No Game No Life Zero is a prequel to the globally popular No Game No Life series. The original novel that both anime are based on was originally published in 2012 by Yuu Kamiya. The series received a manga adaptation in 2013, and it’s first anime adaptation in 2014. Sentai Filmworks has the rights to both anime series.
Synopsis: Six thousand years before Sora and Shiro were even a blink in the history of Disboard, war consumed the land, tearing apart the heavens, destroying stars, and even threatening to wipe out the human race. Amid the chaos and destruction, a young man named Riku leads humanity toward the tomorrow his heart believed in. One day, in the ruins of an Elf city, he meets Shuvi, a female exiled “Ex-machina” android who asks him to teach her what it means to have a human heart. (Source: Sentai Filmworks)
Review: First and foremost, I wanted to quickly write a little bit about my theater experience this time around. No, I didn’t have a problem with the staff or facility, but the other people attending the screening I went to. Before the No Game No Life: Zero film actually started, we were shown a 20 or so minute documentary with the English cast behind the movie. While I do agree that it was a bit lengthy, that doesn’t justify the disrespect shown by the crowd throughout this part. I assume that the producers goal with this part was to provide commentary and insight into working on the film, but I can’t say for certain due to the fact that I wasn’t able to hear what was being said over the screams and complaints of the people around me. Within five minutes, there were dozens of people with their cell phones out, as well as those who were yelling for the “real” movie to start. It usually makes it an overall better experience if the crowd is full of energy, but this group went way above and beyond what can be considered the proper way to use said energy. To those who attend any movie screening in the future, please be respectful; and don’t be like the people I just mentioned.
With that rant out of the way, let’s get into the meat of my No Game No Life Zero review. The film starts out with a game of chess between Tet and a werebeast girl named Izuna. While playing, Tet says that he will tell her a store from more than 6000 years ago; one that explains how the world changed. This is the story mentioned in the synopsis, when Riku and Shuvi were alive. These two characters come across each-other when Riku is investigating old elven ruins. And also after a deciding game of chess, they reluctantly decide to team up. While Riku and Shuvi resemble Sora and Shiro, neither are the “overly-intelligent” characters we have come to know. Instead, Riku is just a regular human struggling to survive in a world that has forsaken him; with Shuvi, an abandoned ex-machina, by his side.
While most would consider the original No Game No Life a happy-go-lucky story about games and strategy, the same cannot be said about No Game No Life Zero. This story takes a much darker tone, and as mentioned previously, showcases our main characters struggles; both physically and mentally. Riku, especially at the beginning, has lots of issues. He is the designated “leader” of the last group of humans; therefore responsible for humanities survival. After the loss of another friend, he has a breakdown and trashes his room. During this he says “Is it really worth saving 1001 people if 999 people have to die in the process?” Even though it seems impossible for humanity to survive through this war, Riku clings to hope. “When I was younger, I used to think that there was no such thing as an unwinnable game.” Despite knowing how unlikely this is, he continues to push on, with a lot of help from Shuvi. While done in a completely different way, this tale of old does still have a focus on games and strategy.
As the story continues, Riku begins creating a plan. While originally seeming weak and helpless, he is definitely still intelligent. When humanity’s village is attacked, Riku gives the group a safe place to go, but does not join them. Instead, he creates a group known only as the “Ghosts,” a secret organization who’s only goal is to manipulate the other races and bring the great war to an end. In addition to this, Riku also plots his collection of the magical item everyone is fighting for. This item would allow him to become the “One True God” and become immortal. Some might argue part of him wants this for personal gain, but his primary thought is saving his people.
Riku is far from the most stable person psychologically. Originally, Corone helps keep him in check, but Shuvi is the one who ends up serving to balance him out. She starts out with no grasp or understanding of emotions at all, and this is the main reason she tags along with Riku; to learn. These two characters mesh together perfectly, just like Sora and Shiro, but it’s a little unfortunate that we don’t really learn about anyone else. The designs for Riku and Shuvi are a bit lazy, but considering the original voice actors came back for these roles and did a good job, it’s acceptable. Having the same character designs as their future counterparts didn’t take away from the story and setting at all, so I can’t fault them too much. This film also featured a few other characters from the TV series, but portrayed them differently than before, which was refreshing.
This movie did a fantastic job with both the animation and backgrounds. Especially in the latter half, No Game No Life Zero was a visual treat. Shuvi and Jibril encounter each-other, but this time as foes; their battle was both breathtaking and bone-chilling at the same time. When Jibril first appears, all sound stops. Besides adding to the scene, this is also the perfect example of how well the music and sound effects were used throughout the film. Even the ending song, THERE IS A REASON by Konomi Suzuki, was beautiful. It’s impossible to not give props to both Eiji Iwase as art director and Atsuko Ishizuka as director.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed No Game No Life Zero. In fact, I would have to say that for me personally, this standalone film topped the TV series. Combining a story the complete opposite of the main series with familiar characters the entire fan-base loves, can’t have been an easy task. Add appropriate animation and sound on top of that, and you have something that rarely happens successfully. Both fans of the original and new fans to the franchise should be able to enjoy this movie, as it doesn’t require you to have seen the main series. I cannot recommend this enough, and would consider No Game No Life Zero one of the best films to release in the last year, if not two.
New Characters: 9/10
No Game No Life: Zero on MyAnimeList.
Check out another review, where we talk about In This Corner of the World.