Review for The World God Only Knows: Season 1 Collection
I’ve recently discovered the Bakuman manga in my local library, an interesting tale of two teenagers that want to be manga creators. It takes the reader behind the scenes of a manga publishing company, offering a fictionalised account of how such stories are created and published. It’s also an anime that should see UK release sometime next year. The interesting thing is how contradictory the business of creation is, it’s a fertile field where writers and artists apparently have the freedom to explore stories, ideas and characters, but the publishers are selling to a very selective audience, so those manga series have to be created within the framework of set styles, tropes and clichés. It’s almost a checklist of compulsory bullet points that must be met to have a successful story, yet said story has to be unique as well. That framework is just as applicable to the anime that are adapted from such material, and The World God Only Knows is the perfect example of a show with a very original idea, that reminds you of half a dozen other shows that you will have no doubt seen by this point.
The demons of hell are overworked, and the situation is only getting worse. Loose souls are escaping from the infernal realm, heading to Earth, and possessing young girls that have emptiness in their hearts. It’s getting so bad now that Chief Dokuro is recruiting the cleaning staff into his Loose Souls Squad, and that means the cute demon Elsie and her trusty broom. She has to go to Earth, find the God of Conquest and enlist his aid in liberating the loose souls from the stricken girls. The God of Conquest is that male who can woo any young female, make them all giddy and weak at the knees, and more importantly fill that empty space in their hearts which harbours the loose souls.
Keima Katsuragi is the God of Conquest... on girl games. This geek has a passion for the 2D realm, and spends his waking moments playing dating simulations on his handheld console. He can crack any game, date any digital female, just don’t ask him to interact with the real world. Of course Elsie seals the pact with him before she learns any of this, which means that they both now have collars that will explode if they fail to find and capture the loose souls. Keima will have to apply his dating sim skills to the real world, he’ll have to woo and charm real life human females. If that isn’t bad enough, Elsie’s taking over his life. First she’s enrolled in his class at school, and then she moves into his house!
Twelve episodes of the first series of The World God Only Knows are presented across two discs by Manga Entertainment. Episode 00 is a 90 second prologue to the series if you are wondering...
00. God of Conquest
01. Love Makes the World Go Round
02. Demon of a Sister
03. Drive My Car
04. On a Crusade
05. IDOL BOMB!
06. I’m Ordinary?
07. Shining Star
08. Coupling with with with with
09. Inside and Outside the Big Wall
10. Inside of Me...
11. The Last Day
12. More Than a God, Less Than a Human
The World God Only Knows comes to the UK from Sentai Filmworks in the US, via Madman Entertainment in Australia to Manga Entertainment. That means that we get a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer in native PAL format. The image is clear, sharp and colourful throughout, minus any of the old standards conversion issues, and generally a smooth and unproblematic transfer that takes full advantage of the 576 line resolution. You might notice some aliasing on the finer detail indicative of the limits of the DVD format. There is a Blu-ray option, but you’ll have to import from the US, and be able to spin Region A discs. There is no English friendly Region B option at this time.
The animation itself is very pleasant, and I found that it takes a page from relatively old school anime when it comes to its world and character designs. The artwork is simplified, doing the basic amount to tell the story, the animation is full of bright, primary colours, and that characters are apt to lapse into SD form to emphasise a punchline. But the quality of the animation itself is of modern standards, looking very appealing when in motion, and not scrimping on the frame count.
You have the option of DD 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with optional translated subtitles or a songs and signs track. I did notice some evidence of pitch correction applied to the audio, a slight distortion heard during background music when a long quiet piano note is held, which was distracting on a couple of occasions, something I rarely notice in anime. As always I went with and was very happy with the original language track. I gave the English dub a try and found it to be rather mediocre, not really standing out from other comedy anime dubs. It’s also disconcerting to hear the English voice actress for the dialogue, only to switch to the Japanese actress and language for the songs, although re-recording the songs in English probably would have been worse. The subtitles are clear, free or error and are accurately timed.
Both discs get static menus, and jacket pictures when the discs aren’t spinning. Sentai usually keep the original credit sequences, and add a translated credit reel of their own after each episode. Siren Visual when they licence a Sentai title, will usually keep that translation. Madman Entertainment haven’t, so if you want to know who’s who in the cast, best repair to ANN and check on their encyclopaedia.
All of the extras are on disc two, and amount to 13 minutes worth of Music Videos (or in this case, songs edited out of the episode, presented with incidental dialogue intact, and with player forced subtitles.) You also get the textless opening, which seems very Eden of the East to me, as well as six of the textless closings. There are three animations, and three different closing songs, one of them recorded four times with different cast members.
I’d almost forgotten that anime could do this. The World God Only Knows is pure and simple fun. It takes a ridiculous concept and runs with it, and its aim is solely to entertain. Anime has become more varied in recent years, and it’s also become a little cynical too, as production committees focus on ticking all the boxes to appeal to their target demographics. That usually makes those elements stand out all the more in such anime, blatant fan service, moe, character archetypes and such. More serious anime try to insert darker overtones, add dimension to characters, and make stories more complex. A lot of this is great, entertaining, and engaging, and in many ways anime is better than ever before.
There is still part of me that harks back to the anime that I watched when I first started collecting this medium, the shows like Tenchi Muyo and Chobits, which told their stories without making things excessively dark, and managed to insert humour and lightness without over-egging the pudding with fan service and clichés. These shows had heart, and that’s something that has been absent in more recent shows. The World God Only Knows has heart again, and while it does play with the clichés and stereotypes as you would expect, the central warmth and heartfelt nature of its story is never diminished.
The World God Only Knows is what you get when you cross one of those Key Visual anime like Clannad and Kanon with Ah My Goddess, which is no surprise considering that the sort of dating simulations which inspire those Key Visual shows is a key part of this show’s story. It isn’t heaven, but hell which is the source of this show’s magical girl, with the cute demon Elsie sent to Earth to round up loose souls. Apparently malicious souls have been escaping from the demon realm, heading to Earth and possessing the empty hearts of defenceless girls. For Elsie to recapture those souls, she needs some way of filling the emptiness in those hearts and forcing the loose souls out. She needs to find these girls a boyfriend, the ultimate boyfriend that can conquer any heart. Elsie’s a fun character, who looks not a little unlike Skuld from Ah My Goddess, but good-naturedly ditzy into the bargain.
The conqueror that she finds seems to be ill-suited to the job though, as the only girls he conquers are digital ones, those found in dating simulations. Keima is a pure gamer geek, eternally glued to his handheld console, forever risking RSI in his quest to complete every ‘gal’ game in creation, and eschewing the dull real world for the perfect digital one. He’s the expert at the games, which is why Elsie automatically forms a pact with him so that they can go looking for loose souls. Of course her being a demon, such a pact means death for them both if they fail to fulfil its terms, which is why Keima is coerced into finally interacting with the real world.
It’s time for Keima to apply all those gamer skills to wooing women, and it wouldn’t be much of an anime if it didn’t work. Fortunately for him, the girls that Elsie identifies as harbouring loose souls conform to the stereotypes he’s been playing against in his games, there’s the confident sporty girl, the rich princess, the pop idol, and the shy librarian. All he has to do to complete his task is to kiss them, and in true video game fashion, the world resets after each conquest, and the girl’s memory is erased, with Elsie sealing up the loose soul in an infernal jam jar, like a cute, wholesome Ghostbuster.
The heart in the show comes from how the characters are written. The girls that Keima and Elsie help have genuine issues in their lives that need resolving, and it isn’t just a case of Keima putting the right moves on them to get them to lock lips. He has to genuinely help them. Ayumi the track star has problems with confidence, Mio the heiress is hiding a secret, Kanon the pop idol has an inferiority complex, and Shiori’s shyness makes her even more reclusive than Keima. With Keima having to help these girls, it slowly makes him reengage with the world, although he can never lose the games console.
In between the various loose soul arcs, there are single episodes focusing on Keima, Elsie and their everyday lives, and these offer much comedy hijinks to offset the slightly more serious business of wooing girls. As is anime convention, Elsie moves in to Keima’s life and his house. The spectacle of her introducing herself to Keima’s mother as Keima’s illegitimate half sister is memorable to say the least, not just because Keima’s mother is a reformed delinquent biker, apt to lapse into crudity at the drop of a hat. There’s the episode where Keima has to beat a heavily bugged game to maintain his gamer pride, and there’s the entertaining Coupling with with with with episode that has Elsie turn her hand to cooking, to demonic results.
It’s only the final episode that drags things down, with the run time devoted once more to Keima the gamer, showing just how obsessed he is with video games. While it maintains the sense of humour, it goes into a darker place than the rest of the series, as there’s not a lot of positivity and hope in watching Keima’s self destructive urge to play video games have a deleterious effect on his health. It’s a low point to end the series on, and the only moment of redemption is that that the final scene is an announcement that a second season is imminent. That second season has been released in the US by Sentai, and all things being equal, it ought to see a UK release too in the near future.
I had fun watching The World God Only Knows in a way that I haven’t had with anime for quite a while now. It harks back to the best of the shows that were released when I started watching anime on DVD, but it’s also contemporary enough to appeal to modern audiences. If you want a nice, light, bubbly anime to entertain you, then this is the show to go for.