Unfortunately, for us real world people, only manga readers can see the ending. C’est la vie. Be Warned: Here There Be Date A Live Comparisons. LOTS of ’em.
Katsuragi Keima is a genius 17-Year-Old Date Sim Otaku who shuns reality in the favor of the virtual world. His proficiency for Date Sims has earned him the nickname “God of Conquest” online. But when this is misinterpreted by the demons of hell, he’s recruited by a bubbly demoness named Elsie to help them retrieve “Loose Souls” from human girls by using his powers to make those very girls fall in love with him to chase the evil spirits out. And should he fail, the price… is his head.
It should come as no surprise that I greatly enjoy a good Harem anime. Perhaps I’m so conditioned because one of the first things I watched when I returned to anime was Date A Live, which we all know I love. But continued forays into that space, be they more “Light Harems” like DanMachi or things that lean fully into Harem Shenanigans like How Not To Summon A Demon Lord, have taught me that while this genre can be (and usually is, let’s be honest) fairly trashy, it can also be major fun and surprisingly heartfelt. This series is absolutely no exception. And, quite frankly, it’s quite possibly my favorite thing in this genre. It’s definitely up there, if not.
Now, I watched this after I saw Date A Live, despite it being older. Actually, the thing that drew me to it was the slight similarity between the two on the conceptual level. Their premise is very similar. But literally everything else about them is vastly different. But the style difference isn’t really the important part. Ideally, most shows have unique styles that set them apart, even if they’re similar on a surface level. These two shows qualify. So while the term “Kiss the girls, save the world” technically applies to both (but is the tagline of Date A Live), what matters most is execution.
When you first get into The World God Only Knows, you’re instantly introduced to the thing that’s going to set it apart from… well… most Harems, really. That would be lead character, Katsuragi Keima. Now, we’ve seen characters like him, certainly. Rabid otakus who reject the real world in favor of worlds of fiction – Date Sims, in his case. The emphasis on Date Sims, while another major similarity to Date A Live, is actually something that’s used to much greater effect here. Unlike Shido, Keima is absolutely dedicated to these things. He has an actual connection to them. And that connection very much defines the series as a whole. It drives the plot, it drives the humor, it even manages to drive the drama and character development. All because they gave Keima one significant quirk and dialed it up to eleven. Keima is entertaining, for certain. But, more importantly, he has a hook. He’s interesting.
Another thing that sets him apart from a lot of other harem protagonists is his sense of drive. Keima’s overall personality is… not the most likable. But it is incredibly dynamic. It makes him a joy to see in action. And that’s all without really saying anything about his character arc. Now, to be clear, Keima’s not the most complex character out there, based on the anime. If you read the manga, you’re made privy to some things about him that do inform his character a bit more. Moreso than what little you get from the anime. But even despite the anime not getting into these things, they still find a way to convey Keima’s growth as a character from someone who actively rejects reality to someone who grows to recognize the beauty in parts of it, even growing to love some parts. Genuinely. But we’ll come back to that.
All of this growth is achieved by making sure absolutely vital pieces of character development are there. His interactions with certain characters, his witnessing certain events, all of it gradually but surely pushes his character. And it becomes especially apparent in Season 3. If the first two seasons of this anime are just standard fare, “Girl of the Week” (or month, as the case often was), then Season 3 is the Premium Fare content I was really looking for. Because it was great. Introducing a more noticeable plot and retroactively adding in very real consequences to the previous two seasons, as well as a “ticking clock” (several, in fact) just made that last season an incredible step up. And the first two seasons were already extremely enjoyable.
Now, this wouldn’t be a Harem anime without… well… girls. So let’s (briefly) talk about the “conquests.” This isn’t a Harem anime in the traditionally accepted sense of “Loser guy surrounded constantly by girls who compete for his affection.” The catch in all of this is that, unlike in Date A Live, the “conquests” don’t remember him or anything that happened after he’s made them fall in love with him and sealed the deal with a kiss. They don’t move in with him. There are no wacky hijinx pertaining to them trying to woo him. They move on. And as much as I love that angle and how it helps the show stand out, it does mean that there naturally isn’t much reason for any girl in the show (aside from his sidekicks, of course) to stick around for very long, all things considered. Not until Season 3, anyway. But we’ll get there. So what does the show do to make up for this?
Well, what Date A Live accomplishes through action, The World God Only Knows accomplishes through drama. Each girl has some form of complex issue on a deep, personal level that Keima has to overcome. As with most “Harem Heroes,” the point is for Keima to come to understand what, exactly, their problem is and, in the words of the show, “fill the emptiness in their hearts with love for him.” The way the show does this, though, is handled through some wonderfully executed dramatic storytelling that shows you exactly what’s going on. How each of these girls are fundamentally wounded characters and what those wounds cause them to do. It’s something further accentuated with the occasional conquest being met with a supernatural twist, like body swapping, turning invisible, whatever. That said, each girl is therefore sympathetic and, honestly, likable in one capacity or anything. And you get the sense that, as Keima does his duty, he grows to genuinely care for those he helps. Which is completely understandable, based on their characters. But, for me personally, one of them stands head and shoulders above the rest. Let’s talk… about Chihiro.
As standout “Haremettes” go, I’m actually not going to talk at length about the two who frankly steal the show in Season 3. But one of them also most definitely steals Season 2, and that is Chihiro by a mile. I intend to talk more about her, another time. Because I genuinely believe her to be an absolutely amazing character. But for the basis of my thoughts on her, the arc she goes through in Season 2 is a brilliant mirror of Keima’s own character, warts and all. The frustration she feels pertaining to her problem of being so overwhelming average is possibly the strongest portrayed in the entire series. And the direction it takes her character in the future just shows that she’s a character written with care. So much so that apparently her arc was even moved up a bit because the editor liked it so much. That is a dream for any writer, having something you’ve done loved so much that other people close to the project are impatient for it to happen.
As for characters not in the Harem, there are only two that really matter. The first is Elsie – Keima’s “buddy” and the catalyst for all of this. Honestly, I find that she’s adorable and fun and I love pretty much every minute she’s on screen. She just tries so hard and is so earnest and lovable. She’s also not completely useless, despite being pinned as the “idiot sidekick.” That said, I honestly think that anime’s handling of her character is perhaps a bit lacking as it gives her very little in the way of character development. Especially in Season 3, where she’s shafted for, let’s be honest, her better half – Haqua.
Haqua is a character I very much adore. My affinity for strong character writing sees to that. She’s a character whose arc is established early into Season 2 and she continues to pop up, every now and then. But she absolutely shines in Season 3, where she basically replaces Elsie as Keima’s buddy for the duration of the arc. And she’s extremely effective at it. She’s inarguably more useful in the direct mission than Elsie, which makes sense. The more serious arc warrants the more serious character. The arc makes use of what had been established with her in the previous season to expand on her character development a bit and let her really come into her own. She does some growing of her own and really becomes a breakout character in that regard. But there are some problems I’ll address in a bit.
There are plenty of other things that this show does exceptionally well. For one thing, having read the manga, I feel like the visual style is actually a major upgrade. Rather than just trying to directly ape the style of the manga, the anime went for a visual style that’s far sleeker and more aesthetically pleasing. The style still works perfectly well with the gags of the series, of course. But it’s overall just a lot easier on the eyes than the simplistic vibe the manga gives off. I can see some perhaps thinking it overly glossy, but I think it looks superb. And another major stylistic element to the series is the music, much of which appropriately sounds like it’s ripped straight from a Date Sim. The OST, I’ll be honest, is probably way more epic in parts than the series warrants. The OPs, especially. Yet I love it because it actually really helps amplify the dramatic story beats, as well as more humorous scenes, also giving the series a greater sense of weight. There are also a lot of really chilling and beautiful tracks that make those quieter moments all the more poignant.
Really the one failing of this whole series is just that it’s not longer. That and its ultimate conclusion was rather underwhelming in some regards. Allow me to explain. The first thing to note is that I kinda get the stuff they skipped. In truth, it would’ve just been a series of “Girl of the Week” arcs for a while if they’d covered everything. However, at the same time, there’s a point where you have to watch the OVAs to watch what’s going on without missing anything. Luckily, I own the complete collection that came with said OVAs. But that just further highlights my point. The OVAs need to be watched between Season 2 and 3 to pick up some important story beats. What’s more, it also means our time with the characters is significantly reduced. So certain character arcs aren’t really met with the same impact they might have had, otherwise. Keima, Elsie, and Haqua suffer from this particularly. But it also really hurts Tenri – Keima’s childhood friend Haremette.
But back on the subject of Haqua, the anime does kinda let her down. She disappears for a bit in Season 3, but her return is treated with a large amount of buildup. As if she is somehow the key to resolving the whole problem they face. She isn’t. Not remotely. In fact, it basically just amounts to her saving Keima a couple of times, helping him with his final “conquest” of the anime, then getting into a fight with another demon that we only see a few seconds of before things cut away. And when it finally comes back to this fight, she’s losing it. The fight only ends because the other demon up and leaves. That’s it. That’s the resolution to her arc in that season. All that buildup… and she doesn’t even do anything that a handful of other, less important characters, probably couldn’t have done. Frankly, even Elsie could’ve done it, most likely. It just wouldn’t have been treated as seriously if she did.
Season 3 does have a few other minor stumbling blocks. The entire subplot revolving around Diana and her wings… doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s set up rather well. But the payoff is lacking. But despite those minor pitfalls, Season 3 is absolutely fantastic. It continues its excellent comedy (albeit toned down to better get across the seriousness of the arc), gives us a sense of genuine danger and peril that the previous two seasons didn’t really have, and even has a genuinely compelling Love Triangle situation, which is surprisingly rare in harems. Overlapping love interests tend to just come with the territory in a harem. But rarely is it actually exploited for drama on this level, and so well, at that.
The World God Only Knows is a hugely entertaining and occasionally moving piece of work. One that I honestly have a lot more to say about. But rather than risk this going on forever, I think I’ll just be revisiting it in the near future. For now, I can see the ending, and it says that, as Harem Anime go, it is definitely among the World’s Finest, standing out among its peers.
What’d you think of The World God Only Knows? What’s one of your favorite harem anime? Let me know, down below. As always, thanks for reading, everyone! Keep up the Awesome!