Ya Boy Kongming! is an anime with the most absurd, yet perfect premise: What if legendary Chinese Three Kingdoms–era tactician Zhuge Liang was reincarnated in modern-day Shibuya, and became the manager of a fledgling musician? The concept is relatively succinct and easy to envision, though it feels like it could lose steam pretty quickly. But that’s why Ya Boy Kongming! is all the more impressive: Where it truly shines is in taking what could be a one-note gimmick and executing it in a way that feels fun, uplifting, and never stale.
Based on a manga, the Japanese title for this series is Paripi Koumei. The former word is short for “Party People,” i.e. people who like to get out and live it up, and the latter is the Japanese pronunciation of “Kongming,” Zhuge Liang’s courtesy name.
There’s a basic formula to Ya Boy Kongming!: Tsukimi Eiko—the aspiring singer—faces a challenge that can further her career or sink it. There are rival musicians looking to get ahead of themselves, and they seemingly have Eiko outgunned in every way. However, Kongming’s brilliance comes through, and using tactics inspired by his most brilliant ideas as found in Records of the Three Kingdoms, he helps Eiko overcome all obstacles. It’s reminiscent of a series like the mahjong manga Akagi, both in getting to see a genius on display and the fact that prior knowledge of the central focus (Chinese history in this case) isn’t required. It’s also charmingly lighthearted: Seeing one of Kongming’s famed stratagems in the context of exploiting the architecture of a Shibuya night club, for instance, is a great blend of silly and compelling.
If it remained rigid in its format, Ya Boy Kongming! would be a quirky little thing that people can point to as an example of how wacky anime can get. But what the series also does to remain engaging is to give its characters a real sense of growth. This applies not only to Eiko and others she meets in her journey, but also to Kongming himself. Whereas Eiko is on a journey to stand on bigger stages and sing her heart out, Kongming is all about wanting to change the world in a time of peace rather than war.
The show also just looks and sounds good. The art style is conventional, yet still charming. Eiko’s songs are beautiful and properly convey her as a hidden gem to whom Kongming is rightfully devoted. The themes are actually covers of popular club songs, which fits the series to a tee, and has helped Ya Boy Kongming! reach beyond a niche audience.
Applying war tactics to a music career reminds me of something I’ve heard often, which is that all businessmen should read Sun Tzu’s Art of War. The difference is that CEOs reading about how to be brutally efficient in war sounds like everything that is wrong with the world we live in, whereas Kongming’s gentle applications of theory in this specific context are fun and never void of human decency. It’s that gentleness and purity of premise that allows Ya Boy Kongming! to be both eminently memeable and fully capable of standing on its own legs. It possesses both fluff and substance, and watching it makes me feel better about the world.