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This Week in Anime
Why You Should Party With Ya Boy Kongming!
by Jean-Karlo Lemus & Monique Thomas,
It's time to party like it's 229! Ya Boy Kongming! is on the scene to inject some surefire strategies into one girl's aspiring EDM music career. See why everyone is talking about the comedy series (and its catchy OP)!
Hey, there all you sweet This Week in Anime readers out there. It's your favorite DJs, Nicky, and my brother-in-anime Jean-Karlo, and this week we're laying down the beat on one of the most viral anime of the season. Everyone put on your best drip and get ready to dance 'til dawn because we're going to break it down like it's the year 229. The party starts now!
There's a lot of anime to watch, and there's a lot of stuff to enjoy out there. But today, Nicky and I are gonna talk about some of that good-good. We're gonna go back to the Three Kingdoms, where wise men dare not pursue Lu Bu, and we're gonna rock all night long with Ya Boy Kongming!
Can I just start us off that the title Ya Boy, Kongming is like my favorite localization of an anime title I've seen in a long time and part of why it caught my attention so much? It's the exact kind of energy it needs. It's one thing to say that this particular ancient Chinese historical figure and strategists who dies and gains a new life in modern day Japan has become a true "Party Person" lit. ParaPi. But there's something more hip, energetic, and affectionate by acknowledging Zhuge Liang, courtesy name Kongming as "Ya Boy."
That's the kind of honor and distinction normally reserved for such luminaries as Skweezy Jibs or Mori Calliope. It's like calling Benjamin Franklin as B-Dawg. Now, neither Kongming's birth name nor his courtesy name will ring many bells for anime fans in the U.S. At least, not unless you've mainlined the Dynasty Warriors games. But the Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a big deal in Japan, detailing the many larger-than-life battles between various dynasties in ancient China. Kongming was a famed tactician who worked under Liu Bei. And yes, in all depictions he looks like that: curled hat, mustache and goatee, little feather fan. It's like summoning George Washington with a tricorne. At any rate: the story begins with Kongming at his deathbed, with only one desire as he leaves this mortal coil. His soul heavy from all the death and devastation wrought by the attempts at unifying China, he wishes to be reborn in an era of peace and prosperity.
And I will be honest that I, as probably many viewers, knew diddly squat about The Three Kingdoms before watching this. But that didn't affect my ability to be charmed by the character of Kongming. The premise of this mythic figure getting dragged from the battlefield to the dance floor and becoming enamored with the singing of a young amateur club singer named Eiko is just strange and sincere enough that it somehow works even if I don't have any other previous investment. But, it also helps that Ya Boy can also be pretty clever at introducing just enough information when Kongming's experiences of his past life come into play.
With Kongming isekai'd into the modern era (yes, time travel counts as isekai, unless you're gonna tell me Red River and Inuyasha aren't isekai), he's of course marveled by modern objects like humidifiers and tequila, but the modern era's entertainment also brings tears to his eyes. Kongming may not know EDM but he knows what he likes, and he likes Eiko's music a lot. A world where a woman like her can have the kind of voice she has is the very thing he and his comrades fought for, after all.
At first the premise might seem like it'd be all about Kongming floundering in a sea of new information or technology like many similar "fish out of water" stories, but after discovering Eiko's music and befriending her he quickly finds solace in this strange land. He becomes Eiko's greatest ally in her struggle to make her way in the brutal music biz. Staying true to his nature as a renowned strategist, Kongming adapts himself rather swimmingly to his new environment. He uses everything he knows in order to help his new friend and inspiration succeed and spares no effort in achieving their mutual goals. But most importantly, he does it all with incredible amount of swag.
and I don't say that lightly, just look at this man. He's really got the moves. He does everything with style, confidence, and grace. The OP is highly effective at making me wanna party with this man the instant I saw him. The song is also insanely catchy. Those who keep up have probably already seen this OP because its refreshing party attitude seems to have become pretty viral.
Kongming is intelligent, and believably so. He's not some inherently-better-than-you super-genius that understands things at a glance; he's a quick study and a Renaissance man who applies himself to as many fields as he can. If he's good at something, it's because he's put time and effort into it. So if he can party hardy, it's because this guy has learned the ins and outs of clubbing in the modern day. Also: the Ya Boy Kongming! intro has been stuck in my head since I first heard it several weeks ago. As it turns out, it's a cover of a Hungarian song, so now Hungary has a second fantastic contribution to anime that isn't that girl from Hetalia!
He also cleverly wields his tools from his past life as well as his current life. He says mixing drinks is easier than making tea. He turns poetry into a rap battle. And if you think his plan will fail he'll find new ways to surprise you because he's so brutally determinedly thought everything out.
It can be a little boring to watch a character if their gimmick is just that they're perfect and good at everything, though. Some anime only have one joke and whether it lasts a full series depends entirely on the execution. But there are other nuances about Ya Boy that make me like it and the character of Kongming so much. First being Kongming's friendship with Eiko.
The series is already amazing with Kongming's insight, cutting wit, and fish-out-of-water charm, but it can't live off of amusing historical figures alone. Eiko herself is the other half to this series' genius formula. Yor Briar might be dominating people's thoughts now, but Eiko just might be the premium girl of the season on the back of charm alone. She's got amazing face game, she's stylish as heck in all her baggy clothing, and she has a one-million volt smile and endless can-do attitude—but most importantly, she can sing with all her heart.
Her background is touching: once upon a time, Eiko was suffering from terrible depression and on the verge of ending it all when a chance encounter with her current boss led to her going to a concert. Inspired by the performance, Eiko wants to give people that same kind of inspiration. She's got the chops for it, but she's got no internet presence so she's just shouting into a void. Kongming knows Eiko has what it takes to take the stage worldwide, and so he puts his skills to work to bring her fame and acclaim.
In terms of Eiko's face, this one is my fav. P.A. Works does some good comedic cuts and they occasionally really highlight her wonderful singing and dancing. She's also complicated in that her low self-worth is often the thing that keeps her from reaching more people even though she's plenty passionate and talented.
What makes her and Kongming's friendship so sweet is that Kongming just genuinely believes in her and wants to help her be her best self. He seems to have a deep appreciation for all comrades from his past life, even ones that he's had to punish in the name of duty. His historic loyalty has even been well documented as his previous warlord Liu Bei once referred to their relationship as that of a fish and water, that is to say, inseparable. Now, being a time and a life apart from his once dear companions, he doesn't want to let any of his appreciation towards his new friend to be unknown. He's never afraid to give her a deserved compliment and it's never one bit creepy or insincere.
Even Eiko is taken aback by it all. In one episode, Kongming vanishes on her for a few days, seemingly to go clubbing. As it turns out, following on a clubbing escapade helps Eiko remember to live in the here and now (which is always an important lesson for people). Also, as it turns out, Kongming wasn't just partying—he was doing reconnaissance, building networks, and amassing resources, all at once. But I'm getting ahead of myself...
The first thing Kongming does to help Eiko get noticed is help her stand out at a music festival. Mia, a petty harpy of an Instagram singer, tries using Eiko's relative obscurity to help ensure her performance is fully booked. With some creative floor planning, Kongming successfully funnels all of Mia's audience-goers to Eiko's stage, while Eiko's performance keeps them there. The results boost Eiko's internet followers tenfold, overnight.
All with the power of cleverly disguising the room so people don't leave! That's a reference to boot. In terms of other characters I also love that Eiko's boss and club manager is just super cool with Kongming and his traditional Chinese robes because he's just a total Three Kingdoms geek. Even somewhat idolizing him after interrogating Kongming in a way only true otaku would. Everyone else just thinks he's a cosplayer doing a bit and brushes it off.
I should point out that Ya Boy Kongming! has some amazing comedic timing, the likes of which I haven't seen much of in anime. It's not balls-out wackiness, just subtle sight gags. Chief among them: Eiko's boss rushing the bar and inserting himself into a conversation when he thinks they're discussing The Three Kingdoms. I'm also a huge fan of Kongming being such an amazing bartender, he gets a fuzzy navel ready for a patron before they're even finished ordering.
So much is genuinely funny and it's rarely mean-spirited. Kongming is even a true gentlemen to his enemies. He knows how to flatter his opponent into disarming them to get what he wants. He was able to help an enemy band knowing that their singer had a delicate throat and even gave them some genuine advice after doing proper research on them. In a way, it's really more than just Eiko that he's helping.
Though, he does say that if things were anything like the past he would've morbidly used them as a display.
Not to say Kongming didn't also totally dupe these guys; he nevertheless took advantage of the lead singer's sore throat while faking tech problems with Eiko's equipment in order to draw people to her performance at a music festival at just the right moment. "All's fair," as they say...
But it's still nice that he can have such a positive effect on people. Most of his strategies hinges on knowing how people think, and so he's not afraid to do a little dirty work and investing himself in them or start passing out free drinks. It's most effective in the latest episodes where we see him single-handedly trying to pull the rapper, Kabetaijin, out of his depressive slump.
Also, I support Kongming's laundry tracksuit.
This is another place where Ya Boy Kongming!'s great emotional writing comes to light. Kabetaijin is a well-known rapper, famed for having won three title bouts. However, the stress of it all led to him collapsing from a stomach ulcer, and Kabe retreated from rap out of fear. Everyone around Kabe wants to see the guy come back to the limelight—it takes Kongming challenging him to a rap battle to remind Kabe of how much he loves what he does and to end his retirement.
Again, we see how much this matters to Kabe: he mopes around the city as he struggles with his insecurity, daydreaming of the days when he first discovered rap and he was bursting with new ideas for freestyle lyrics. It was that passion that got him those three title victories—but also led to him overworking himself.
Kabe also seems to have pretty bad anxiety. He got into rapping because he saw how much fun other people were having and his admiration for other freestylers, some of which he even rivals and defeated. But he's deeply afraid of rejection and dislikes when he starts getting boos from his opponent's fans. However, even one of his rivals keeps telling him he shouldn't run from what he built for himself.
This is another case where Kongming's Machiavellian plans come together. See, he was already looking for a rapper to serve as backup for Eiko, so during his time clubbing he asked around and got intel on the best of the best—and decided Kabe was his guy. So he looked into Kabe's background, had one of Eiko's biggest fans/simps/editors dig up his favorite song (particularly one that would get an emotional response from him were Eiko to perform it), and even had the bartender mix in some stomach ulcer medicine with Kabe's drink in order to ensure Kabe feels his best. The foreshadowing on all of this is excellent. You can even go back and see the bartender holding the little bear-bottle of medicine behind Kabe's glass when he's nursing his drink earlier in the episode (the same kind Kongming used for the throat medicine in an earlier episode, even).
It's this kind of attention to detail that makes me think Ya Boy Kongming! is one of, if not the best, anime airing this season. In the first episode, there's even a nice animation flourish where after a scene cut where Eiko is wigging out, you see her adjust her jacket. It's an attention to her bodily details that anime normally would skip over, the kind of thing that humanizes characters and makes them feel like people on screen and not just drawings.
Also the rhymes between these two episodes are impeccable. Both showdowns are great spectacles. I'm not a native Japanese speaker so I cannot comment on their eloquence but I think the effort put into making the rhymes feel big is great. Also, like HypMic, I can't imagine how hard it must've been to translate so many bars and have it still flow nicely in the subs as well (shout out to Jake Jung!).
There's a lot the show has yet to delve into, like the mysterious idol group Azalea that's been teased in the intro, but thus far Ya Boy Kongming! has been an excellent show to watch and I really do hope folks remember it when they're not watching SPY x FAMILY. It would be such a shame for this show to fall into obscurity.
There's a lot to be surprised about Ya Boy Kongming!, so I'm really glad it's gotten a moderate amount of attention so far. He's truly become one of my best boys, worthy of being called a true homie. It would be really great to see him and Eiko become superstars both in the show and online. Just as long as they remember to properly turn off their notifications when they do!
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