KonoSuba – 04

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This week’s KonoSuba felt like three separate and distinct KonoSubas in one, all coalescing at the end around a single theme: whether Aqua is any good. We begin with Darkness showing off her repaired armor (and somewhat sadly asking Kazuma to praise her sometimes) and Megumin getting really excited about her new Manatite staff.

Kazuma also isn’t wanting for anything, as he later buys clothes and equipment better suited for his environment (albeit the same green shade as his tracksuit). All three spent their cabbage spoils wisely, but Aqua didn’t. In fact, she spent all the money she had and built up a 100,000-eris bar tab, thinking she’d be good for it, only for most of her cabbages to turn out to be lettuce, which isn’t worth nearly as much.

This is ridiculous and hilarious and makes perfect sense, since Aqua has so little luck. Kazuma, meanwhile, is roling in luck and cash, and wants to move out of the stables, but instead pays Aqua’s tab, after she tries pretty much everything: flattery, begging, and finally shaking her bum.

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Part Two of the three parter is the marvelous story of how Kazuma is forced to tag along on Megumin’s practice sessions far from town (where she won’t get scolded by guards) so she has someone to carry her home (just thinking about the silliness of such arrangement would send any milk I’m drinking out my nose).

She finds an abandoned castle perched atop a cliff, and day after day, once a day, blasts it with explosion magic, and every day, Kazuma carries her home. At first, it’s a chore, but he starts to get into it in spite of himself, gradually becoming a kind of aficianado; the equivalent of an “explosion foodie.”

Every explosion has its own intensity and personality, and Megumin has good and bad days. They bond through the experience, and Kazuma’s previously dismissive attitude toward her gives way to a kind of respect and understanding.

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His attitude towards Aqua, on the other hand, remains extremely dismissive. Aqua seems happy to be bringing home free dinner (and I’d be happy too!) but Kazuma is restless. He doesn’t think they can beat the Devil King, and he thinks a lot of that has to do with Aqua not being the all-powerful goddess he thought he had.

A Megumin aptly puts it, his “verbal lashings are pretty nasty;” subjecting Darkness would bring her tears of joy, but they only bring Aqua tears of sorrow (though Aqua reacts interestingly to Darkness’ interest in being reamed by Kazuma).

Kazuma’s war with Aqua is put on hold when a Dullahan arrives in town – one of the Devil King’s top generals. Looking kinda like Ains Ooal Gown’s cousin, his main grievance is with the constant explosion spells being cast on the castle where he’s taken up residence. Heh, I knew that castle wasn’t abandoned!

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After failing to pass of blame to another town wizard, Megumin steps forward and actually takes responsibility, though she refuses to apologize for or cease doing what is, for her, as natural and necessary as breathing. If she has to fight the Dullahan into submission for him to understand, so be it. Aqua arms herself and stands beside Megumin in solidarity.

Then the Dullahan, out of patience, prepares to his Megumin with a Death curse that will kill her in one week, but Darkness races in front of her and takes the curse instead. Now, I know enough about Death spells to know they’re typically not reversible; once you get one, it’s only a matter of time. This incident actually heightened the peril dynamic of the entire show for me; it looked like it was actually going to get serious.

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Of course, this being KonoSuba, feelings like that don’t last long, but that’s just fine, because the route it takes instead is true to its mission statement to send up every fantasy trope it can find in the most creative way possible. Because the Dullahan death-cursed a masochist, he only made things weirder and more of a hassle for himself, so he retreats before Darkness jumps on his horse.

Before he does, he challenges the party to come after him, and if they can fight their way through his castle fortress and get to him, he just might lift the curse. After he leaves, Megumin again shows she has heart and guts by resolving to take that challenge. Kazuma, who as we saw bonded with her somewhat in training, declares his intent to accompany her. It looks like the party is about to embark on a grand adventure to save their selfless comrade.

But NOPE, Aqua just uses her magic to instantly lift the death curse from Darkness as easily one balls up a tissue and tosses it in a dustbin. JOB DONE. I have so say…I wasn’t expecting that at all, but again, it made perfect sense.

Aqua had been beaten down the entire episode as an underachieving, whiny, pathetic excuse for an arch priest, but ends up the heroine, gaining the adoration of the entire town while utterly sapping Kazuma and Megumin of their motivation. So going back to the question of whether Aqua is any good…well, she is, but only at very specific things at very specific times. If this bizarre party is going to thrive, it will do so mostly by threading needles.

8_ses

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KonoSuba – 03

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And then there were four. Two of whom, Megumin and Darkness, are extremely eccentric individuals with no concept of personal space whom Kazuma wants nowhere near his party, even though he’s well aware he and Aqua aren’t enough to make it in this world. (It was also a little mean of him to call Megumin a “little girl”…she may just be small for her age!)

Ultimately, Darkness doesn’t endear herself to Kazuma so much as she simply doesn’t go away and refuses to take no for an answer, because for her, “no” is a pleasurable experience. The sterner and harsher the rejection, the happier she seems to get. Kazuma’s usual arsenal of repelling barbs only embolden the bombshell.

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KonoSuba enters ecchi territory when Darkness’ thief friend Chris teaches Kazuma the “Steal” ability, then challenges him to steal back his coin purse from her. Instead, he scores her panties, which distresses Chris to no end and makes Darkness jealous that she isn’t the one being humiliated in the streets.

That being said, Chris is otherwise a pretty normal and capable kinda person, one of the first to enter Kazuma’s circle. So of course he ends up doing something terrible to her, due in part because he’s an adolescent virgin shut-in. He ends up with her panties because it’s where a part of his dirty mind happens to be during the Steal process.

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Just as Megumin shamed Kazuma into surrender last week, Chris shames him in front of the entire adventurer’s guild (though it’s at least partially an act). I gotta say, while Kazuma sports the lion’s share of annoyed, exhausted, and flabbergasted expressions, he gets plenty directed at him here, even from Aqua and Megumin.

When he demonstrates his new Steal ability on Megumin, he claims her panties as well, which astounds him because he thought the loot he’d receive would be more random (not that he’s complaining). Darkness continues to make her case for joining the party, feeding off of Megumin’s energy.

Kazuma, a little thrown off what game he usually has by the craziness, ends up motivating both Darkness and Megumin by pointing out how tough his and Aqua’s quest to defeat the Devil King will be. In fact, all the talk about how tough it will be make Aqua nervous and reluctant to proceed.

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Circumstance brings this Dream Team of Ineptitude together in the form of a town-wide emergency quest alert. A swarm of…something is quickly approaching the city, and all adventurers gather at the gates to meet it.

When that something turned out to be flying cabbages, well…I nearly fell out of my chair. Yes, in this alternate world, harvesting cabbages is more of a hunting frenzy, as they don’t go gentle into that good…salad.

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After mutiple swings from her sword fail to claim any heads (of cabbage) Darkness decides to prove her worth by serving as a shield for some overwhelmed fighters, getting more and more excited as the cabbages pummel her and her armor is shed and her clothes torn, she feels the uncultured men gawking at her and feels tremendous, wonderful shame.

Megumin inadvertently causes a near-“crisis” in Darkness by launching another one of her patented one-off explosion attacks, being as unable to hold back as Darkness. But while there’s quite a bit of collateral damage, she’s able to harvest enough cabbages to give the party a very nice payday (Correction: her explosion doesn’t really help much; it’s Kazuma who collects most of their cabbages with his Lurk skill.) Aqua is able to do little things like hydrate the other adventurers and keep the cabbages cool.

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After tasting this world’s cabbage for the first time and being pleasantly surprised by its superior flavor, Kazuma looks around to see what fortune hath wrought: he is now “cursed” by not just a variably competent arch priest and unreasonably specialized arch knight, but a gorgeous but clumsy, masochistic crusader.

I placed cursed in quotes, because that’s only one limited way of looking at his situation. Sure, he may foresee hardships in the future with a party that looks a lot better on paper than in the field, but time should yield better teamwork, and even when everyone screws up it tends to turn out okay.

Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness may be as much blessings as curses in this wonderful world. And together they’re a swirling vortex of comedy gold. Which is a blessing for us.

8_ses

P.S. Tilt-shift is often over-used in live-action TV, but I love its usage in KonoSuba’s beautiful ED.

KonoSuba – 02

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That forthright pledge to strike out into the wilderness on a daring kill quest turned into an excuse to sleep in for Aqua, much to Kazuma’s chagrin. I like how the ending of the last episode was played straight, only to be flipped into another failure by the Worst Party in the World.

When they do get out into the field, Kazuma’s shortsword is no match for the giant toads they’re trying to kill. Worse, Aqua spends their first battle either laughing uncontrollably at Kazuma’s expense (she still has a mean streak!) or praising her master goddess powers, right up until she’s swallowed. That leads to the line of the episode: “Don’t get eaten!” (Akin to “Esteban was eaten!”)

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Aqua doesn’t take disappointment or defeat well, as we saw from how she reacted to Kazuma forcing her to accompany him to the alternate world in the first place, and how she cries a lot when things don’t go her way.

Still, she tries her best to do a good job; it’s just that her offensive capabilities are, shall we say, limited, even against the relatively docile giant toads. She almost gets eaten again, giving the quest a nice comic rhythm (and those legs sticking out of the toad’s mouth is a nice sight gag).

So Kazuma has to save her again, and in the process manages to kill two of the five toads necessary to complete the quest on the first of three allotted days. What’s somewhat amusing is we never see how he beats them.

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Overlooking entirely that seemingly impossible feat, Kazuma nevertheless knows if they’re ever going to make enough money to make adventuring even worth it, they need a new party member. When Aqua posts a hastily-scrawled recruitment poster, there are predictably no elite takers (despite the clout she believes she has with everyone).

Instead, a pint-sized arch priest answers the call, introducing herself as Megumin with a long-winded and elaborate chuunibyou introduction that leaves both Kazuma and Aqua a little incredulous. I’ll point out that Megumin is voiced by Takahashi Rie, one of may favorite new seiyus (who did fine work in Sore ga Seiyuu and Gakkou Gurashi).

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However, her credentials check out, so they take her out to the field, where Aqua rushes headlong towards the nearest toad without any kind of backup and promptly gets glomped up again. Megumin’s explosive magic is indeed very, very…explosive, and she takes out one toad with one blast.

The only problem is, that’s about it for her as far as battlefield presence. Her sole attack causes instant KO…which is quite the liability! After using the spell, she can’t move, and the explosion rustled a third toad from its sleep. That toad glomps the helpless Megumin up, leaving Kazuma to defeat the remaining two frogs to save his party members, again, amusingly, totally off-camera.

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It’s clear that if they face anything with claws, teeth, speed, or pretty much anything more threatening than smelly slime, this party is going to be killed very, very quickly. Adding insult to injury, Megumin proclaims she can only cast the most powerful explosion spell and nothing else, not because she’s unable to cast other magic (which might be of better help in a party), but because she doesn’t wanna.

That unreasonable attitude is enough reason for Kazuma to dump her (something all the other parties in town must have done by now), but he realizes he has a lemon too late: some townsfolk see him struggling to pry her off of him, and see all the slime, and suspect the worst. And Megumin takes immediate advantage, showing off a bit of that crimson demon intelligence.

So as useless as Megumin (and possibly Aqua) might be, Kazuma is stuck with both. He’s so down in the dumps about the prospect of making enough money to make the whole enterprise worth it, his guard is down when he encounters a stunning onna-kishi named “Darkness” who looks like a serious operator…that is until she tries to talk and things are…a little off.

No doubt her tryout period will go about as well as Megumin’s, and she’ll find some way to coerce Kazuma into letting her into the party. Or maybe Kazuma will have no choice either way. Can’t sleep in stables forever!

8_ses

KonoSuba – 01 (First Impressions)

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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