rules & exceptions are set forth along with the draw backs of power & what lies outside of the defined Clans & Domains (& that which isn’t explained in the series is later explained in the various manga & Light Novel spinoffs).

The story literally begins in two parts.
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The first is of two superpowered & warring Clans, who serve under the Red King & the Blue King respectively. You are given absolutely no context as to their powers & why the Red Clan (who call themselves Homra or HMR) are on a rampage in a American mafia office or why the Blues (also referred to as Scepter 4) wish to stop them. You are only given clues to their natures in how they are depicted. The Reds are dressed in Street Punk & Hip Hop Gangsta clothing, using street weapons as well as the power of flames & fire, whilst the Blues are all in matching uniforms, based loosely around 18th century European military style, completely with sabres & rapiers for combat, wielding blue energy slashes & shields.
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After this confrontation between the wild Reds & the ordered Blues, we jump to the other part of the story.

Which is based around the cliched, idyllic futurists mega-school built upon an artificial island that does so seem to dominated so much sci-fi anime. Yet it is a cliche & a set up that serves the story well & so much better than other recent series who used the same trope (looking at you again Valvrave the Liberator!). It is meant to be a juxtaposition to the (yet) unexplained supernatural nature of the early confrontation between the Clans by presenting the viewer with something familiar and relatable as well as introducing us to the central protagonist, Isana Yashiro, or simple Shiro (White) to his friends. He is seen as a carefree trickster, getting free food from his schoolmates as his classmate Kukuri tries to both control his behaviour & get him to eat healthily, yet she is completely unable to explain her need to care for him.
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It is only when Kukuri sends Shiro on an errand for the school council that the two halved narratives collide & the idea of sides, powers & the various Clans are begun to be woven together.

This is because Homra believe that Shiro, claiming to be the 7th & Colourless King, murdered their clansman (& the cohesion of their group) Tatara. So they chase Shiro until the Black Hound, vassal to the former Colourless King, Yatogami Kuroh (or Kuro [Black]) rescues Shiro, only to vow to execute him on the spot for his crimes.

& this is all within the 1st episode!

The plot moves at a fairly fast pace, with little wastage -even in the slightly stupid chase scene between Shiro & Kuroh in the 2nd episode where the strange character Neko (who switches between being a cat & a naked girl [will address that in a moment]) uses her powers to confound Kuroh in his pursuit.

There is little exposition from the characters, instead weaving in flashbacks throughout the narrative to establish past relationships & how things got as they are between the various clans. Even the concern between the rival Kings of Red -Mikoto- & Blue -Munakata- & trying to avert a repeat of the never really explained (in the anime) Kagutsu Crater Incident. In fact, the majority of character development is done by flipping between past & present yet you don’t get to know many of the characters outside of their physical appearances & habits during the course of the series.

The characters are a strange dichotomy in so far as the male characters seemed to be designed for or by fujoshi whilst the female characters (the few that there are) seemed to have been designed for & by horny teenage boys.

Yes, now I shall beat my usual hypersexualisation drum!

Outside of Kukuri, there are only three other female characters who appear in the major of episodes. They are Neko, who protects Shiro around, Scepter 4’s 2nd-in-Command Awashima Sera and Homra’s mascot & gothic lolita Anna Kushina.

Out of the 3, only Anna isn’t sexualised in any way. She is only portrayed as an imouto (little sister) style character who is an emotional anchor for the Red King Mikoto so he doesn’t destroy himself through over using his powers.
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When we first see Neko, she is totally stark naked -with only her long hair covering her nipples (which you never see during the series). In fact, she totally shuns clothing where she can & is seen during the ending credits starkers as the camera pans up her naked, prone body. Yet Neko plays a central part within the story & can even be seen as a driver of much of the plot. She is loyal to Shiro, claiming that he belongs to her, but she doesn’t try to sexually posses him or dominate him. She acts very much like a cat owning a human, especially in her constant demands for food & attention.

Awashima on the other hand is always in her uniform (or otherwise fully attired) but she might as well not be, since her body is so emphasised in a sexual way. Whenever she uses her special sword slash attack, the camera starts at her barely covered arse & twists around her massive boobs up to her cold face. This happens every time (though more because they want to save money by reusing the same footage) & almost every other shot incorporates her barely covered backside or boobs in some way. She too has narrative drive & is a force to be reckoned with in battle. She is even given the strange quirk of adding Red Beans Paste to almost everything she eats & drinks -much to the disgust of everyone around her.

Even Kukuri isn’t spared the sexualisation & is used for the occasional incidental pantie-shot (which is more disturbing than just focussing on a characters tits in a way).

It is very much unneeded or even undemanded in my view yet is somehow balanced & counteracted (but not enough) by the fujoshi fan service.

Amongst the paired male cast, there always seems to be a weird sexual tension. With Shiro even blushing in Kuroh’s presence & embrace whenever he is being saved. Shiro even jokingly refers to Kuroh as his ‘wife’ after Kuroh makes him & Neko lunch for school. There is a far more brutal sexual tension between Mikoto & Munakata as well as something fairly disturbing between formerly friends & clansmen Yata & Fushimi.

In fact, the entire male cast seems to run the typical gamut of yaoi (Boy’s Love) tropes. From the feminine Shiro to the cold but protective Kuroh, the wild but emotional punk Mikoto to the cool megane Munakata, the insane megane Fushimi to the tough but virginally innocent Yata. There are more than a few “now kiss!’ moments for the female (& homosexual) fans yet it doesn’t really push any boundaries nor becomes blatant in any way -yet that doesn’t distract from the hypersexualisation of the female characters.

One day I’ll stop beating that drum but not today, even though I will now move on.

One thing you must keep in mind when watching it getting a good sub where they keep the honourifics intact because they play strongly with the character relationships.

Primary to this is relationship between Yata -who is young, passionate & almost uncontrollable- & his in the field partner/offsider Rikio, who refers to Yata as ‘Yata-san’ despite being older than him. Where as most other Homra members call Yata ‘Yata-chan’ because of his small size & feminine 1st name of Misaki.

Visually, the series is utterly beautiful & only enhanced in the blu-ray release -where they’ve added more background & incidental details into the backgrounds as well as made the special attacks prettier. There is so much detail packed into the alt-world Tokyo, yet still keeping it visually on par with the city as it stands today. There are many flat-screen holograms showing various forms of information but they don’t clutter the mise-en-scene or distraction from the action.

The fight scenes are frenetic but handled smoothly, so you never lose track of who is the centre of the action. Most of the attacks are done with twisting or circular motions but the characters always stay within focus (apart from the aforementioned emphasis on Awashima’s body) & the different powers -such as Kuroh’s ghost hands- are clear in their intent & destructive capabilities.

I also utterly adore the opening theme KINGS by the talented band Angela, who many know from various other anime openings -such as Valvrave & Coppolion.

In the end, this is a most worthy series because of how it keeps you guessing as to what is going on within the story yet it doesn’t bring anything out of nowhere. The clues are always there, which adds to the enjoyment of watching it again & again. There is a sequel movie due out later this year as well as all the side manga & Light Novels to round out the narrative universe as well as character backgrounds.

Highly recommended.

K