No Game, No Life: Zero (2017)
Signed up the 22/05/2017
A prequel to the wildly popular No Game, No Life anime series which aired in 2014, this film takes us back 6000 years prior to the events of the main series, long before the time when Sora and Shiro found themselves transported to the alternate world of Disboard. In this world, all conflict is resolved through high-stakes games in which the parties involved must wager something of equal value. No Game, No Life: Zero expands upon the lore of the universe, showing us the world of Disboard long before war was outlawed, in a time when the very atmosphere was harmful to human beings and the 16 races were in perpetual conflict.
The story of the history of Disboard is told by Tet, the God of Games who in the middle of a chess match with the Warbeast character, Izuna, decides to tell the story of how the world became the bright and diverse landscape it currently is. He speaks of a legendary human named Riku, who in one of his many expeditions out of the safety of his colony's cave into the desolate world outside meets an Ex Machina whom he later names "Schwi". The Ex Machina are an extremely powerful and interconnected race of sentient humanoid robots who cannot account for the resilience of the human race despite the immense odds stacked against their survival. Schwi is an Ex Machina disconnected from her network, a rogue machine out to discover the human race's strongest power: the human heart. Riku brings her back to his colony, hiding her true nature from everyone else.
With each day bringing despair in the face of unending war, Riku draws up a plan which will directly challenge the current hierarchy of the world as well as the various gods who represent the founders of each race's respective civilisation, the Deus themselves. Through planetary destruction, the world will be sent back to a point in time long before the desolation and despair which went on to describe human life on this world. The movie draws upon the series' presentation of the notion of human foolishness as the ultimate power, the driving force behind the strength and resilience of the human race. It is through interactions with Riku that Schwi, the Ex Machina, learns of human emotion and tenacity, as well as love.
Personally, the movie felt reasonably divorced from the happy-go-lucky and vibrant vibes given off by the main series, although the art and characters are markedly No Game No Life. The character designs for Riku, Schwi and Courette are very obviously meant to reflect the same character archetypes as Sora, Shiro and Stephanie Dola and the dynamic duo that is Sora and Shiro seem to be literal inversions of Riku and Schwi, at least where appearances are concerned. As a fan of the series, I found this interesting as it speaks to a sense of destiny driving the main characters of both the movie and the actual series.
I highly enjoyed the movie although certain aspects felt rushed and almost unnecessary, particularly the marriage of Riku and Schwi, although I'm grappling with that notion given that it was that romantic connection which fueled many of Schwi's actions in the film, actions which proved to be pivotal to the success of Riku's plan and thus pivotal to humanity's victory over all the other races. The film was also amazing in the way it grew the No Game, No Life series' promising lore which it didn't get to explore all that much in twelve episodes. Be that as it may; however, it could've done more to expand the universe and explore the other races of Disboard. Like the series itself, the main races in question were Imanity (humanity, who were nameless in the film), the Warbeasts, the Dwarves (barely), the Elves (barely), the Flügel and of course the Ex Machina, who were aptly named and introduced in the movie.
I also didn't like the sexualisation of Schwi, particularly because it left the same bad taste in my mouth as the sexualisation of Shiro in the main series. I felt it to be unnecessary, as I do of most ecchi in anime; however it wasn't as widespread as it was in the main series and therefore it was a lot easier to get through the two or three scenes which featured this aspect.
Overall, No Game, No Life: Zero is satisfying for any fan of the series especially given no word of a second season. The art is meticulous, beautiful and the animation fluid. It does so well in this regard and the way in which it fleshes out the world of Disboard, giving us reasons behind its current configuration and the role Sora and Shiro play in this current world. The movie is intense, emotional from the beginning and gives us more of the same dynamic between its protagonists as the flagship animated series.
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