By Andrew Osmond.
Konosuba, or to give its full name, Konosuba – God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!, is a thorough piss-take of gaming and fantasy. It takes one newly deceased boy gamer, a dimwit goddess, a couple of loony girl followers, and some profoundly silly monsters. Anime has a heritage of funny fantasy, going back to 1990s titles like Dragon Half, El Hazard and the long-running Slayers. Or you can go back further: the first Dragon Ball series in the 1980s was as daft as they come, with goofy monsters and diarrhoea jokes.
Back to Konosuba, which opens with Kazuma, a shut-in boy gamer type making a rare trip outdoors to buy a new online game. Anyone who’s seen Sword Art Online knows that’s a bad idea, but tragically Kazuma doesn’t get to play. He sees – or thinks he sees – a cute girl about to be run over in the street… So he leaps heroically in front of her and dies.
He wakes in a dark chessboard limbo, where he’s greeted by a blue-haired, blue-eyed beauty who identifies herself as Aqua. (We may as well get something out of the way; Aqua doesn’t seem to bother with undies, as her introductory shot makes helpfully clear.) Aqua tells Kazuma that his death, far from being a noble sacrifice, was actually utterly shameful. But there’s hope for the lad – he has the option of a new life in a fantasy world, which is threatened by a “Devil King.”
So far, so (relatively) traditional. But it turns out that Kazuma, while he may be a shut-in otaku, can think outside the box. He’s like those smart-arse fantasy heroes who are given three wishes and wish for a million more. Aqua explains that Kazuma can ask for one item of his choosing, like a super weapon or a talent. Kazuma chooses… Aqua!
The upshot is that Kazuma ends up in a fantasy world together with a lividly angry blue-haired goddess, who must muck along with the otaku no-hoper. Aqua still has magic, but she’s also rather dim, and her magic is mostly useless, so when she goes into battle, she often nearly gets eaten (or she actually gets eaten). It’s startling to realise that this dimwit divinity is voiced by Sora Amamiya, who was the fearsome Toka in Tokyo Ghoul.
Aqua and Kazuma don’t look like they’ll get very far, until two more characters join the pair.
One is Megumin, a girl who presents herself as a fearsomely powerful arch-wizard. However, it turns out she’s worryingly fixated on blowing things up. The script describes Megumin as a “chunibyo,” someone who acts like an annoyingly self-absorbed fantasist. It may not be coincidence that Megumin looks rather like Rikka, the heroine of Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions. Or that Maaya Uchida, who played Riika in that show, voiced Megumin in a drama CD of Konosuba, though she’s voiced by a different actress in the anime version, Rie Takahashi.
Megumin, though, looks positively sensible compared to the other new lady, Darkness. She’s an armoured woman “crusader,” who brings maximum meaning to the word breastplate. She also has some truly scary fetishes, probably from watching too much Game of Thrones.
Of course, one boy and three girls normally equals harem. But there’s little trace of it in the early episodes; indeed, the women seem even more self-absorbed than otaku Kazuma. Instead, the fun is seeing all the silly situations that can arise from a fantasy scenario, including a monster “attack” that’s in the running for Most Ridiculous Anime Fight Ever. (Clue: the monsters in this fight are small, green and beloved by bunnies.) There’s also a great sequence when Kazuma and co meet another of Aqua’s pupils from Earth, who takes the whole thing deadly seriously. Boy, is he in for a let-down…
Konosuba is directed by Takaomi Kanasaki, who has past form in ‘dead boy gets in crazy situations’ anime, helming Is This A Zombie? Jun Fukushima, who’s probably best known for voicing Shokichi in the cycle saga Yowamushi Pedal, has fun as the baffled but savvy Kazuma, who has far more personality than most “heroes” in girl-heavy anime. Okay, so his female companions do less well. Konosuba’s level is summed up by a running gag about the girls getting drenched in mucus, leading to, well, gossip. Konosuba isn’t proud, but it is funny.