A Military Strategist Gets Reincarnated As A Pop Star Manager In Ya Boy Kongming!

(Welcome to Ani-time Ani-where, a regular column dedicated to helping the uninitiated understand and appreciate the world of anime.)

Now that we're doing a regular seasonal list of the best new animes, this column will slightly shift focus to be more about older titles. Whether it's forgotten gems or iconic hits, we're all about paying homage to the classics.

That being said, occasionally there will be some anime that are so special and unique — usually while not getting the popularity they deserve — that it's hard not to make an exception for them. The hope is that this column could try and give these shows a second chance at finding their audience. 

Such is the case of "Ya Boy Kongming!" — one of the best shows of the spring 2022 season. Despite positive reactions, however, the show quickly got eclipsed by juggernaut premieres "Spy x Family" and "Kaguya-sama: Love Is War: Ultra Romantic."

"Ya Boy Kongming!" follows Zhuge Liang (courtesy name Kongming), who was a real war strategist living during the Three Kingdoms period of ancient China. The show follows his reincarnation in modern-day Japan and his decision to use his knowledge to become a manager for a would-be pop star. From there the show becomes a heartwarming, bizarre, bonkers comedy that has a lot to say about the healing power of music, and has some incredibly catchy songs.

What makes it great

Everything you need to know about the tone of this anime is right there in the title and opening theme song. In one of many wonderful localization choices, the original, literal title "Party People" becomes the much better and more appropriate "Ya Boy!" — which instantly creates a mental image of its main character. The opening theme song covers a Hungarian party song to deliver the ultimate party anthem: the type of song that gets you pumped up and ready to party in 90 seconds or less. It's a song that sets a tone for the rest of the show, as well as expectations that are met at every turn.

Indeed, this is at its core a show all about music. Thankfully "Ya Boy Kongming!" has exquisite music production the likes of which we haven't seen since "Carole & Tuesday," from the animation to the melodies and lyrics. There's even a rap battle in episode five that raises the bar for TV localization and subtitling, turning classic Chinese poetry into killer bars.

An out-of-time tactician

At the center of all this is Kongming himself, the star that turns the show's gimmick into a multi-layered comedic hit. The joy of early "Kaguya-sama" was seeing the convoluted and contrived plans two teenagers came up with to make the other confess their crush. "Ya Boy Kongming!" carries on that show's absurdist spirit by employing actual war tactics the real-life Kongming used to defeat entire armies and become a strategist as great as Sun Tzu, and use them to attain music stardom.

His tactics are not only faithful to history, but the show pays meticulous attention to details to a point where it almost resembles a heist film — assembling teams, and throwing background hints that all come together at the last second once the heist is explained.

Thankfully, the show borrows a trick out of the "One Punch Man" book and avoids turning Kongming into a tired one-trick pony. Seeing Kongming outsmart everyone using ancient tactics that never fail would get tired after a while, so the show starts expanding its focus and spends time with other characters. That way, when we do see Kongming reappear after a couple of episodes, his whereabouts and tactics retain impact.

What it adds to the conversation

Even though he already lived a full life that is well documented, the biggest trick "Ya Boy Kongming!" pulls is giving its titular character some actual development and growth. From the moment we meet him, Kongming laments having dedicated his life to death and dreams of being reincarnated in a world without war. He spends his second chance at life trying to make up for the thousands of deaths he caused by genuinely helping people improve their lives.

The way he goes about doing so is the central theme of the show: that music has the power to heal and save lives. This is a rare anime that stars actual adults in adult situations. When we meet the would-be pop superstar Eiko, she talks about suffering from depression and wanting to end it all. It was an unexpected concert experience that made her fall in love with music and dedicate her whole life to it, hoping to reach out to other people with her songs so no one goes through her pain.

Likewise, we meet a battle rap sensation named Kabetaijin who was bullied and lonely until he found a clique through rap. Sadly, the anxiety of competing and imposter syndrome led to him collapsing on stage from a stomach ulcer, until Kongming helps him reconnect to his music passion. There's even a whole subplot about an idol group that sold out and gave up their authentic sound in exchange for actually making a living from music. The show is constantly showing us how the right song at the right time can change everything for a person, and it results in some very emotional scenes.

Why non-anime fans should check it out

A weird premise that makes for a great comedy, "Ya Boy Kongming!" features fantastic songs and a great story about the power music has to bring us together and help us heal. It takes no time for Kongming to become a standout character and make you fall in love with his eccentric out-of-time behavior, as well as his ruthless tactics. Plus, it has one hell of an opening song.

Watch This If You Like: "Carole & Tuesday," "The Devil Is a Part-Timer," "Zombieland Saga."

"Ya Boy Kongming!" is streaming on HIDIVE.