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Review: No Game No Life Episode 9: A Profound Trust and a New Found Intimacy

Quick Summary

In No Game No Life episode 9, “Sky Walk,” Shiro tried to come to terms with a world in which Sora no longer existed. It doesn’t help that neither Stephanie Dola nor Jibril remember Shiro ever having a brother. To Jibril’s credit, she doesn’t assume Shiro is insane. But perhaps worse, she assumes that Shiro had played a game, perhaps against the Eastern Federation, and had lost, with the price being her having false memories. With her own memories of Sora beginning to fade, and with her will to continue fading along with it, can Shiro rally herself to figure out what’s going on? Can she count on Stephanie or Jibril to help? And will Jibril’s idea for Shiro to bet her “false” memories in a game and loose — when Blank never loses — bear fruit?

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

What’s in This Post

3 Favorite Moments

Moment 1: Blank Doesn’t Lose!

“Blank doesn’t lose!” Shiro declared in a shrill, cracking voice. Her retreat stopped in that instant. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

It was tough seeing his distraught Shiro felt without Sora. The use of black and white imagery provided a bleak visual presentation of the anguish that was so perfectly portrayed by Shiro’s voice actor, Ai Kayano. As emotionally painful as it was to watch — Shiro’s such a precious soul that I hate to see her in pain! — it made my first favorite moment all the more inspirational.

Jibril came up with a theory that it was Shiro who had had her memories altered, probably as the result of losing a game to the Eastern Federation. That made no sense to Shiro. Blank never lost! Her memories of Sora were disolving, though, and her confidence disolved with them.

Shiro’s very memories of Sora began to fade. She felt like she would lose even that little bit soon. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Jibril challenged her to a game, with the stakes being Shiro’s false memories (i.e., memories of her brother). Jibril asked Shiro to lose so her mind would be clear. As they played a game of chess, Shiro felt more and more clearly that this was wrong. Even still, her hand picked up a piece and began to put it down where it would result in her own King being checkmated.

Shiro had to make the decision — play the piece or not? She paused. Sora was real. This effort to make Blank lose intentionally was wrong. And those two truths superseded everything else.

Crying out loud that (06:21) “Blank doesn’t lose!” she slammed the piece down on a squared where it threatened Jibril’s king. The color that had drained away earlier began to come back. Shiro, by her own force of will, and begun clawing her way back to sanity. That was worth the anguish to see!

Moment 2: A Statement of Utter Confidence

Despite no physical evidence, despite not even being able to see Sora herself, Shiro still believed in him. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Shiro’s declaration started the ball rolling. Her realization that her last clear memories were from the 19th, when today was the 21st, helped Jibril and Stephanie understand that the problem was not in Shiro’s head — they’d all been affected.

Together, the three of them realized that magic alone could not have brought this to pass. Shiro realized that it had to be the result of a game. As she regained her confidence, some of her memories of Sora returned, further strengthening her resolved. She remembered him saying he believed in her and that the two of them were one.

Bolstered by these memories, she said (09:39), “Brother would never leave me alone.”

She could no longer perceive him. No subject in Elkia even remembered him. He was even invisible to Jibril, the god killing Flügel. In spite of all of that, Shiro still believed in Sora. In case you can’t tell, I really like moments of trust and loyalty. Authentic examples are kinda rare!

Moment 3: The Happiest Smile Ever

Can you tell from this shot that Shiro was happy to see Sora? She earned the right to be happy after that ordeal! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

It took Stephanie tripping over something she couldn’t see to show Shiro exactly where the game board was. Once located, Shiro could see three unplayed pieces. Based just on that evidence and her affinity for Sora, she knew. She knew what he had intended. She knew what Sora had planned. She knew what he expected of her and she knew why he played played until only three pieces remained.

“The parts of you that are contained in these last three stones,” Shiro said as she prepared to place the first on the board (18:04). “Three: the way to win the game.” As soon as she played the piece, she could see dozens of other pieces that had been black — their opponent’s color — became visible and flipped to white. The sound effects, by the way, were fantastic.

Shiro realized there were only two people in the world who could figure out what just happened — Sora and herself. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

“Two: your absolute trust in me.” She slapped down another piece, and dozens more discs became visible and flipped to white.

She hugged the last piece close, saying, “And one: everything I am.”

“Come back to me,” she said, playing the last piece. It was like the world had been contained in an Othello board. Pieces flipped and shattered until the false reality melted away, and Sora lay on the ground in front of Shiro. He took in a shuddering breath and looking at her — to see her wearing the happiest smile ever. She looked like she contained too much joy for her small frame, and it was beaming out through her smile. She’d earned it — the ordeal was really hard on her. As we found out later, it wasn’t a walk in the park for Sora, either! But their trust in each other got them through it.

Like the Soundtrack?

You can get it from CD Japan!

Thoughts

I have to say that I was wildly relieved to see Sora back in the ED. It was like all was right with the world again.

Also, I have to say that the final scenes, when the sobbing Sora collapsed into Shiro’s arms, just like the sobbing Kurami Zell collapsed into Fil Nilvaren’s embrace, was as cathartic for me as it was for them. It’s great to see Sora calmly and expertly navigating impossible odds, like when he and Shiro went head to head with Jibril back in episode 6. But seeing him finally crumble, even if for a little while, made him so much more human.

The show used a really effective visual motif to represent Shiro’s mental state. Remember near the beginning of this episode, when we got to see the first time Shiro and Sora met? The colors were muted, with the palette being more gray than blue. Shiro saw how Sora was kissing up to the adults, and she quietly chided him for it. But far from being angry, he was intrigued. In fact, he was so intrigued that his eyes took on the color we’re more used to. What’s more, when he gazed into Shiro’s eyes, hers lit up with color, too! That’s when their life together, and their identify as Blank, began.

Back in the “present,” where Shiro was all alone, she fought a losing battle against panic. When she watched her memories of Sora disappearing before her mental eyes, her scream broke my heart — and bled the color from the scene. Everything went black and white to give visual voice to Shiro’s despondency.

Shiro’s despondent scream was heart-breaking! It’s quite a contrast to the second screen capture in my third favorite moment. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

The next scenes were emotionally bleak. Sora’s memories continued to fad. Shiro’s confidence ebbed. Jibril and Stephanie tried to help, but even with Stephanie’s intelligence (yes, the young woman is intelligent!) and Jibril’s brilliance, they could barely guess what was going on. Shiro was on her own.

For the first time in a long, long while.

This brings us to my first favorite moment. Shiro was about to make the move that would mean she had intentionally lost. But even as the last vestiges of spirit and character faded from her eyes, she saw a final, silent memory of Sora. She remembered that even if she were alone, she was Blank.

And Blank never lost.

Spreading out in a circle from the chess piece she slammed down — in a winning move — color returned to the entire world. The way No Game No Life used color to tell Shiro’s part of this story was beautiful. Yet another reason to love this series!

What did you think of Sora’s plan? What were your favorite moments? Let me know in the comments!

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6 thoughts on “Review: No Game No Life Episode 9: A Profound Trust and a New Found Intimacy

  1. I don’t remember much about NGNL. I found the show moderately entertaining, but what I remember the most is how little I liked our protagonist and the show’s set up that seemed to be geared towards validating their anxieties, which are in the end the source of all their disrespect. If you’re too afraid to interact with people you can’t just blame those people for everything. “Blank Never Loses” is the key problem of the show. Sora and Shiro have an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship, and the show celbrates this by validating this with… skill? Faith in each other? I dislike the set-up, so I disliked the entirely predictable resolution. I’d have been much more on board with this if I hadn’t spent most of the show thinking that losing would have been good for them in the long run, and occasional separation would definitely be something they’d need to deal with. I don’t like Blank, and the show’s set-up prevents them from becoming decent people in the own right (i.e. people who know even the basics of human interaction). As a result I didn’t care at all about what happened to them, and while the episode was stylistically effective, I wasn’t really feeling with anyone here.

    I wish I could be kinder to the show; it’s a pretty well-exectued show.

    1. “and the show’s set-up prevents them from becoming decent people in the own right (i.e. people who know even the basics of human interaction)”

      As usual, you’ve left an interesting comment that made me stop and reevaluate.

      Yours is the most concise and lucid attack on the show’s basic premise. And to be honest, it’s something that bothered me in the back of my mind, but I pushed it aside. There are only so many hours in a day, and I can only mentally follow so many leads before I’m out of time.

      So thanks for making this front and center.

      Yes. Blank is a reaction to social rejection. And your insight that it’s due to a dysfunction surrounding “the basics of human interaction” is spot on. But the more I observe of human behavior, the more I understand psychological diagnoses, and the more I understand personality disorders, the more I wonder.

      Who defines what’s effective human interaction and what’s not?

      The answer I’ve been given by most health care professionals revolves around the idea of “normal” or “prevalent.” If a behavior makes life difficult, then the behavior is the problem. In the case of NGNL, Blank interacts best via computer games. The two of them are terrible with humans. So, we say that their condition is a disorder. As evidence, we point to their inability to walk down the street with Stephanie without feeling anxious and upset.

      I’d probably diagnose them with severe anxiety. The expectation is that we’d medicate them and try to help them further improve their life through that medication and by teaching them coping skills.

      Yet, left to their own devices, they are perfectly happy in the online world. And now, they’re perfectly happy in Disboard.

      Recently, I’ve had to reevaluate how I see chronic anxiety and some other conditions. Not for myself; I have my own set of problems. Still, I’ve come face to face with the possibility that current pharmacological science and behavior science have no answer for some chronic anxiety conditions. And I have to ask myself if I’m willing to accept the current social status quo.

      Is it okay for a supposedly modern civilization to berate those suffering from some conditions — while not lifting a finger to help? Even if the reason they don’t lift the finger is that they can’t?

      In other words — is there really such a thing as the “basics of human interaction” if no science can enable it in some people?

      I don’t have an answer. I’m forced to observe a world that treats people I care for terribly, while at the same time berating the mechanisms they’ve come up with to give themselves some peace. I think that’s one of the reasons that Shiro and Sora so resonate with me. They’ve found an answer. Current science hasn’t provided an alternative. Yet, their own world still rejected them.

      The two of them embody some of the people who I know and care for; some of whom I’m even responsible for. They give me a hope that they can find their own way, even if the society around them cuts them off. Are they really in the same position as the people I’m talking about? Are they really beyond their world’s current medicines and counseling? I don’t know, but I choose to embrace them as one possibility of fulfillment, when current science has failed.

      And I say this as someone who utterly embraces science as the answer to most problems — because the alternatives have failed so miserably and repeatedly.

      I just don’t know that we’ve defined it broadly enough.

      1. *********I’m forced to observe a world that treats people I care for terribly, while at the same time berating the mechanisms they’ve come up with to give themselves some peace. I think that’s one of the reasons that Shiro and Sora so resonate with me. They’ve found an answer.**********

        Some situations are extremely difficult to live through, and finding yourself some peace is important. But you need to make sure not to gimp your development such that the only way out is to come up on top. If you can’t join them, beat them. This sort of peace won’t last without a sense of reality.

        Also, there’s a seven year difference in age between Sora and Shiro. Given that it’s likely that Sora isolated Shiro in his fears, while simultaneously doting on her. He was a child himself, so it’s not deliberate grooming behaviour, but the effect is the same. They can’t even afford to disagree with each other whithout a threat to their world view.

        Sorry. For some reason, this anime really gets my goat.

        1. “He was a child himself, so it’s not deliberate grooming behaviour, but the effect is the same. ”

          I don’t know that I can agree to that, but it does make your position more clear. I think one of this show’s positives is that Sora does not have a sister complex; nor Shiro a brother complex. That’s over simplifying it, but for me, it disassociated the show from the realm of child abuse — or worse.

          For me, then, it is a story of two people who society rejected and who took an opportunity to live their life in a world that rewarded their quirks.

          “They can’t even afford to disagree with each other whithout a threat to their world view.”

          Yeah, that’s a problem here, isn’t it? How would they react to a defeat? Would it shatter their confidence? Would their mantra become “Blank won’t lose again?”

          I’ve not read the manga, so I don’t know how it plays out. But I think it’d be an interesting theme to explore in a second season.

          1. ******I don’t know that I can agree to that, but it does make your position more clear. I think one of this show’s positives is that Sora does not have a sister complex; nor Shiro a brother complex. That’s over simplifying it, but for me, it disassociated the show from the realm of child abuse — or worse.

            For me, then, it is a story of two people who society rejected and who took an opportunity to live their life in a world that rewarded their quirks.******

            Actually, I think I shouldn’t have used the word grooming. I looked it up and couldn’t find the neutral, more general meaning I thought it had. I’m aware of sis-con/bro-con interpretations, but it’s not actually one I hold. It’s not, IMO, entirely implausible, but that’s entirely about style and meta.

            Yes, it is about two people who society rejected. What I’m saying is that, considering how close they are, it’s unlikely Shiro ever trusted anyone else but Sora, and considering how young she is that also means she got a lot of her fears from Sora. That which scares my parents must be very scary, because I’m afraid of a lot of things and my parents always protects them, so things that even scare my parents… Basically, what I’m saying is that if their relationship hadn’t been that close, it’s entirely possible that scoiety wouldn’t have rejected Shiro. (The story’s meta is going to say Shiro’s a genius, and people think that’s creepy, so… But that’s precisely the fantasy here, and that’s probably what gets to me the most. The story feels dishonest about its own concept. Shows that I get under my skin and make me rant the most are almost always shows that I feel don’t properly face the psychological problems they have. Other examples are Your Lie in April and Orange. I’m rather easy on NGNL compared to YLIA.)

            Again, you can’t blame Sora for this. And if they weren’t fictional, I’d keep my mouth shut about this in public for fear of them seeing and believing this (because guilt is going to make the situation worse). But any sort of healing involves them becoming independent human beings. You need to weaken they’re bonds – but not without providing replacements.

            When you ask me whether it’s good or bad that they have each other, my answer would be the question is meaningless because it’s not a choice at that point. I’m not going to celebrate their bond, but neither am I going to condemn it (it’s, right now, all they have). At the same time, I can’t celebrate the intensity of their bond: it’s harmful (the intensity, that is, not the bond itself).

            1. “What I’m saying is that, considering how close they are, it’s unlikely Shiro ever trusted anyone else but Sora, and considering how young she is that also means she got a lot of her fears from Sora.”

              Okay — I think I have a better sense of where you’re going with this now.

              “You need to weaken they’re bonds – but not without providing replacements.”

              I’ve seen real world situations, in the context of my previous comments, where I see that happening. I’m glad you articulated your thoughts to this point, because that’s close to the core of what I was trying to say.

              What are the replacements?

              I’d like to think that a civilized people would provide psychological care to the point where someone in an unhealthy codependent or other similar relationship would have an option. Right now, insurance barely covers an hour visit a week (if you’re lucky). Breaking a codependent relationship takes a bigger time investment than that.

              At this point, I’m projecting onto NGNL. I’ve probably pushed it past where it intended to go. Still, I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

Please let me know what you think!

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