DEEN FINDS A WAY
Title: Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!
Aired: Winter 2016
Studio: Studio DEEN
Genres: Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Supernatural
Light spoilers ahead.
It won’t reach the Top 100, they said. It won’t reach the Top 50, they said. It won’t reach the Top 10, they said. But against all odds, defying the scepticism of all the non-believers (including me) who scoffed at their shoestring budget and unimpressive track record, Studio DEEN have basically won with Konosuba this season. DEEN have won big. Konosuba has been met with commercial and critical success, blowing past the likes of Kyoani and A-1 to compete in BD pre-order sales with SHAFT’s Koyomimonogatari – and the Monogatari cash cow sells stupidly well every time. A second season has been immediately announced (probably on short notice), and LN sales (which were already pretty high) have increased three-fold as a result of the anime. It had practically no budget (and since they had to do Rakugo too it’s like dividing a budget of zero in half) so their profit margin must be huge. No-one had any idea it would blow up as much as it did, but somehow it has. No-one paid any attention, but based DEEN found a way. Based DEEN will make anime great again.
Story and Setting
Why was Konosuba so good? It offered something different, I guess. After several years of MMO-related anime series from SAO and Danmachi to Log Horizon and Overlord, what we have here is a slice-of-life parody of life in a stereotypical RPG world. If this was a normal entry in the genre, we’d be following Kyouya and his special demon sword and group of girls who fawn over him. But instead, we follow Kazuma and his daily life as he’s stuck in the starting town. Game mechanics like ‘steal’ are subtly made fun of by highlighting how exploitable they are, and despite each girl in Kazuma’s party being almost ideal on paper, they each have something hilariously wrong with them that makes them inconsistently reliable at best. Darkness is a masochist beyond saving. Aqua is a useless damegami who never wears any panties, wastes all her skill points on party tricks and would be drowning in debt if not for Kazuma. Megumin is a chuuni with a silly name (with parents named YUIYUI and HYOIZABUROOOOO) who gains pleasure from blowing things up once per day. Konosuba is a laugh-out-loud, feel-good sort of show that doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and once you think about it we surprisingly haven’t had too much of that lately. It’s basically about its characters acting like total idiots every episode, and I found that to be wonderful entertainment. They were having fun, and so I was having fun – and DEEN enjoyed themselves too, from what I’ve heard. I’m not sure how it’s possible for the production staff to be surprised at a second season announcement (only DEEN, I guess) but the director and character designer were both over the moon. One of the episode directors actually expressed shock that it even got a second season (again, only DEEN).
Its hastily-arranged second season was practically inevitable given how much of a massive upset it caused in the sales rankings. Not taking advantage of this would be a production choice of DEEN-level stupidity, ironically enough. From my point of view I couldn’t be happier – I actually had no idea it was only 10 episodes long, so a second season announcement was just what I needed to make myself feel better after the finale ended. We might be seeing a future trend emerging from Konosuba too – one of the things I’ve mentioned on various occasions is my prediction on how the next big ‘wave’ in anime adaptation genres will be reincarnation. In other words, light novels (most often) where a hikiNEET dies and is reborn or reincarnated into a parallel fantasy world and starts a new life there. I really do think it’ll be the next big thing after the ‘trapped in an MMO’ craze. Given its parody nature, Konosuba isn’t exactly a paradigm example of the reincarnation genre, but it could pave the way for similar things – and especially as this sold well others will want to jump on the bandwagon too. Already (by coincidence, since there’s no way it could have been green-lit only after they learned DEEN would actually make money off of Konosuba) next season will feature Re:Zero, which is also about life in a parallel fantasy world.
Characters and Voice Acting
In the end, it was the characters and their jokes which made Konosuba. They were all lively, well-timed and hilariously scummy – from Kazuma’s heartfelt internal dialogue about how he should forget the succubus wet dream and enjoy dinner with his party members (before promptly abandoning them for the succubus) to him stealing Chris’s panties and spinning them around in the air like a raving lunatic (before forcing her to pay him for their return). Internal dialogue is a key thing so many LN adaptations fail to incorporate, and getting regular snarky quips from Kazuma (the ultimate one being ‘hai hai Kazuma desu’) made a world of difference. After being informed that crusaders and crimson demons apparently don’t go to the toilet, Kazuma mutters ‘what are you guys, idols?’ I was actually surprised at how consistent the quality of the comedy was – I can name highlights in every episode, without fail.
Come to think of it, a lot of the comedy was pretty lewd. It worked though – the pee episode and the succubus shop were some of the funniest scenes. the Even Darkness and her masochism, which some started seeing as a one-trick pony, wasn’t something I grew bored of at all. I don’t know how much freedom the seiyuus get with these jokes – I know Takahashi Rie improvised some lines in her introduction episode when Kazuma was pulling at her chuuni eye-patch (in between ‘YAME—YAMEROOOOOOO’ and ‘ITTAIII, MEGAAAAAAAA’) but what about the random ‘KACHOU FUUGETSU~!’ that Aqua did while exorcising all the ghosts in the mansion? Was that something the director thought up, or what?
Of course, the voice work contributed a whole lot to why the comedy was successful. It’s a combination of an entertaining cast and a set of voice actors who knew how to bring out the best in them. You could tell that all of the main seiyuu really enjoyed their work, and put a whole lot of effort into their performances – it made things all the more lively. As much as I love Megumin, the two which stood out to me the most had to be Fukushima Jun as Kazuma and Amamiya Sora as Aqua – Amamiya especially, since I know her well from a lot of her other stuff and she’s never been as expressive as she was in Konosuba with her irate and bratty Aqua. I’ve grown a little more partial to her now – she hasn’t gotten many roles this year and last year (possibly after Sony stopped feeding her free fish, if the rumours are to be believed) but she’s definitely on her way up now because of Konosuba. So is TakaRie, who is in an excellent position to build on the exposure gained from voicing Megumin due to her role next season as the lead girl in Re:Zero. I love how much enthusiasm she shows for Konosuba, to the extent that she cosplays Megumin and everything. Her explosion chuuni chanting is great, but her YAMEROOOOOO tops it all for me. It was a beautiful yamero.
The animation was objectively shitty, there’s no sugar-coating it – it’s DEEN after all, and they fully deserve the reputation they’ve built up for themselves over the last ten years or half a decade or so. But with Konosuba, it kind of worked – all the lazy animation and QUALITY frames were actually charming, and only enhanced the comedy. It’s a parody after all. This is the one genre where DEEN can get away with sub-par animation and have no-one really care all that much – because in this case it hardly detracts from the experience. I’ve seen the LN designs and they really are different, but I’ve actually found myself liking the anime ones too. In fact, I’m slightly reminded of SHAFT and how they skimped on Bakemonogatari and accidentally ended up creating an odd avant-garde style of their own that they still use (and enjoy the low costs of production for) to this day.
I think that’s about all I wanted to say. Konosuba is honestly really refreshing, I could sing its praises all day. I do wonder whether its success was at least partly down to the surprise factor – that is, that no-one expected anything of it or its studio and so hyped it up when it turned out to be actually good. I guess we’ll find out in Season 2, when people will be actively looking forward to it and when there will actually be expectations on DEEN to deliver and not mess up – but for now it should be appreciated as a wonderful gift of a show that everyone should definitely try watching.