I’m not entirely sure what to think of this anime. Last time, I talked about my impressions of One Punch Man and how the intentional subverting through parodies undercuts the series itself a little bit. KonoSuba is in a similar boat. Despite its central theme of not living the hero’s life in a fantasy world, it feels a little undercooked and underwhelming.
KonoSuba‘s premise is a fairly straightforward one. High schooler Kazuma dies in a very pathetic way, and enters the afterlife. Here he is told he can be reincarnated into another world to try to kill the Demon King (thus earning a wish of anything he wants) and is allowed to select one skill, object, etc. that may give him an edge. In a legal loophole, he selects the goddess Aqua as petty revenge for irritating him with her descriptions of his death and everyone’s reactions. Along the way, they pick up two additional party members: an Archmage named Megumin and a Crusader named Darkness.
Now what KonoSuba offers is a step away from your usual fanfictions of “I’m the hero in this RPG world” (and yes, KonoSuba features leveling up your “characters”, learning skills, etc. that one would see in an MMORPG) and instead focuses on the more mundane day-to-day activities that would more realistically occur.
A bit of a digression: RPG worlds, when you think about it, are a little weird. Consider this: there’s a box that requires 20 Strength to move. You have 19, but you also own a hat (or something) that gives you +1. As a character, you’d just slap on the hat and move the box, but what’s to say that can’t be done as an NPC? What are the ramifications of being able to change your mental, psychological, and physical attributes just by changing your wardrobe?
Anyway, digression over. Despite this anime leaving me ultimately feeling unsatisfied, that’s not to say that it was without its moments. Several times I laughed out loud in seeing RPG tropes represented in great ways (Kazuma’s inadvertent stealing of panties was particularly silly), and some of the main party’s quirks were hilarious.
For a while. Each member of the party has his or her flaws. Kazuma is a jack of all trades, master of none; despite having a slightly above-average Intelligence, his other stats are mundanely normal. Aqua’s stats are all way above average save for her Intelligence; it is later revealed that her stats are maxed out, and therefore she can’t actually become any smarter. Megumin, despite her powerful spellcasting, is unable to cast more than once a day. Darkness is a complete masochist, finding sexual arousal in taking hits; moreover, she’s so clumsy she can’t even hit a stationary target. Now initially, this forms a ragtag motley crew, where each turn was something fresh. Unfortunately, by halfway through the series you get a little sick of Aqua’s ditziness and Darkness’ convoluted view of the world, and you really only need to hear Megumin’s Explosion incantation once or twice. The somewhat short season (ten episodes) also serves to further make these characteristics feel redundant, as you’re shoving more occurrences into a shorter time.
My final grievance with this series is its static nature. Now, granted, its entire point is to show that life in a fantasy world is nothing like being the protagonist of an RPG. That’s something I can accept: toiling away at construction, taking part-time jobs, etc. until being able to save enough to buy rudimentary equipment. But the show opened with this speech on how the Demon King was bearing down on these poor people, and yet he doesn’t even get a character animation. One could argue that it’s for setting up a bigger finale, yet nothing about it really screams sequel. I am aware of a second season coming next winter, but I feel that this first season felt indecisive, as if it wasn’t really sure if it wanted to be its own standalone series or a set-up for an even bigger effort. I’m more inclined to think it was meant to be the latter; there’s only one particularly pivotal point of character development in Kazuma’s second death and his realization of his enjoyment of being a hardworking RPG character, but none of the others get anything close (though Darkness did get some offhanded screen time about being the daughter of the ruling family and all that), and the entire succubus episode was, all things considered, entirely unnecessary.
All that being said, it’s still fun to watch (much like One Punch Man). As a musician, I particularly liked the OP, especially when it moves into 3/4 during the episode name title card. It was also fun drawing parallels between the show and the MMORPG elements that I so recognized. I come from one of the oldest generations of RuneScape players (my character, who I login to every few months or so, is over a decade old), which means I remember going through Tutorial Island and doing all of the newbie quests available in Lumbridge. Watching Kazuma have to struggle with these things that I did so many years ago hit me with a wave of nostalgia as I remembered old struggles (chopping trees for five hours to raise enough money for a rune longsword to kill the dragon comes to mind) and playing with all my friends. Though I know that KonoSuba was meant to show more of the reality of an RPG character instead of the whole I’m-a-hero thing, I welcomed the old memories.
Ultimately, KonoSuba is a fun watch. Its colorful charm and quick wit are appealing enough to quickly grab the eye of viewers, and seeing RPG tropes and clichés translated from game to video is really quite amusing. Unfortunately, it suffers from a static setting and overuse of the same assets and same gags, in some cases turning it into a mess that you just kind of want to get over with. I’d be willing to watch the second season, but I’m hoping it leans more towards the adventuring side; that way, there will actually be some direction in the plot.