Hell has some bad news; some souls have escaped and wormed their way into the human world, hiding in the hearts of young girls. In a desperate attempt to reclaim them, they send the demon Elsie to recruit ‘The God of Conquests’ to help in getting the girls to open up their hearts (effectively fall in love) with the said God, allowing the Loose Soul to be freed and captured once more. However, ‘The God of Conquests’ happens to be Keima Katsuragi, a high school student whose special skill of ‘conquering hearts’ is limited to 2D women, a.k.a. video game dating sims. He’s a master at them and has little to no interest in real girls. Sadly for him, he’s tricked into signing a contract with Elsie and now must use his gaming skills to ‘capture’ the hearts of real girls or have his life cut rapidly short by the collar round his neck…
Depending on how much you know about the Japanese gaming market and culture, you’ve probably never heard of ‘dating sims’ and may find little interest in this series. Or you know EXACTLY what a dating sim is and your thoughts on them will make up your mind as to whether to check out this series rather rapidly or not. To summarise: dating sims are effectively ‘choose your own adventure’ type of games with the ultimate goal being the main character (usually male) getting together with the multiple potential partners (usually female) within the game. They’re very popular in Japan but hardly exist in the West, which doesn’t really help this series for the uninitiated as The World God Only Knows is effectively a parody, which walks hand-in-hand with celebrating and poking fun at the genre. So if you have no knowledge of the genre it’s making fun of, it’s fair to say that a lot of the puns may go over your head but the series can still be enjoyed for its big visual gags when Keima is dramatically trying to make a point and for what is ultimately a mini-collection of love stories. Of course, if you do have some knowledge of the genre, or have a passion for video games, then you’ll get a lot more out of the comedy and characters which are overall quite entertaining and decent time-killers for the right audience.
With a main character like Keima Katsuragi, being all-powerful and the gaming addict he is, it would have been easy to overplay his jerky character and make him unlikeable if handled incorrectly, especially with the concept of a guy bouncing from one girl to the next. Luckily, although he has his moments, Keima Katsuragi is an unusual but likeable lead. He may have his head inside a games console most of the time but when he’s thrust into the right situation, he does use his intellect and cunning to achieve the goal of setting the souls loose. Plus you can see at the end of each character arc that he’s clearly affected by the girls’ influence on him and their forgetting of their time together. It’s these small moments when we see his vulnerability that help make him relatable. Also, as a gamer, I would be lying if I said I didn’t see a little bit of my own gaming habits in him (I wish my bedroom was as cool as his. Just saying.)
The series has a set formula: Elsie finds a Loose Soul in a fellow female student, Keima uses his knowledge of video game stereotypes to help figure out how to conquer the girl’s heart, allowing the soul to be freed for Elsie to capture. At the end of the capture, the female loses her memory to avoid any tricky loose ends and the pair then go off to find another lost soul. Rinse and repeat. The plot isn’t particularly imaginative or demanding but it allows for a decent set-up for some comedy and surprisingly efficient mini love stories. Across the first season, Keima conquers four girls in twelve episodes; their ‘arcs’ last between one to three episodes which works in favour of the romance as none of them are particularly original. The love stories are your typical clichés of the tsundere learning to drop her guard, the shy bookworm learning to speak up, etc. These are the type of love stories you’d normally find spread thinly across a 12 – 24 episode anime series, or perhaps over hours of gameplay, so the snappier pace and time restriction of these arcs allow for the ‘key’ events to take place effectively and the romantic tension to hit its peak more quickly. We all know it won’t last past the first kiss but because of how they’re utilised they work nevertheless, and it prevents them from being overly tedious. Instead it hits the right notes and finishes each arc before they outstay their welcome. There are also a few standalone episodes in-between the arcs that help flesh out the main cast but they are mostly to provide more comical antics outside the Loose Soul captures. At the end of the first series, there isn’t much accomplished by way of character development or reaching a final goal but on the whole it’s relatively harmless and a bit of fun. Plus with a second season out now on DVD and a third season currently airing in Japan, it’s good that there are more stories and gags to come, rather than leaving it mid-plot.
On the visual side the animation is very fluid and colourful; it’s set in a school so it’s not going to win points for originality but the budget was there and it looks nice throughout with no major flaws. Music is rather nice too; it swings effectively from video game cues and tender piano tunes when the dating sim vibes kick in. The strongest piece is the opening theme ‘God Only Knows’ as it starts as a techno pop song, and then breaks to a gentler almost operatic chorus. It’s sung in not too bad Engrish and it’s backed up by great animation too. The ending themes and several insert songs are more of your typical upbeat idol J-pop music cues but get the job done nicely. The dub is quite impressive: Chris Patton brilliantly balances Keima’s arrogance and nerdy sides of his character across the series, and the various females who voice the captured girls such as Brittney Karbowski and Hilary Haag are pleasant on the ears despite voicing relatively one-dimensional characters.
DVD extras include clean opening and closings, and several music videos for the various songs of that one the characters, Kanon Nakagawa, sings during her arc. They’re just scene lifts from the episodes themselves, so nothing massively noteworthy.
It’s easy to make a fast judgement on The World God Only Knows due to its concept but it’s actually a fun little series that will provide several good chuckles for the right audience, especially video gamers and dating sim fans. It’s no masterpiece, but if you’re looking for a laugh and have a period of waiting for the next big anticipated release, this series will fit the bill.