No Game No Life, Vol. 11

By Yuu Kamiya. Released in Japan by MF Bunko J. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Richard Tobin.

The general rule of thumb when reading a volume of No Game No Life is to ignore anything that is not directly related to the plot or character development. and yes, this means you are ignoring about 85% of each book. This volume in particular is filled with pointless fanservice, cringey cliches, and more situations and art that remind you why this series got Amazon banned (though, again, this new volume is still there). When you get past all that, you’re essentially left with two things. First of all, the fact that [ ] actually lose for the first time in the series… and they’re not too sure how it happened yet. The result, though, is near catastrophic, though I guess it’s very good news if you’re Chlammy. The second thing is that Sora and Shiro, adopted siblings, are forced to confront their feelings for each other for real… and Shiro especially is almost broken by them. This is a rare reminder that she’s still eleven years old. And while there’s a reset at the end, I think both of them have moved forward a bit.

We open with Sora, Shiro, Steph, Jibril and Emir-Eins waking up to find they’re now trapped in a death game, to Sora’s horror. He hates the very idea of death games, and knows that the only reason that he and the others would ever have agreed to it is if [ ] had lost. Their host is Foeniculum a fairy who is streaming all of this on the fairy version of YouTube. The five of them are in a room where there’s an exit door… but only those who say they’re a couple can go through it. Needless to say, everyone is horrified at this… especially as there’s five of them, so someone will lose. Also, four of them are women. You can buy a key to get out… but the price is exorbitant, and depends entirely on getting donations from viewers. As a result… Sora and company need to be interesting enough to make money!

A lot of this, especially in the first half, is pure stupidity, with the usual antics. Sora has low self-esteem, Steph whines, Jibril and Emir-Eins fight, etc. Things change once the fairy viewers force Sora to tell Shiro that he finds her attractive… something Shiro, theoretically, has been waiting eleven books to hear. But theory and practice are two different things, and it turns out Sora seeing her sexually terrifies her… and indeed Sora, after being released from the fairy geas, is appalled he said it as well. The incest subtext has always been uncomfortable in this series, and it’s shoved in our faces here, but the outcome in the end is good; Shiro doesn’t really need Sora as a lover or a boyfriend, she just needs Sora there next to her all the time. As for [ ] losing, we’re still not sure how it happened either, but it’s setting up for a big battle against the elves next time.

I didn’t mention Steph, but her role is the same as always: be degraded and humiliated 95% of the book, then remind the cast she’s the emotional heart of the story, and far more sensible than any of them. NGNL fans will definitely have a ball with this. Hope we don’t wait so long for the 12th book.

No Game No Life: Practical War Game

By Yuu Kamiya. Released in Japan by MF Bunko J. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Richard Tobin.

It has been a rough couple years for No Game No Life. The author has had health issues, which has led to a long hiatus in Japan (though the 11th volume is due out there next month). As with Re: Zero and Index, Yen licensed this side story volume out of order, so a lot of it is setting up a 10th volume that we read a year and a half ago. And of course the entire series has been banned, in print and digital form, by Amazon… except for this new volume, which they are quite happy to sell because no one can guess how they actually decide anything. That said, it is good to finally see this book which goes back to the events of the 6th volume and shows us things from the POV of Think, the elven legend. Unfortunately, this flashback is only a little more than a third of this book, which is otherwise padded out with short stories that originally came with the DVD releases in Japan. Yep, it’s a short story volume.

Practical War Game itself starts off with Sora and Shiro playing Feel and Chlammy in a game of chess, which Feel is trying to deliberately lose once she hears what the prize is (molesting Chlammy). Jibril then tells the siblings about Feel’s ancestor, and about her acolyte Nina, who takes over after Think supposedly “disappears”. After this, we get a story showing off a desperate Steph, running low on sleep and sanity, challenging the siblings to game after game, even it means more humiliation. Par for the course, in other words. We then get a story about Feel and Chlammy’s past, and how and why they set up what happens at the start of the series. Finally, we get a two-parter focused on Jibril, just why she’s so special, and her determination to do the impossible simply because everyone else says it can’t be done.

As always with this series, I love Steph, even when it’s making her the fanservice queen or having her be the chump for the sake of humor. She almost manages to speak out a win here, and is basically told “try this again when you’ve slept and are calm”. The story with Feel and Chlammy was also fun, showing them as a lot more of a loving couple than the main books do, as well as exactly how they got that way. The bulk of the book are the stories with Think and Jibril, which are flawed but good. I can do without the author’s “is this LGBT representation or shameless trolling fanservice!”, mostly because by now we know it’s both. The sections of Jibril’s story dealing with the dragon are fantastic, but Azril is simply FAR too annoying to make it 100% enjoyable, and the canon explanation as to why really doesn’t work for me.

Still, overall it’s a better volume than some of the recent books have been, and should make fans of the series happy. Oh yes, and there’s a new translator. I think the books read a bit smoother than before, though Kamiya’s writing is always hard to parse.

No Game No Life, Vol. 10

By Yuu Kamiya. Released in Japan by MF Bunko J. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Daniel Komen.

This volume begins with our heroes, [ ], having abdicated the throne (the country is now ruled by the business class, with Steph reduced to talking to potted plants – and Plum, who is about as helpful as one) and living life as sellers of medicine. In particular, their breast enhancer, although temporary, is quite popular. It also attracts the attention of the Dwarves, one of the few races we haven’t really dealt with yet, and they summon Sora and Shiro to their underground city to throw down. Fortunately, our heroes have a new dwarf ally, Tilvilg. Unfortunately, she lacks the natural genius ability that all dwarves have, and is somewhat beaten down that their answer to that seems to be “well, just keep trying anyway while we pity and belittle you”. Can Sora and Shiro show that her desire to see the sky is not merely a baseless fantasy? And, more importantly for the author, can they do it while throwing in so many references to boobs that the reader might throw up?

I will admit, when it comes to having your cake and eating it too, no one does it quite as well as Yuu Kamiya. This entire volume seems to be boob-obsessed, with both Chlammy (she and Fi are genuine allies in this book for once) and the dwarven leader Veig being particularly bad. And yet at the same time it goes out of its way to mock and belittle anyone who might have similar thoughts – Veig in particular dreams of the sort of pneumatic fantasy girl that only exists inside the head of virgins, something viciously pointed out by Sora. What’s more, his perverse behavior towards Tilvilg, which he brushes off as “I was drunk, it was a joke”, is noted to be “the top two excuses of male scum”. Kamiya fills his books with ludicrous and somewhat sickening fanservice… but also knows that’s all it is, and does not mistake it for anything else.

Steph does not have a large role in this book, but she is there, and her parts (as always) interested me the most. Once again, when asked to be a political thinker, she’s head and shoulders above the rest of the cast, and her confrontation with Emir-Einz, where she blackmails her into taking her to Sora and Shiro by threatening to disrupt the book’s fragile status quo, is brilliant. (It also shows that Steph is not as oblivious to her own feelings as it appears.) And, getting back to the book’s obsession with boobs once more, there’s a nice scene where Steph gets upset at the fact that Sora groped her when they first met, only for Jibril and Emir-Einz to call that “humblebragging”, pointing out to Steph that so far, of all the women in the entire series, Sora has only groped one by his own choice – her. The jealousy is searing.

In the end, of course, no one should be reading No Game No Life who is not already able to deal with its proclivities, and I’m not trying to say that they’re lessening – in fact, there was even more in this book. But the author is better at showing us the man behind the curtain, as we see that none of it really makes much of a difference in the end. This volume is about accepting your weaknesses, accepting that everyone is different, and going beyond the impossible. It’s also (not counting the unlicensed “Practical War Game” spinoff) the last book in the series to date, so we may have a while till we see Book 11.