Image source: KADOKAWAanime‏ on YouTube

2014’s No Game No Life is the story of a brother/sister pair of genius gamers who are transported to a fantasy world where violence is banned and every conflict is solved through playing games. The new film No Game No Life Zero shows just how such a world came to be.

Image source: 映画『ノーゲーム・ノーライフ ゼロ』‏ on Twitter

The framing device for the film is set sometime after the end of the TV anime and features Werebeast girl Izuna playing a mysterious boy in a game of Chess. As they play, the boy tells her a story—the true story of how the world drastically changed 6000 years ago thanks to an unlikely duo.

From the anime series, we know that, long ago, the 16 races of Disboard were caught up in a grand war for control of the planet. Yet, the war ended when Tet, the god of games, became the one-true-god of the world. No Game No Life Zero chronicles the events leading up to Tet’s ascension—though the film isn’t really about him. Instead it’s about a human named Riku.

Image source: KADOKAWAanime‏ on YouTube

Riku lives in a world far different from the one we see in No Game No Life; the great war has basically made the planet a nearly uninhabitable hell for humanity. Acidic ash falls from the sky, burning any skin it comes into contact with. Humans thus live underground in small ghettos—though it’s not like caves provide safety from the real threat: the other 15 races.

Without any ability to use magic, mankind is more “caught in the crossfire” than an active part in the war. With magical super weapons being deployed liberally by the various armies, all they can do is send out teams to gather information on the movement of the other races and evacuate their settlements when battlelines draw close.  

Riku is the leader of one of these small colonies. A mere 18 years old, he is likely humanity’s greatest strategist—capable of making the cold, calculating calls needed to keep his settlement safe.

Image source: KADOKAWAanime‏ on YouTube

One day, while out gathering information alone he is confronted by an Ex Machina girl. This android, “Shuvi” is on a mission to understand the human heart. Knowing there is no way to beat her in combat, Riku and Shivi make a wager: if Shuvi can beat Riku in a game of chess, then she can come with him and study him. Soon, the strange pair are inseparable and hatch a dangerous plan to bring peace back to their war-torn world.

Image source: 映画『ノーゲーム・ノーライフ ゼロ』‏ on Twitter

No Game No Life Zero serves as our first introduction to the Ex Machina—and they are creature straight out a sci-fi world, not a fantasy one. As the name would imply, the Ex Machina are a race of machines. But what really makes them dangerous is that while they do have individual units they are able to share experiences wirelessly from anywhere in the world with the rest of their species. Thus, if you make an enemy of one Ex Machina, you make an enemy of literally all of them.

Yet, Shuvi’s journey over the course of the film is her seeking to understand the one thing that is pretty much the antithesis of her very being. As a creature of pure logic, seeking to understand emotions is perhaps an impossible task—especially since the target of her interest is Riku.

Image source: 映画『ノーゲーム・ノーライフ ゼロ』‏ on Twitter

Riku is far from the most stable person psychologically. As a war orphan, he comes with trauma built-in. And while he is able to cooly and calmly send people to their deaths for the greater good, in private, he breaks down violently over his inability to keep his men safe—and his ability to coldly send them to die.

Image source: KADOKAWAanime‏ on YouTube

It is the emotionless Shuvi who serves to balance him out—even mid break down. By teaching her about non-logical thought and emotional pain, he is able to better understand himself and, eventually, find the way to possible victory. Shuvi likewise learns that odds and calculations only get you so far; the unexpected can and will happen. And sometimes, even the most unlikely plan will succeed simply because it is so unexpected. If you don’t try, however, you will never even have a chance.

Image source: 映画『ノーゲーム・ノーライフ ゼロ』‏ on Twitter

In the end, No Game No Life Zero is not a happy movie. Rather, it’s the story of two people coming to terms with themselves and, in doing so, finding a bit of happiness in a crapsack world. It is a story of hope and the importance of striving for your dreams despite the odds. And, really, that’s a moral I think any of us can get behind.

No Game No Life Zero was released in Japanese theaters on July 15, 2017. It has been licenced by Sentai Filmworks for a North American release.

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