Have you ever tried to recommend a series or movie to someone by mixing and matching elements of other series? “Yeah, you should watch My Hero Academia, it’s basically the anime Sky High.” or “Jujutsu Kaisen is great, it’s the best parts of Demon Slayer and Bleach.” It’s an effective cultural shorthand, and with many newcomers to anime, it’s helpful to ground their gateway experiences in references to things they’ve already seen. Thus, every time I recommend Konosuba: God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World!, I add that it is the anime version of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
[below are moderate spoilers for both seasons of Konosuba and I think now 14 seasons of It’s Always Sunny]
It’s Always Sunny, for those of you who dismiss live-action TV as 3D, is the long-running FX black comedy surrounding a group of friends who run an Irish bar in Philadelphia. Friends from high school Charlie, Mac, and Dennis, as well as Dennis’ sister and father Frank start out as standard sitcom character molds before quickly morphing into psychotic carnival mirror inversions of themselves.
Konosuba is as aware of the conventions of the isekai light novel as It’s Always Sunny is of American sitcoms, and uses that knowledge to play off audience expectations. Isekai, with its blank slate and overpowered protagonists, rife with attractive love interests and easily hated villains, is uniquely qualified to serve as a power fantasy for the audience. Konosuba takes these qualities that make portal fantasy a fluffy escape for otaku, and turns them into the butt of the jokes. It is the quintessential parody, poking fun at these ideas while nevertheless warmly embracing them as a vehicle for storytelling.
I love dark humor, but it isn’t the easiest style to implement. To be offensive, you have to mock that which is generally considered to be above mockery, and that usually lends itself to punching down on vulnerable people and prioritizing being shocking over being clever. Series like It’s Always Sunny succeed at riding this line by a simple plot device; the main characters are actually awful people. It is genuinely difficult to find one redeeming quality in the main cast, and if you do, it won’t stay there for long.
So by making it clear that the Gang is not to be admired or emulated, the creative team and the audience can be on the same page that these people are to be derided, not the targets of their degenerate behavior. They cleverly do this not by just making them do awful things, but providing multiple side characters who watch these antics in horror and are in turn corrupted by them, we have a control to gauge the relative morality of these characters in this environment. Before becoming a drug-addicted and disfigured homeless man, Rickety Cricket is a clean-cut priest who rightfully denounces the Gang, until they manage to bring him down to their level.
Similarly, Konosuba’s protagonists regularly pull off objectively abhorrent things while the townspeople and their acquaintances look in horror and mutter to each other. We know that fellow isekai’d otaku Mitsurugi is a ‘nice guy’ loser who is thinks reincarnation was his chance at greatness, but looking at the actions of Kazuma and his party clearly, they’re kind of monsters who unleash hell on the town of beginnings with regularity.
But both series also take advantage of character archetypes of sitcoms and anime respectively; character traits and behaviors that bear similarity to many people we have seen portrayed in media. Charlie is the everyman who relentlessly pursues his romantic interest, the Waitress, and doesn’t let years of rejections get him down (even though he should). Dennis is the prototypical womanizer, using women physically and discarding them without concern for their well-being, but while it’s still a joke, it’s one that recognizes his actions are disgusting, not that the women are clingy.
It then becomes obvious what the writers are doing when Charlie finally sleeps with the Waitress and realizes he feels nothing. It was an empty and arbitrary goal that did not improve him as a person. And it becomes apparent that Dennis isn’t a harmless skirt-chaser, he’s an Oedipal manchild with a god complex and maybe also a serial killer. Frank gets the worst of it, devolving from a millionaire trying to cut back after a life of proper upper-class living and turning into a dumpster diving animal funding the ideas of morally reprehensible idiots.
A standard sitcom playing to the usual steps like How I Met Your Mother rewards main character Ted with the woman who he spent years aimlessly crushing on, and Barney doesn’t recant his ways of seducing women because he’s demeaning them, but because he becomes a single father. That’s great, but it doesn’t change that you own an actual sex dungeon of an apartment and are have a crippling addiction to pornography. It’s Always Sunny, by comparison, proves that these kinds of people aren’t healthy or well-adjusted, and that if left alone, they’ll only get worse.
Now, I haven’t spent enough of this Konosuba essay talking about Konosuba, and that’s no mark against the series, there is plenty to talk about. If you have seen one trashy light novel anime, you have seen at least one anime from every season aired in the last five years. When Kazuma gets a kiss from Truck-kun, meets a goddess and sent to a new world, we expect him to get an absolutely broken ability, pick up three to five love interests, and kill the Demon King.
Except that Kazuma didn’t get run over by a truck, he pushed a girl out of the way of a slow moving tractor and died of shock. The goddess that accompanies him to the new world, Aqua, is a useless alcoholic. His powerful archmage, Megumin, only knows one powerful spell and it always put her out of commission. Just to top it off, his paladin Darkness is a tank, but only because she’s a glutton for punishment and wants to be tortured by the Demon King for her kink.
Konosuba takes Kazuma’s only good stat, his luck, and stipends it with an immediate comeuppance to any good luck that comes his way. The series follows the formula of Kazuma and co saving the day through a combination of their minimal talent and a lot of luck, only for it to immediately bite them, and it works spectacularly. These characters ingratiate themselves to you, despite their flaws. Well, maybe because of their flaws. Thus, whenever you watch them, it’s entertaining.
Konosuba manages to keep even the basics fresh by introducing new elements, though I’ll never get tired of watching Aqua get eaten by a giant frog. The way that all of the series’ individual pieces can be plugged into an equation with one new variable and produce completely new results is superb. By substituting new tropes in the series, it keeps things fresh, just like how It’s Always Sunny tackles hot button political or social issues with no tact. This sack and pillage approach to the legacy materials your work builds on makes an agreeable statement for viewers to latch on to; I don’t know what the solution is, but it certainly isn’t to siphon gas and try to deliver it to gated communities.
I have a special fondness for dark humor and the hallmarks of both portal fantasy and sitcoms, so maybe it’s just my interests aligning in the right way for me to see this. Still, I strongly recommend both of these shows, as they are rewarding watches. They may take a couple of episodes for you to acclimate to how terrible people can be, but they’re a laugh riot long after that. They both overcome the barrier of entry that is the prior knowledge needed to enjoy them by employing universal storytelling themes to ground them with the audience. Everyone who’s ever heard of King Arthur has heard of a hero from humble origins being guided by a goddess, but if I told my friends that Konosuba was like the King Arthur of anime, they’d think I was talking about another Fate spin-off.