Disclaimer: This article will make use of the word “Bastard” in conjunction with the Trope “Magnificent Bastard.” It tends to be considered one of the lighter of the curse words, but I’m just covering myself. If I was really going to insult someone like that I’d use “Dastard.” It’s a slightly funnier word and Fire Emblem uses it all the time.
Oh, yeah. This article will also talk in vague terms about how this trope applies in conjunction to more “adult rated” characters. It’s kind of the overarching point of this article, and nothing should be considered so dangerous we can’t even talk about it, but not everyone thinks that way, hence Disclaimer.
Preface: This article is suppose to be a followup to my friend The Space Wizard’s review of No Game No Life. It’s like a Gaiden Article, so read that if you haven’t yet. It might be a good idea. Ok, here we go.
Like Space Wizard, I have a Love-Hate Relationship with No Game No Life. I’m not Tsundere for the show. It’s more of a Deretsun. I want to like the show but it keeps doing things that make me not like it. Most of these problems are what Space Wizard took his review to explain so I’ll leave that there, what I’m going to talk about is what I see as the point from which all of the problems with No Game No Life: The Main Character, Sora.
Not hold on there for a moment. I know what you’re going to try to say. “Wait a moment! He’s not the only main character! He’s a duel main character with his sister, Shiro!” No. You’re wrong. He’s the Main Character. He’s the one initiating actions to progress the plot forward. Shiro is mostly just following him as he does things. For all intents and purposes, he is the main character. Also, this is a bit of a harem story with him as the lead, which just enforces that. It’s like Kamen Rider W. There are 2 people that become the main Kamen Rider, but only one of them is really the Main Character even though they are partners. It even enforces that more than No Game No Life does. It’s literally what the opening is about.
There, now that we’ve established that he’s the main character I can get to the point: Why he is the thing that causes the problems I and Space Wizard have with No Game No Life. The main trope behind Sora’s character is the “Magnificent Bastard” trope.
Now, there are some good or even just better than this examples of this trope in Anime. Light from Death Note and Lelouch from Code Geass are good examples of more Villainous Magnificent Bastards, out to achieve a goal using their wits and sometimes chess metaphors to reach their end goals. Light had the benefit of being up against a rival whose give and take made him interesting, Lelouch had Giant Robots and Politics and Magic Eye Powers that, along with his goal of revenge, helped make him interesting.
On the other side of the spectrum we have characters like Keima from The World God Only Knows, who is effectively forced to use his Dating Sim skills to Magnificent Bastard his way into women’s hearts, the effect of which starts to take a tole on him after a while. I’d even count some of the actions of Shiroe in Log Horizon as this, even though he takes the role of the Villain while being a really nice guy.
TVTropes breaks down the Magnificent Bastard in to 5 different aspects. I’m going to go through these and establish that he is indeed what I say he is and then explain why he’s a bad version of the Magnificent Bastard and how that leads to him bringing the whole House of Cards down around him.
He is brilliant and utterly devious. This is pretty much the entire point of the show. Sora is incredibly smart and does whatever he has to do in order to win, even if a lot of that intelligence is relying on the seemingly Perfect Intelligence Shiro has, but he’s the one that plans how to use it. His entire excuse for being able to win is him having more knowledge and assuring victory before hand because of it.
He is a smooth operator. Whenever he does lose his cool, it’s in a comedic way that doesn’t actually harm his plans. All other times EVERYTHING he does emotionally is to further his goals. He never has an “Oh shit, I didn’t expect that” moment because, like I said, he gets to know everything.
He has a goal. His overarching goal is to beat the god of the world he’s in at Super Chess. He makes subgoals along those lines and even keeps a list of them on his phone.
He is charismatic. Boy is he. That’s even, apparently, his Tragic Flaw. He’s SO good at reading and interacting with people that he could tell no one cared about him. “Look at him! He’s TOO good at social skills! No one can understand the pain he feels!” Except, of course, his sister who has the opposite problem. Together they are suppose to make a functioning person, but not really.
He is Genre Savvy. He, and his sister, know basically all of the games. They also make references if it wasn’t obvious from them being gamers.
Not even a reference to Steins;Gate will make me like you.
Now, why is he a bad Magnificent Bastard? Well, for one, he’s a Gary Stu.
He’s a gamer, but he’s antisocial because he’s TOO good at interacting with people. Your tragic flaw shouldn’t be the thing that your character uses to win. It defeats the purpose of it being a flaw. He’s like the opposite of Nishijou Takumi, the main character of Chaos;Head. Both of them are an example of the Antisocial Gamer archetype, made antisocial due to a psychological flaw. The difference between the two of them is how they are presented and how that flaw effects them. Takumi can’t interact with people for too long without having vivid delusions, a good amount of them being rather brutal death. He’s also a jerk, rather more in his internal monologue, but he’s also not built up as someone you’re suppose to root for until the reasons for that jerkness are apparent and he’s started on a path of being less antisocial.
Sora, on the other hand, is a jerk who is also someone we’re routinely suppose to root for and, given his constant correctness and the theming of his jerkishness, it’s suppose to be because he’s antisocial from being able to read people too well. That means he can tell exactly what people feel and he doesn’t care. That doesn’t make him a likable jerk. That makes him a Sociopath. Even if everyone in story likes him, that’s bad writing. Just because the girl that is magically compelled to fall in love with him falls in love with him for real because “he looks cool” that doesn’t make it right.
But still, everything goes his way, because of the other thing: He can never lose. Well, he can comedically to his sister, but he can’t lose when it’s actually important. Now, never losing doesn’t have to be boring necessarily, but the way his victories are set up he is never going to lose. He has his victory assured from the beginning with the only time he has a moment where they almost lose being during the Super Chess in Episodes 3 and 4, where he didn’t think far enough ahead to see the back-up trick. Still won though.
In Episode 12 there’s a time when he and his sister are defeated, and they almost lost the whole game until Stephanie Dora gets the winning shot. In that moment I was thinking “Is this it!? Did they lose and get saved by the character they had spent the entire show treating like shit!?”
NOPE! It was all part of the keikaku. We can’t possibly let another character shine, especially not the “popular” girl foil to the main character’s gamerness.
In contrast there’s Keima, another good aligned Magnificent Bastard. He goes into his Conquests to get girls to fall in love with them with a basic plan of how to handle them based off of their basic character tropes, but the whole point of the series is that there is more to the girls than what’s surface-trope deep. It’s not until he is almost done that he takes confidence in his assured victory. There was one Conquest, skipped by the anime like so many others, where he came across absolutely 0 issues. It was boring.
It was around realizing these things, though, that Sora’s actual character archetype became apparent. Magnificent Bastard. Sociopathic Tendencies. A story built around him never loosing ever while he tricks various girls to fall in love with him. It clicked in my mind. He’s an eroge protagonist. Well, not all eroge protagonist. There’s a rather large subset of them, and sort of “H” in general, where the main character is a manipulative dastard that gets what he wants and doesn’t care about the well being of other people. It’s a mental empowerment fantasy the way that someone like Kirito from Sword Art Online is an physical empowerment fantasy. In both they get surrounded by women that have no real reason to like the, but it just feels so much skeevier because instead of doing something cool Sora is getting it by manipulation and sometimes even minor mind control.
And that is what makes the support he gives this series make it fall down on top of himself. He’s the Main Character. The Good Guy. Out to unite the world and have fun, so he has to be right all of the time to justify the things he does that are wrong. The girl he orders to fall in love with him has to actually fall in love with him so it doesn’t seem skeevy. The person with off screen friends has to be made fun of because being normal and having friends would make her better than the main character.
He has to always win to show that he is cool so that when people like him for no reason it seems like there IS a reason.
And that’s the root of the problem with No Game No Life. The main character is made in such a way that the rest of the characters and the conflicts have to be worse to accommodate him. It hurts me to not like this show more. It’s trying so to be something I like. Mental Battles and References. I was looking forward to this one.
I just guess my satisfaction wasn’t a part of Sora’s plan.