Episode 9 – Ya Boy Kongming!

Much like the previous episode, this week’s episode of Hey Boy Kongming! barely features Ya Boy. He only appears briefly to sashay away from observing Kabe formally finding himself under a bridge with his old amateur rap-mates, and pops in at the very end having apparently been hiding within a mascot costume during the whole of the rooftop scene that is the setting of this entry. However, his presence is still properly felt through the story, least of all via Eiko opening his final satchel and further prompting the question of just how far ahead Kongming was planning for her interactions with Nanami. More than that though, this one works regardless of how much it involves the titular time-displaced tactician, since this is where Hey Boy Kongming! proves it has firmly cashed the check that its first episode wrote, and became a genuinely remarkable music anime entirely on its own terms.

Amongst all of anime’s askew cartoonal of ages, it might be easy to forget that the likes of Eiko and Nanami are actual adults. So even as I admitted last week that I found myself looking forward to the potential for more heady, melodramatic misunderstandings to be borne out of Nanami’s professional career coming a-calling, this episode then surprised me by instead having the characters…talk to each other about the situation, like adults. Heck, even before Nanami completely confesses her involvement with Azalea, we came to find out Eiko had at least figured out her new GF (that’s ‘guitar friend’) was a professional of some sort. And it provides an opportunity for Nanami’s story to be related directly to Eiko as potentially a parable for her own career trajectory, as opposed to a torrid flashback revealed only to the audience purely for the point of pathos. There’s something immediately appreciable about Nanami revealing her ‘identity’, which specifically still isn’t her ‘true self’. Eiko already knew the ‘true’ Nanami due to hearing the music she made her own on the streets night after night, so what our lead singer here is getting instead is a revelation of how much larger the world is than she had previously thought, with a taste of what the populace occupying it may be going through alongside her.

Nanami’s tragic origin story isn’t anything especially exceptional on its own. We’d even had the basics indicated to us with the previous mention of producer Karasawa’s cutthroat tactics. But what we get still works thanks to the presentation (I dig the more filmic filter overlaid over this portion), plus because of how genuine it still feels, and how neatly it contrasts Eiko’s situation. Believing in the power of your own music is all well and good, but Nanami and her friends weren’t even managing to sing for their own satisfaction at a non-famous level, they were barely getting by in a world where, you know, you need money to live. The snippets of the poverty the characters get incrementally dragged further down into does an extremely effective job of communicating the desperation the likes of Nanami would have in order to capitulate to Karasawa’s lack of artistic integrity, more so than any simpler starry-eyed story might make apparent with mere dreams of Hitting It Big. Even after they reach that level, what we see from the Azalea girls isn’t fame and fortune landing them in out-of-touch decadence; They use their money to buy things like new appliances they and their families need. It makes Nanami’s torn relationship with their new careers that much more of a conflict: After seeing what her friends had previously gone through, does she have the right to take those paychecks away from them simply because of her own conternation over how they’re being made to perform?

The culmination of this is the raw irony of the realization that Nanami now goes out and sings in order to unwind from her ‘singing’ job where she doesn’t even actually do that anymore. Which expands into further irony in that Being the reason she could make the song her own, rather than it coming out entirely as a result of her training as a professional musician. It’s that clear opposites-attract synergy with Eiko’s performance, as Nanami’s street-singing is what Karasawa doesn’t allow her to do because he doesn’t believe in it as a salable asset, compared to Eiko needing to do it to one her abilities which Kongming’s whole plan hinges on. And more than the appreciable honesty in most of this scene of these two girls coming out to each other (about their music careers), it’s the prompting of Eiko finally finding her voice and a reason to sing that makes the emotional capstone to this piece.

Much of that is carried by the noticeable changes and improvements to the performance of the piece by 96Neko, Eiko’s singing voice actress. It’s a conceptual communication that needs to come across to even the most musically inexperienced audience of members, and speaking as such, I think she nails it. But it also communicates the theming of this journey, as Eiko declares her love for Nanami(‘s street performances), it’s at the behest of her realized motivation: Music saved her in her darkest moments, so she can only hope that hers can do that same for someone like Nanami, or any member of that populace Kongming has insisted they’re serving. The direction of the episode is as in on it as ever, just check out the parallel framing of the girls’ confessions and expressions of their musical careers: Nanami in front of the fame and fortune of her friends she’s now trying to preserve, while Eiko is in front of the unobstructed backdrop of the city itself. More than a tool to enrich a producer like Karasawa, music should be an element that ripples out through the people and helps them in some way. We saw it previously with the effects of Eiko’s music on Kabe, and we’re seeing it again as Nanami looks at Eiko while singing the same way Eiko looked at her when they first met.

This is one of those episodes where it’s obviously very easy for me to run down these delivery choices for the story and detail why they worked, but it’s the presentation of it all that makes it magical enough that words are surplus to requirements. I’m reduced to gushing about a show that understands the fundamental magic of music, and as Kongming surely intended, has strategically brought us to a point where that can be demonstrated not just to the focal characters on-screen, but to the broader world including the audience involved. As his sudden revelation at the end of this one confirms, Kongming was with us the whole time, his stratagems still key to bringing everything together. And much like his faith in Eiko’s singing abilities, the story’s faith in our appreciation for it being told through these two star-crossed musicians actually opening up to one another was rewarded. This isn’t even the end of this storyline for the series (as I’m considering the possibility that this 100,000 Likes will carry us through the season), but it’s absolutely one of its high points.

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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.

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