Novel vs Anime: Konosuba
The KONOSUBA -God’s blessing on this wonderful world! anime was a surprise hit last year because of its hilarious characters and entertaining parodies of the “stuck in a video game-like fantasy world” subgenre that has become so popular lately. Now that the light novel that the anime is based off has finally received an English translation, it’s time to unravel what makes the anime such a great adaptation of Natsume Akatsuki’s original novel.
Note: This review only refers to the first volume of the light novel, which is covered in the first six episodes of the anime.
The Konosuba anime often gets a poor rap, even from its fans. The anime was low budget, people claim. The animators didn’t put their full effort in. This is apparently evident in how the characters often appear to be off-model. Even when they’re static, the character designs appear much less round and “moe”-looking than the light novel. It all looks sloppy, for lack of a better word.
According to the character designer of the anime, the so-called “sloppy” character designs were a deliberate aesthetic choice, designed to emphasize the unflattering traits of the characters. Aqua might look cute, but she can also be petty and mean, and her first appearance in the anime reflects this. The looser designs also make the characters easier to animate in a creative manner. I don’t know about you, but the derpy faces in the anime are hilarious to look at—as far as a comedy anime is concerned, they’re far from animation “mistakes.”
For all the stylistic liberties in the visuals, the anime is actually very faithful to the novel’s tone and sense of humor. The novel appears to have been written as if it were an anime script in the first place, complete with snappy scene transitions and exaggerated slapstick comedy. Each chapter is split into numbered skits, and very little time is wasted on extraneous descriptions.
The Konosuba is one of the more unabridged adaptations of a light novel I’ve come across. Every major scene from the first volume is kept in the anime, with the sole exception of Wiz’s introduction, which is referred to in flashback form in episode 8. This part feels a bit clumsy in the anime, but otherwise the anime faithfully preserves the flow and sequence of events of the light novel. Although a few worldbuilding details are skipped, nothing important to the jokes is removed.
But the Konosuba anime wouldn’t be a great adaptation if it were just a copy-and-paste of the light novel. The anime occasionally takes scenes which are only mentioned in passing in the light novel and fleshes them out impressively, crafting some memorable scenes in the process.
In episode 1, after Kazuma and Aqua first resolve to become adventurers, there’s a minute-and-a-half long montage of them doing construction work instead of, you know, adventuring. This sequence also includes the bizarre yet strangely fitting sight of Aqua puking rainbow vomit—perhaps the bright colors befit a goddess such as herself? All the while, epic fantasy music plays in the background, which contrasts with their mundane activities in a hilarious way. Needless to say, none of these visual or musical touches are in the book, but it all fits the role-playing game spoof theme to a T.
There’s also the scene in episode 3 where our heroes (?) fight against a flock of airborne cabbage during harvesting season. In the novel, the adventurers are summoned to battle, and then the next scene abruptly cuts to the aftermath. The characters refer to the details of what took place in the battle in retrospect, leaving the reader to reconstruct what happened by themselves. As a literary device, this works to great effect, but I also love how the anime spells out exactly what happened and dials up the physical comedy even further. I don’t think I’ll easily forget the sight of Darkness taking beatings from the cabbage while moaning in sexual delight.
The anime also uses the backgrounds to enhance the scenes in the light novel. As I mentioned before, there isn’t much description of the scenery in the light novel. The reader is generally expected to use their knowledge of the medieval fantasy genre to fill in the gaps. The backgrounds in the anime, on the other hand, can be very detailed and beautifully drawn, while the CG layouts breathe life into the mise en scene without taking focus away from the character actions.
When combined with a deft hand at lighting and shades, the backgrounds have contributed to some of Konosuba’s best scenes. For example, shortly after the construction work montage in episode 1, Aqua assures Kazuma with a smile that she can help him complete a monster-slaying quest. This fairly nondescript scene in the novel plays out like follows:
“I’m getting pretty tired of construction… I didn’t come all the way to a land of swords and sorcery just to work with my hands. I came here to adventure—no computers or game consoles needed. I was sent here to drive out the Demon King, wasn’t I?”
For a moment, Aqua looked at me as though she couldn’t understand what I was talking about. Then she exclaimed, “Oh, that’s right! We did mean to do something like that, didn’t we? I got so caught up in the joy of work that I completely forgot, but if you don’t take out the Demon King, I can’t go home, can I?”
I was a bit taken aback by her words, until I recalled the receptionist’s remark that Aqua’s Intelligence stat was below average.
“Fine, let’s go take him out! You’ve got me with you, so we’ll be fiiiine. You can count on me!”
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this… But I guess you are a goddess. All right, it’s up to you! Tomorrow we’ll get the cheapest equipment we can find and then start working on our levels!”
“Just leave it to me!”
In the novel, this entire conversation takes place in the stable where our heroes sleep, but the anime uses the backgrounds to re-enforce the comedic beats in the conversation. When Kazuma tells Aqua that he didn’t come to this world to be a laborer, he’s literally at work. When he reflects that Aqua’s Intelligence is below average, he’s in the bath, a setting that is often used when characters are pondering deep and personal matters.
But the last part of the conversation, where Aqua assures Kazuma that she can rely on him, is framed without any tongue-in-cheek humor whatsoever. The scene is set with an uncharacteristically leisurely pace, as Kazuma walks out of the bath house in a depressed mood and spots Aqua drinking water. She is quite literally in her element. We see a close-up of her face—unlike Kazuma, she’s perfectly content and serene, almost like a bona fide goddess.
The evening sun casts a tranquil light over the scene. When Kazuma remarks that Aqua is a goddess after all, Aqua smiles in her usual goofy way. And yet the sight is oddly soothing.
Little touches like this make Konosuba something more than just another screwball comedy. As mean and petty as these characters are to each other on a routine basis, their emotional bond is also evident in the ways they interact with each other. My favorite thing about the anime is that it takes the time to draw these nuances out onscreen and express them with visual flair. I’m dismayed whenever people suggest that this labor of love was a low-effort project.