Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! (KonoSuba for short) is refreshing. I passed it by believing it no more than a lame SAO-or-the-like clone, but as Preston was with Grimgar, I was glad to be wrong about that. But it takes a totally different approach to its sudden fantasy RPG milieu.
For one thing, it hums along at a breakneck pace, and also provides clear (and kinda harsh!) background: protagonist Satou Kazuma finds himself in the afterlife after dying not by heroically pushing a classmate out of the way of a runaway tractor, but simply dying of shock, complete with doctors and family laughing at his passing.
It’s also a very comedic show, unlike the shows I thought it’d be aping, it charts its own course, and that course leads to frequent laughs. The goddess assigned to guide him in the afterlife and choose what to do with himself (go to heaven or be reborn in a new, alternate world) is Aqua, and while initially serene, quickly shows her endearingly smug, haughty side (and seiyu Amamiya Sora’s great range).
Aqua reminds me a little of Hotaru in Dagashi Kashi, in that she’s a character who totally owns herself. The difference is Aqua is a little more self-aware; she knows she’s hot stuff, and she’s appropriately cocky and brusque with young Kazuma, getting digs about his “shut-in NEET” life and super-undignified end every chance she gets.
To its credit, KonoSuba also knows the advantage of balance and restraint in a comedic presenation, which means it doesn’t simply pile harships onto Kazuma. In fact, the tables turn devastatingly quickly for Aqua when Kazuma decides the “thing” he will take with him to the next world will be her, a request another goddess accepts without complaint and sends both Kazuma and a very shocked and scared Aqua off to their new life together, in order to defeat the “Devil King”.
The fantasy world they end up in is familiar, but I like how the two react very differently to suddenly being there. Kazuma simply goes with the flow, making use of his extensive knowledge of RPGs. Aqua…starts off by having something like a panic attack. She’s very disoriented and nervous, and assumes Kazuma is useless, but when he turns out not to be, her manner with him softens appropriately. (He then later turns out to be not very capable after all.)
Of course, when Kazuma learns they need money to register as adventurers, it falls to Aqua to try to procure some funds, which she does by essentially begging a kindly religious man; something she’s not proud of. However, they get the registration fees, and get an assessment of their stats before choosing their jobs.
Despite being average at everything (save slightly higher intelligence and extremely high luck), Kazuma insists on being an adventurer, while Aqua is amazing in everything but intelligence and luck. In other words, these two complement each other perfectly.
With the “character creation” taken care of (both for Kazuma and Aqua and the show itself), they go on to “begin their adventures.” What follows is a wordless but wonderful montage of the two settling into a life of strenuous manual labor, digging holes, carrying loads, and building and plastering walls.
The montage progresses from the two just getting by and sleeping in hay with manure, to getting slightly better at their jobs, earning enough dough for food, baths, bedding, and eventually booze and carousing (followed by Aqua vomiting rainbows…more than once).
This sequence reminded me of the classic Shinji and Asuka training montage—not a bad thing to be reminded of, and probably not an accident. Kazuma and Aqua start out with very low opinions of each other, but the more they work together, the better they manage in this new world.
Another choice Aqua gave Kazuma when they first met was to spend eternity in “heaven”, but only as an old man sitting around for eternity. It wouldn’t be what it’s cracked up to be in the living world, she warned. But Kazuma chose reincarnation, and now we see him reaping the benefits of that decision.
Sure, there are conflicts and hardships, but also mirth and vitality. They’re just scraping by, but they’re alive, damnit. And we’re talking about a goddess who never knew what it was like to be alive before she met Kazuma, and an otaku who had a very narrow scope and short duration to his previous life.
Then, suddenly, Kazuma jumps up out of bed, startling Aqua (who sleeps beside him, no big dealio), and realizes: this isn’t right. They fell into a comfortable rut of being day laborers, but they came to this world to defeat the Devil King. Only then can Aqua go back to being a goddess, and can Kazuma receive a gift from the grateful gods.
So they agree to return to the original plan, starting by striking out in the wilderness on a “kill quest” to test their abilities and hopefully bag a monster or two. I can’t wait to see how they manage to muck it up!