No Game No Life Zero: Visually Gorgeous, Emotionally Provocative

WARNING! This article contains spoilers.

Back in August 2017, Sentai Filmworks, Azoland Pictures, and Fathom Events announced a limited release of No Game No Life Zero in select US movie theaters for two dates in October 2017.  The movie debuted just yesterday, October 5th, 2017 at 7:00PM local time, with Japanese audio and English subtitles; the English dub will be shown on October 8th, at 12:55PM local time. I  bought tickets as soon as I could to see the subbed version at my local theater–and even as someone who refuses to see movies on non-discount days, I can confidently say that it was worth it.

I love a good origin story, especially for a universe as rich and complex as No Game No Life’s, and especially since fans have been begging for a second season for over three years now. No Game No Life Zero goes back in time 6,000 years to trace how the NGNL universe came to be, as described in the original light novel series. At the point of the movie, humanity is caught in crossfires of a great war that has made the planet inhabitable and human life fragile. Riku Dola, the protagonist and founder of the Dola clan, tries to prevent human extinction by orchestrating a stalemate between the major warring species to obtain a power that would let him change the rules of the world. He is accompanied by Schwi, an exiled robot from the Ex Machina species. After they meet during one of Riku’s expeditions, Schwi joins up Riku to learn about the human heart and why humans have survived throughout the war, despite the odds. Schwi’s indifferent robot exterior melts away as she and Riku become closer; the two fall in love and endure numerous sacrifices for one another as they work towards their final goal: ending the war.

Although the premises are not novel by any means (“unfeeling robot learns how to love” and “apocalyptic war threatens humanity” are both pretty tropey, actually), the movie was incredibly engaging and hit me with a surprising amount of feels, from the very first scene. I was immediately wrapped up in the universe and emotionally invested in the characters from the chaotic and action-packed opening, where, in the midst of an escape from enemy territory, Riku orders a scout to die in order to save the group. As the story unfolds, Riku’s guilt is revealed, and you can’t help but sympathize with his difficult position as colony commander–he recites the names of all his fallen comrades to Schwi in a later, very moving scene. The emotionality of the movie, however, did not detract from the gimmicks and jokes expected from anything in the NGNL family; there was still plenty of classic slapstick anime humor, virgin jokes, mild lewdity (anyone else notice that the movie was rated “G”?).

The animation was also phenomenal. The aesthetic of the movie was different from that of the NGNL series–less dreamy and technicolor, more hardened and dark–but the visuals were equally stunning, from start to finish. The final battle scene in particular was an eye-gasm, with beautifully-timed explosions and smooth movement. Additionally, the battle featured an old friend of NGNL fans: Jibril! Apparently, she wasn’t joking about being 6407 years old. Jibril faces off in an epic battle with Schwi, which demonstrates the full capacity of Flügel power and Jibril’s ruthless side, which we never really see in the NGNL series. The other NGNL protagonists also make appearances at various points in the movie when it jumps to present day, demonstrating a cute and tactful incorporation of the characters we know and love.

I really only have two gripes with No Game No Life Zero. Firstly, before the start of the movie, the audience had to endure twenty minutes of “special content” about the creation of the English dub, which featured (rather awkward) interviews with a handful of the English voice cast. I fail to understand why they prefaced the English subtitled version with special content about the dub… I almost left the theater, thinking that I had mistakenly bought tickets for the English dub. Additionally, as the special content included intermittent clips from the movie and the voice actors were asked questions about their characters, the audience was exposed to mild spoilers before the movie even began, which was both confusing and annoying.

Secondly, Riku and Schwi, the two protagonists of the movie were blatant rip offs of Sora and Shiro. Although it could be argued that it pays homage to the NGNL series protagonists, or demonstrates the cyclical nature of history, I just thought that it seemed lazy. When newly-introduced characters look like plagiarized versions of already-existing characters, it indicates a lost opportunity to include something new and exciting. Even the characters’ personalities were somewhat similar….

Despite these gripes, however, No Game No Life Zero overall was a beautiful and engaging origin story, and a must-see for any NGNL fans who’ve been biting their nails in anticipation of a second season. It’s worth the movie ticket price–try and catch the dub if you haven’t seen it already! Find your local participating movie theater here.

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