Kazama Sato is dead, or rather, was dead. Through some afterlife coercion, he finds himself in a rpg-like fantasy world along with the stuck-up, airheaded goddess Aqua, who offered to send him there. Together, they are off to find and fight the Demon King!... or they will if they and their party can ever be more than a crazy bunch of misfits.
Back on Earth, Kazuma was a NEET and a hikikomori, only coming out of his house for the next limited edition video game release. However, when one such trip ends up with him dying from self-induced shock, he takes up the goddess Aqua’s offer of going to a fantasy world, taking her along as his plus one. Once they arrive, they find the adventuring life isn’t all they imagined. It turns out adventuring is a little more poverty and giant frog slime than fun and games. So they decide to go looking for more party members to help them on their quests and are joined by the Archmage Megumin, a master of explosion magic who can fire only one spell a day, and Darkness, a masochistic crusader who simply gets off on the idea of being molested by monsters. With four such adept adventurers in the party what could possibly go wrong?
How Was It?
A small disclaimer before I start this review: if you like myself originally came to the Konosuba series through the 2016 anime adaptation by Studio Deen (I have not read the light novels), I suggest leaving most of your preconceptions about the series at the door. The manga adaptation Konosuba, while covering the same basic story, is surprisingly different to the anime, both in the small details of the plot and the emotional tone of the work. With that in mind, how does Konsobua fare in comic form?
At it’s core, Konosuba volume one is a gag comedy, which makes its trade as a humorously light take on role-playing games and game-based narratives. Its main hook is its subversion of many genre tropes and reader expectations such as kazuma’s steal skill stealing undergarments instead of valuables, or villains being creeped out by the heroes’ antics. Coupled with this are its four main protagonists: Kazuma, Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness, who are each hopelessly flawed adventurers in ways that produce various hilarious results simply by the four of them trying to do their jobs. For example, Aqua is a tremendously powerful Archpriest, whose lack of intelligence and terrible luck often relegate her to being fairly useless. The rest of the cast have similarly zany personalities, and I particularly enjoyed the way that the personalities of these characters interplayed with the gags portrayed. This was done in a consistently humourous way, and this created many moments of bizarre comedy that were undoubtedly the high-points of this volume.
Sadly, despite how funny some of the gags concerning the characters are, other elements of this volume hold it back significantly. The biggest sin it commits is the overall flatness of character and world detail that its writing and design sadly fall into because the characterization and world building often seem to be put aside in favor of telling the next joke. The overall feeling this gave me was one of uncaring frivolousness because the story never really backs up its gags with substance. While most of Konosuba’s gags are predicated on subverting your expectations of the rpg world they’ve made, the fact that the audience doesn’t get much detail out of the story besides the jokes seems like a greatly missed opportunity. Annoyingly, this volume frequently forces the reader to just assume the details without distinguishing what makes this world special or unique, and I was disappointed that the subversive premise seemingly promised by this series is never really seized.
An example of Konosuba seemingly missing an opportunity to flesh out its world a little more is the way it handles its side characters. For instance, the most important side character we meet is the lich Wiz, who seems to be a fairly prominent member of the town as a shop owner. There is barely any mention of this and the few side comments about her on half a page end up being the most in depth piece of world building knowledge we get out of the entire volume. Likewise, the characters often seem to be missing motivation, and this is especially true near the beginning. The clearest instance of this is Kazuma’s choice of Aqua as his special item to take with him into his new life. The manga gives him barely any discernible reason or motivation for doing so, and he plainly looks bored instead of looking spiteful, angry, or pranksterish. Kazuma’s party members fare only slightly better than this as their “quirk” is established immediately upon their introductions, but none of the circumstances of the manga flesh out any of their characters beyond their initial appearances. This isn’t to say that they absolutely needed to have an arc since the nature of the gag format is built around stock characterization, but we get almost nothing in terms of interesting background detail from the manga about any of the main cast. The end result is that they are left in a half-baked state of bland character writing, and this was a significant problem I had with this volume.
The artwork of the manga compliments the gag nature of its plot with an artstyle that is ⅔ chibi deformed, and this is done in a way that gives the entire work a very childish aesthetic. While it does compliment the humorous tone of the piece, the overall lack of detail combined with the less defined aesthetic makes the characters look about as flat as they are written. One of the few benefits this choice has is that it gives Watari-sensei the leeway to make more expressive faces, which are for the most part effective even if they sometimes just come off bland. The effects and backgrounds get the job done, but are in some places noticeably flat in ways that just drag the reader out of the experience of reading. Another solid thing is some excellent use of surprising page turns. The first giant frog encounter has an especially effective example of this where the effectively surprising page/panel direction makes up for some of the shortcomings of the art. Overall, the art is a bland but mostly competent creation where the direction is often better than the panel to panel artwork itself is.
Konosuba: God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World Vol. 1 is an interesting comedic take on the “brought to a game world” story that has become very common in manga and anime circles. While the premise has lots of potential in execution, the manga often feels rote and bland, and its problem is that it leans on generic archetypes rather than fleshing out its own world and characters. The result isn’t a bad manga but a fairly forgettable one, and I would suggest looking to other manga in its genre or other versions of Konosuba if you need your comedic game-world fix.
Konosuba: God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World! Vol. 1 was published in English by Yen Press on Nov 22, 2016 and translated by Kevin Steinbach. The manga was created by Mashahito Watari based on the original story by Natsume Akatsuki and designs by Kurone Mishima.
Date of Publication: November 22nd, 2016
Author: Mashahito Watari + Natsume Akatsuki
Translator: Kevin Steinbach
Publisher: Yen Press