Reviewby Theron Martin,
The World God Only Knows
Blu-Ray - Complete Collection
High school student Keima Katsuragi is a game otaku so enthralled with dating sims that he constantly plays them and resolutely rejects reality in favor of them, including “3D girls.” He is such an unrivaled master at dating sims that he goes by the handle God of Conquest online, which catches the attention of the denizens of Hell. When Keima responds to what he thinks is just an ordinary game-based challenge of his skills, he instead finds himself locked in a demonic contract which obligates him to use his conquest skills on real girls who are unwittingly hosting spirits which have escaped from Hell – and the only way to force the spirits to leave the girls is to take the spirit's place in the girl's heart (in other words, to earn a romantic kiss from them). If he ultimately fails in his task or refuses to act, a collar that he cannot take off explodes, effectively decapitating him. His partner in this task is Elsie, a flighty female demon who has, up until this point, been stuck on cleaning duty for centuries but now shares Keima's fate. As she ensconces herself as Keima's illegitimate half-sister and uses her demonic tools to find the spirits and capture them once loosed, Keima must reluctantly use what he has learned from his gaming on real girls, including an athlete, a rich girl, an idol singer who is a member of his class, and a painfully shy library girl.
The manga on which this fall 2010 anime series is based first came out in 2008, which puts it on the leading edge of one of the weirder byproducts of hard-core otakuism in Japan: the well-documented rejection by some male otaku of real-life girls/women in favor of “2D” ones from anime and/or games. This has doubtless been happening partly because of the idealized (for otaku) portrayal of female characters in such media, partly because the typically-socially-inept otaku tend to have even more trouble relating to members of the opposite sex than norm, and partly because various surveys have suggested that Japanese women tend to be rather demanding in what they expect of their men these days, especially in a financial sense. That probably made TWGOK hit closer to home for numerous otaku than something with such a farcical premise should have and certainly contributed to the series being popular enough to spawn a second animated season, as the first two of the above three conditions are squarely dealt with in this series. In essence, Keima is the ultimate embodiment of the steadfastly reality-rejecting otaku.
But that is also what makes the basic premise so potentially interesting. The concept is merely a variation on the one tuned to perfection by Key/Visual Art's titles like Air, Kanon, and Clannad: a young man goes around solving the problems of damaged girls without forming lasting romantic relationships with them. The male lead in those series has not necessarily been a social butterfly but has at least been able to comfortably handle himself around girls, so Keima promises to offer a dramatic variation. Unfortunately the series instead allows Keima to use his vast dating sim knowledge and experience to successfully define each girl in game terms and execute his wooing of each girl as a series of flags which much be gathered to win that path. Some will doubtless look at this as a clever application of one medium to another, but it's really a cop-out because it avoids taking the more challenging and potentially even more interesting course: showing an otaku actually learning to step beyond his games and deal with people in a normal manner. The producers cannot be faulted too much for this, because they clearly understand that they are pandering to exactly the kind of audience that Keima represents and giving them exactly what they want to see, but wasting such a golden opportunity to make something more of an anime title is disappointing to see.
That the girls involved here are more pathetic than merely damaged does not help. Ayumi, the track and field athlete who struggles to better her time and becomes Keima's first conquest, is the strongest and most likable girl, but with merely a single episode of focus she also has the least screen time and easiest-to-resolve story arc. Mio, the rich girl who follows with a two episode story arc, sabotages much of the sympathy that the series tries to generate for her with her shallow, recalcitrant arrogance. Even worse is Kanon, the idol singer, who comes up next with a three episode arc padded with idol song performances and a silly defect where she gets such a complex over not being recognized by one person (apparently a lingering effect of her pre-idol days, when she was routinely not noticed by others) that she can literally turn invisible; such an inability to handle a little adversity seems utterly at odds with the work ethic required to be an idol, but logical consistency is not this series' strong point. A little better is Shiori, the bibliophile whose painfully shy nature and tendency to overthink things so much that she never gets around to talking results in a crushing inability to verbally communicate. Her inner monologues get irritating after a while, but she at least feels plausible and her three episode arc has the strongest finish. Elsie, contrarily, is merely the flighty, only sporadically competent complement and sounding board for Keima.
Ultimately the conquests are simply not moe enough to carry the series, but unlike the aforementioned Key-based titles this one is usually more firmly focused on Keima and his eccentricities than the girls anyway. The series is also at least as much a comedy as it is a drama, so the middling success of its dramatic side does not cripple the series, either. Comedy is the focus in a pair of interlude episodes and the series' name-establishing finale and is liberally sprinkled through all of the other episodes, with mixed results; the episode which shows how one day plays out from four different perspectives is rather funny, as is the sputter-worthy way that Elsie first introduces herself to Keima's mom and the mom's reaction to it, and what cat lover wouldn't want to have one of Kanon's cat-shaped stun guns? In too many other places, though, stale jokes fail to produce more than perhaps a faint chuckle.
Manglobe's production of the series is largely a mediocre one. It samples from Eden of the East in the styling of its opener artistry and some of its episode content shows influence from Welcome to the NHK, while most of its character designs are run-of-the-mill archetypes. Only Keima, Elsie, and one heavily-caricatured male teacher stick out as fresher looks, though the boys' school uniform Keima usually wears looks remarkably pretentious. The animation and artistry are at their sharpest in the final episode segments where Keima goes into God of Conquest mode and in some of Kanon's performance pieces, though even in the latter the movements sometimes look stiff. Only a tiny bit of fan service creeps into the project (though its subject matter may be unexpected), but sharp-eyed fans can spot numerous random visual references to other anime titles, including Ergo Proxy, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Di Gi Charat, Black Jack, Doraemon, Galaxy Express 999, the Ghost in the Shell movie, and various Gundam titles.
The soundtrack, which runs the gamut of symphonic orchestral numbers, piano pieces, and electronica, is more effective and does have its moments, especially in the late stages of episode 11 and during episode 12. Opener “God Only Knows,” which is sung entirely in Engrish, is a strong one, while normal closer “Koi no Shirushi” rotates through various singers over the course of the series (often – but not always – sung by the seiyuu whose character is the current arc's “conquest”). Several insert songs pepper the middle episodes and the final two, but none of the idol songs amongst them are Earth-shakingly good.
Sentai Filmworks' English dub is anchored by rock-solid performances by Chris Patton and Luci Christian as Keima and Elsie, respectively. (Boy, how many times have these two co-starred together over the years?) Chris gives Keima just right tone of arrogance, while Luci makes Elsie into a thoroughly charming ditz. Supporting and guest roles are more mixed. Shelley Calene-Black nails the role of Keima's mother, as does Chris Ayres as the teacher Mr. Kodama, while Brittney Karbowski is a respectable fit in a non-singing performance as Kanon, but Hilary Haag only succeeds at one of her two major roles: her Mio is fine, but she strains too much for a soft, timid voice as Shiori and thus falls well short of the Japanese performance. (Her best performances have typically involved brassy characters, so this is hardly a surprise.) The English script is very tight with the subtitles; it does sneak in a couple of current events-related embellishments, but otherwise stays very faithful. The songs, thankfully, are not dubbed.
Sentai Filmworks' release of the title includes clean opener and closer and music video clips featuring nearly all of the insert songs; these look like they were just cut straight out of the episode content, though, so don't expect anything fancy. Sentai offers the title in separate DVD and Blu-Ray versions, with the Blu-Ray featuring DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo for both language tracks, which delivers a nice range of sound. The Blu-Ray's 1080p/24 AVC encoding job is a solid one which delivers clean, sharply-defined, aliasing-free artistry.
Overall, TWGOK's first season is a decent and generally entertaining series which had the potential to be a better one but never fully achieved the sincerity, emotion, or comic zest that it was aiming for. It succeeds at what it needs to do to be popular but never manages more than that.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B+
+ concept, some good humor, English dubs for lead roles.
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