No Game No Life is one of those franchises that it’s really easy to love, but also just as easy to hate as well. For every potential good thing that the series does, there’s a potential bad thing to offset it, and while I can highly appreciate the series for how it presents itself with some of the interesting visual techniques and just capturing the thrill of what playing games is like, there’s plenty of things wrong with the original series too. It’s overabundance of weirdly sexual scenarios with the involvement of the Sora and Shiro duo as siblings can really go either way in terms of humor depending on your views of those things, but it makes it hard to watch and definitely runs a lot of people away from the series in general for those seasons, despite what good content is actually beneath the surface.
The reason I bring all this up is that the movie decides to approach all the content in a different way, far differently than the series itself portrays anything and really, could almost stand on its own as it’s a prequel movie with nothing but history to tell about the world that the story takes place in.
Same visual style, different story, which makes for a good introduction into the series. The movie fails to capture the same sense of thrill and enjoyment that the original does, but also manages to leave most of its baggage that No Game No Life is known for with its TV series counterpart.
This movie has its own spin on the message made about the No Game No Life world of Disboard, and it’s similar to the one that the original series focused upon as well. How the Emanity (a direct comparison to humanity, in case that wasn’t dreadfully obvious) has to make change for itself and cannot wait around for them to be crushed by the other ruling races was always an interesting sort of direction that the series decided to run with, which both allowed us to explore the world at large and learn about the other races and also get the thrill of these games that they were playing.
The film still decides to run with that approach in a way, as its about how the Emanity have come so far from their roots; it’s all about the history of how the humans made a comeback as players in the race to become gods of this world long ago that was similar to the one that’s being experienced in the TV series.
It has a lot more to say than that though, touching upon something a bit more normal and different with those same themes involved. There’s a lot less focus on “the thrill of games” and a lot more focus on “this is how this world works” with a lot more situations of consequence and importance revolving around that particular aspect. Games are seen less as “a way to have fun” and more of “this is how we resolve conflict”, and this is accurately portrayed in the way the film represents them as well. It’s nothing like its TV counterpart, and that makes it better in some ways and worse in others and these are some of the reasons why.
One thing that this movie touched upon was the relationship between Schwi and Riku, and while I wouldn’t call this movie necessarily a romance movie, it definitely played a huge part in the film. The blossoming romance between these two that’s slowly built up throughout the series really shows the development of their characters and humanity as a whole throughout the story, but still manages to show the differences and conflicts that the other races hold for each other as well. Schwi is a part of the Ex Machina race (AI based thinking) and Riku is, of course, part of the Emanity race.
It was pretty neat to see how their ways of thinking were so different, and show how human emotions are so powerful that they can change the way we’re meant to think about things, even if they’re illogical. The romance story itself was pretty stereotypical in terms of its execution, but to me, still ended up being pretty good for what it was.
Schwi ends up undergoing many various changes throughout the movie from when she’s first introduced until the final moments of the film. She begins as an outcast to her own kind, knowing that she doesn’t belong to the same category as the others since her research about Emanity and emotions has been declared “invalid” by the Exmachina leader. When she finds Riku and interacts with him the first time, she doesn’t really trust or believe him because of him being a part of the Emanity and relations between most of the races in the No Game No Life universe are usually unfriendly towards each other, as they’re all vying for power to become a god of Disboard.
I think specifically the part about the distrust between them initially due to their differences is what makes this story work so well, although it being a sort of usual direction for a romance story to unfold, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any less poetic or beautiful.
No Game No Life: Zero becomes a story about being able to trust each other, and using that trust and acceptance of each other, many difficult and troubling things can be overcome, even stigmas or beliefs that nobody would believe that could be fought against. While this is similar to the message of the anime series, the difference between the two is that the characters in the series already belief they can overcome anything and prove it to everyone else, while in the movie, it must be proved to themselves first.
Even the smallest changes we undergo can really make a difference in how we perceive the world around us and ourselves, and I think that’s uplifting in its own way.