No Game No Life: Post-Modern Detectives
Postmodern detective fiction crosses a wide array of mediums, including – but not limited to – literature, film, and television. One of my favorites being Japanese animation, or anime. No Game No Life is an anime about two unsocial child prodigy siblings – Sora, who uses his astute intuition and penetrating insight, and Shiro, who uses her remarkable intellect to dominate the online gaming world through a group of character aliases known collectively as “Blank.” One day, they are challenged by an un-named stranger to a game of chess. With their victory, they are offered a choice to be reborn into a new world. Feeling weary of the real world, the siblings accept the offer, and are pulled into a fantasy world that is ruled by games, called Disboard.
Tet, their former chess opponent and last remaining god of Disboard, tells the siblings of the Ten Oaths that govern the world of Disboard, challenging the siblings to try and thrive within his world of games. The siblings set out on a journey to advance through the hierarchies of the world to help redeem the weak human race and challenge Tet for his title of “One True God.” Through their intensive investigations, bizarre methods, and risky challenges to the other nations, the siblings portray excellent examples of the postmodern detective genre.
No Game No Life portrays many of the attributes of the postmodern detective genre and its affiliates, such as: abstract theorization, “the ability to analyze information, detect patterns and relationships, and solve problems on a complex, intangible level” (Williams), empirical observation, which are observations “based on testing or experience,”deduction, “2 a: the deriving of a conclusion by reasoning,” and induction, which is defined as “2 a (1): inference of a generalized conclusion from particular instances” – as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
Postmodernism is defined as a 20th century philosophy “characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power” (Duignan). One of the many important doctrines of this philosophy include the belief that reality is an article of scientific practice and language. Another is the disbelief that science and technology are implements of human progress, as Brian Duignan mentions, “Some go so far as to say that science and technology—and even reason and logic—are inherently destructive and oppressive, because they have been used by evil people, especially during the 20th century, to destroy and oppress others.” Yet another doctrine comprises the belief that the elite of society determine social categories and popular language (Snell). Other viewpoints include the skepticism of reason and logic, the rejection of philosophical foundationalism, and the belief that nearly all aspects of the human psychology are socially determined. This form of philosophy has been incorporated into many types of literature over time, including fiction; in particularly, detective fiction.
Peter Hühn claims that “Detective fiction, particularly of the classical formula, seems to be unique among narrative genres in that it thematizes narrativity itself as a problem, a procedure, and an achievement.” Detective fiction is particularly known for its very particular structure which commonly consists of the reconstruction of a hidden or lost story; but, the narrative itself comprises two separate stories: the story of the crime (which involves action) and the story of the investigation (which in related with knowledge) (Hühn), and the narrative intertwines the two. The crime story is in the past, and the investigation story, which consists of uncovering the first story, is the present. The combination of these stories is presented in a specific way, which is said to have been invented by Edgar Allen Poe and standardized by Arthur Conan Doyle. Hühn refers to Gerard Genette’s and Seymour Chatman’s distinction between story and discourse to define the narrative organization of a detective novel, stating that the usual relation between story and discourse occurs twice: the story of the crime is uncovered through the detective’s investigation, and the story of the detective’s investigation is uncovered through the narration (Hühn).
The evolution of the detective fiction genre has expanded since the time of Poe and Doyle, comprised of various subcategories that characterize specific detective characters. The Arm-Chair Detective thinks through mysteries without gathering evidence. The Hard-Boiled Detective usually has a foul demeanor due to an unpleasant past. The Police Procedural genre involves law enforcement groups working together to solve crimes. Lastly, the Postmodern Detective is generally unrealistic, uses irrational methods, and their investigations don’t make sense, except perhaps, only to themselves. Richard Swope discusses the differences between the common detective genre and the postmodern detective genre, incorporating the history of postmodernism and its doctrines into his theory that postmodern detective fiction “evokes the impulse to ‘detect’ and/or to psychoanalyze in order to violently frustrate it by refusing to solve the crime” (qtd. in Swope). Postmodern detective fiction is not neat and organized, where all questions are answered; instead, questions remain at the end, any clues uncovered simply lead to broader clues, and there is no closure much like the methods used by Sora and Shiro, the two main characters of No Game No Life.
The world of Disboard is a world that is ruled entirely by games; even national borders. The human race, called Imanity, has found itself in a dire situation. The last king of Imanity was seen as foolish and reckless, one who did not act for the good of his people. He challenged other nations, betting Imanity’s resources, and with continuous losses, eventually squandered away everything that was of any use to the Imanity society, including much of their territory. The other nations backed the human race into a corner, compressing them all into the last remaining Imanity city, Elkia. The king declared on his deathbed, the next ruler of Elkia would be “the best gambler” (Hanada), so the kingdom arranged a city-wide competition that would decide who would take the throne. When Sora and Shiro arrive in Disboard, they have no official goal, aside from surviving; but, after witnessing the game between the late king’s granddaughter, Stephanie Dola, and the running top contender in the competition, Kurami Zell, they use deduction to realize that Kurami is cheating, which is strictly against the rules of Disboard. With her loss, Stephanie asks for the siblings’ help in taking back her kingdom. Sora and Shiro decide to challenge Kurami for the throne, publically announcing their challenge in the middle of her coronation, and accuse her of using Elf magic to help secure the throne. Kurami admits to this, saying that she is working with the Elves to secure more territory and protection for Imanity, and asks the siblings to withdraw from their challenge. But, the children refuse, and continue on to play Kurami’s game of chess, where the pieces have wills of their own.
Realizing that this game cannot be won by sheer tact, Sora uses abstract theorization- which consists of psychological reasoning to devise a plan to trick the chess pieces into switching sides, which is something that Kurami’s Elf magic cannot control. With their victory, Sora and Shiro take the throne and begin their journey to restore Imanity.
The siblings’ motives are questioned in the beginning of their rule, as Stephanie Dola ridicules them for sitting around and reading books. She accuses them of going against their word and betraying their promise to restore her kingdom, but the case had been that they were actually reading the kingdom’s archives to get more information on the circumstances that befell Imanity when it was forced into its current position. They admit to this when they embark on a journey to retrieve a library that was wagered in a game against a member of the Flügel race; an angel-like race that thrives for knowledge. Sora and Shiro challenge Jibril, the guardian of the library, and partake in a game of Materialization Shiritori, where the players must call out words that begin with the last letter of the previous word and the object will materialize.
Sora, using his remarkable induction skills, distracts Jibril long enough to trick her into thinking that he is calling out random words, to eventually trapping her in the explosion of a star. Sora outwits Jibril, winning back the library, along with Jibril’s allegiance.
Sora then decides to challenge the Warbeast race. Upon realizing that the Warbeasts have a talent for erasing the memory of every challenger who participates in their game, the siblings uncover the late king’s research on how to outwit the Warbeasts. Sora arranges several games to set up his advantages in preparation for challenging the Warbeasts, which include the control over Kurami’s Elf partner, Fil. Sora bets Imanity’s race piece, which, if lost, would leave Imanity defenseless, and no longer under the protection of the Ten Oaths. The game the Warbeasts proposed was a virtual video game, which the siblings had deduced beforehand due to the Warbeasts being the most technologically advanced of all the nations. The game consisted of a Tag-like chase, where the opponents shoot each other with brain-washing guns to change the players’ allegiances. The first player to lose all of their teammates, including themselves, lost the game. Throughout the game, Sora and Shiro tag-team their intelligence to outwit their opponent, until they reach a standstill, and Shiro is captured by their opponent. Sora is left with Shiro’s mathematical calculations and faith in his sister to win the game.
Shiro had come to understand the functions of the game well enough to calculate as far into the future to predict where an NPC (Non-Player Character) of the game would be moving at the very specific time that they would battle their opponent. This particular NPC was carrying Stephanie, and once their opponent had taken out Sora and Shiro, Stephanie would end the game. With Shiro’s accurate empirical observations, the siblings were able to manipulate the game to secure a favorable outcome for themselves, winning back their territory and resources from the Warbeasts, and eventually creating an alliance with the Warbeasts leader.
No Game No Life shows characteristics of the postmodern detective genre through the sibling’s actions as their investigation progresses in order to restore the human race. The siblings have unique attributes of their intelligence; Sora who is more in tune with abstract theorization and psychological reasoning, and Shiro who is keen on the physical properties of intellect and empirical observations. Together, they perform multiple cases of induction and deduction in order to gain the information they need to help Imanity rebuild itself. The irrational and unrealistic methods the siblings use confuse their allies, making them seem as if they have ulterior motives – that consist of nothing more than taking over the world for their own satisfaction – when all the while, they had the interest of Imanity and how to restore it for the sake of the people in mind, and they let that lead their investigation. These characteristics of the siblings make their story postmodern, and their investigations, misleading as they may seem, make them detectives. Therefore, No Game No Life can be considered as a part of the postmodern detective fiction genre.
Duignan, Brian. “Postmodernism.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2014.
Hanada, Jukki. “No Game No Life.” 9 April 2014. Web.
Hühn, Peter. “The Detective as Reader: Narrativity and Reading Concepts in Detective Fiction.” MFS Modern Fiction Studies (1987): 451-466. Web.
Snell, Joel. “Chaos Theory and Postmodernism.” Education (2009): 274-276. Web.
Swope, Richard. “APPROACHING THE THRESHOLD(S) IN POSTMODERN DETECTIVE FICTION: HAWTHORNE’S “WAKEFIELD” AND OTHER MISSING PERSONS .” Critique (1998): 207-227. Web.
Williams, Yolanda. “Abstract Reasoning: Definition & Examples.” Study.com. Web. 13 Jan. 2016. <http://study.com/academy/lesson/abstract-reasoning-definition-examples-quiz.html>.
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