No Game No Life made a name for itself in 2014 with its vibrant art style, interesting world building, and most notably the interesting matches of mental acuity between its titular heroes and the inhabitants of the new world in which they found themselves. While the humor was a bit too perverted at times for my personal taste, the other elements carried the show, and it is considered one of the most notable standouts in Japanese animation over the course of the past five years. After its initial run, fans started to clamor for a second season because not only does it end with the clear possibility for it, the world itself is well constructed for further adventures and games. After no news of a second season for years, interest picked up quickly enough when a movie tie-in was introduced. After having seen it over the weekend, the movie might not be exactly what you’re looking for if you’re a fan of the original series.
Officially titled No Game No Life: Zero, the movie explores how the world came to be as you know it in No Game No Life. The world in the original series is characteristically defined by different races. In the beginning, these races are destroying the world by engaging in a devastating war. Amidst the chaos is a young human man by the name of Riku, who had a fateful encounter with an android when he was a child. Years later, after having grown up, he again meets this android, a member of the Ex-machina race, who goes by the name of Shuvi. While she previously caused him pain and suffering years prior, they form an unlikely bond and this relationship is the main crux of the movie.
It can be argued that the relationship between Sora and Shiro defined the original series as well. While that is certainly true, the show had a lot of supporting elements going for it. These other aspects such as the different games played are sorely lacking in No Game No Life: Zero. While that is to be expected up to a certain point given the movie’s prequel status, it is difficult to reconcile when games are in fact featured, albeit barebones. The vast majority of the film focuses on specific scenes between Shuvi and Riku as they build chemistry. They experience a lot of hardship together, which is one of the reasons why it is so easy to become invested in their relationship. With that said, I would argue the film spends too much time only showcasing these two specific characters. For characters to truly shine an engaging setting must exist around them and that is lacking. Being caught in the middle of the war, the world itself is your typical drab post-apocalyptic standard and it doesn’t engage the audience very well. The art style remains the same, but given the choice in setting, the colors remain drab and you don’t get the sense of a vibrant spectrum until the movie’s ending.
Despite the slow moving story, the battle scenes are not only impactful, but also very well done. One comment that can be made about No Game No Life was that by focusing so much on games, there was a distinct lack of action overall. Being in the middle of a war has the benefit of providing a way to show battle scenes. Shuvi shines during these moments as you can see the entire extent of her abilities as an android. There is one fight in particular near the film’s end that is a pleasure to watch from beginning to end. I only wish there were more of these scenes sprinkled throughout.
No Game No Life: Zero is an interesting deviation from its predecessor. It chooses to focus almost entirely on a single personal relationship between two characters. It is slow moving for a large portion of the film, but that might be well suited for some fans that are more appreciative of character studies. Ultimately, I would classify Zero as a character study that serves the dual purpose of providing a way for the audience to better understand the overall setting. If you are looking for more of the same in terms of games being played, then you might want to pass on this. With that said, it is very exciting to see more No Game No Life content and it bodes well for the future of the franchise moving forward.