Helen McCarthy doesnâ€™t trust everyone she meets on the Internetâ€¦
High-schooler Keima has absolutely nothing to do with girls. In fact, he has as little as possible to do with any non-virtual scenario. All Keima's attention is occupied by the dreamgirls of the dating sim games he plays online - and there, he never fails to score. In fact, he's known as "the God of Conquest" because no virtual female has ever been able to resist him. But one of the problems of online relationships is that it's easy for the other party to misrepresent matters. Keima finds himself trapped in a life-or-death deal to help Elsie, a cute, incompetent and absurdly named demon, to capture hearts: real ones, beating inside real girls. Having always viewed life as an unwelcome distractions from games, he has to use skills gained online to manipulate it.
Serials based on dating sims have well-defined limits; a serial about dating sims, but not based on one, can play with the tropes and stereotypes of the genre, playing with comedy, pathos and drama to make something better than its origins, enabling the shut-in hero to break through his shell and spread his wings. The World God Only Knows doesn't pull that off, perhaps not wanting to risk audience alienation, but it shows the average viewer enough of a good time to be worth watching.
Shigehiko Takayanagi directs both the 2010 and 2011 series, and Hideyuki Kurata both oversaw the show's writing team and scripted 22 of the episodes. Both stack up pop cultural hooks. A riff on Akira Kurosawa's mighty Rashomon shows one episode from four viewpoints, and there are sly visual nods to hit anime including The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Dragon Ball Z and Doraemon (all stories about damaged superbeings) as well as nods to Osamu Tezuka's classic outsider Black Jack and the misfit-packed Gundam canon. Game fans will have fun spotting homages to Love Plus, Super Mario Brothers and To Heart, while wider culture gets its tributes with 2001: A Space Odyssey, Peanuts, South Park and The Moomins.
Alongside these knowing nudges to the geek consumer, there's plenty of light comedy, visual as well as verbal. Stereotypically designed and plotted characters reflecting the nature of the sim universe, with story arcs devoted to each of the emotionally crippled girls waiting for romance to rescue them. The second season develops this a little further, revealing that Keima retains an emotional link, albeit rather one-sided, with all the girls who have fallen for him. The second season also adds another cute demon girl/merchandising opportunity.
If you're in the mood for something short and sweet (just 24 episodes, 24 minutes each,) nicely animated, visually charming and candy-bright, this bit of harmless fun is one of the few interesting offerings in an overpopulated genre.
The World God Only Knows, complete collection, is out now from Manga Entertainment.