Valentine’s Day is upon us and so what better thing to talk about than romance anime?
Today, I’ll be talking about an anime that I normally keep under wraps. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine in the fact that it’s not widely regarded as “great” in terms of quality. It also falls into a grey area with the harem tag, something I usually steer clear of because I don’t normally like harem plots. If you ever read the Home page of this site, you may remember that I have a quote from it
Obligatory spoiler warning for both the anime and manga (including the ending).
Let me give a bit of context for those not familiar with The World God Only Knows (TWGOK). The main character is Keima Katsuragi, a high school student. He is crazy about visual novels and 2D girls, often not caring about the real world. That is until he mistakenly contracts with a (cute) demon who is tasked with bringing back loose souls that escaped from Hell. Loose spirits reside in the heart. To capture them, Keima must similarly capture the heart of whomever it has inhabited. From there, the (cute) demon, Elsie, will do the rest. Break the contract or fail to meet the conditions, and he will die.
Sounds fairly usual by anime standards. Keima basically has girls fall in love with him and that’s it. The only caveat is that after every “conquest,” when a girl falls in love with him and the loose spirit is captured, that girl loses all memory of it. How else would the plot support multiple romances? You saw the title of the article though. The Tragic “Harem.” You know why the harem part is a bit of a misnomer now. The tragedy? Keima, who doesn’t lose his memories.
During a conquest, a lot goes into making a girl fall in love with him. It isn’t simply romantic gestures and pleasant dates. He learns their life story, the problems which enabled a loose spirit to embed themselves in them in the first place. Without his presence, many of the girls would’ve lost themselves. Some would abandon their extracurricular passions, lose their self-recognition, find themselves jaded by the real world, etc. Love is the goal, but the means to that end require Keima to guide the girls through their problems and spark self-confidence and determination, ultimately reorienting them to reach a path where they will be happy. His own happiness is another matter entirely.
“Well, it’s probably easier for me this way.” – Keima Katsuragi, TWGOK, Ep. 1
Speaking realistically, unusual circumstances notwithstanding, love is not a one-way street. It requires both parties to reveal their hearts and minds to each other. Thus, every time Keima has a girl fall for him, it’s impossible for him to not hold at least a sliver of emotion for them in turn. He may try and say that this is simply what he must do in order to “fulfill the contract” or “complete the route,” but this is all a facade. For as long as the series needs to continue, he can’t find true love. But what if those conquest targets did regain their memories? This is actually an integral plot point in Season 3.
A girl named Kanon runs up to Keima and confesses to him, remembering the conquest that dates back to Season 1. You can tell from the clip below that Keima is at a loss for words. He’s not in the business of being confessed to. For someone to still remember him and therefore love him? It makes his heart skip a beat.
Not all conquest targets regained their memories, only a handful. Due to more anime shenanigans and the explanation for why they regained their memories, there’s surprisingly little conflict between the girls now doting on him. The conflict that does ensue isn’t even between two girls that have regained their memories. While they were both previous targets, only one has regained their memories. Why do they fight then? Because the other has fallen for Keima despite forgetting what he did for her.
Ayumi – The first girl Keima ever captured the heart of. The fastest runner on the track team; known for both speed and cheerfulness. The best friend of Chihiro.
Chihiro – A girl whose heart was previously captured by Keima. No particularly defining traits, recognized even by herself. Described as a “normal girl.” Originally a background character. The best friend of Ayumi.
Ayumi is the one who gets her memories back. Meanwhile, Chihiro is the one who develops feelings for Keima independently. A love triangle forms.
There are two things I neglected to mention. The first is that Keima doesn’t actually know who has regained their memories. He has to subtly probe all those he has previously targeted to find out.
The second is the stakes of the season. Fail to capture the hearts of those who have regained their memories and the world will fall to ruin. The details of why aren’t particularly important for the article. Although, know that this causes an artificial timer for the former point.
This needing to probe (seeing who displays feelings for him) and the timer (mandating a quick turnaround time between conquests) causes a scene that none of us want to see, let alone experience.
On the school roof during the festival, Keima and Chihiro gather together as a couple. It’s here that Keima realizes that Chihiro isn’t a girl he needs to capture. Too little too late though.
He needs to push her away. He can’t fall in love with her. She can’t fall in love with him. Otherwise, he can’t go after the last target, Ayumi. But when Chihiro finds out that he’s trying to romance Ayumi, she’s angered to no end. Keima does try to explain the stakes to Chihiro, but she’s still angered. Why? Not because she rejected him. She realizes the stakes. It’s the fact that Keima isn’t serious enough about Ayumi.
Her own happiness doesn’t matter. She recognizes Ayumi loves Keima. As Ayumi’s best friend, she’ll support that. If you ever saw Hamilton, perhaps you remember the song Satisfied. It has lots of parallels to this arc. Here’s a great AMV of TWGOK.
After Ayumi is captured and the world is saved, that isn’t the end:
Keima tells Chihiro that she was never involved in this. He lies, implying that they never once loved each other. Going forward, he wants to spare her from anything like this. He doesn’t want her to get involved with his life because chances are that he’ll inadvertently break her heart again. She’s already gone through so much- She deserves better.
The anime ends on a concert, Chihiro’s band (consisting of many who were capture targets, including those who got their memories back), playing a song she wrote about herself before this mess started. As the concert continues, she recognizes that she’s the only one who never got a happy ending. Yet, the lyrics of the song describe her thoughts. Though her first love has ended, she’ll never forget it…
Its title: “The Memory of My First Love.”
Keima listens from the roof lamenting; the only time he’s shown crying for serious reasons in the series. So too does Chihiro begin crying as the song ends.
And that’s the finale; two people forsaking their own happiness for the sake of others.
Why did I write such a sad article for Valentine’s Day?
It’s a reminder I suppose. Chihiro is a normal girl with nothing notable about her. But she’s kind. Incredibly kind. Never forget about people like her in your life. In the beginning, they may fade into the background; you don’t immediately notice them. Upon discovery though, they’ll face life’s trials with you.
Please enjoy your Valentine’s Day. If you don’t have a valentine, that’s quite alright. Do yourself the favor of loving yourself. Thank you for reading.