A couple years ago, I watched the No Game No Life anime and really enjoyed it, especially with its striking visuals and silly humor. Because of this, I bought the first light novel when it was translated to English… but didn’t end up reading it until now ^_^; (I have way too many books.)
If you aren’t familiar with the series, it’s about a sibling duo who are both shut-ins, but are geniuses when it comes to strategy and games. Since they are so talented, a god from another world transports Sora, the older brother, and Shiro, the younger sister, to another world where all decisions are based on games.
But to my surprise, I didn’t enjoy the light novel, which is written and illustrated by Yuu Kamiya. Let’s start from the very beginning. The very first few pages of the light novel are written very well. The Prologue starts out by describing the ambiguity and nebulousness of urban legends – how they evolve over time and how they all originate from some kind of wish. This concept was very thought-provoking.
Overall, I like premise of the story: the idea of a world where all decisions, even political ones, are based on games. It really makes you think… what if those rules applied to our world? I was very impressed with the beginning so I thought the rest of the book would be the same. But that wasn’t the case.
Too Much Fan Service
I liked the beginning of the light novel until Stephanie Dola, the princess of the human kingdom and a key character, was introduced. As the story progresses, I came to realize that she is basically Sora and Shiro’s play thing and that she isn’t used for anything other than fan service. I am okay with fan service as long as it doesn’t cross the line, but in this case, the fan service was… cruel.
Sora treats Stephanie like she is an idiot. To be fair, Sora treats most people like they’re morons and Stephanie definitely isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. Still, I didn’t like how she was treated. Sora calls her simple-minded, insults her constantly, and acts like she is a dumb animal.
After she loses a game, Sora orders Stephanie to fall in love with him. This may not seem that bad on the surface. However, the world’s rules are absolute… so a spell falls over Stephanie. Because of this, she may not have control over her feelings for Sora, which really isn’t fair. She should be able to fall in love with whomever she wants, not be forced.
Sora’s decree lets him get away with some things that would otherwise be unacceptable, like groping Stephanie. At one point, Sora and Shiro decide to “play director” and create a X-rated movie. Sora purposely falls on Stephanie and gropes her chest for a extended period of time. Then, Shiro tries to get a picture of Stephanie’s underwear. This is not okay by any means. Through the book, Sora also frequently humiliates Stephanie in a sexual manner, like in the picture shown above.
At this point, I start thinking “If this is upsetting me now, why didn’t it upset me when I watched the anime?” So, I actually went back and watched the episode with that moment. And the answer is the presentation. The same thing more or less happens in the anime, but it’s a much shorter, less intense moment. They also changed the dialogue a little (at least in the subtitles) and added funny visuals. I honestly couldn’t help but laugh at Stephanie’s “Steph-a-scope vision.” The voice acting is very funny too – Stephanie’s acting performance in this scene kills me.
Altogether, the moment in the anime happens so fast and is so ludicrous that it’s kind of hard to tell what’s happening, especially the first time you see it. I also watched a lot more fan service-y anime during that time, so I may have been desensitized a little. What happened in the anime was still wrong on both Sora’s and Shiro’s part, but the show actually presents it in a comical manner and then quickly moves onto something else, giving it less emotional impact. The same thing applies to how Sora treats Stephanie in the anime; he still says mean things to her, but Yoshitsugu Matsuoka’s (the actor for Sora) voice acting and the silly visuals make it all seem much lighter.
In the light novel, however, the groping part felt very prolonged. It goes on for a couple pages, and reading the situation was a very different experience than watching it. For me, seeing it in words had much more weight. I have seen a lot of comments that the fan service in the book is for comic relief, but, without all of the comical additions the anime included, I didn’t find this scene, or other overly sexual scenes, the funny at all. If I was Stephanie (and not under a spell), I would have felt extremely uncomfortable, and honestly I probably would have cried every time they did something mean.
The worst part of the whole book, in my opinion, is a scene that isn’t in the anime. Near the end, Stephanie comes into Sora’s room and more or less asks if he wants to sleep with her. It doesn’t happen (thank goodness), but it was still really unsettling, especially since it seemed out of character. Did Stephanie do that on her own accord or was it because of the “fall in love with Sora” spell? To make things worse, Shiro makes a rude and inappropriate comment, once again insulting Stephanie. This scene really served no purpose to the story other than fan service and making Stephanie look stupid.
Did Stephanie Ruin the Book?
No, not entirely. It’s actually Sora who ruined it for me, along with what the author included in the book. Sora isn’t just an ass to Stephanie. He also ridicules another female character, Kurami (Chlammy) the elf, and does or says a lot of things that I didn’t like. I mean, that’s part of his character; he isn’t socialized since he’s a neet, and he’s also self-centered, which makes him less empathetic towards other people. Shiro also treatls Stephanie poorly, but she is a child and her only role model is Sora, so it’s a little more forgivable.
Still, all of the stuff they did left a bad taste in my mouth. Sora could have been a jerk without completely dehumanizes Stephanie – but in the end, it was the author’s decision to add in sexual “humor.” Again, I’m not completely against fan service. It’s just the way it was used in the book.
It’s a shame because if it wasn’t for Stephanie’s treatment and the distasteful parts, the light novel could have been really good (despite some parts, sexual or not, that were too drawn out). The overall concept is unique and the makings of the fictional world are very intricate. The author Yuu Kamiya is obviously very smart because there are so many twists and turns in the story. Plus, there’s Sora and Shiro’s intelligence. They are always calculating a plan within a plan within a plan, which obviously took a lot of thought on the author’s part. I just wish he put all of his intelligence into something other than cheap fan service and belittling Stephanie.
There is something else I want to talk about because I am a grammar geek. I know many people dislike grammar, but please bare with me! ^_^; Before I go into the bad, I want to point out that, overall, the English translation is very good. There is tons of great vocabulary, complex sentence structure, and and interesting writing techniques.
Sometimes writers break grammar rules to create a certain rhetorical effect. I personally start many of my sentences with coordinating conjunctions (“and,” “but,” etc.), which you aren’t supposed to do. But there is one grammar technique I really didn’t like. Since I don’t own a Japanese copy of the book and I can’t fully read Japanese, I am not sure if the original version uses the same techniques. So, my quibble may be with the Yuu Kamiya and not the English translators/editors (you did a great job!).
It’s just… as someone who has taught and tutored English and Writing, some of the grammar in the English version irked me: it used A LOT of incomplete dependent clauses. Here’s an example from the book:
“Looking at his sister’s cold, half shut eyes– probably not just so from sleepiness.”
^ This sentence has interesting choppy effect. The problem is that it’s made of two dependent clauses, or two incomplete sentences that can’t stand on their own. There is no independent clause, or complete, main sentence, for it to attach to. It leaves you wondering, what did Sora do while he looked at his sister’s eyes?
In my experience, many students (and adults) struggle with the difference between dependent and independent clauses because this concept isn’t taught in many North American schools. A lot of people also struggle with comma placement and certain punctuation (em dashes, semicolons, etc.), which relate to the type of clause you are using. So… I worry that having a large number of sentences like that will confuse readers.
That being said, I think having a sentence like that is fine in dialogue since it mirrors many people’s speaking patterns – especially when many of us don’t speak in a grammatically correct manner… including me. I stutter a lot when I am nervous and need to correct myself.
However, when a book has third-person omniscient descriptions, I personally think this type of sentence should be used only occasionally. Or, maybe I am overthinking it… I don’t think this book will be used in grammar classes.
Anyway, if you read the entire grammar section, thank you for sticking it out! 🙂
It seems that I’m the odd one out since this book has gotten tons of good reviews online, almost all 4 or 5 stars on sites like Amazon or Barnes & Noble. For me, it’s probably a 2 or 3. I just can’t look past how Stephanie was treated. (I can look past the grammar stuff because that’s just me being picky.) All of the bad parts of the book – like the scenes with Stephanie – seemed really dragged out, and I just found myself wanting the book to end, which is saying a lot since the book is a short read.
The light novel isn’t a total waste, though. It has some unique concepts, an interesting world view, and a very different writing style, quibbles and all. If you can look past the issues with Stephanie, you may enjoy it. However, even with its flaws, I would recommend the anime much more. The visuals are stunning, the voice acting is hilarious, the fan service is toned down a little, and it feels more well-rounded.
For now, I won’t be picking up Volume 2 and I will be checking out other light novels. Does anyone recommend anything?
Thanks for reading~