Who Would Like this Anime?
KonoSuba is a fantasy comedy with a strong MMO vibe. There are hints of romance and harem elements, but they remain – at least in the anime – rather shallow and weak. However, the ecchi elements are rather strong. Bouncing boobies and panties left and right. If you can’t take the usual ecchi jokes, then KonoSuba is probably not for you. For everyone else, it’s a funny gag show that seems to hardly have any story progression whatsoever (I mean that in a good way).
I watched FFF’s release, the 1080p one. Sadly, the release is overedited in some respects. Especially the way Kazuma talks to Aqua. In the subs, he calls her a “bitch” way too often. If it seems weird to you that her reaction to that is rather weak, then it’s because he doesn’t actually call her a bitch. When you do call someone – especially a girl – a bitch, even if it’s in western countries, you better expect outrage. You don#t just casually call women bitches to their face. Now imagine if a Japanese boy called a Japanese (?) girl a bitch casually like that. He doesn’t exactly talk to her respectfully, but he’s not insulting her 24/7, either. It’s kinda annoying seeing the protagonist insulting the heroine just like that and this frequently to boot. Should’ve gone more easy on the name-calling and go with less harsh terms. Anyway, it’s a very watchable release with a few hickups. The visuals also seem to be native 1080p, at least I’m under the impression. In my opinion, you don’t have to opt for the 1080p release though – the visuals or rather amount of detail aren’t good enough to justify the bloat in file size.
Kazuma died and is about to get guided to the afterlife by the goddess Aqua. Having had the harsh life he led, he’s allowed to choose between being reborn into a more easygoing life in Japan – with his memories erased – or moving on to the “other side,” where apparently a Demon King is threatening the world. He’d also get to keep his memories and even receive a perk, like a legendary weapon or a strong ally to fight by his side. While that does sound good and all, Aqua’s not exactly the “kind” to him while explaining all of that. Quite the contrary, she can barely contain herself from bursting out in laughter because of how ridiculous Kazuma’s death and his life were, scorning him all the way. Being considerably pissed off by that, Kazuma decides to move on to the other side, and as his perk he chooses that she, Aqua, shall become his ally. Now the goddess Aqua is stuck with being a commoner until she and Kazuma manage to slay the Demon King…
From all the recent anime I’ve seen these days, KonoSuba looks the least impressive. It’s fair enough for a gag show like this, but nonetheless the visuals aren’t really. They’re sharp, but the characters can look weird in distant shots (try pausing the video when they’re in the background) and the level of detail is noticibly low in a lot of scenes. To me, if feels like there’s a kind of disbalance: Some scenes are lavishly animated (summoning magic) while others look more like slightly a somewhat polioshed and colored sketch. On the bright side, it really doesn’t hurt this kind of story. It’s neither great nor terrible. Don’t expect your mind to be blown, is all what I’m saying.
I guess you could say, KonoSuba is a pretty successful series. Apparently having started off as a webnovel, it has – including its spinoffs – 18 volumes to date, and I might’ve even overlooked some stuff. Comic adaption, two anime seasons so far, figures, and all that jazz. All this success, yet it’s far from being flawless. All these flaws, yet it’s far from being bad.
First off, let’s talk about the characters. Once the gang’s assembled, you’ll notice that on one hand, the inner core’s diverse. Kazuma’s the sole dude, breaking down his traits from most prominent to weakest would be: sarcastic > heroic > ecchi. If you’ve already seen KonoSuba (let’s face it, you probably did), you might raise an eyebrow to “heroic.” Kazuma is there when it counts (heroic), but given the chance, he’ll do anything to satisfy his lust (ecchi); most of the time, however, he’s simply tired of the shit he’s gotta deal with (sarcastic). Aqua’s a (former) goddess and a pretty lazy one at that. Self-centered and clumsy. In a way, she’s too used to being a goddess: Wants all the things, do nothing for it, and everyone’s admiration on top of that. Megumin is a mage who can cast exactly one spell – per day. She’s the quota “kouhai” (opposite of “senpai”) character with a chuuni tendency. Stubborn and clumsy. Darkness is the last to join the gang. She’s a super masochistic, yet proud knight. Oh, she’s also clumsy (can’t hit sh*t). You might’ve noticed that all the girls are clumsy. That’s basically where most of the comedy stems from: Sh*t always goes down in flames around Kazuma, since his party is filled with incompetence.
Now, if we’re honest, none of the characters are particularly unique. It’s more of an assembly of standard characters. However, the way most of the characters behave and their interactions with one another do feel very natural and interwine nicely. They’re consistent and homogenous. To me, an exception to that is Aqua. In a series filled with already overdrawn characters, she somehow manages to be too weird. It feels like the author forces her character into acting as the unlikable one of the gang. As if she’s forced to make all the wrong decisions, no matter how obvious. I understand that the point is that she, a goddess, f*cks up a lot, but her behavior just doesn’t come as naturally as the other character’s. It leads to her appearing as annoying instead of funny. Another grain of salt is the character development. Or the lack of it. They don’t really evolve, there’s no deeper backstories to them, you get ankle-deep at best. That doesn’t hurt as much, since ultimately I see KonoSuba as a comedy – and character development isn’t that crucial in that case.
The story? Well, in a nutshell, they’re supposed to defeat the Demon King. However, does anything really happen towards that big goal within season 1? Sure, they learn a few new skills and stuff, but what do they achieve? Anything worth of calling “development?” I don’t think so. Basically, every episode has its own mini story the results of which then get smashed to pieces within seconds. Sometimes they take two steps forward and one and a half back, sometimes one step forward and one back, sometimes one step forward and two steps back. They’re virtually building card houses throughout the episodes and you then watch them collapse in the storm they sowed themselves, over and over again. Is that bad? No way! As I said, KonoSuba is more of a comedy than a fantasy adventure, and it’s hella funny to see them f*ck up over and over again and watch Kazuma getting real tired of this sh*t. It really reminds me of Kusoge in that regard: Story development in the narrower sense is miniscule, but you’re not reading it for the results, you’re reading it for all the f*ck ups in the process. Still, after watching season 1 I gotta wonder whether a fantasy series can self-sustain on comedy alone while it’s seemingly going nowehere. The sheer number of volumes KonoSuba has by now does either say “yes, it can” or there actually is something like a “bigger” (I’m not expecting too much here) story unfolding at some point. Another weird thing is that characters just appear without further explanation or any real introduction. They’re just there all of a sudden. Yunyun (that was her name, right?) comes to mind, or the storekeeper witch. While they’re “just” side characters, it’s confusing at first and makes you wonder, whether you’ve missed out on an episode or two.
Following up on that point, I did read that there are quite a few things in the novel that were cut from the anime. Apparently, the novel has a lot more rom-com – emphasis on the “rom” part – moments which didn’t make it into the anime for some reason. That might’ve helped character development, but I can only speculate since I haven’t read the novel (yet). Also, another piece of information you might find interesting: The anime merely covers 2 (!) volumes. It’s really rare for an anime adaption to chew through that little content so slowly. It might also explain why there’s no bigger story starting to get rolling, but again, that’s just speculation. It’s also not a bad thing for an anime to take its time working through its original work. Leaving the spin offs out, there’d be enough content for 6.5 anime seasons right now, by the way.
Moving on, there’s a slight amount of worldbuilding going on. Nothing too much though, which isn’t surprising considering how the anime merely covers two volumes. KonoSuba‘s consists of a fantasy world with RPG elements. The adventures Kazuma and company partake in are designed like quests (kill quests, exploration quests), they gain XP, level up, learn new skills. However, it feels much more real than the usual VRMMO worlds you should know all too well by now, so it doesn’t feel like they’re in a game. They really can die, although they simply have to leave that world then. It’s basically a “real” fantasy world playing by RPG rules. In a narrower worldbuilding sense, there are a bunch of locations that reappear and give you a vague sense of orientation, but altogether it’s rather shallow, you don’t get a real grip on how one city is different from the other or what its landmarks are.
My last point will be about the comedy. As always with stuff I’ve nothing but praise for, I don’t really have much to say. If something’s great, it’s great, right? KonoSuba is really, really funny. Easily one of the best comedies I’ve seen in probably years. Its punchlines hit hard, its jokes have strong delivery. There are a few “fresh” elements that I haven’t seen in the genre so far that really help to spicen things up. I’m talking about Kazuma’s – and sometimes other character’s – mumbling inbetween other character’s lines: He tends to just mumble stuff into an ongoing dialogue, just some short, snappy remarks or nonsensical stuff that helps to make the whole scene even more hilarious (“Yep, I’m Kazuma”). There are a lot of funny interruptions during dialogue in general. As I already mentioned above, KonoSuba‘s arcs have that Kusoge vibe going on, where anything that seems to go well will go to sh*t eventually. Of course I’m well aware that KonoSuba is the older series here, but for me Kusoge came first, so that’s how it feels to me. The comedy is very reliant on Kazuma and his reactions to the girls, but it does work well. A lack of dynamic that results from the girls barely interacting with one another with comedic value is more than compensated by how hard Kazuma’s tsukkomis hit.
Altogether, KonoSuba is nothing special, yet pretty darn good. I honestly don’t see how someone could not like it. However, it’s not a masterpiece, just really enjoyable. What really does put this show above mediocrity and heaves it to greatness is the author’s sense of humor. Average characters, average world, nothing’s really happening, but oh boy does his writing make a show out of it. The fantasy setting also helps a lot, you just can’t help but be curious about what mysteries this unknown world holds, even though the anime – so far – doesn’t give you too much background information. You can’t help but wonder what’s gonna happen next, even though barely anything’s happening/progressing. Anyway, the author does make a lot out of very little thanks to his brilliant sense of humor. I’m rating it by what I see it as: A comedy cake with fantasy-RPG sprinkles on top. And it’s a brilliant comedy at that.