No Game No Life has gone down a storm among fan circles, and it's taken a while for the manga to land in the west. I'm saving myself for MVM Entertainment's Blu Ray release later this year, so I'm hitting this volume completely blind.
The story follows a pair of social shut-in siblings - elder brother Sora and his cute younger sister Shiro. Together they rule the online gaming scene, known only as BLANK. Attaining a mythical status within online communities, their notoriety brings them to the attention of a mysterious deity who, after challenging them to a chess game, sucks them into a world where everything is decided by gaming. Time for a new challenge?
While the idea is an old trope, Yuu Kamiya's script makes some wry observations about the situation that give both a knowing wink to the audience as well as the promise of some genre twists. The translation is witty and well-managed, retaining some Japanese words such as "nii" (meaning "brother") because the audience for this book is treated with enough respect to be expected to know this already.
The artwork is glorious. Mashiro Hiiragi and Yuu Kamiya make a fantastic team - the book is choc-full of dynamic angles, sharp designs and detailed tone-work. It's the sort of attention to detail that I love in a solid manga and goes a long way toward making the book feel like a quality publication.
As the story progresses we're introduced to Steph, princess of a failing kingdom with no real gaming acumen. At this point we get to see our heroes in action, but it's also when the fan-service, which up until this point concentrates on Shiro and a few panty shots, shifts to Steph, and it's a bit jarring. While the artwork is always risqué, it's downright direct once Steph appears, with the characters practically breaking the fourth wall and discussing how the steam in the bath-house makes the scene of two girls bathing "acceptable", with Shiro even being given video footage shot by her brother for approval. It's all a bit incestuous and grimy, and while I really can't fault the artwork, I did feel it was a bit "on-the-nose" and sacrificed the pacing of the story. This may actually sell a few books, and I don't mind a bit of titillation, but when it comes at the total expense of the story and for no other reason than to highlight how sexually naive the characters are (or aren't in Sora's case), then I have to worry a bit about how the book will run in the long term. If the anime follows this path, I'm also worried about people walking in on me while watching it!
All that said, the basic premise is sound and the characters still fairly likeable. I can see that changing if the book doesn't stop indulging itself in teen-sex fantasies, and hopefully this will be pushed to the background in later volumes to allow room for a very promising story.
A cautious recommendation then, and not one for under-age readers in any shape or form.