Ink & Paint X: The World God Only Knows

After an epic battle of relatively good versus really evil, Hell is under new management, a pragmatic crowd that cooperates amiably with Heaven and is mostly concerned that everything stays in its proper place. When a bunch of evil spirits from the old regime escape into the human world, hunters are sent to capture them and return them to the underworld.

Due to a shortage of qualified hunters, sweet but awkward junior demon Elsie is promoted from her dusting and sweeping job and sent to Earth to track down evil spirits with the help of a human partner. Her unwilling cohort is Keima Katsuragi, a socially-withdrawn genius, legendary in computer gaming circles as the “capturing god” for his prowess in wooing and winning computerized heroines in dating simulations. This activity consumes most of his time, including school time, but his brainpower keeps him so far ahead of his assignments and his teachers, they can’t stop him from gaming in class.

He couldn’t care less about helping Elsie, so to ensure his cooperation, he’s locked into a magical collar that will behead him if they fail to meet their quota of captures. Elsie’s life is on the line too, but she’s supremely impressed by Keima’s abilities and has no doubt they’ll succeed.

The evil spirits are trying to restore their power by possessing troubled young girls struggling with emotional issues that leave a “gap” in their souls. To capture the spirits, Elsie and Keima must fill these emotional gaps, leaving the spirits no choice but to vacate their hosts. The only way to do this is for Keima to make each girl fall in love with him—and seal it with a kiss.

No problem for the “capturing god,” right? Wrong. Keima quickly discovers that his gaming experience isn’t sufficient to close the deal with a real girl, and this is where things get interesting.

The World God Only Knows is a light romantic comedy anime that recently made the jump from manga (comics) to television. It’s a faithful translation of Tamiki Wakaki’s original serial, and while the artwork is competent, the characters and story were what caught my attention.

Just Another Hostile Takeover: Despite the depiction of Hell being run by mostly-harmless corporate drones, there is a line between good and evil that is clear and respected in this story. Evil uses people as means to an end and intends them harm. Good seeks to liberate people from destructive influences and help them. Elsie may be a demon, but she’s about as diabolical as an apple dumpling. She doesn’t have an evil bone in her body.

Some folks might argue that the storyline trivializes the malevolent nature of demons (which are certainly not cute, ditzy, or charitable entities in any faith tradition I know of), but if you’re taking religious instruction from anime or any other mass media, you’re barking up the wrong tree. The goofy cosmology of The World God Only Knows provides a ridiculously-complicated setup for a goofy romantic comedy. Period. The central message is simple: being isolated and selfish is a lousy way to live, and when we start reaching out to help others, life becomes a whole lot richer.

The Odd Couple: Elsie and Keima couldn’t be more different, which makes for a ton of comedic opportunity. Elsie is as warm and caring as Keima is cold and self-centered. To the casual observer, Keima’s a genius, and Elsie’s a clumsy ditz. However, Keima loses his sure-footedness when he has to grapple with reality, while Elsie happily merges into the human world, and she’s a lot more capable than anybody expects. Together, they make an unbeatable team, and quickly establish an enviable track record in the spirit-capturing business.

The World Looks Different in 3D: Keima admits early on that he has trouble coping with the real world, the “three-dimensional world,” and prefers the more predictable two-dimensional world of his games. 3D heroines aren’t so easy to conquer, and they don’t always respond to the standard tactics in Keima’s repertoire. It’s not enough to merely steal a kiss—Keima has to solve the hidden problem that’s making each girl susceptible to the forces of evil. It will take a while to cure his electronic addiction, but he’s beginning to see that the real world is more challenging and interesting than any game, and other people can’t be reduced to objects or obstacles.

If He Only Had a Heart: Keima learns that not only are girls less predictable in the 3D world, his own emotions aren’t so easy to manage either. A side effect of the exorcism process causes each girl he rescues to immediately forget him and the relationship he worked so hard to build with them. To his surprise, he finds it hurts a little. He can’t just unplug them from his heart and move on to a new game. Keima learns that real love is much more than a set of conditions necessary to win a game, and the true nobility buried deep beneath his self-absorbed exterior begins to emerge.

There are plenty more complications for Keima and Elsie to overcome. Elsie has to conceal her true identity, so she moves in as Keima’s long-lost “illegitimate sister” and joins him at school, an awkward state of affairs that horrifies Keima but delights his mother—once she’s given Keima’s hapless, traveling dad a thorough chewing-out over the phone. Other hunters are jealous of Elsie’s success, and they try to sabotage her. Some of the afflicted girls share their consciousness with the goddesses who helped fight the battle against Hell’s deposed overlords. They’re twice as hard to handle, and when it’s discovered the goddesses are targeted for destruction, Elsie and Keima must find a way to protect them.

I’d rate this at a low PG-13 for occasional swearing and a few instances of strategically-concealed nudity of the “somebody accidentally walks in on somebody taking a shower” variety. No sex or violence. Keima’s a gentleman at heart—he may trip into an awkward embrace, but nothing goes beyond that exorcising kiss.

Episodes of The World God Only Knows are currently airing on Tokyo TV and are available in streaming video at Crunchyroll, in Japanese with English subtitles.

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