No Game No Life
by Yuu Kamiya
No Game No Life is the 4th novel worked on by Yuu Kamiya (which is a pen name), a Japanese-Brazilian illustrator-writer. He first started working in 2006 on E.A.R.T.H (which I couldn't find anything about). No Game No Life was published in 2013 and was recently made into anime. It was recommended to me by someone I knew in the Barnes and Noble... Which I'm really regretting. Oh man am I regretting reading this book. Let me get started here.
No Game No Life tells us the story of Sora and Shiro, a brother and sister who are both maladjusted genius who are incapable of dealing with people. Sora, the brother is 18 years old, very smart (he speaks 6 languages for example) and incredibly capable of reading people and getting inside their heads especially while playing a game against them. So of course he can't figure out social interactions and can't understand people... Wait... That doesn't seem right does it? Yet the novel keeps insisting that Sora is a genius who within minutes of meeting people can climb into their heads and figure out how to rattle them or string them along in a sense of security but can't figure out what kind of behaviors would seem weird. Yep, it's that kind of novel. I could let this slide but frankly not only does Sora annoy the piss out of me but the book has an unnerving obsession with his sexuality. Mentioning repeatedly that's he a virgin and can't figure out how to get a girlfriend (although given how he treats the other female led it's no wonder to me). I'll expand on this stuff later.
Shiro, the 11 year old younger sister is basically an autistic super genius (she speaks 18 languages and does calculus in her head) who just can't really connect to people expect her brother. Honestly I have less of a problem with Shiro expect for the fact that she's not really a character, she's a plot device. She just tamely follows along with her brother's plots and ideas, every now and again muttering that he's an idiot and stepping in to solve problems for him on command because super genius. She displays next to no real agency in of herself and frankly speaking as an older brother I found her docileness odd and hard to believe. Of course when she does express a goal of her own near the end of the book... I found myself wishing she had stayed a plot device.
Now both of these kids start out as utter and complete shut ins living in the same room in Japan. The story states that they've been abandoned by their parents (who pays their rent then? Where do they get money for their phones and tablets and solar chargers and... sigh you know what never mind) and they spend their time playing games until they pass out and eating instant food. They also pose as the same person going by the handle “ “ aka Gamer Blank (seriously how would that be a thing?) which honestly strikes me as bit of cheating there but not important. After being challenged via email to a game by a mysterious individual and winning they are transported to a strange new world that operates under different rules and is filled with strange places and stranger people. Being transported to a strange new place where your gifts are of more benefit to you is pretty much a staple of planetary romance and the whisked away fantasy genre so it's fairly normal here. Let's talk a bit about the world.
The sibs are transported to a world that had been locked in a endless series of violent race conflicts between various fantasy races until a new god managed to grab the top seat and changed the rules. The new god issues 9 (well 10 but the 10th rule is frankly not in effect) which boil down to basically all bodily harm, war and such are utterly forbidden and all conflicts are to be settled by games. Games are played according to rules agreed upon by the players for stakes and wagers that the players agree to. Any game or wager is permitted as long as everyone playing agrees to it and if you're caught cheating, you lose. So basically try any violence and god himself will strike you down, but you can solve your issues with a great round of Parcheesi if you like. Course this does leave a massive hole in the rules, what if I just don't play? I mean, let's say I walk into the store, grab an apple and walk out, you tell I have to pay for it and I say nope. The cops come and... Do what? Physical violence has been forbidden! You can't arrest me! I can just walk away! What are you going to do tackle me? All Bodily Harm is forbidden! Basic property rights cannot be enforced (on the flip side murder is now impossible so there's that at least). Hell we have a bandit scene where bandits wait by the road and challenged people to games and I'm left asking why anyone would bother? You just walk right pass the bandits because they can't stop you! I mean if they blocked off part of the road maybe? But then it would be charging a toll. You can't say that no one can refuse to play because in the story one race is mentioned as simply refusing to play any games at all and others suggest that route for humans. It's tempting because well...
At this point humans are at the bottom of the ladder with just one city state to call their own. See there's a problem with the rules. It doesn't count as cheating unless you get caught, you might be thinking okay fine so what? Every other race on the planet expect humans can use magic. Humans cannot even perceive someone using it. We can't directly interact with it at all and we're completely blind to it. Which means anyone who isn't human just has to use magic to cheat and their human opponent is completely boned. So the Kings of Humanity and by extension humanity have been having their asses to handed to them. Which is where the 3rd character of this story comes in and where things really start to go downhill, the granddaughter of the last king of the humanity, Stephanie..
She shows up losing a game (after Shiro tells her the other person is cheating her) and hunting down the sibs to find out how they knew. Now I had figured her for the love interest/guide a character who is a native of the strange new world and would be able to explain and guide our main characters through the social and physical laws of the place. This venerable role stretches at least as far back as the Princess of Mars by Burroughs in modern fiction (that's only if I stick to the planetary romance genre of course). That would however require that anyone else be allowed to know things besides the diamond duo! So instead I have the sibs who have been on this planet for a whole 3 days explaining to Stephanie how her own fucking planet works! Never you fucking mind that as a member of the royal family one of her biggest jobs would have been to learn this system as it's part and parcel of having the ability to rule in the first place! Especially when you consider that Stephanie has no cousins, no siblings and her parents are incredibly absent making her the de facto heir to her grandfather! But No! No one else is allowed to have any talent or understanding of how anything works besides our “heroes” because if they're not the only ones allowed to know things how are we suppose to realize they're geniuses?!? So pretty much... In order to make our protagonists cool and smart... We have to make everyone else a mouth breathing idiot barely able to tie their shoes without accidentally hanging themselves (although to be fair some of the characters may be trying to escape this story through the sweet release of death!). I cannot stress how much I utterly and completely loath this style of building up a character. It's bloody easy to look like a genius when you surround yourself with idiots guys. You want to impress me? Surround yourself with smart people and make yourself look like a genius. That's awesome and interesting, this? Is middle school antics. Of course the way I just outlined is hard and making everyone an idiot is easy.
That's the worse of it though. See Sora tells Stephanie gleefully that he'll gladly explain all his super awesome secrets and skills (in 3 easy to read lessons!) if she can beat him in a game. He even explains how to beat him in the game (rock, paper, scissors, I swear you have this chance to revel in all manner of exotic and strange games and what games do I get in this story? Poker, Chess and Rock, Paper Scissors... Really... I just... Ugh!). On the flip side Stephanie has to promise to do him a little favor. She of course double and triple thinks herself into failure BECAUSE DOING ANYTHING ELSE WOULD MEAN SORA CAN'T BE AWESOME! Of course Sora announces that his little favor is that she has to fall in love with him. Which leads to the part that is frankly a little nauseating to me. See Stephanie now has no choice but to fall in love with Sora against her will (which okay, that happens, people find themselves loving people they don't want to or shouldn't and you can write about that) and is fully aware that this is being forced on her. It's a horrific situation if you think about it, part of your personality and desires are being rewritten by an outside force and you can't do anything about it... Because you lost a child's game. You could do a lot with this, depending on the kind of story you want to tell, you can emphasize or try to de-emphasize the horror of the situation as you see fit but there's a lot of potential here. It is of course wasted as the story uses this for cheap laughs and pandering titillation. It's not even funny either, just cringe worthy as Stephanie is assaulted (first they do? Start groping her chest... Classy!) forced into fetish outfits and at one point is flat out told that her purpose in life is to provide well... Huh... Let me call it “viewing material.” Not only is this rather disgusting (If would be fine if she knew what was going on and wanted to but she can't say no! She wants to say no but she can't!) but it's a criminal misuse of a character. Instead of her having her own arch and desires stemming from her background and interacting with the main characters on that ground, she is forced into well... Slavery! Utterly subordinate and unable to even really protest her humiliation and reduction to a thing and well... This wouldn't happen if Stephanie was Steve. Look, I'm not a feminist but even I have to protest this! Everyone has the right to control over their own body and who can touch it! This isn't a gender thing that's just basic shit! I shouldn't even have to discuss this in a damn book review blog what is your fucking malfunction!?! To have your main character do this and it's not even discussed or considered as something he shouldn't be doing? I'm not saying your protagonists shouldn't ever do fucked up shit but... Look, I read a book called Malus Darkblade once about a dark elf that murders his entire family and it was at least treated as a fucked up thing to do! Even has pandering fetish material this is just cringe worthy and clumsy at best and utterly disgusting at worse. Surely we can do better then this? Right? Please?
Add in wooden, tell don't show writing, really ham handed dialogue (I would love to blame this on the translation team but Log Horizon did a much better job and No Game No Life had corporate backing from day one, while Log Horizon started as some guy's fiction on word press basically) characterization ranging from lazy to eye rolling and Oh right, the big reveal at the end that Sora and Shiro aren't really blood related and Shiro muttering about how she just needs 7 more years (UGH! Fuck you people that's not how sibling relationships work! We've done studies on this! Christ is being an only child that fucking bad that you come up with this shit?). I ain't even going into that issue, I'm just going to say I almost tossed the book in the trash right there but then some poor innocent might find it and try to read it! Add in large holes in the world building that I could let slide if you were telling a decent story (Harry Potter's world building has a number of holes to, but you what it has over this book? Engaging characters I like and care about and a story that was enjoyable to read!). As it stands I pray for the trees that were killed to make paper for this book, for their sacrifice was in vain! Between the offensiveness and the sheer wasted potential what can I say? A lot honestly I could for another 3 pages but I think you get the point gentle reader, remember my suffering!
We had a good streak this year but it's over folks! This book? THIS SO CALLED BOOK!?! No Game No Life by Yuu Kamiya gets a D-! Making it our new lowest book yet beating out Touched by an Alien, which I found merely bad and overwrought as opposed to this which is terrible on every level I care to consider it on and offensive in the bargain. If you're considering punishing someone try making them read this but don't be surprised if they don't speak to you for a couple weeks!
Oh this was suppose to be something nice and light after reading Stover! Fuck this I'm reading about Rabbit Samurai! Next week, a long eared Ronin arrives! Thank God for Stan Sakai!