No Game No Life, Vol. 6

By Yuu Kamiya. Released in Japan by Media Factory. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Daniel Komen.

The author says in this afterword that this 6th volume was very last minute, as the anime was coming out soon, they needed something quick, adn his editor suggested that he do this flashback explaining the past of Disboard that he had laid out for “some point in the future”. I applaud the editors, because it’s an excellent choice, and ends up giving us what is easily the best volume in the series to date. Told by the God Tet (in disguise) to Izuna (mostly so that she can break in and point out the obvious similarity between the stars in the past and our current stars), we get a “grim and gritty” backstory that actually works for more than just “being dark”, showing us the horror of the war-torn land and why it was worth sacrificing so much in order to ensure it became the game-ruled world it is today.

Of course, we’re not necessarily dealing with an entirely new cast – as Izuna testily points out, Riku and Schwi are clearly analogues for Sora and Shiro, and Couron is Steph’s distant ancestor and the founder of their kingdom. This allows readers to get a good visualization of them, even if the personalities don’t quite intersect – Schwi is pretty dead on for Shiro, but Riku is basically Sora if he’d been broken by reality even more. As for Couron, she’s Steph without the abuse, and therefore perfect. Indeed, a lot of the “ha ha the writer thinks this is funny” fanservice is absent from this book, as the war setting means that it’s hard to trot out the sexual perversions and humiliation of Steph. Yes, Riku is teased about being a lolicon, and there’s a few “dying a virgin” remarks that Sora would be proud of, but that’s about it. This book knows now is not the time.

We also, by the way, see Jibril, and in many ways she’s the villain of the book. We knew that her past life before the Games became the rule was filled with a lust for blood and carnage, and her fight with Schwi here shows off her impatience and tendency towards overreacting, even if it ends up doing her harm in the end. That said, we also see that she’s definitely different from the other Flugel, even if it will take Sora and Shiro to really drag her potential forward. Much of the book is Riku doing what Sora normally does, which is to say plan an elaborate series of moves that end up winning the game for humanity. Tet says Riku and Schwi are stronger than [ ], as their world didn’t have the “game rules”. Sadly, this also means that they’re not granted protagonist immunity, so be prepared for some tragedy as well.

This was an excellent book, and the big downside to it is that it shows off that the author can be really good when he wants to be, but frequently lets it get buried under a need for fanservicey jokes and stupid anime tropes. Book 7 (which is in December, NGNL has settled into twice a year now) returns us to Sora and Shiro, and it will be nice to see them again, but I hope we can keep some of the added depth and gravitas we saw here and not just have a series of jokes about Steph’s tits. If you want to test out the series, though, 6 is the way to start, oddly enough.

No Game No Life, Vol. 5

By Yuu Kamiya. Released in Japan by Media Factory. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Daniel Komen.

I was not quite as grumpy with this volume of No Game No Life as I was the previous one, despite the fact that it has many of the same problems. It could be that it had more interesting things happen – one fight takes up well over a third of the book – or that the denouement of the Siren thing was slightly amusing, which it was – emphasis on slightly. I suspect, however, that the main reason is that this volume was delayed and delayed and then delayed again, to the point where it now hits nine months after the last. Does absence make the heart grow fonder? More likely I was able to settle in after having forgotten literally everything about the last book, and it took a while to recall. The publisher may have figured this out as well – Vol. 6 has already been delayed a month or two as well.

I’ll start my mentioning what I didn’t care for, and then move on to what I enjoyed. As I observed in the previous volume, Sora and Shiro’s development continues to annoy me, mostly as the author has seemingly forgotten that the dichotomy between “invincible gamers” and “social incompetents” was what made them so fascinating. Here, as in Book 4, they almost never have a breakdown or completely lose it. Part of that is the nature of the game they’re playing in the first half – it requires them to be touching, basically, as they have to function as a pair of wings. But I suspect it’s more that the author just enjoys writing them as smug winners. We do get a little bit more time in their heads this volume, which is both good (Sora) and bad (Shiro’s incestuous feelings).

There’s also the resolution of the Dhampir/Siren plot, which was all right, but I wish more had been done to overcome the “Sirens are bimbos” stereotype. As it turns out the way to solve the riddle and wake the princess is simply not to do what she asks for – if you’re an unattainable love that she can never have, you win. Naturally, this is done with a lot of mental and emotional abuse, supposedly justified because she was so annoying, really. And then there’s Plum, whose surprise reveal wasn’t much of one, but whose other revelation – being a secret mastermind manipulating things – worked much better.

And then there’s Steph, who remains the main reason that I’m reading these books. I sympathize with her over the top suffering, of course, but more to the point, she’s developing more and more into a leader and keen observer every book, and people are starting to take notice – particularly Izuna, who is able to get past her verbal tic to realize that Stephanie is not as dumb as she thinks she is, or Sora and Shiro make her out to be. Of course, in the long run, I suspect this is shaping up for Stephanie to rule over everyone once Sora and Shiro win the game. I also liked the backstory with the Flugel race, and how imagination, curiosity, and the desire to create are what they desperately needed – but only Jibril had. There’s hints of some intriguing backstory, which I’d like to see more of.

So overall a mixed bag, and I think those who have been grumpy about this release won’t stop being so. But it’s still worth a read if you can tolerate twinked-out protagonists and their slangey dialogue.

No Game No Life, Vol. 4

By Yuu Kamiya. Released in Japan by Media Factory. Released in North America by Yen On.

It’s always dangerous when a title that you enjoy despite its many glaring flaws has a subpar volume. Suddenly there isn’t enough to enjoy to justify wading through everything. It doesn’t help that this volume was delayed two months for unknown reasons (possibly as the translator got burnt out – it did have a 3-month schedule before this). And it’s unfortunate that this is the first volume that wasn’t adapted into an anime, so will presumably have a lot of new readers trying to see what happens next. But yes, there’s no getting around this – this is just not a great volume of No Game No Life.

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Everything seems to be just that little bit tired, starting with Sora and Shiro, who in the first volume were hideously broken people who just happened to be crazy otaku, but here the otaku part is in full swing and were it not for a few casual mentions in the text, you’d never even remember how codependent they are on each other’s presence. This is the first of a two-parter again, so it’s possible the next volume will up the ante, but it also has to be said that nothing really seems to threaten our heroes. Sure, they initially refuse to play the datesim simply because it’s just like that anathema, real-life romance, but once they’re in it, merely avoiding any love points seems to be fine with them. Sora and Shiro have been shown to be invincible, and that’s ALL they are here.

The other characters don’t fare much better. There are the usual NGNL levels of perversion, this time around involving the fantasy vampires and mermaids we see here. The fact that the dhampirs can suck bodily fluids other than blood is (pardon me) milked for all it’s worth, and the Sirens are succubuses whose lack of foresight and intelligence had better be undercut when we reach Volume 5 or I’m going to be pissed off. You don’t right an entire race of bimbos anymore just because it’s fun. And then there’s Ino, the old Werebeast grandpa, whose response in regards to winning the datesim was… memorable, but I’m not sure I get the manly part, and he was also used as a sexual gag regarding all the women he’d bedded over the years.

There is one bright spot in this volume, and that was the first scene with Steph, who has been left behind to deal with the kingdom while Sora and Shiro are negotiating with the Shrine Maiden. Having been forced to play against the two for thousands of games, and losing every single time, Steph has actually become scarily good at games, particularly the card games we saw her failing at in the very first volume. Of course, she’s not aware of this – she’s constantly trying to compare herself to Sora and Shiro, rather than, say, the average citizen. We are also reminded why Sora and Shiro left her there in the firt place – she’s really good at running a country, something they would be terrible at. Sadly, she then goes back to being a figure of mockery for most of the book, but that one brief shining moment was excellent.

It’s possible the next volume will turn this around. As I said, it is a two-parter of sorts. But I must admit that after reading this volume of NGNL I just felt tired.