Hey guys so Josh and I just finished watching No Game No Life (NGNL) a few weeks back. Not gonna lie it’s my fault for taking forever to finish it haha. It also took me forever to actually start this post, but we’re not going to talk about it.
Anyway, Josh and I decided that since we both watched the show we’d do something a little bit different than us just giving our individual impressions in cordoned off little sections. Instead, we thought that having a dialogue about some of the points we wanted to cover would work better. Josh’s is very academic and mine is snarky–you know the drill. :)
Also, Josh is the one putting in the pictures, so if they end up being ironic or stupid or attempt to be SYMBOLIC, DEEP, AND MEANINGFUL (his words!) responses to our conversation that’s not my fault.
R: So I know I’m super picky about anime, but I surprisingly didn’t hate this show (that much). How about you?
J: Well, you know that I tend to like these things, so it should be no surprise I really enjoyed the show. Personally, I’m surprised you actually liked it enough to actually finish it.
R: Hah – barely. It was surprisingly benign for a harem show.
J: So what makes it different from other harems that you’ve seen? I mean Sora was doing things like taking nudes in the bath and having people climb all over him.
R: I mean I think the difference was the lack of romance and lack of romantic competition. Basically no squealing girls all fighting for one guy’s attention kind of thing. The nude pics were still stupid though.
J: Is it really just the idea that all these women are sort of fighting over this guy for no reason that bugs you? It doesn’t have to do with objectification of women or their reduction to purely “love interests”?
R: My problem isn’t really with the objectification. I just hate annoying fawning girls.
J: So you’re fine with the love interests.
R: I used to watch a hell of a lot of shoujo. What do you think?
J: Shoujo usually portrays the guy as the love interest though. Are you saying you’re fine with love interests in general?
R: Meh. As long as they aren’t obnoxious or too dumb then it doesn’t generally bother me.
J: Ok. So for you it isn’t necessarily that the characters need to be fully fleshed out entities, more that they don’t annoy you too much lol.
R: Sounds about right.
J: So I guess that sorta explains how you managed to make it through, but why did you actually want to watch it all the way to the end?
R: I guess I liked the creativity and ingenuity in regards to how Sora and Shiro managed to win all their games. It was interesting to see what they’d come up with next, although I have to admit that by the end it was getting sort of lackluster.
J: Why lackluster? A lot of people criticized the show for being a power fantasy and how Sora and Shiro seemed invincible. Did you feel like that took the excitement out of things?
R: Yea. I mean I know the show tried to make it seem like things were at stake, but I found it hard to feel that way since you pretty much know that they’re going to win anyway.
J: But isn’t there a different type of pleasure in seeing how they pull things off? I mean it’s just like in the old Sherlock Holmes novels (or the new show)–you know he’s going to solve the mystery, but the joy in it comes from how he does it.
R: Eh I guess I felt by the end their solutions were getting a bit contrived.
J: How so? I felt like they were pretty contrived from the beginning lol.
R: Yea I guess they kind of were haha, but it seemed like by the end they were somehow controlling for a lot more factors in the last game and just assuming that they would all magically fall into place (which they did) as opposed to some of the less complicated strategies in earlier games.
J: Essentially they crossed some line where they were no longer sort of believable superhumans and became game gods?
R: Pretty much. Not sure if I’m going to end up watching the next season or not. I also thought the mythology was really stupid, which was a big turn off.
J: Really? I thought it wasn’t too bad, but then you’re like a mythology snob.
R: You got it. I mean there wasn’t that much of it, but what I saw I didn’t like. So what did you think? Any gripes on your end?
J: Not really – I enjoyed it pretty solidly all the way through. I actually have more gripes with how some other people have tended to view and interpret the show rather than the show itself.
R: Is that supposed to be a jab at me haha?
J: No. More just us aniblogging snobs.
R: Ok. So what did you think then? Why do you have gripes with them?
J: It’s mostly with trying to extrapolate the underlying philosophy of the show. A lot of commentary seems to be centered around its toxic nature and sort of the ideas it subtly perpetuates.
J: Well it’s just mainly that a lot of the show can be seen as sort of subscribing to a lot of the views of the otaku community. You know there is female objectification, and in one episode there’s even one prominent subplot where Sora forces Steph to fall in love with him like she’s some sort of object. I mean, there are tons of other examples in the same vein, but it all can be seen as adding up to a show that tends to perpetuate some of the more negative aspects of the fandom (even if in a self-aware way) rather than confront them.
R: What a glowing review. Why did you like the show so much then?
J: It’s mainly because I don’t think that this viewpoint can be taken at face value. These types of shows are deliberately given extremely skewed narratives told through the eyes of their protagonist. Separating out the true underlying philosophy of the show vs. that of the main protagonist is difficult. Sora is sort of a psychopath and also an intense otaku, so it shouldn’t be surprising lots of things in the show fall in line with how he would see them.
R: So he’s like you? Haha.
J: Somewhat. I think I’m a little bit more of a douchebag and a little bit less of a sociopath though. :p
R: So you still didn’t tell me specifically what you liked about the show or why you thought it was worthwhile.
J: Whoops – guess I’m just rambling again.
R: It’s okay – I’m used to it now.
J: Lol thanks. So, anyways…what I think it comes down to is that there is–and this is a point that people have brought up–is whether the show is self-deprecating, in which case you just sort of joke about things without changing them, or self-critical of otaku culture, where these issues are actually brought up and addressed in some sort. And if you take the narrative at face value it seems to be the former.
R: But I’m guessing that’s not your viewpoint.
J: Yes, since I think there’s lots of evidence that you shouldn’t be taking the narrative at face value.
J: Well, mostly in sort of the fundamental hypocrisy that is preached by the protagonists, most notably Sora.
R: Hypocrisy in what? Their worldview? Their beliefs?
J: The worldview, yea. Most prominently, in the first episode they go through a long monologue to set the tone of the show and the fact that it’s narrated by Sora. You know, right away they talk about life as being a shitty game where you don’t know the rules and there’s no endpoint, but somehow you’re expected to play. And then they go to a world where literally all the games function exactly like this and they’re totally fine.
R: I remember them saying something in the last episode as well about the world being a game and whatnot.
J: I mean, after Sora and Shiro (plus Jibril and Steph) defeat the warbeasts, Sora is pretty much like “jeez people stop whining IT’S JUST A GAME”. But for Imanity and others it isn’t “just a game”–their lives depended on the outcome and Sora and Shiro had just bet them!
R: Yea, that bothered me a bit too.
J: Right? This indicates a fundamental disconnect between the duo and what’s going on, and is sort of at the heart of the hypocrisy of their characters and more or less the show in general.
R: Well I mean Tet sort of sets the tone for this even before Sora and Shiro come around.
J: Exactly. He pretty much becomes God by being a hikikomori. If that’s not a cue that this is a very self-aware show that should not be taken at face value I don’t know what is.
R: I mean he basically constructed a world where it’s hard to tell where life ends and the game begins.
J: Well, maybe one of the points is that they should be seen as one in the same, in a very similar vein to something like SAO (Sword Art Online) but told from a different point of view–less focused on the immersion and more on the fundamental interaction that takes place when we play games. You know, on the back and forth.
R: Hmm. I mean I definitely see the connection between at least the settings of NGNL and SAO. I think the shows also both received a fair amount of criticism.
J: I mean, whether you decide to look past the atmosphere of NGNL or, like me, think it might be quite a bit self-critical, there’s a lot of positive aspects to the show (this goes for SAO too) I think have generally gotten overlooked. Like the main underlying themes, for instance.
R: You mean the whole “strength in weakness” type of thing?
J: Along with humanity’s (or Imanity, whatever) potential, yea. Those two, along with the emphasis on friendship in gaming and learning to understand each other. Strength in coming together, like with Blank. I mean, the show devoted a significant amount of time (like, an entire episode) those ideas, so it seems unfair to overlook them.
R: Eh I’m not sure how much I agree with the coming together thing–it seemed like the only people who legitimately banded together were Sora and Shiro. Ironically enough I find myself disliking the main protags more and more as we talk about the show haha. I think the strength in weakness thing was a legitimate theme though.
J: What about them did you dislike?
R: I mean if you think about it, Sora and Shiro were REALLY unlikeable characters. If I were in the same room as them I’d probably want to sock Sora in the face for being such a jerk. I’m usually down with the whole underdog thing and I’m pretty sure I’m dating a hikikomori, but damn was he an asshole.
J: Thanks the those kind words of praise :p. With Sora though, I can definitely understand why a character like him would be popular though, or at least what he represents.
R: You mean the nerd power fantasy wet dream?
J: Pretty much. The whole “the weak are really the strong guys!” type of themes are appealing to, well, most anime fans, who I’d say tend to fall into the “weak and ostracized” category which pretty much pervades geeky subcultures. Which leads me to think that you could easily see them in a much less positive light.
R: Eh I guess. I can’t really speak from experience.
J: I mean, although you might not have similar types of feelings, I can definitely say this type of “persecution/inferiority complex” isn’t all that uncommon among fans. And, going from this point of view, NGNL just ends up as a thematic extension – which makes it all the more toxic – of the power fantasy.
R: I guess…?
J: I mean, just take SAO, for instance. One of the main messages of that show (which they also spent a whole episode plus lots extra to hammer home) was that time spent in-game is equivalent to time spent in RL. Now, who’s the target audience for this type of show? The exact type of people who that message would tend to appeal to. So SAO kind of becomes a power fantasy in not just story but also implication: an escapist story that also justifies real-life habits.
R: I guess I can relate to the escapism. I see that as more of a reason to possibly like this show–in a way it lets otaku or hikikomori (are they really separate?) escape to a world where their actions (or lack thereof) are validated. You know like “it’s ok to stay inside and play video games all day because in this world that sort of behavior is rewarded.”
J: Pretty much. You could easily take the themes to mean something like, “Don’t worry guys – games are important and meaningful, and your weakness is actually a strength! YAY!”. On the other hand though, it could also easily be read as a message to hikikomori–and otaku at large–to take a chance, reach out, and step into the world, using their online presence as a springboard to make friends and forge connections. So it could go both ways. Also, this is totally unrelated to what we were just discussing, but I just wanted to again point out the hypocrisy that Sora/Shiro can’t function in the final arc when they think it’s Tokyo, and then miraculously recover when they find out it’s just an illusion. That’s some deep shit right there, and shows NGNL isn’t trivializing hikikomori but actually taking them seriously.
R: Woohoo encouraging gamers to seek sunlight and real (not 2D) romantic partners!
J: Yea yea lol. Anyways, the point of my whole spiel (even with your attempts to derail me :p), I guess, is that the show is inherently difficult to read straight-up. It’s important to ask questions like, you know, where does Sora’s POV end and the author’s begin? How much does that influence what exactly we take out of the show? Is the obvious message more important than the possibly more nuanced one, because it’s more likely to be the one people take from the show? And–most interesting for me personally–is NGNL more similar to other LN adaptations like OreShura, OreImo, or Oregairu–which generally fell somewhere along the self-deprecating to self-critical spectrum–or somewhere in-between/outside of this dichotomy? Because what I get out of NGNL is something that’s much more complicated–and much more ambivalent–than a simple power fantasy.
R: That your rant for the day?
R: Haha. You love to go on and on, don’t worry I agree with you anyway ;). I still think I want to break Sora’s nose though XD.