The Most Excellent Depiction of Chihiro in “The World God Only Knows”

“Average characters” are a dime a dozen in anime and manga. Whether they’re a girl who’s good at sports and bad at math, or a boy who sleeps in class and never attends clubs, whether they’re main characters or supporting ones, the archetype of the “average person” is often taken as practically a blank slate or a convenient neutral point, which makes it all the more impressive when an anime or manga does an excellent job of portraying the average without making it feel boring or rote. Gundam AGE is one such series which pulls this off successfully, and another is The World God Only Knows, particularly with the character of Kosaka Chihiro.

A girl with no particular hobbies or skills who prefers to get advice from magazines and gossip about her latest crush, Chihiro comes across as a character many anime fans looking for larger-than-life personalities might be disappointed by, the sort of girl people associate with “boring reality” whom they might want to avoid in their entertainment. This is made clear even by the main character Keima, himself a fan of the extreme contrasts in personality quirks common to dating sims, who considers himself an enemy of the “real,” and who describes Chihiro as the equivalent of the random character you see in the background while having a conversation with one of the main girls in a game.

What is particularly compelling about Chihiro, however, is how her averageness is utilized in the story to give her more depth as a character. Chihiro, especially as the story continues, knows full well how more often than not her “passions” are anything but, and it is this self-awareness combined with a newly found sense of general confidence which allows her to explore her own identity more thoroughly.

At the conclusion of her original arc which centered around her aloofness and a desire to feel “special,” Chihiro takes up guitar on a whim. Over the course of the series she forms a band with some of the other girls while also improving her skills, though the band does not become her identity. She is not “Chihiro the Guitarist” the way other girls such as Nakagawa Kanon and Shiomiya Shiroi are “the Idol” and “the Bookworm,” respectively, but unlike those characters the guitar didn’t have to be a guitar. It could have been pottery or gymnastics or any other activity, though perhaps her instrument of choice and the decision to take up music in the first place also stand out as decisions typical for an average girl. The important thing is that starting up a band becomes a way for Chihiro to learn more about herself, and to prove to herself that she can actually stick to something and see it through to the end.

The idea of creating a band from the ground up and working at it might suggest the classic theme of “hard work breeds success,” but I don’t think that’s the case for Chihiro here. Just as she is not the Guitarist, she is also not the Rock Lee. It is less about how effort can overcome a lack of natural talent, and more about how the act of making an effort at all can create positive changes in a person such as Chihiro. There is success, but it is success on her own terms, and as Chihiro says herself, “I suck at singing as well, but in my life, I’m always the vocalist!” Chihiro is not only a character, but also an on-going process, and that makes her fascinating.