From the beginning, Hey Boy Kongming! has been about two things: the power of music, and promoting it with Three-Kingdoms-era military strategies. This week’s episode is definitely one of those major, climactic moments where those elements converge. It’s easy to see coming, of course, being the conclusion to Kabe’s sub-arc and recruitment into Kongming’s “camp.” But just because you generally know a song’s structure doesn’t mean it’s disappointing when it hits the notes, as long as it displays strong ability and feelings.
In this case, the music within a narrative is strategically. Although that might imply a very particular, pinpoint use, that’s far from the case in this episode. Nope, the centerpiece is a nearly ten-minute long rap battle between Kabe and Kongming. That is about 192 bars, a daunting task just to write, perform, and translate. Hey Boy Kongming! English translator Jake Jung posted a pretty interesting thread on the process for the whole exhaustive exercise. Keeping the words on-beat and rhyming is difficult enough, but I’m personally impressed with the way the translation also maintains all the English loanwords with their same placement from the Japanese version—that’s not as easy to do as you might think, and really enhances the experience.
As for the rap battle itself, it nails the performance art. Kongming is arranging this situation to get Kabe on his side, yes, but he is also putting on a show for the club. Perhaps expectedly, this involves playing up the contrast between the two’s rap styles: Kabe shows practiced, technically impressive abilities because his talent is what’s being debated here. Comparatively, Kongming’s rhymes come off as basic as you’d expect for a first-timer (he even opens by basically going “My name’s Kongming and I’m here to say”), but his obligatory anachronisms, like the sutra-esque delivery or Sun Tzu quotes, are charming. Honestly, Kongming does kind of sound like he’s running out of gas in his second verse of the tiebreaker round, though that might be purposefully lowering our guard before he completely upends the presentation by delivering straight-up Chinese poetry for his finisher.
PA Works was definitely not able to go all-out with the visual presentation in the middle of the season. There are some neat little flourishes, like Kabe swaying on-beat during Kongming’s rap in the tiebreaker. But the more overt symbolic elements like the Three-Kingdoms-era leaders appearing behind the rappers like Stands come off as just a bit more stiff than they need to be for such lofty concepts. Thankfully, the audio presentation makes up for it. Particularly in the first half, the all-important crowd reaction noise demonstrates Kabe’s people-pleasing skills, and also how reactive energy is integral to his enjoyment of the art form. It’s funny, since we, like Eiko, would naturally want Kongming to win the rap battle for the plot’s sake, but in that moment as Kabe gets the crowd to cheer for him and remind him why he loves doing this, we find ourselves swept up onto his side. Hey Boy Kongming! is a feel-good show, so why shouldn’t we root for all the rappers having a fun time?
It’s not just the music and ambience that communicates Kabe’s energy during this performance; the backstory details prior to the battle contextualize his relationship with rap. Those memories are themselves prompted by Kabe hearing one of Eiko’s songs; it’s a performance-based feedback loop that inspires everyone involved with Kongming’s musical squad. Even Kongming has a personal connection. For Kabe, rapping is a “home” he’s realized he years for, just as Kongming continues to some longing for missed opportunities in his past life.
The sentiment feels sincere, even as Kongming orchestras multiple layers of strategy as always. The reveal that his Sun Tzu’s “Know Thy Enemy” quote wasn’t just characteristic flavor but a reflection of all the specific intel Kongming utilized to bring Kabe to this point was particularly impressive. It showed the surprising relevance of the info Kongming was collecting during his club visits the last couple episodes. Our time-displaced strategist is possibly a bit too secretly manipulative in his methods, but it’s fun when we didn’t realize all the pieces that Kongming was actually moving around, and the revelation doesn’t really cheat our appreciation for Kabe’s skills or the decision he still (mostly) reached on his own terms.
That’s the spirit of the show, after all. This was an episode centered around a massively ambitious central setpiece, and while it might not have been as attention-grabbing as the out-of-nowhere rap battle from the second episode of Zombie Land Sagait was still a pretty dang impressive showcase for the show’s musical abilities and the lengths of Kongming’s strategies.
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.