Apr 17, 2014

Anime Review: The World God Only Knows: Goddesses

The World God Only Knows: GoddessesWhen I last spoke of TWGOK, I labeled it “the Bruce Springsteen of anime”. My reasoning was simple. In full disclosure I am not a Springsteen fan (not out of dislike merely ignorance), but to me Springsteen represents a kind of musical phenomenon that is easy to like because it does what it does so well. He's not that innovative, really, but damn if he isn't charming and fun and catchy and makes you feel good. TWGOK is that: it takes the harem genre and puts a nice spin on it without really deconstructing it or innovating otherwise… but it's so wonderfully executed it doesn't even matter.

The first two seasons of TWGOK are great and I even re-watched them entirely as lead-up to this long overdue continuation. The structure is solid despite being incredibly contrived. It’s awfully convenient that his conquers get amnesia afterwards, but it allows the show to move on and not get bogged down trying to juggle lots of characters. Even with this luxury, it finds ways to weave in the characters sometimes still. However, this does limit progress in that the end never seems to be in sight and the story ends up being mini-arcs around a girl to conquer with the show as a whole becoming a sort of buddy flick with Keima and Elsie. By the second season there are hints at internal politics in neo-Hell but none of it ever seems to impact the story too terribly much. Even so, the first and second seasons are consistently well done, with great pacing, characters, humor, animation, and plenty of polish. It’s a show that is good from start to finish and it easily finds a place in my top 10 series.

Keima stands astonished against a backdrop of over a dozen other female characters, all past conquests in the story

Season three is a mess, to be as harsh as possible. That isn’t to say it is bad, I still enjoyed it, but it is noticeably different in execution and construction. First is the most obvious one: a lot of time was skipped. Time that is covered in the manga, however, consisting of many new girls and events. In fact, if we look at the season to manga chapter relation it goes something like this:

  • Season 1 – [1 – 16]
  • Season 2 – [17 – 41]
  • Season 3 – [114 – 189]

Yeah. Wow. Essentially, the first two seasons cover roughly 20 chapters each, each spread out over about 12 episodes leaving about 1.5 chapters per episode script. Not bad! Season 3 skips 73 chapters of material, or, going by the first two seasons’ precedent, three or four more entire seasons worth. Yikes. To top it off, this third season manages to fly through as much as was skipped, covering 75 chapters in only 12 episodes. Lots of condensing and cutting must have happened.

Keima's serious face against the evening sunlightAnd you can tell. Episodes are densely packed with dialogue, new plot elements, and tons of new characters. It doesn’t help either that it quickly glosses over the huge amount that was skipped so coming from the end of the second season there are several new major characters all with established dynamics and relationships that we’re not privy to (unless you read the manga or possibly got your hands on the few OVAs put out in the intervening months). It is more than enough to leave you lost as a casual viewer.

Instead of the usual mini-arcs for a girl we have a lot more drama. Shit is going down and the balance between the new Hell and the old guard are coming to light, plus it introduces goddesses from Heaven and lots more intrigue and plot twists. It starts to get serious and it’s no longer about simply fulfilling a job-like contract of finding souls. Instead lives are at stake, the balance of forces are in flux, and Keima is juggling several conquests at once while also trying to keep previous conquests from figuring things out. Did I mention that convenient amnesia thing has worn off on some of the girls? Did I mention this season was a total mess?

Tenri, Haqua, and Keima in a triangle having a serious plot talk in a dark moonlit bedroom

But, despite all of these glaring issues, it is quite a thrilling ride. It manages to really break free of the shackles of its predecessors and get serious, dramatic, and downright tense at times. It lacks the consistency and the confidence of the past seasons but it manages to branch out and grow as a story and it benefits greatly from it, as it feels like finally things are starting to matter. More importantly, it feels like the hearts Keima is playing with are starting to matter… and not just to them.

Do you remember Chihiro? Yeah, her. The plain girl with the umbrella. That was one of the more subdued conquests from season two, wasn’t it? Well… she has a bit of a role in this third season, you could say. I won’t spoil anything but suffice it to say her growth as a character is a straight up smash of bittersweet feels. It is a wonderful progression and really speaks to the strengths of this third season despite the structural mess.

A four image side-by-side composite of Chihiro as seen in all three seasons showing her increasing detail visually coresponding with her increase in plot importance

And then there is the ending. Our hero Keima has always been a lovable anti-hero. He’s calculating, manipulative, and arrogant beyond belief, all despite being nerdy, anti-social, and generally dismissive of real life. But he’s good at what he does, regardless of all of the complaining. But he’s only ever been doing it to prevent losing his head (remember the necklace he’s stuck with). But with the ending to this season we’re aware that he’s not able to completely disconnect himself and it’s a hell of a final scene.

And there will never be a fourth season. The statistical likelihood that we would ever see a third was dismal at best and it also explains why they chose to skip ahead and just get to the most popular arc of the manga because they figured this was their one-in-a-million chance anyway. It’s too bad, really. But capitalism is capitalism. There’s still the ongoing manga. I should really start reading it…

TWGOK Goddesses is a fantastic continuation but it’s great in a very different way from its predecessors. That said, it is a bumpy ride what with the speeding and the skipping, but if you can handle that by all means jump in. If you love Haqua, you’ll be pleased to know she’s basically Elsie’s replacement for the entire season. If, like me, you like Haqua okay and everything but Elsie is best, well… it’s still a great season.

A close up of Haqua's face as she sits on a bench looking slightly up, embarassed and speechless

As of this writing, you can watch all three seasons of The World God Only Knows for free on Crunchyroll.

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