Our world is one where, with a little charisma and ingenuity (plus a web connection) you can create a new version of yourself from ground zero, and use the anonymity of your real identity to make it seem as though it never existed. Shut-in siblings Sora and Shiro employ this opportunity to their utmost advantage by merging into one virtual being known only as Blank, shredding all who oppose them, whether in an MMO or a chess tournament, and achieving a status of legendary reverence. To them, life itself is a game with no structure and shoddy policies, so when they are invited to a different world by another anon they’ve defeated, they think little of it. In fact, hours after they arrive in Disboard, a land where games decide all outcomes, they’re already plotting to become its rulers.
The trapped in game trope is turned on its head by their bizarre ability to adjust and feel at ease with this world’s routine. Even with its barrage of sugary shades and chess pieces looming from the horizon, there’s a disturbance that seeps through the distraction of the visual majesty. While Sora and Shiro, aged 18 and 11, for the most part are adorably close in a way that makes them inseparable, this bond sometimes slips over a line which suggests they’re a touch too close for comfort. With this constant running beneath the storyline, you wonder how badly they’ve been damaged by their own world in order for it to be their instinct to take solace in games and each other’s company, to the point where this is their sense of stability.
Developments later in the series that show the two aged 3 and 9 connect with hints dropped throughout, to form a timeline pieced together by your own assumptions. But it’s these two central characters alone that maintain the intrigue. Each plot point is met more or less as expected, with none of the other characters gaining any depth once they’ve joined team Sora and Shiro. In between there’s the obligatory fanservice, which in this show feels clashing with the siblings’ relationship, and expositional dialogue for the workings of each game which mainly confuses matters further. Not even the central conflict between Disboard’s 16 races inspires much involvement, as each one is used as a vehicle for flat characters catering to the usual kinks. But one highlight does spring from a rousing speech Sora gives to the human troops; assuring that though we are a weak race, our power comes from the determination to survive against all odds.
The writing for Sora and Shiro, with his brash charisma and her unassuming intellect vibrant in the English dub, is what draws you into their world and keeps you there. Underneath all the humour and eccentricities of the love between them are the suggestions of their past on Earth, moulding No Game No Life’s greatest achievement; as a concealed psychological thriller on the human existence and technology, which lets the viewer fill in the life a brother and sister escaped together.