Kami nomi zo Shiru Sekai – 01 (Revisited)

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Antisocial high school student and self-styled dating sim “God of Conquest” Katsuragi Keima unknowingly signs a contract with a demon from hell, Elucia “Elsie” de Lute Ima, to assist her in the retrieval of loose souls, which embed themselves within the hearts of troubled girls. To release the souls (and for Elsie and Keima to keep their heads) he must take their place in the girls’ hearts, i.e., make the girls fall in love with him. Their first target is his classmate and track team hopeful Takahara Ayumi, who looks down on Keima, calling him a “dweeb.”

Keima commences a campaign of intensive cheering for Ayumi, who initially thinks he’s mocking her. When her senpai accuses her of getting cocky after a fluke performance, Ayumi trips on a hurdle intentionally to take her out of the meet, so she won’t cause them trouble. Keima encourages her and confesses his love, and when he starts to fall down the stairs, Ayumi catches him and they embrace in a kiss, releasing the loose soul, which Elsie captures. Afterwards, Ayumi wins a medal at the meet, but has no memory of the “conquest.” Elsie enrolls in Keima’s class posing as his sister.

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With only one week until the completion of its third season, we thought we’d look back on the episode that started it all. We first watched and reviewed this episode way back on 8 October 2010, and gave it a 3 out of 4 on our old rating system, but aside from that date and rating, we decided not to read what we wrote back then until writing about our impressions this time around. From the perspective of those now very familiar with the franchise, you’d think we’d find highly introductory (by necessity, as it’s the first) nature of this episode would make it a bit of a bore to watch. Not so. On the contrary: we enjoyed it more the second time.

We were always impressed by the guile and confidence with which this series got out of the gate, which parallels Keima’s confidence in throwing himself into his very first mission, despite having never even held a real girl’s hand. We forgot that Ayumi was first conquered in just this one episode – a breeze compared to Keima’s present struggles in the Goddesses Arc. We also forgot that Elsie was prepared to give up and die with Keima after learning his experience was limited to dating sims, but Keima said ‘screw that’ and stepped up, not just to save his own head, but Elsie’s too. And the rest is history.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

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The World God Only Knows 12 and Wrap-up

Well now, that was a surprise! I hadn’t a clue God Only Knows got a second season until it announced one at the end! I’m not complaining; this was one of the more original fall series, and it was almost always hilarious from beginning to end. What also stood out was its awesome array of electronic and orchestral music and impressive production qualities, which were on full display this week.

Keima stays in his room for most of the episode, which is something to behold; a Lain-style cave stuffed with stacks of dating sims and dozens of video game consoles and monitors. It is here where Keima plays multiple games at once and wins at all of them. This is his church. With all the positive reinforcement these games offer, it’s no wonder he considers himself a god of conquest. And his skills are truly otherworldly, both impressing and creeping out Elcie whenever she pops her head in. Elcie worries about him, but she doesn’t understand: this is what he was put on the earth to do: play.

The string of hilarious, intentionally over-dramatic, powerful vignettes in which Keima waxes poetic about his beloved games reminded me of his last real conquest, Shiori’s obsession with books, only cranked all the way up to eleven; hell twelve. This week was Keima’s opportunity to catch up on games he wasn’t able to play because he was out in the real world. It was a very nice resting place, and even teased that there’d be a new demon like Elcie next season, when there’s sure to be more real-life girls’ hearts Keima must conquer. I don’t have a problem with that. Rating: 4

Series Mean Ranking: 3.417 (Ranked 7th out of 15 Fall 2010 Series)

The World God Only Knows 11

The Shiomiya Shiori arc comes to a close with characteristic grace and whimsy. Between the soaringly gorgeous soundtrack and the ethereal lighting of the library, and the sheer fantastical aura to everything, I was reminded more than a few times of a Miyazaki film, most strongly Mimi wo Sumaseba, or Whisper of the Heart. That was about a far less-shy writer, not a librarian, but the parallels are there, aesthetically and thematically.

As usual, Keima arrives in the ideal place at the ideal time for his conquest, and has the ideal thing to say to her right when her heart is open the most. He achieves victory with almost surprising speed; and forgets about Shiori with equal speed. He truly has this down to a science by the fourth girl, and just as he harbors no emotional baggage from the hearts he wins in dating sims, nor does he feel anything residual about real-life conquests. Most of all, it’s about a really interesting character.

Of course,Keima wouldn’t have been able to even get in the library without Elcie’s help, which is why for once I give her a break (and also because I really love fire trucks too, damnit. I also prefer picture books to novels…). She’s at her best when she supports Keima with practical or technical tasks he wouldn’t otherwise be able to complete. I shall miss Hanazawa Kana’s voice (although she’s in plenty other shows still); her character had the best arc of this series thus far.  It was short and sweet, but also deep and heartfelt as all hell. Rating: 4

The World God Only Knows 10

Keima makes slow but steady progress courting the critically introverted Shiori Shiomiya. There’s something very surgical about slowly drawing someone out from within themselves. He theorizes that the best way to do so is to engage her in conversation the only way he knows how; by saying and doing things that anger her, forcing her emotions to spill out of her mouth. A form of tough love, really.

This is how Keima compensates for a lack of a visible monologue in the real world. Shiori detests speaking because she’s so bad at it, and wishes humans could communicate telepathically. Little does she know that she’s already communicating a lot to Keima, a student of librarian girl psychology. His little jabs here and there that strike at the core of her beliefs (that physical books are useless and dated; that one can write in them if the information is wrong, etc.), and compel her to respond. This takes the form of single-word insults at first, but Keima eventualy succeeds in getting her to unknowingly flip her inner and outer voice!

That was an awesome moment, and just another example of the very creative interaction going on in this arc. After two episodes where 99.9% of Shiori’s words are internal, it’s extremely satisfying to hear her form complete sentences out loud. Even if it was an accident, it empowers her. Now that a media center is being added to the library, her peaceful fortress is under siege. If Keima’s to have a chance at winning her heart, he’ll have to somehow defend her against the DVD-seeking hordes. Rating: 4

The World God Only Knows 9

Flag 9 is a return to top form for God Only Knows. It introduces a very intriguing final conquest for Keima in the person of Shiori Shiomiya, the quietest, most socially awkward, and by most well-read student in his class. Even her name sounds shy. Shiori’s velvety-smooth, gentle voice is provided by Kana Hanazawa, who seems to pop up in everything these days, but you  know, I really don’t mind that at all.

The vast majority of Shiori’s words are inside her head, including an extended, operatic inner monologue that serves a as a stirring and convincing manifesto for why she is content to live out her life within the walls of the library, which she sees as her castle. Books are worlds, and shelves are universes. (Books are even rabu and joi!) Why ever interact with humans? When dealing with Elcee and Keima, she simply sits/stands in total silence while a rousing conversation with herself rages in circles within her cranium.

However, Keima is highly experienced with (virtual) librarian girls, and knows that “If you listen closely“, you can hear a bookish girl’s inner voice.” Shiori will be much tougher, as her thoughts don’t appear on-screen for him to read like dating sims. The previous conquests were comfortable talking and being among other human beings, and so their interactions with Keima were fairly straightforward. I’m definitely going to enjoy this different social dynamic, even if it proves torturous to Keima (though he admits, he prefers shy and quiet to airheaded and loud). Rating: 3.5

3.5

The World God Only Knows 8

I was very weary of this episode initially. It starts with Keima’s (admittedly hot) mom taking a shower and a bath(?) when she’s attacked by a green dragon-like monster. My first reaction was, like, WTF. Then it gets worse: Elcie wants to bake a cake for Keima so he’ll appreciate her. The monster hatched from one of the infernal eggs she used (Where the heck did she get these ingredients?).

An extended cake-baking segment can be a death sentence for an episode. Unfortunately, significant time is spent on this “story”, and I feared this would be a filler episode in a 13-episode series. However, once the Elcie segment came to a close, the episode reset and replayed the day from Keima’s perspective. This segment reiterated Keima’s contempt for the real world, but it’s a “friendly” rejection; he doesn’t feel like he deserves its scorn: despite perfect scores in his class, he is still scolded for playing games. He sees no logic in this.

The fragmented events of the day are pieced together by episodes end, in which Elice bakes the cake, the monster(s) hatch; the cake is lost in the confusion; Keima finds the cake and covertly eats in the kitchen, around the same time the monster arrives at his house and encounters Keima’s mom in the bath. So, since no new conquest girl was introduced, this…kinda was filler, but at least it was cleverly packaged filler. Rating: 2.5

The World God Only Knows 7

There are three shows this fall whose music has really stood out (in a good way): Yakumo, Star Driver, and this. For me, a good score can effectively carry an otherwise mediocre show. That’s not to say God Only Knows is a mediocre show; it’s been consistently great. The music is just the icing on the cake.

The most annoying part of the show is Elcea, but the show seems to know this, and uses her sparingly. This show’s wheelhouse is Keima’s intricately calculated games of chess with various girls-in-distress. It took a full three episodes to sort out Kanon the idol, but she did have a pretty deep-seeded inferiority complex that he had to snap her out of at just the right time.

Always afraid of being invisible and failing, Kanon is on the path to becoming invisible and failing, even though she has the talent to become a star. After she goes AWOL we cut to a flashback of her in her old girl group. She doesn’t believe she can entertain the 10,000 people in the arena. It’s deeper than stage fright; it’s a mental block that’s preventing her from realizing her potential.

Keima expertly restores her confidence, not by enabling her by pledging to hold her up, but simply by convincing her she can excel on her own, and has to live for herself first. “Snap out of it…you don’t suck”, essentially. Before she heads into the arena, she kisses Keima, and the loose soul pops out and is captured by Elcea. Kanon then proceeds to bring the house down. Conquest complete. Rating: 3.5

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After needing only four episodes to conquer the first two women, Kanon the idol is proving a tough nut to crack. Keima and Elcea closely observe Kanon to try to figure out what’s eating her, and it doesn’t take long to find out: despite living the dream, she is lonely and deathly afraid that somebody out there isn’t watching or listening as she performs. She has no friends, and despite the fact Keima barely utters a word to her, he’s the closest she has to one.

As per usual, Keima is slowly warming up to his target, which isn’t surprising, as Kanon is extremely cute – kind of a pink-haired Ranka Lee. And after being summoned hundreds of times to help her through various problems, when she finally just shows up without a problem in hand – simply wanting to see him – he is flattered. You have to sympathize with Keima – every time he gets a real girlfriend, she forgets about him. Sucks.

At any rate, this conquest isn’t over yet: Kanon pulls a Milhouse-as-Fallout Boy and flies the coup before her first solo concert in front of 10,000. But Keima is confident he can “see the ending.” We won’t know what that is until next week, but I’m definitely anxious to find out how he’ll ultimately win the heart of this deeply troubled girl. Rating: 3.5

The World God Only Knows 5

This week’s target girl with the loose soul is a rising idol who starts attending Keima’s school, to everyone’s delight except his. In fact, he doesn’t even believe real girls can be idols; they grow old, or get caught in scandals, or move on to other things. But the idols in his games aren’t only timeless, they’ve also improved immensely with time (as video games have done).

But Kanon (the idol) is very quickly and very-well rendered in such a short space of time: there’s a montage of your typical idol’s life squeezed into the length of one song. There’s a lot of idol singing in this, but it has a purpose: the slightly neurotic Kanon has targeted Keima as well: anyone who isn’t her fan is her enemy, and she’s committed to converting him. Meanwhile, Keima’s game wisdom tells him that whenever a girl chases a guy (instead of vice versa), it’s usually a trap…so he steadfastly ignores her, no matter what cute outfit she dons.

And then…something unexpected happens. I knew this arc wouldn’t be resolved in one episode, but I didn’t think Kanon would simply…vanish like that. Huh. New kind of loose soul, I suppose. It was a bit of a head-scratcher at the last moment, but so far, this series has earned a pass or two, as long as threre’s a good payoff. Rating: 3.5

The World God Only Knows 4

Flag 4 disposes of the usual formula and wholly involves Keima attempting to beat a game on his PFP. This particular game is famous for being full of bugs, including one scene that always loops, not matter what choice you make; making the game impossible to beat. Everyone eventually gave up and stopped playing it and the studio that made it went out of business.

Not even technical glitches will deter Keima from taking up the challenge. El questions why he’d play such an obviously crappy game when he says that real life is exactly that – a crappy game. His response further reinforces how seriously he takes gaming: it isn’t the heroine’s fault the game she’s in is crappy. The bugs have trapped her, and it’s his duty as the last player to save her. She is no less real to him than the girls he’s courted thus far. Rating: 3

The World God Only Knows 3

Flag three tied up Conquest two in a neat little bow, following the same basic structure of engage-and-retreat, strategizing, turning bad impressions into good, and in the case of the no-longer-rich Mio, appealing to her vanity. Keima smartly realizes that sharing a secret is a good opening to exploit, which he does. For this and all future real-world battles, he vows to stick to the tenets of the game world.

It takes many subservient encounters with Keima for Mio to let her guard down, forget Keima’s a commoner, and crack a smile. He then invites her to a date at a high society soiree and in their one interaction with chums from her former aristocratic life is enough for another opening: Keima pleading for her to abandon that charade, mourn her father, and live her own life.

I do hope the battles stay diverse, as the first two have been. It’s definitely entertaining to imagine the gears turning inside Keima’s head as he draws from his wealth of dating knowledge and crafts strategies to win hearts. It’s just a shame they always lose their memories when the loose soul is extracted; though he doesn’t seem to care. Plenty of fish in the sea, I suppose. A final note: the music in this episode was excellent throughout. Rating: 3.5

The World God Only Knows 2

Since the first episode ended with the sudden realization Elsie has enrolled at Keima’s school, the first part of the second episode deals with Elsie inserting herself into the family. She may be a ditzy fish-out-of-water, but she chooses an pretty hilarious – and shrewd – strategy for getting invited into the household by Keima’s mother. This part also features an epic monologue by Keima that could be read two ways: as a primer for being the perfect little sister…or as an ode to BMWs, of all things.

Pretty strange, but this is a nimble, creative series that way. The second part introduces their next target – an aloof blonde rich girl. Keima’s dating sim knowledge leads him to instantly peg her character type and decide the course of action. This is a logical, analytical kid who’s always trying to think ahead, which is refreshing since so many male leads are lazy or dull simpletons. His completion of thousands of dating sims and Elsie’s 300 years of cleaning service should prove to be a powerful – and entertaining – loose soul-catching force. Rating: 3

P.S.: The opening animation and music is very nice…and very Eden of the East-y.

The World God Only Knows – First Impressions

Manglobe’s new fall series The World God Only Knows turns in a solid first episode that tells a fresh story. Keima, a high schooler, is obsessed with playing dating sims on his PSP, and unwittingly ends up in a pact with a demon from hell that forces him to make a concerted effort at real romance. The demon herself (Elsee) manages not to come off too shrill or annoying, but is surprisingly straightforward when it comes to what has to be done: both of them will die if he doesn’t win the heart of a girl on the track team.

At first, he panics, naturally; but then realizes that while his success with women has only been virtual, he’s amassed a wealth of courting expertise and experience. This is the strength of the episode: Keima relatively quickly draws upon that knowledge to successfully woo the girl and his virtual confidence becomes real as well. I’m not sure where he gets all the money for those huge signs, but by persevering, he wears down a girl who initially considered him nothing but a useless ‘dweeb’.

The girl loses her memory after falling in love with Keima, releasing a “loose soul” that was Elsee’s goal. Elsee also enlists as a transfer student at Keima’s school, meaning we can expect more episodic ‘missions’ in which he must win a girls heart. But as he points out, it’ll be hard working without a save function. I’m interested in seeing how they differentiate these missions, but so far, I’m intrigued. Rating: 3