Anime Review: No Game No Life Zero — Apt Title

At least the movie is honest regarding how it has zero game and zero life.

Pre-Review Background

No Game No Life Zero is a sequel film to the 2014 critically acclaimed series of the same name (minus Zero) whose source material is actually based off of one of the original light novels rather than just being one of those non-canon fillers that were created for the sole purpose of bringing the characters to the big screen for an overly long reunion special. As such, it garners a little more attention than most franchise movies because you actually have to see this one in order to understand a good chunk of the ongoing plot in the same vein as The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya and to a lesser extent, those Eden of the East films. In fact, NGNL Zero is an adaptation of the sixth novel, which details the story of a dude and his robot waifu from six thousand years ago who suspiciously parallel the main gamer duo – although I didn’t look into what the overarching plot of that novel was prior to watching the movie, nor did I bother to research whether this particular novel was considered a standout amongst the series like Disappearance is to Haruhi then or now.

What I did know though is that No Game No Life fans who got to see the movie before I did pretty much celebrate Zero as the new generation’s Disappearance. Quite a few people I’ve talked to at conventions have brought up how hyped they were for the upcoming tale, and the scores for it are pretty damn high on anime ranking sites, so I guess I’m a little glad that they got what they wanted whilst ignoring all the criticisms about how these new characters have the most ridiculously over designed wardrobes since Joe Madureira’s experience with video games. But similar to Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale (and any anime movie for that matter), I went into Zero completely blind otherwise. I didn’t bother to read Kim’s review on Anime News Network, and if I’m being honest, I completely forgot what actually happened in the original 2014 anime series, so I can’t use my experience with that as a factor in judging the film either other than acknowledging that it is the same Madhouse team making it.

Not that it matters, because a movie is supposed to be good regardless if you watched the actual series, right? If people can see the eighth Fast and the Furious movie and have a good time without experiencing the other seven, then I’m allowed to judge No Game No Life Zero as if I wasn’t watching anime in the last three years. So is this movie actually good, or is it impenetrable to anyone who’s not a fan? Well, let’s start off with a plot summary before we get into dissecting that stuff.

General Plot

No Game No Life Zero takes place six hundred years before the events of the series and focuses on a young man named Riku, who I can only describe as a Sora lookalike with the personality of one of those emo teenagers from the mainline Final Fantasy games. Trapped in an endless and very vaguely explained war between the very vaguely explained races of the NGNL universe, Riku’s luck changes when he meets a mysterious and severely over designed Shiro lookalike named Shuvi – a mechanical girl who I can’t recall the details of regarding her purpose, but it’s pretty obvious that her real reason for existing is to learn how to feel emotions and fall in love within the very first second of meeting her. With the help of his new robot waifu, Riku becomes a master tactician that leads the humans to victory throughout the course of the Eternal Great War, only to experience the expected tragedies that tend to happen when you’re on a winning streak.

What does this plot have to do with the original series you may ask? I’m not really sure to be honest. I think it’s supposed to provide context regarding why all the different races in No Game No Life get along and play games with each other, but I’m not really sure why said context was necessary. I guess it’s also supposed to frame Sora and Shiro as the successors to the great heroes of millenia ago, but again, I have no idea why they needed that tie-in to begin with. But at the end of the day, does it really matter what the movie’s relationship to the series is beyond the setting and such? The real question is: is this plot actually good as a standalone product? To which I respond: god fucking no.

Personal Dissection

I’m going to lay out one phrase regarding this movie that pretty much doomed it before the ten-minute mark: “tell don’t show”. That’s right. One of the biggest recent anime films to one of the biggest recent anime franchises ignores the very reason animation exists as a storytelling medium. And just to add insult to injury, it also mostly ignores the main appeal of the No Game No Life series as well. Yeah, you know those gaming scenes that were supposed to be the highlight of the first anime? They’re not in this film. You know what was kept over from the anime though? The dull and monotonous planning scenes.

More than 90% of the movie is just dialogue, and it’s not good dialogue either. Every time Riku is on screen, he’s crying about how the human population is doomed, he’s engaging in unfunny banter with his robot waifu, or he’s formulating a plan that we don’t actually get to see because the movie seems to be allergic to the very notion of showing anything resembling action or gaming.  The closest we get to gaming is Riku playing chess with Shuvi during their off-time, but otherwise we mostly see him planning a strategy to win the war, which is then handled off-screen through very erratic time jumps that are hard to get a handle on before someone reports the results to him. Isn’t that like watching a version of Code Geass where they removed all the mecha action so we just have to take Lelouch’s laughs for granted?

Not helping at all is that Riku and Shuvi are the only ones who seem to exist for the majority of the film’s runtime. His stepsister who looks like Stephanie Dola barely shows up, the villains of the movie have even less screentime, and Riku frequently cries about all the people he’s lost in his life despite the fact that we as the audience don’t know them. There’s a really narm-y scene where Riku lists off the names of forty-eight people he lost in his life which was supposed to be tragic, but came off unintentionally hilarious since 1) a lot of the names were in Engrish 2) we only know the last person he lists by face and said person got killed off before we have a chance to know him. His daughter exists only to yell at Riku for letting her dad die, and then we never see her again.

The plot just seems to be on autopilot the entire run time, trying to check off a bunch of plot points without actually filling in details. Riku’s love for Shuvi comes off as really awkward even discounting the fact that she looks like a cross between a blow-up doll and a 40 year-old virgin’s fanfiction because they never interact romantically beyond awkward misunderstandings and emotionless chess matches. Also, the editing is awful. Characters go from one location to another without any warning. There’s a scene where the main characters become engaged to each other and it took me a few seconds to realize that time had skipped ahead a few months because the movie didn’t tell me. It’s like Madhouse assumed I had already read the sixth novel and am just excited to see these certain scenes animated.

Also, for a movie where so much effort was put into the production, you’d expect said production to be used for more than just cosmetics, but it never is. I never felt any sense of epic scope because the movie favors tight-enclosed spaces where the characters can talk about the big open world we never get to see without interruption. And since the background people were only allowed to be on set for two percent of the movie, this war could have taken place on the moon for all we know. There’s only one action scene in No Game No Life Zero, and surprise surprise, it’s complete nonsense. The choreography is way too floaty to take seriously and it’s pretty much just a bunch of overblown beam spams while characters shout out their obvious inner emotions to the audience.

I said before that “tell don’t show” is the only phrase you need to sum up No Game No Life Zero, but there’s actually one more: “boring”. This movie was so dull in its execution both narratively and visually that the two-hour length felt as long as the new Blade Runner, which is almost three hours long in case you guys don’t know. I actually saw that movie the day after watching No Game No Life Zero, and while I can’t say it’s a great film due to numerous padding and a message regarding artificial life that isn’t groundbreaking by current standards, it was a lot more engaging because the characters had dialogue that was more than just blatant exposition and the world was epic whilst being expertly tied-in to the main characters’ dilemmas. The love interests being artificial in Blade Runner is actually a major plot point in order to explore transhuman themes rather than just something that existed for fetish-bait. And while the action may be few, it definitely didn’t suck when it appeared.

In short, I’ll take Blade Runner 2049’s three-hour bloat any day over No Game No Life Zero’s banal existence.

Conclusion

I guess fans of the series’ lore might like this; but that is a lot of hype and talent for an adaptation where more than 90% of the runtime has none of the iconic gaming. It could be argued that the creators were trying to take a chance on something different and failed, but I don’t think that applies here because the only difference I’m seeing with the property is that they took something out and didn’t put anything in to replace it. Well, nothing but Shuvi’s hideously over-designed ass I guess, which I’ve got to say looks really fucking stupid. It’s like some loser male otaku was trying to overcompensate for his lack of chemistry with 3-D girls whilst ignorant of the fact that nobody’s penis is that small.

Maybe it’s not as bad as the other franchise films of the year, but I really wanted to walk out of this one and actually fell asleep for a bit during watch because it was so lacking. In other words, I had the same reaction to this movie as I did when I recently rewatched that Green Lantern movie from 2011. And when your brightly colored mess churns out the same reaction as a movie that gave us this, you know something has gone horribly wrong.

Additional Quips

  • Okay okay, I know the people behind the music for this movie is different than the one for the series.
  • Well, maybe action/gaming happened in the five minutes I walked out of the theater in order to buy overpriced popcorn so I could stay awake.
  • Yuu Kamiya really gets a lot of anime adaptations for his novels, doesn’t he?

4 responses to “Anime Review: No Game No Life Zero — Apt Title

  1. I can’t see ths movie at the moment though I would like to at some point. Still, at least this review lets me bring my expectations down to a reasonable level. There’s been a lot of positive reviews that go on about how amazing this is without giving any details as to why and mostly aren’t very helpful in terms of knowing what to expect from watching it. Thanks for sharing.

    • I talked with a friend who likes the series and she agreed with me that the movie was crap. It’s like this film was made for people who already read the sixth novel and no one else.

  2. Speaking of Blade Runner 2049, I found the movie to be really loud and had some questionable sound mixing at times that made it hard to hear the dialogue; similar to Interstellar. I don’t know if it’s the movie or just the cinema I went to.

    In a certain way, this movie kinda reminded me of Drive/Only God Forgives where they all have Ryan Gosling playing an expressionless leading character with minimal dialogue; surrounded by beautiful visuals and atmosphere. Unlike Denis Villeneuve’s previous movie, Arrival that was also sci-fi and had a slow-pacing to it, I found the slow-pacing for this movie to be too much for me this time. I understand the director’s intentions of holding shots for prolonged periods to make us immerse into the visuals and cinematography more, but I feel like the movie could’ve been around 40 minutes shorter.

    I also found the complexities of love story to be kinda similar to the movie “Her” but not to the same level. I think I need to rewatch the movie again because I was just too overwhelmed by the visuals and pacing to focus on the intricacies of the story when I was at the cinema.

  3. Pingback: In Case You Missed It – 100WordAnime

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