As both Eiko and Nanami awake on the verge of the ‘Climactic Final Battle’ in this episode of Hey Boy Kongming!, we can all guess what’s in store: Finally seeing what sort of plan ol’ Zhuge Liang has cooked up to score those 100,000 Likes! Sort of. We get to witness the opening volleys of such an attack, anyway, before this penultimate outing inevitably ends on a cliffhanger intended to keep us guessing before the proper finale next week. That’s the trick of entertainment though, isn’t it? Be it anime or music, holding the audience’s attention for as long as possible is the key to success. And sometimes, as this episode’s half of the hatched plan shows, allotting for competition and implementing outright deception is the best way to do that. The question then, is how receptive the audience will be, how much will they enjoy the revelation that they’ve been had?
“All warfare is based on deception” goes one of Sun Tzu’s most famous quotes. It’s a philosophy that has carried Hey Boy Kongming! all the way here, not just in the obtuseness of his schemes disguising their intent from the populace he always intends to point towards Eiko’s performances, but in how he never fully communicates them to us in the audience as well before those dramatic reveals. It’s a narrative device as old as Art of War itself, of course, and this show is still laying it on thick in the run-up to the finish here. Witness the blanket of fog that envelops the Tokyo area at the outset of this episode, serving the role of the ‘fog of war’ in both a thematic stage-setting way and a literal affect for the stage which Kongming rolls out for Eiko and Kabe to perform on. Did Ya Boy even manage to plan around the weather forecast? Given everything we’ve seen him pull off already, we can’t put it past him.
That ‘deception’ angle which the part of the plan we see this episode is based around is the sort of thing I find myself torn on, though. Kongming turning classical military strategy philosophies into music-promotion methods has been the core concept from the start with this series, yes, but I feel like it potentially rubs up against the music-story side of things the anime has been equally hard at promoting in this arc. The lead-up to what turns out to be a dueling set of concerts features a whole scene with Nanami and the other members of Azalea, dressed like they’re going to their own funeral, as they grapple with their discontent over not using their own talents or their own songs in advancing their musical careers. It’s a theme that’s been central to development ever since we first glimpsed what Nanami’s deal was, so how does it ring when it’s revealed that Kongming’s plan, or step one of it anyway, is to piggyback off of Azalea’s own promotion, throwing out one of Their songs and flashing a surreptitious QR-code link in an effort to harvest Likes in some sort of social-media Trojan-Horse scheme?
Kongming is accustomed to working to win wars, of course, one of two places where all is famously fair. And the narrative even has its own ‘Gotcha’ justification ready to go, making clear how so many of the people drawn to the venue of the surprise concert weren’t fans of Azalea in the first place who would know or care who the band was — They were only there for a shot at a cash prize. It can be seen as a case of making use of a resource that’s already there anyway. In this situation, it’s well-reflected in the parallel story of Kongming’s past we finally get tied to this plot: The Battle of the Red Cliffs and Kongming’s method of securing 100,000 arrows is a genuinely cool past parable to hear. And I presume any viewers up on that always-important Three Kingdoms trivia probably guessed where this plan was going the instant ‘100,000 Likes’ was indicated as the game-winning goal. So that element ties in thematically with a lot of what’s going on here, and is entertaining to watch in the moment to boot. But as with Nanami and her compatriots’ consternation over Karasawa’s approach, it’s hard not to feel like Kongming’s ploy, if clearly not as self-serving, doesn’t also miss the point of pure performance in its own way. It feels cheap, basically.
Now of course I recognize that this is only the first strike of a multi-step plan Kongming has concocted here, one which he’s always clearly been confident would ultimately depend on Eiko’s performing skills. And it’s easy to see some of the layers this is already setting up for in the showdown between Azalea and Eiko, chief among them the idea of the ‘real’ Nanami as the one Eiko seems to genuinely want to go up against. As I mentioned in past weeks, Kongming’s plans are often about helping his opponents in some way just as much as they are about his own promotions. It means that Eiko’s presence at all is more of an effective attack on Nanami’s efforts than any siphoning of her internet popularity, as the bassist-turned-pop-star’s internal pleas for her street-performing partner not to look at her in this falsified- by-fame state ironically ring as the most ‘real’ parts of the plot this episode. If the deceptive part of Kongming’s plan here was really just to strip away all the artifice and give way to a ‘real’ battle of the bands to earn the Likes required as proof of performing ability, more power to him, but we must wait until next week for confirmation of that concept.
Instead, the demonstration of Kongming’s profit for social engineering at least finally provides a showcase of what Kabe has really been here for the entire time. It’s surprisingly simple, turning him into a freestyle rapping hype-man who can draw the confused crowd’s attention away from Azalea and block their Likes in an effort to give Eiko one more chance at winning them over with her own genuine ability. After everything we saw Kabe go through, watching his ability to play off even hecklers in the crowd to keep his flow going satisfactorily marks this contribution as something only he can do. Plus it has the bonus of capping off his more long-term character development, demonstrating that pressures from the audience no longer inspire ulcers for him, and he can instead take them as an opportunity.
An opportunity is what all this seems to have provided for Eiko by the time this episode cruelly cuts us off, and arriving there is recognizable as the core source of my concerns. There’s faith I can have in this story that by the time we see the full scope of it next week, all of Kongming’s social subterfuge will be revealed as justified. But in this isolated, weekly moment, it doesn’t come off as his most grand, impressive plan, even rooted in an inspiring story such as it is. I know that Kongming, and his show, can do better, and now I’m left trepidatiously waiting to see if they will confirm that at the finish line of this race to 100,000 Likes next week.
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.