If there’s one genre of anime that’s ripe for parody, it’s the isekai (alternate world) genre. It’s been ubiquitous the past few years, with at least one entry every season or two. The tropes are solidly established and the idea is easy enough to make fun of. Enter Konosuba. Konosuba ruthlessly mocks the tropes of the genre and, more importantly, does it well.
Satou Kazuma is a hikikomori high school student who spends all his time playing video games. After saving a girl from what he thinks is an oncoming car and dying, he wakes up in front of a goddess named Aqua who offers him a choice: he can go to heaven (which she makes out to sound boring) or be reincarnated into a fantasy world and fight to slay the Demon King. If he choses the latter option, he gets to bring one thing with him and gets a selection of magical abilities and weapons. While she’s explaining this, Aqua tells him that he actually pushed the girl out of the way of a slow moving tractor and then died of shock and then mocks him for it. Kazuma predictably choses the second option and decides to bring Aqua with him out of spite. The two end up stuck in the fantasy world until they can somehow slay the Demon King. While adventuring there, the duo teams up with Megumin, a chuunibyou mage who can only cast explosion magic (she refuses to learn anything else) and is useless after one spell, and Darkness, a masochistic crusader who’s so clumsy she can’t hit anything (and would rather be hit anyway).
While killing the Demon King is ostensibly the main plot of Konosuba, it doesn’t get much attention. Kazuma and his team are all too incompetent as adventurers to try something like that, and the only progress they make is mostly accidental. This isn’t really a problem, since Konosuba is first and foremost a comedy. The point isn’t Kazuma’s journey to kill the Demon King (which he doesn’t really care about anyway), it’s the funny things that happen along the way. Konosuba makes this clear by keeping up an irreverent tone from start to finish. No character is allowed to keep their dignity for more than about five minutes before something happens to kill the mood. Whether it’s Aqua doing something stupid or Darkness getting horny at the thought of being covered in slime, Konosuba never maintains a serious tone for very long. Even the title is a joke. Konosuba is short for “Give Thanks for this Wonderful World,” a play on how Kazuma always complains about how much the fantasy world he’s stuck in sucks.
The best part of Konosuba is easily the chemistry between the main cast. They’re all terrible people in some way and they seem to hate each other half the time, but the way they bounce off each other is great. They insult each other, argue, and mostly don’t get along. Even Aqua, who’s supposed to be a goddess, is selfish, petty, and stupid (the show actually says that her intelligence stat is bellow average). In spite of that, they have a kind of charm together that always makes you want to see more of them; they may be terrible people, but they’re terrible people together. They’re all funny enough to carry a scene on their own, but the cast really shines when they’re together. Even though a lot of the humor comes from mocking the characters, Konosuba doesn’t usually comes off as hateful. Characters rarely get more than they deserve, and they’re all likeable in spite of how terrible they are. The one occasional exception to this is Kazuma himself. He can occasionally get too mean spirited, especially with some of the jokes about how dumb Aqua is early on since she hasn’t done anything particularly stupid at that point. He never becomes completely unlikable, but he frequently toes the line between likably unlikable and just unlikable. His attitude makes sense-the show needs someone to play the straight man-but he can still be grating sometimes. Thankfully, he gets better as the show goes on.
At it’s core, Konosuba understands something important about writing comedy: don’t focus on writing funny things for characters to do, write characters who do funny things. That might not sound like much of a distinction, but it makes a huge difference. The former gives you characters who only exist to spout jokes (American sitcoms like Two Broke Girls are frequently guilty of this), while the latter gives you characters who are actually fun to be around. All of the humor in Konosuba comes from the characters’ personalities themselves. Things like Darkness’ perverted fantasies and Megumin’s romanticizing of explosions are both infinitely funnier because they’re actual character traits and not just random jokes.
Konosuba’s gotten a lot of flack for it’s animation, but it actually isn’t that badly animated. Magical effects like Megumin’s explosions always look great, and there are even some pretty impressive cuts here and there. A lot of the criticism has been about how loose the character designs are and how they’re frequently off model. The thing is, that seems to be the point. The loose designs allow for some pretty funny facial expressions and the off model animation actually adds to the irreverent tone; Konosuba’s rougher look fits the show far better than Kyoto Animation-style smoothness would. It’s not amazingly animated or anything, but the style fits the show. The animation style in the second season is a little looser than the first, but it’s not a major difference and is about the same quality. I don’t normally talk about the Japanese voice acting since I don’t speak Japanese, but even I can tell that the acting in Konosuba is excellent. Every actor puts so much energy into their performance, from Kazuma’s dry commentary to Megumin’s excitement about explosions, that it makes scenes even funnier than they would be normally. The soundtrack is less remarkable, but gets the job done.
If the way to measure a comedy is by what percentage of jokes work, then Konosuba passes with flying colors. It’s occasionally more mean spirited than it needs to be, but that gets rarer as the show goes on and the jokes that work more than make up for that. It’s funny, irreverent and has a likably unlikable cast. In short, it’s Konosuba.
Both seasons of Konosuba are available for streaming on Crunchyroll.
Final Score: 8.9/10