So the trust issues between Kongming and Eiko seem to have been mostly resolved by their commitment to each other in last week’s episode. This one opens with Eiko noting that she understands Kongming’s regular excursions must be in service of working for her sake, in this particular case, to find that rapper he insists will be instrumental in making those 100,000 Likes. Of course, there’s still a level of uncertainty about what kind of rapper he’ll be bringing on-board, but acting as a vehicle for funny imagine spots driven by That Wacky Zhuge Liang is one of the reasons we’re here for Hey Boy Kongming!, isn’t it? And it still feeds into the driving structure of the show, with both us and the characters in the story curious about what Kongming’s plan of pursuit is actually going to be.
With that in mind, it thus makes sense that most of this episode would wheel over to focus on the brand-new character who will fill that presumptive rap role. Completely shifting gears like this can be a gamble in a series where the previous appeal was predicated on the chemistry of its particular lead characters, but the general strength of this anime so far has, I think, earned the kind of faith in its storytelling that Kongming and Eiko have in each other. It also helps that the story for the new guy presented here turns out to be interesting enough on its own that it feels worth following, with the bonus that we’re aware of why we’re following it at this point.
And hey, the fact that said new character is completely compelling at the start here is another point in the plot’s favor. Meet Kabetaijin: A scrawny, hallowed, stressed-out sleep-deprived little weirdo of a man, he’s indeed an ideal sex symbol for 2022. And as with Kongming’s schemes across the stories of episodes, the writing plays with our perception of Kabe here as we get to know him. See, opening on him as he practices his freestyle raps under his breath, playing off signs he sees and snippets of conversation he hears, makes it come across like he’s some sort of hardcore, always-on rap competitor, exactly the kinds of raw skills Kongming might be looking to add to his musical army. But then over the course of his interactions with other incidental characters, we come to find out that Kabe is in fact petrified at the thought of participating in public performance. It quickly recontextualizes his earlier practices alongside some similar exercises we see him attempt while writing a letter back to his mom: This is someone who, despite his struggles with performing it, genuinely loves the craft of rapping, who can’t turn it off no matter how hard he tries.
Kabe’s grappling with the stress-induced stomach-ulcer-based limitations on his abilities rings the same relatable notes as Eiko’s confidence issues, and should make for some interesting chemistry once the two are brought together by Kongming. But just on his own, the little arc we follow Kabe on for this episode works because of the earnestness with which it’s coded. It’s not just a case of him wanting to win, to succeed in rap battles for the sake of fame— As demonstrated, the guy has a real love for the art form, to the point that even many of the opponents he’s shown to defeat on stage have a healthy respect for his abilities and how that drives them as well. But, as it is for so many people, his cringe-ass body simply isn’t up to the demands of continuously performing under that kind of pressure. It’s a smart move to have Kabe’s peers like the amazingly-named Sekitoba Kung Fu be portrayed as genuinely encouraging towards him (as perhaps-overly-pushy as they can come off in the face of Kabe’s clearly-deterring stress) since it accentuates how much Kabe is his own worst enemy in terms of being held back from performing. It iterates on the earlier idea with Eiko that sometimes we do just need a new friend/mentor to help us get out of our own way.
Enter, as per usual, Kongming. His late appearance into this episode of his own show plays off the continued inherent silliness of his own existence, especially in comparison to the grounded interior drama we’d previously been following Kabe on up to this point. So having him just walk in on Kongming sitting in a laundromat wearing a tracksuit is the kind of on-brand record-scratch we expect from this series, drawn in as we already had been by that more ‘normal’ part of the plot. But it also emphasizes the extraordinary effect that might be needed to help Kabe out. His fellow rappers encouraging him wasn’t enough, but maybe a time-displaced Three-Kingdoms-era strategist quoting Sun Tzu is what he actually needs. Part of the appeal of the setup here is that aforementioned drawing-in of the audience as we wonder what exactly is going to happen, particularly with the suggestion that Kabe will be engaging in a rap battle with Kongming himself. The strategist definitely puts up a compelling preliminary performance; I love the improvised use of the rhythmic sounds of the laundry machines as a backing track, even if, as Kabe says, it’s really more of a sutra than a rap. He’s the expert after all, and even at this early stage, that clues us into how Kongming’s scheme might be working.
Our hero was able to appeal to Kabe’s love of the craft of rap itself, and we get to note how the prospect sees his stomach start to stress out at the possibility of not competing when asked to, compared to his prior fright over participating. For all the personal and professional pursuits we see defining his own character, the series has been pointed about portraying Kongming himself as having unshakeable confidence, in contrast to the amount of that trait he’s trying to impart to the likes of Eiko and Kabe. Perhaps that’s to be expected when you’re a historical icon with your own Wikipedia page, but as the progression of this episode demonstrates, it’s an effective resource to wield that doesn’t have to mark one as overly cocky, but rather, specifically trying to share that assurance with people he sees inspiration in.
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.