It may be easy to be fooled by Konosuba’s uneven animation and superficial reliance on tropes, but with its colourful and memorable cast of characters, unapologetic goofiness and deceptively unique presentation, viewers will have a hard time finding a more enjoyable way to immerse themselves in a fantasy world.
Plot synopsis: Upon dying in one of the most humiliating ways imaginable, Kazuma drags the condescending Aqua into a fantasy world where his only allies are a girl who can use immense explosion magic… once a day and a crusader of unrivalled strength… whose accuracy is too low to hit anything. In summation, he’s stuffed.
From its status as a fantasy light novel adaptation, to its production by a studio with an infamous reputation, to its very heavy use of sexuality and characters who seem like gimmicks at first glance, Konosuba has no right to work as well as it does. Nonetheless, despite all the red flags and a shorter-than-average running time, it manages to deliver some of the most consistently fun and memorable experiences of any recent anime comedy. Its early episodes waste no time establishing the cast and their weaknesses, all in a hilarious mean spirited manner. Aqua is a miopic attention seeker whose endless potential is squandered by her inability, or rather unwillingness, to shoulder any responsibility and her tendency to get into debt over the most frivolous of things. Kazuma considers her a liability, though similarly he is much too focused on gimmicks like stealing important things and having dirty dreams to have the drive that any other fantasy protagonist would. Megumin’s glass cannon abilities are even more extreme, as her seemingly limitless power may only be used once a day because of the mana drain. Last, but definitely not least, Darkness, whom they had assumed would be their ace in the hole, instead serves as a masochistic shield who finds the idea of being hurt so appealing that she’d never kill an enemy.
This character cast seems like a recipe for disaster, or at the very least an anime that expends all of its good jokes right off the bat. However, Konosuba smartly changes the setting and pulls the carpet out from under the feet of the audience more than once. A character may make a foolish mistake, overestimating themselves, then look at their imposing enemy with shock before being eaten. The second time, they go from a failed attack to immediately being swallowed. These jokes work because they play off the cast’s worst qualities, though in such a way that it’s obvious that they’d not have much trouble in this RPG-like world if they put in even the tiniest bit of planning.
As for changes in setting, Konosuba provides deceptively detailed characterisation through placing its cast in different situations. Aqua is the life of the party, and has the potential to be the strongest member of the team, but she has never had to save or do an honest day of work in her life, so she splurges her skill points on party tricks. She’s the first to complain, constantly gets into debt through careless actions, though the show makes it clear that almost everything that ails her is her own fault. Kazuma, though definitely not sensible, is the most level-headed of the bunch. He’s the straight-man amid a group of wild animals, but he is by no means boring. Quite the contrary, his unconventional use of his thief-class techniques allows him to take on much stronger adversaries to hilarious results. The succubus episode provided some genuinely interesting character development for Kazuma as he began to see the girls in his group in a more sexual manner than he did before, though the episode successfully walks the tightrope between being too contemplative and too exploitative.
Megumin and Darkness both shine where they need to, though not as consistently as Kazuma or Aqua. In the case of the former, her explosion magic never gets old, spurning the actions of the Dullahan and obliterating enemies that a more balanced mage would struggle with. Darkness, like Megumin, is a glass cannon by choice, though to fulfill her masochistic tendencies rather than a chuunibyou delusion. She still has use in combat, but a boulder could probably fill her role just as effectively. There have been hints to her backstory, but season 1 doesn’t do much to flesh her out. The supporting cast are good, and give the town in Konosuba a sense of density, but this is very much the Kazuma-and-the-three-fools show, so they don’t get much of an opportunity to make an impression.
In terms of tone, Konosuba could be seen as the antithesis to Attack on Titan. In both stories, each step forward is seemingly met with two steps back, the main characters are constantly at a disadvantage, with an insurmountable opposition they must eventually face and limited resources. However, Konosuba never pretends that things are not going to turn out favorably despite the (largely self-inflicted) difficulties that Kazuma and Co. face. That is largely what allows Konosuba to come across as a joy ride rather than a chore as viewers are stuck watching horrible characters act selfishly with little redeeming value; as the title suggests, the world of Konosuba is wonderful and rich with opportunities, and while it may not feel like it at times, it always gives its misfit leads a chance to climb back to the top, no matter how many times they fall (presumably because Aqua pulled out the ladder from under them).
This is largely helped by the towns and lakes looking genuinely pleasant. The smoothly integrated CG water and lack of overbearing shadows gives the forests more than a tinge of warmth, and this even extends to “monsters” like flying cabbages and giant frogs (possibly in reference to famous JRPGs). The colour palette of Konosuba consists largely of warm colours, and as a result even confrontations that would be played off as tense in any other series have a comical edge to them. The fight with the Dullahan in particular comes to mind as a confrontation that comes across as both funny and exciting, something that would have been difficult to pull off had he been adorned in a darker black. Monster designs in general have a patched cheapness to them, no matter how dangerous they are, making the main cast look even more pathetic when they lose to them. The effects with the casts’ techniques are as vibrant as the world they inhabit, in particular Megumin’s Magic is quite a sight to behold, both in terms of intricacy and sheer luminosity. Each main character has a specific colour scheme assigned to them reflective of their personality and immediately descriptive of them. The bold, bright red and small size of Megumin’s dress are hilariously fitting for her abilities and pitiful stamina, while Kazuma’s green attire is appropriately earnest and belittling.
To add icing to the cake, this is all elevated by subpar animation quality. As much of an oxymoron as that might sound, that the cast of Konosuba have attractive character designs wasted on jagged art and awkward movement almost seems to be a joke in and of itself. Aqua is a woman who wants others to view her as attractive, but the animators are just as unkind to her as Kazuma is. Arguably, the characters would be much less memorable were they in a Makoto Shinkai film despite an upscale in detail. The facial animation in particular deserves mention, matching that of American gag cartoons in variety and expressive quality. The animation even takes on an atmospheric quality when needed, the penultimate episode in which Kazuma visits a completely legal not-brothel being the most striking case of this. That’s not to say that it always works; the relatively limited colour spectrum makes it difficult for the townsfolk to stand out, and that seemingly every female character (barring young ones) is drawn with emphasis on curves might rub some viewers the wrong way. Additionally, the town isn’t given much flavour, design wise. The walls, tavern and barn is regularly visited, but the wide shots fail to really elaborate. Konosuba’s limited animation and art are largely made up for with great aesthetics and strong use of limited resources, but there are times where the restraints are definitely noticeable.
Musically, Konosuba‘s soundtrack generally blends in and compliments the scenes it accompanies, though it doesn’t really stand out with strong character themes or experimental application. The OP is certainly catchy and fitting, with a barrage of quick jokes and implications about each character’s nature, from Aqua’s flamboyance and idiocy to Megumi’s atrocious stamina (even Darkness’s fetishes are hinted at, though only exceptionally attentive viewers will pick up on it without knowing precisely what to look for). With fast, fluid and expressive animation and a song promising the uproarious laughter that the anime delivers in spades, the opening song is probably the best trailer for the anime you can find. The ED is more deserving of praise for how just unorthodox, yet paradoxically fitting it is. The mellow vocals of the voice actors for Aqua, Megumin and Darkness (Sora Amamiya, Rie Takahashi and Ai Kayano, respectively) are full of character in a way other EDs performed by voice actors simply are not, and the accompanying folk music does wonders at setting the tone. The paper craft style visuals of the town are equally a joy to watch, making it a shame that many will skip the ED to get to the next episode.
All in all, Konosuba is definitely not the most groundbreaking of series, and perhaps its second season will run stale, though these first 10 episodes provided some of the most ironic, yet honest, fantasy fun that can be enjoyed from 2016, and that in and of itself makes it worthy of a recommendation.