Note: Review copy supplied by MVM Entertainment
Title: No Game No Life Zero
Anime Studio: Madhouse
Publisher: MVM Entertainment
Genre: Fantasy / Drama / Romance
Released: November 19th 2018
Language: Japanese / English
Running Time: 105 mins
Extras: Japanese Promos, Behind The Scene with Sentai Filmworks Staff and Cast
The film takes place 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 Schwi, a female exiled “ex-machina” android who asks him to teach her what it means to have a human heart.
I have thus far avoided the No Game No Life series. Part of the first chapter of the manga came as a freebie in the back of another series that I was reading, and the fan service fueled focus on Shiro just put me off. When I alter saw some clips from the anime adaption, I thought that the concepts looked interesting, but again, Shiro’s role was just too much. So, when the movie came to me to review, I was pleased to see that it was set long before the start of the series, though I still had concerns about whether it would end up portraying similar things.
As it happens, I didn’t need to worry so much. I would be lying if I said that the film is devoid of fan service, mind you. The apparent physical age of Schwi/Shuvi, The Ex-Machina seeking to understand the human heart, is somewhat problematic given her desire to procreate with our lead male Riku. This didn’t feel too overwhelming though, and didn’t really crop up at the expense of actual plot development too often. It was interesting to see that the pair were clearly designed to be ancestors to the series leads Shiro and Sora though, albeit with the familial link to bind them.
The introduction section of the film sets the scene quite nicely, and we are soon treated a recurring theme in the film: the world the characters inhabit is harsh. Riku early on is confronted with having to not only break the news of a parent’s death to a child, but also with the sense of guilt over the incident as he questions how many people you can sacrifice before it becomes meaningless. This constant sense of trauma that eh experiences is actually something that in the end helps him and Schwi bond, leading to them forming a team that could potentially turn the tide of the war raging on in the world.
The film is not devoid of hope either. Even with the darker tone lurking in the background of everything, you get a real sense of the resilience of the human race. Their ability to survive against all odds and keep fighting is not without its darker moments, but it’s a generally positive message, at least for the key characters. This does mean though that resiliency is sometimes met with tragedy, and the film does a great job of serving up some heart wrenching moments, especially when it comes to Schwi and Riku’s developing relationship and evolution as characters. We see strength and love in abundance, but we also see the reality that this will not always be enough to achieve your goals.
If that sounds a little depressing, that’s because it is. Despite the happier moments, this is clearly not intended to be an uplifting film. Don’t worry though, there are plenty of positives to soften that blow. Some of the backdrops scatted throughout the various scenes are absolutely stunning, and the animation appears to be a cut above the series, at least based on the clips I’ve seen. The action is thoroughly engrossing, and has a really sci-fi edge to it when the Ex-Machina Cluster are involved. Interestingly, this feel continues even when the deities are fighting (which surprised me as I expected things to take a more fantasy style at that point), creating a nice consistency. The soundtrack is phenomenal too, with the epic feel of the music not only fitting with the scenes that each piece is attached to, but at times elevating them.
In all, No Game No Life Zero was a pleasant surprise for me. Despite some hark backs to the things that put me off the series, it does a great job of setting itself apart as a very serious, dark piece of work. If you can handle the harsher undertones and enjoy AIs testing their humanity, you could do far worse than pick this one up. 4 out of 5.