A key component of Hey Boy Kongming! we’ve just had to get used to at this point is the proppensity for the titular tactician to not fully let his lieges in on what his plans entail. The same reasoning he had for this with Eiko previously persists in this episode, and we find now applies to Kabe as well: As the performers within this musical management, he wants them to be as focused on possible on that music, as Kongming acknowledges that the success of his plans still hinges on their skill. So in this episode, as we embark on the actual plot to accumulate those seemingly-insurmountable 100,000 Likes in a story so epic they make clear from the title this is but a ‘Part 1’, Kongming himself pulls back from the focus. He’s in true ‘Shadow Tactician’ mode for this one, as we see how he encourages Kabe and Eiko to better themselves in time for the critical performance, and get to wonder how much of what they encounter on their way the supernaturally-skilled strategist actually accounted for.
We just got through a big story introducing Kabe, so his part of this episode isn’t quite as involved as Eiko’s. Mostly we’re catching up with him, seeing how getting back into performing, playing at the club with Eiko, has been a positive turnaround for him. His stomach ulcer has seemingly cleared up for one, with nary a mention of it now (a pity Kongming’s incredible medicinal abilities couldn’t save himself from, you know, dying that one time), and it’s noted that his collabs with Eiko are already working well at drawing more people to the venue. And given what we’ve heard in the demo for Eiko’s new song, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t incredibly curious as to what the finished version, properly mashed-up with Kabe’s rapping, was going to sound like. And Kongming advising Kabe to indulge in his rematch Sekitoba is appreciable to see too— I’m glad that periphery character and his connection to Kabe wasn’t just forgotten after the introduction was over.
The main turn Kabe gets is in line with the most information we’re given regarding Kongming’s actual long-term plan here, that Kabe (along with Eiko) needs to ‘evolve’, with an eye towards the populace they’re appealing to. Kabe’s gotten great at acting the tough, confident rapper on stage, but is cultivating that ‘inner steel’ necessary to ‘save the people’ as Kongming advises him to do? The point at seeing Kabe take the first step to even try to stand up for a bullied kid isn’t in how good he is at properly projecting or standing up to bullies; Indeed, he winds up embarrassingly hilariously bad at it. But the punks opt to leave anyway rather than even dealing with him, exemplifying the lesson Kabe could have learned way back when he was afraid to even get up and perform: Simply showing up, reliably, is more important and effective than any cultivated ‘badassery ‘. It’s no coincidence, at least as far as storytelling, that both Kabe and Eiko’s major steps towards growth this episode involve simply being there for someone who’s getting hassled.
That brings me back to my major question from the beginning though: How much of this did Kongming actually fully plan for? I wager he probably didn’t put some schoolkids up to staging a bullying outside the convenience store, and his advice to Kabe regarding that ‘inner steel’ was simply something that was meant to simmer until an opportunity presented itself. But the machinations around Eiko’s side seem much more intricate. Just to start you’ve got the numbered satchels Kongming sends her out with constituting a delightfully juicy storytelling gimmick. They make for an outlandish mash-up of Chekov’s Guns and Mystery Boxes that somehow still feel totally right for this character and series. However, they do also come with one of the usual caveats for this show, that being Eiko feeling like she’s not fully in control of her own efforts, instead being led along by Kongming’s multi-layered schemes even when he isn’t physically around her . So we get stuff like producer Steve Kido (just what Eiko needs in her life, another eccentric weirdo) only being motivated to work with Eiko in the moment because she oh-so-coincidentally has the pudding Kongming instructed her to buy. Granted, it’s made clear that Eiko ultimately has to win Kido over with her own skills, not quite being there as of her efforts this episode. And thus, the cultivation of her skills, her own voice, and that aforementioned ‘inner steel’ also becomes apparent as a through-line for her arc here as well.
That’s why the big trick for this episode, the way it comes through as an earnest part of Eiko’s journey even with all of Kongming’s manipulation, still works as its heart. It’s uncertain if Kongming’s motivating of Eiko to try a street performance (something I gotta say I’m surprised to hear she never dabbled in before) was fully with the intention of her encountering Nanami and collaborating with her— The divination he turns up at the end, his reaction to ‘The Sworn Friends Sign’, seems to surprise even him. But even if he had somehow accounted for that, like some music-producing Xanatos, the crux of the function was all still on Eiko: She needed to bring herself to help Nanami out with the cops who were hassling her, and she had to be willing to allow the rad bucket-hatted box-drummer to sing her take on the song for their performance, making clear to Eiko what someone’s ‘own voice’ could really sound like. It comes off like a more balanced iteration of the trust-based understanding of Eiko and Kongming were working towards a few episodes ago: Kongming may be leading this tour, but it’s still Eiko’s journey, and the choices she makes on several steps of it are absolutely going to be her own.
That episode-ending performance between Eiko and Nanami, apart from any Kongming complications that may have led to it, is what sells this episode for me. Eiko and Kabe already seem to work great together on-stage, purposefully produced together as they were. But Eiko and Nanami have an even more genuine meet-cute chemistry, delivered with the episode’s modest, yet effective presentation of their scrappy street performance. The setup almost ends up working as a proper parallel to Kongming’s unilateral ability to always pull his plans off, in that this shows how far he can have faith in Eiko to always do the right thing which will put her, and those plans, on the right path.
Hey Boy Kongming! is currently streaming on HIDIVE.
Chris is a freelance writer who appreciates anime, action figures, and additional ancillary artistry. He can be found staying up way too late posting screencaps on his Twitter.