Anime

Review: No Game No Life Episode 3: A Brazen Challenge and the Changing Tides of War

Quick Summary

In No Game No Life episode 3, “Expert,” Shiro, Sora, and Stephanie Dola rushed to the throne room. They goal was to challenge the coronation of Kurami Zell. Sora tried to show the subjects that the elf Fil Nilvaren was actually helping Kurami win, and if she were to be coronated, it would be the same as handing Imanity’s fate to the elves. Kurami, though, was too subtle to be so easily trapped — much to Sora and Shiro’s delight, given how much they love a challenge. Since Blank were the ones contesting the proceedings, Kurami claimed the right to choose the game. What will she choose? How will Sora and Shiro guard against her cheating? And just how far is Kurami willing to go to become King?

Note: This post may include spoilers, so be cautious.

What’s in This Post

3 Favorite Moments

Moment 1: Sora’s Surprising Motivation

Sora had had enough of all the races — including Imanity itself — underestimating humans. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

On the carriage ride to the venue for Kurami’s game, Kurami tried to convince Stephanie, Shiro, and Sora that she had Imanity’s best interests in mind. Speaking emotionally, she tried to make the case that Imanity, the weakest of the sentient species on Disboard, could in no way survive on their own. Their previous constant losses, bringing them almost to the point of extinction, argued in her favor. Even Stephanie seemed to be convinced. So when Sora she he could see the point Kurami was trying to make, Kurami got all excited and asked if he’d support her.

Sora and Shiro switched to an almost pitch-perfect rendition of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and said, basically, “No” (08:30).

But that was merely a good part; it wasn’t the best part!

A visual Jo Jo reference? Very cool. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Disgusted, Kurami went into to wait for them near the game board. As they entered, Stephanie was almost frantic. She thought Kurami had the right idea, and she couldn’t understand why Sora dismissed her so quickly. Sora turned to face Stephanie and tried to explain it to her. He pointed out that they had no way of knowing what Kurami said was true; even if it was, she might still be an unwitting pawn of the elves. He even pointed out that he himself might be a spy, and Kurami just spilled her plan to him — so how reliable was she?

Turning, he stopped before pushing to door open. And this is the good part. His expression deepened into a scowl, and in a low, disgusted voice, he said (09:31), “She and you are both underestimating humanity too much.”

Was he reacting to all the years human society had looked down on him and Shiro for being different? Had he seen enough of this world to have an idea that Stephanie’s grandfather was, at last in spirit, similar to them? Whatever the ultimate reason, Sora was sick of it, and he was determined to do something about it. It’s hard not to like moments like this!

Moment 2: The King Steadies the Queen

Shiro took it as far as she could, and then Sora took the baton. The trust these two have for each other is beautiful to see! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

The chess game started so well for Shiro. Once they saw what the game was, together they decided that Shiro would take point. We had already seen just how good she was at chess in episode 1 when she beat the other player she didn’t know was Tet. To show how much confidence he had in his sister, Sora said of her skills (12:19), “Once Shiro gets into a game, she had total concentration. That’s how she could defeat even a god.”

There’s just something inherently cool about that.

Yet, that didn’t quality as one of my favorite moments! This show uses what would in other shows be my favorite moments — to prepare for the real favorite moments. That’s like meta one-upmanship.

Shiro played at her usual exception level, until it become apparent that this wasn’t really a chess game. The pieces had wills of their own, and when she tried to order a pawn to sacrifice itself — which would have been a logical and necessary move in real chess — it balked. Her confidence snapped. She could no longer count on the rules giving the game definition. The pieces sensed her lack of resolve and stopped obeying her. As if to emphasize her plight, the sun set and darkness filled the room. Shiro bowed her head and, amid her tears, tried to apologize for losing.

As the game wore on, it became more and more obvious that this wasn’t really chess — and Shiro’s confidence began to falter. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Sora didn’t let her stew in her misery. He gave her a quick hug before heaving her up so she could sit on the railing. He’d been watching all along, and now he knew how to take the next steps. He then gave a rousing speech to the chess pieces that was part Patton and part Interspecies Reviewers. It was a turning point, but that greatness was only secondary. The cool part was how Sora didn’t demean Shiro. He didn’t push her aside or confidently said “I’ll save you!” No, he reaffirmed her role by putting her where she could watch what he did in case he faltered. And then he took his turn as half of Blank.

I like teamwork in general. This, though, was so well practiced and their trust in each other so great is more like a dance — graceful and elegant.

Moment 3: The Queen Returns the Favor

There are certain modes of anxiety that trigger a spiraling cascade failure of confidence and creativity. A collapse of self-image. Sora found himself unable to break free. But Shiro dispelled all of that with the touch of her hand. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Sora had some initial success, just like Shiro had enjoyed. He was able to inspire his troops to believe in his leadership. He had observed the game, so he knew the pieces weren’t bound by the rules of chess. He’d even seen that he didn’t need to necessarily abide by rules like taking turns. “In a real war, what fool waits for the enemy’s ‘turn’?” he asked (16:09).

But he was also smart enough to ask Shiro to watch him closely, so that if he faltered, she could step it. Their relationship isn’t just based on trust. It’s based on mutual respect and admiration.

As the battle progressed, Sora figured out how Kurami was cheating: she was using the elf’s magic to boost the morale of her troops under the guise of having more charisma than Blank. They couldn’t prove it, but he thought he had an understanding of what she was doing. His pushed his pieces harder; Kurami seemed to be running out of options. And then she unleashed a power she’d held in reserve. Her king took the field, and when one of Sora’s pieces tried to attack him, the touch possessed Sora’s player. Another of Sora’s pieces attacked; another feel victim to the possession.

I think it’s safe to say the real women (well, from the perspective of the anime!) were a little surprised that the queen fell for Sora’s dating sim-inspired lines. But, hey, whatever works… Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Sora almost panicked as his pieces faltered. Seeing that the enemy queen was about to behead his king, Sora himself leapt onto the board and put himself between the two pieces. Desperately, he pleaded with her to reconsider. Telling her she was beautiful, he asked if a king that brainwashed his soldiers and forced even her to do his bidding was worth her sword. His words — learned from a dating sim, as he confessed later — touched her heart. She converted to his side.

Shiro knew, though, that Sora had just stopped the rout. Kurami’s pieces could still turn theirs to her side with a touch. Sora, too, understood, and he was close to panic. He didn’t know what to do next. He considered each move, his mind seeing more and more problems. He was experiencing the kind of confidence cascade failure I’ve seen too many times.

Shiro put it all right with a light touch on his hand.

“The two of us are Blank together,” she said (21:11). “It’s okay.” And she assumed command of their pieces.

Shiro’s no damsel in distress. Sora’s no white knight. They’re two siblings who support each other utterly. It’s just such a delight to see how the two of them work together!

Thoughts

I’m still chuckling at the JoJo reference. The art style, the voice work — everything just worked. Up to and including the reaction from Stephanie and Kurami. This show’s humor is right up my alley.

We’ve gotten to know Stephanie well enough to know her reaction is pretty much to be expected. She panics easily! But Kurami? She’s unflappable. She’s a rock. Yet, the JoJo moment freaked her out! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Can you help me think through something? I have a quandary, and I can’t decide if it’s relevant and worth discussing or if it’s plain silly. Or both. At least I think it could be both, depending on perspective…

After Sora stepped in for the faltering Shiro (which worked not only because he was gentle to her, but because she returned the favor just moments later), he gave a rousing speech to his game pieces. It was inspirational. It got them all fired up. It achieved exactly the effect he intended.

It was really only in retrospect that I started processing not only the tone and inflection of his speech, but the actual words. That’s when I realized he had said that any game piece fighting on the front line (14:58) “will earn the right to bang any woman any woman they like!”

I kinda get where Kurami and Stephanie are coming from when they reached with shock and horror.

I kinda get where Kurami and Stephanie are coming from on this topic! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

His other promises, like excusing them from future service, granting them a permanent tax exemption, and giving them a payment from the government also served to inspire the troops. Those made perfect sense to me! But the whole banging promise seemed really out of left field.

If this had been a show like Plunderer, I probably would have walked away from it, disgusted. I mean, only in the most depraved circles would any male consider it a “right” to have sex with a woman — especially “any woman they like!” You’ll notice I’m trying to stay away from any specific terminology, but come on — I’m pretty sure we can all agree that’s not a good thing for Sora to promise!

And in front of Shiro, too!

But in this show, I laughed. I didn’t even feel guilty except in retrospect. In fact, it didn’t register as something I should be the least bit concerned about until I was watching the show with an eye toward reviewing it.

So I asked myself why I was so lenient with Sora, when I would have been ruthless with Licht Bach. I think I have an answer that satisfies me (though it’d be a lot more fun to watch dramatized if Kotoko Iwanaga were to make up the story!). It is a very simple answer. The answer sums up the difference between Sora and Licht.

I mean, look at Sora. He’s nothing like Licht — is he? Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

I really don’t think Sora would follow through. He’s all talk. Even if he would try to follow through, he’d back down if Shiro would confront him.

And I’m pretty sure she would on this subject.

Remember back in the first episode when he merely asked Stephanie to fall in love with him? When Shiro called him on it, his confidence collapsed. He had to have an excuse (Shiro pushed him) to even justify touching Stephanie — and she wasn’t exactly complaining about it (okay — let’s pretend the pledges thing didn’t override her will in the matter — that’s deeper than I want to go right now).

I mean, the guy collapses in a quivering heap if he’s even out of sight of his sister. So there’s no way he would have followed through. He was just spouting nonsense to inspire his chess pieces.

Am I trying too hard to excuse him? Or does that single comment not even rise to the level of being offensive — since it’s so ridiculous? What do you think?

What did you think of the changing tides of the chess-like battle? What were your favorite moments? Let me know in the comments!

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