No Game No Life is pretty upfront about the basic idea behind the names of its characters. We have Sora (sky) and Shiro (white), whose names put together just happen to form the word blank (kuuhaku).
For a long time, I thought that was it. The series does get plenty of mileage out of the blank idea. The official way of writing that term within the series is just an empty space within Japanese brackets like this: 「 」. Throughout the series, Sora and Shiro delight in capturing various things in those metaphorical brackets, like one would in a camera lens, and thus claiming those things for their own.
The blank idea also plays nicely into the urban legend the siblings have going on. The title of Blank is an open declaration that the miracle gamer everyone wants to believe in does not exist: in the sense that Blank is the joint effort of two people rather than a single person, obviously, but also because the truth behind the siblings is much more down to earth than most gossipers would like to think.
Still, there was something left nagging at my brain – the reasoning behind Sora’s name. Shiro, after all, has her albino coloration, which is reason enough for her name both from an in-universe and the readers’ perspective. Sora’s connection to the sky seemed oddly lacking, or even inappropriate considering his hikikomori habits.
Then I had a talk with that white squirrel-cat thing called feal87. It was complaining that while Sora was constantly out doing something cool, Shiro had no personality at all. Feal, I found myself telling it, they both have similar, twisted personalities. The main difference between the two is that Sora covers up his poison and hurt with lies and deception, Shiro with silence and a mask of neutrality.
Then it clicked.
Shiro is the easier one of the two. Shiro’s white is, on the surface, a white of perfect purity. Her strength lies in the world of calculations and absolute truths. Aside from raw brainpower, Sora also points to her ability to retain perfect focus at all times as one of the reasons behind her proficiency at games. Internally, Shiro embodies the pure and serene mind. Her outward appearance keeps up the trend: the obvious white hair, the petite build and the sailor fuku all represent youth, innocence and purity.
There is only one catch to all of this: the purity of white is achieved through rejection. Just as white objects refuse to absorb light, Shiro refuses to interact with the world around her. She rarely speaks to anyone but her brother. Her great focus comes from shutting herself away from unnecessary interference. Her default expression is having no expression at all. Rather than an ideal, Shiro’s purity is her way of dealing with the “unfair” world around her.
If the duality of perfection and rejection contained within the color white sounds familiar, it has been extensively covered in the first arc of Monogatari Second Season. Come to think of it, Tsubasa and Shiro do have plenty in common.
Sora is the more difficult one to crack because the image and symbolism of the sky are just too powerful and distracting. It is necessary to take a step back to see the double meanings involved with his name.
The Japanese choose to view the sky as, among other things, a vast empty space. This explains why the terms sky and empty, share the same character, albeit with different readings: 空 can be read as, respectively, sora and kara. This is the reason why the sky is part of blank in the first place.
But a look through some other sky-compounds turns out to be quite enlightening:
空言 soragoto falsehood, lie
空手形 karategata bad (fictitious) bill, empty promise
空威張り karaibari bluffing, bluster, bravado
空涙 soranamida crocodile tears
空空しい sorazorashii false, hypocritical
It turns out that the sky has found its way into half the deception and falsehood going on in the Japanese language (and plenty of those retain the sora reading, to boot.) The last one is my favorite: just line up one Sora after another to get falsehood and hypocrisy.
Where his sister deals with the world by giving it nothing of herself, Sora has no qualms about sharing. What he gives away just happens to be 100% bullshit. While some viewers found it incongruous why Sora could easily communicate with others after years of seclusion, the answer is simple. For Sora, there is no actual communication going on. He is not putting his own feelings on the line, or trying to establish bonds, he is just trying to get the NPC around him to move the way he wants them to. Even then, there is plenty of stress involved in it for him, but Sora is probably good enough at lying to trick even himself into believing that it is all just a game, and that he can handle it all.
Life is a battlefield, and deception is Sora’s only shield.
Sora and Shiro, and by extension, Blank itself, were named for deception and rejection, the two ways in which the siblings learned to deal with the world.
It is awful and toxic. The siblings weaponized their concepts, creating Blank to lash out at the world by proving their superiority at every game. Blank is not allowed to lose, they say, but provide no reason for the rule. But that should be obvious. Blank was not born to play games and just enjoy doing it. Blank came to be to play and win, win, win. It is the siblings’ universal accusation against the entire world and the people within it: as long as the system is bound by specific rules, Sora and Shiro can thrive within it. And as long as the two can prove this truth, it is the senseless world around them and the people living within it that are responsible for the siblings’ inability to fit in. Blank cannot lose in order to protect that truth.
There is no shortage of hypocrisy in their beliefs, of course. Shiro needs her brother, somebody she can speak to without fear. Sora needs his sister, somebody who can see though his lies without fail. Their inseparable bond is made of the very elements they so vehemently deny through their actions. And their invincible armor is full of holes, ready to fall apart if confronted with the dangers of failure or separation – experiences mature people must at some time learn to face and overcome.
But this is also a reason why their journey to Disboard might yet turn out to be a journey of salvation. Because for the first time in their lives, Sora and Shiro will end up using Blank not to cut themselves away from the world, but to affect and change it. In the real world, the two were literally nobodies, an urban legend with no connections to anybody. In Disboard, they are king and queen, shouldering the responsibility for an entire race. And along with that new responsibility, the two might just find the trust and friendship they had once lost.
God might be just a spectator, like Sora claims. But he might have also set up Tet and Blank to meet each other, silently supporting the siblings from the shadows.