I had a truly bizarre, reality-bending moment while watching the first episode of No Game No Life. There were the two protagonists, Sora and Shiro, suddenly just yanked out of their world, now thousands of feet up in the sky, in free-fall, heading at breakneck speed towards the ground of another unfamiliar, alien world, and having just had an encounter with the exposition-spewing, self-proclaimed ‘god’ of this alien domain. As they were just about to hit the ground, my screen suddenly went black, as if on cue; there was the briefest of power outages; then the electricity around me flashed back to life as suddenly as it had went, while a silent blank screen remained. It was as if I, along with the onscreen characters, hit the ground with an immense impact, and all the lights went out, never to return. I swear that I was just about as disoriented as the characters I was watching onscreen. There was a tiny moment when I truly wondered, is what I’m experiencing right now actually real?
No, I don’t think anything supernatural was at play, nor do I particularly consider that the universe I’m currently inhabiting may be some sort of elaborate simulation (although I haven’t completely ruled out this possibility). Serendipitous events like this would happen all the time even in a uncontrolled, random, chaotic universe. But it certainly put me in a mode of thought where I wondered if there was any true meaning to it all, if there was actually a clearly defined end goal, or whether life is truly, as the anime’s main characters put it, “just a shitty game”. And I’m still pretty certain I share the protagonists’ intuitions and agree with the latter. The thing is, even before this defining event in the story, it was as if this show was priming me for the sudden stab of self-awareness.
This is because this anime, and its dialogue, plays this trick on you where you’re not sure if it’s breaking the fourth wall or not (I’m pretty sure this was the intention of the writers, though).
“Aren’t you having a hard time fitting into society?”
Yes. Yes I am. Society is kind of… confusing. It isn’t for everyone.
“How do you feel about your world ? Is it fun? Is it easy to live in?”
When Tet posits these simple but devastating questions to the siblings, it’s as if these questions are being asked of the audience as well, and that’s because the writers know what’s up; they know anime’s (target?) audience and their unquenchable thirst for escapism, for a respite from cold, hard reality. There’s even a pretty cool visual signifier, when Shiro and Sora are suddenly enveloped in a black box, shielding themselves off from the “shitty game’ of life” they find themselves inadvertently thrust into, the worst of all games, with “no set parameters, no rules or objectives.”
Things are about to change, though. When presented the opportunity to trade their world for another, one where games dictate all pursuits, ambitions and all of society, they take it without a second thought.
“In stories about people stuck in other worlds, the protagonists do their best to get back to their original worlds, don’t they? Why would they ever want to do that?”Sora
That audience wants to escape reality as desperately as Shiro and Sora do. I, for a fact, watch anime for sheer escapism, the same reason as the main characters lose themselves and their entire lives in the pursuit of playing and winning games. Even more important than winning games, is the fact that they operate as an inseparable unit. In the falling scene I mentioned earlier, there’s’ a pretty interesting character moment for Sora, where he positions himself beneath Shiro just before hitting the ground, to shield her from the impact. It says a lot about the relationship dynamic between him and his sister.
By the end of the first episode, we get a basic idea of the world and how it operates. Sora and Shiro have found a world that they can actually truly invest in, and so have I.