ICYMI — Recommendation: Ya Boy Kongming!

Reposted largely because I hadn’t reposted it yet.

You may be wondering what a Greatest Living Author watches when he’s not writing. Well, how about a legendary Chinese genius taking on the recording industry?

I refer, of course, to manga-recently-turned-anime Ya Boy Kongming!

A shining example of one of my favourite story premises: ridiculous people doing mundane things, Ya Boy Kongming tells the story of a time-displaced Chinese war hero attempting to conquer the cutthroat world of the Japanese recording industry.

In the original Japanese, “Kongming of the Party People” — which, honestly, is probably a better name — Ya Boy Kongming! raises the obvious question of “Who’s Kongming?”

An illustration of Zhuge Liang.
Seen here in an early 20th-century illustration.
Image via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

And, well, I hope you’re ready to learn more about Chinese naming conventions and military than you ever wanted to know…

In brief, “Kongming” is the courtesy name of legendary ancient Chinese strategist Zhuge Liang — a courtesy name being a sort of honorary name bestowed to people (usually men, but occasionally women) upon reaching adulthood, with the adding benefit of serving to disambiguate between individuals with similar names, of which there are a lot in Chinese history — both because there are more than a few prominent families with multiple notable members, and because there are plenty of people with similar names but no meaningful relation.

For example, Liu Bei and Liu Biao are distant relatives, neither of whom are at all related to Bu, who has a completely different name, and is himself not directly related to Meng.

So, basically “Zhuge Liang” (incidentally, that’s family name “Zhuge”, personal name “Liang”; Chinese name order is the reverse of the typical Western order) would have been what was on his birth certificate, if they’d had those during the Three Kingdoms, and “Kongming” is how he would have actually been addressed by his contemporaries and associates.

For example, in John Woo’s movie Red Cliff, I’m pretty sure that Zhuge Liang is only ever referred to by courtesy name. Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve watched, but my recollection is only ever hearing “Kongming” in the movie.

Similarly, the most recent translation of Romance of the Three Kingdoms from Penguin makes the deliberate choice to refer to Liu Bei by courtesy name as “Xuande” to help the reader keep track of him among the myriad other characters with similar names.

As for Ya Boy Kongming!, our story begins in AD 234 on the Wuzhang Plains. Zhuge Liang dies of illness, his last wish to live in an age of peace. He is promptly reincarnated in present day Shibuya.

The Tokyo skyline at night.
“This infernal place must be Hell.”
Though, to be fair, he did end up time-displaced on Halloween
Photo by Nick Kwan on Pexels.com

And given that it’s Halloween night, promptly mistaken for a dude in a costume. For his part, his reaction is to assume he’s wound up in Hell…

Hilarity ensues.

Shortly after arriving in the present, Zhuge Liang meets Eiko Tsukimi, an aspiring singer.

A scene from "Ya Boy Kongming!", Eiko and a hungover Zhuge Liang.
“No, Sima Yi. Leave me alone!”
Ya Boy Kongming! P.A. Works and Sentai Filmworks.

In part for helping him adjust to life in the present day, Zhuge Liang declares himself Eiko’s strategist to help her start making it as a singer. Of course, since “strategist” isn’t really a viable career option in the 21st century, he functionally becomes her promoter/manager and most of the plot revolves around their attempts to get Eiko a place at a music festival. A task which Zhuge Liang approaches with exactly the same attitude he approached the battles of the Three Kingdoms.

Conveniently, the owner of the nightclub where Zhuge Liang starts working happens to be a colossal Three Kingdoms nerd. Which is handy, because when Zhuge Liang says things like “Hey, remember when I borrowed a hundred thousand arrows at Red Cliffs?”, there’s somebody who can go “I do remember that!”

Which is a major source of the show’s recurring humour. Also, it’s funny because the owner is outwardly gruff and scary-looking in a Yakuza-esque sort of way, but he’s actually a colossal nerd. And all-around swell guy, too.

One of the other main recurring jokes in the series is something along the lines of “Hey, man, I like your Zhuge Liang costume.

Though, again, to be fair, he did initially manifest in the present age on Halloween night…

Honestly, that pretty sums up the whole conceit of the series: Zhuge Liang is a legendary hero from 1800 years ago and acts like a legendary hero from 1800 years while kicking around doing everyday things with everyday people.

Essentially, much of the humour derives from the inherent incongruity of things like this:

A clip from the opening of "Ya Boy Kongming!" depicting the main characters dancing.
Ya Boy Kongming! P.A. Works and Sentai Filmworks. gif via Tenor.

Zhuge Liang in his iconic Three Kingdoms-era Minister outfit dancing in a decidedly modern manner and setting.

Also, treating everything Zhuge Liang does with the utmost self-seriousness. Being Zhuge Liang, he has a stratagem from every conceivable situation, often the point of his anticipation of his enemies’ actions coming across as downright psychic and preternatural.

For example, funnelling people to one of Eiko’s performances by re-creating the Stone Sentinel Maze in a nightclub.

Likewise, things like Rap Battles are treated with that same self-seriousness and presented in the same way as any of the iconic duels or showdowns from Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

The Battle of Hulao Gate depicted in the Long Corridor of the Summer Palace in Beijing.
Lü Bu (left, with the pheasant tail headdress) fighting Zhang Fei (immediately left of Lü Bu, with the bushy beard), Guan Yu (on the bottom-most horse, with the red face and green clothes), and the aforementioned Liu Bei (on furthest right horse with two swords) at Hulao Gate, as depicted in the Long Corridor of the Summer Palace, Beijing.
Photo by Wikimedia user Shizhao, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

You don’t need to be all that well-acquainted with the history of the Three Kingdoms, or with the details of Romance of the Three Kingdoms to get the anime. The most important references are spelled out pretty much directly in the recaps at the start of the episodes, though the more subtle (but ultimately less plot-relevant) references to the source material may go over your head.

The "I understood that reference" scene from 'The Avengers.'
Figure 1: J.B. Norman watching Ya Boy Kongming!
The Avengers: Marvel Studios. Image via Tenor.

Though, funnily enough — much as is the case with Dynasty Warriors — given the inherent ridiculous of the premise, you’re going to learn a shocking amount ancient China.

But, honestly, even if you aren’t a history buff, the basic premise of “Ancient war hero conquers music industry, gets bewildered my modern life” is strong enough to just be really, really funny even in a vacuum.

And, of course, it’s a show about music, so you can expect a pretty solid soundtrack.

My other recommendations are available here.

This week’s chapter is here:

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License button.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


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