First Look Fair: The World God Only Knows

The World God Only Knows was one of my most anticipated shows of the Fall season, in large part because I already knew and loved the manga. (This is rare for me: I am much more of an anime watcher than a manga reader.) What makes it tick?

TWGoK is a story that I shouldn’t have liked. It’s one of those meta-otaku properties, existing to comment and revel in the world of dating sims and moe archetypes. Yet I found the manga to have a perfect balance of cute slapstick humor and a little earnest emotion, one that made me like Keima in spite of himself. Elsie, the demon, is one of the few moe girls I actually found adorable as opposed to grating—and Kanae Itou’s performance as her helps a lot in the anime. The concept of the story serves, in a way, as a bit of an apologia for the dating sim-obsessed male otaku: it turns out that underneath its tawdry and formulaic surface lie bits of actual heart, enough to actually win over real women. Maybe the same skills that enable you to become a Love Plus expert and marry a character can help you marry a 3d person?

This is, admittedly, a hard premise to swallow. What can help suspend the disbelief at least to some extent?

The game gave him the courage...and that explosive dog collar

It helps that Keima is not actually a wimp. In fact, he comes with Light-style dramatic poses and, more importantly, some decent qualities underneath his otaku fanboyism. It turns out that a few of the qualities that help him succeed in games actually do apply in real life: taking notice of small but important aspects of a person’s behavior, for instance (noticing when she ties her hair, that she doesn’t light incense to her father, etc). Listening, trying to hear her need, and thus being able to offer the right kind of support. These are skills that do not come naturally to everyone, and what “redeems” Keima and his game experience is that he often learns the right lessons from them, and not quite so much the “I just need to come up with the right response choice to trigger a flag!” approach to dating. Those aspects come in for a mocking throughout the story, like Elsie activating the bloomers, the pumpkin carriage, etc. One day Keima will probably learn that it is not the games that give him empathy or kindness, they were already there inside him; he just needed structure in which to practice it. The premise is similar to that of a recent movie, Lars and the Real Girl, in that regard.

Perhaps this is the real wish fulfillment at the heart of The World God Only Knows: not so much the “capturing” or “conquering” of various girls, whose reset buttons are pressed at the end anyway. It’s that all that time spent on dating sims just might not have been a waste of time, because they provide insight and wisdom into life. Constantly, Keima’s knowledge of game flags helps him see past the outward appearance of hostility, something Elsie can’t see past as well. She may seem outwardly unfriendly, but actually, she’s growing closer! The danger of course is that, at least in the early chapters, this is possible mainly because the girls that Keima “conquers” are not much deeper than a standard dating sim heroine, and the plotlines take on the “problem solving” mode of the games so lovingly pastisched here. Fortunately, the story does deepen as it continues, so to those who are growing impatient as of the third episode, keep going. There are more twists and turns along the way.

The OP sequence suggests a more daring production than it actually is—something almost like Eden of the East, perhaps? Nevertheless, in the context of this season at least, The World God Only Knows sits somewhere between pure easy-to-watch fluff and the visceral explosion that is Star Driver and the emotional journey that Bakuman had better turn out to be. (Oh, do I hope.) I am definitely eager to see what is coming next.

“The World God Only Knows” is being simulcast on Crunchyroll here. See also M. LaMoe’s ecstatic celebration of the show here.

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