According to Hebrews 4:13, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” In other words, God is watching you masturbate. This is the first thing that came to mind when I read about The World God Only Knows. I thought from the title and premise that it would be a satire of dating sim mechanics and a commentary of the sad otaku who are in love with the 2D world, with notes on social and moral ramifications to boot. It could have brought to light the nature of the shame these poor souls feel as to why they cannot accept real people and instead find solace in pursuing flat facsimiles of ideal women. Oh, how wrong I was…
My first thought was that someone important finally recognized that a large group of the population was just begging to be singly criticized in the medium they enjoy most. My second was, “Hang on. Japanese people have a vague understanding of Christianity at best. How did such a far-reaching metaphor find its way in the title of an anime about shame?” It turns out that it was too good to be true. The anime is about a man fond of showing off his intimate knowledge of the all of the tropes and cliches of dating sims, as if that’s something to be proud of. Conflict ensues when he’s taken to Hell and challenged by Old Scratch himself to use that trivial knowledge to save his life. What a self-important tard. I might have some of the details wrong, but if you’ve seen it, you might be surprised to find that the show’s actual premise is not too dissimilar from my prejudiced assessment of the first few episodes.
I’ve heard it said that storytelling is about keeping your audiences entertained. The main method to do this is to fulfill their expectations. There are many ways to keep the audience watching other than simply giving them what they came for, but if you’re going to give them something other than what they expect, it better be worth it to them. Far too often I’m seeing a lot of new shows that I expect to be about one thing and I discover later through embarrassing conversations with fans that it’s something completely different. For example, Glee is not a reality competition show about boys’ choirs, but a sitcom about a single group trying to stay relevant. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World has nothing to do with colonial settlers facing unrealistic challenges, but instead is an embarrassing panderfest that sent the message that video gamers can’t enjoy any piece of mainstream media that isn’t saturated with icons that are meaningless to those outside the gamer culture. (I’d love to explain exactly what I mean, but that’s for another article.) My expectations are foiled in a negative way, and as a result, I have no idea what to expect. My confusion prompts my brain to label the show with my default response: It sucks until proven otherwise. Since I really want to believe that a show’s premise is what I first assume to be and refuse all other explanations, I lose before I even begin. The standard method of surprising the audience is to build their expectations slowly, wait until they have a solid idea what happens next, and then do something that subverts that idea. When this is done well before the ideas are formed, the audience is left confused. This happens to me far too often; before I have any real idea of what I can expect, it's already thrown out the window. It’s not healthy and is probably a bad way to consume media, but it’s a disease I’ve come to terms with. This entire problem is a very personal one and one that I will probably discuss at length in a later post.
With that in mind, the first major fault with this show is very similar to the Haruhi Suzumiya debacle; namely, the main character’s status as God/a god. Whenever I hear “god” as a name outside of a mythological context, I assume they’re talking about the Almighty, since there are few other gods labeled as such. Haruhi’s notoriety as God came mostly from her fanbase, who have no idea who God really is. However, that’s where the similarity ends. Keima Katsuragi is so pretentious that he calls himself a god. The important difference is that it’s not the fans who think this, but the title of the show implies he is the Christian God that I associate the word to. The fact that this isn’t a translated title makes it even worse. While it was infuriating enough hearing fans label a cartoon character as omnipotent, the authors of this show themselves commit this sin. Sure, I could just accept that fictional Gods are not necessarily benevolent supernatural arbiters of human souls that leave the physical world, but are just know-it-all human pricks with too much perceived power. But I know better not to argue theology. I don’t expect everyone to respect God the way I do, but the topic leaves little room for reconciliation.
What’s even worse is the way the show itself handles the subject. The main plot has Keima using his knowledge of dating sims to fulfill a contract with a demon. The fact that this could even be a viable way to get anything done is nothing short of shallow wish fulfillment. He’s not happy to have to put innocent lives in jeopardy, but he has exactly what he needs to do it. I hope I don’t have to tell you that dating sims are awful tools to train one’s social skills (not for lack of realism, but for the inherently limited scope), to say nothing of the implications of misogyny that using them as a plot device entails. Dating sims do have the potential to be very well-researched and comprehensive to the point that one could be used as an effective guide to wooing the opposite sex, but not enough of them exist to justify this. I usually don’t care much for topics like this, but the notion that a God of fake girls can flex his skills to save real ones is just bothersome to me for some reason.
In short, I suppose that most of my disappointment of this series comes from the wasted potential. It could have been a witty deconstruction or a reconstruction, but it’s content with showing off how well the creators are familiar with pop culture and a popular digital medium. I also want to clarify that I have nothing against dating sims aside from their technical limitations that hamper their storytelling capabilities, but the extent to which they’re celebrated here leaves me to wonder if I should even bother with them more than I already do. To put it another way:
All content is yours to recycle through our
Creative Commons License permitting non-commercial sharing requiring attribution.
ModernMethod is an independently-run company on a mission to give everyday people awesome, accountable web sites written by goofs you can stalk on facebook. Our communities are obsessed with videogames, movies, anime, toys, and sometimes boobs.