Konosuba: A Parody on This Isekai Genre

Anime is home to a wide variety of shows. From the adrenaline-pumping action of Demon Slayer to the chilled romance of Horimiya, there’s something for everyone. One specific genre of anime, though, has been a mainstay in the seasonal anime cycle for well over a decade at this point: isekai (ee-sehk-eye). 

Every anime season, without fail, will include at least 10 of these shows, with each being almost identical to the other. The black-haired, overpowered protagonist gets all the girls and saves the world. There, I just described a vast majority of these shows, so now you don’t even have to watch them. However, there is a handful of isekai that break this mold and do something interesting for a change. The one that does this the best is Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World. This series not only goes against most of the classic isekai tropes, it also takes the absolute piss out of them.

Konosuba characters Aqua, Darkness, and Megumin look pleased at something while Kazuma looks bewildered.
This can only go well. It's Aqua, Kazuma, Darkness, and Megumin. (Credit: Studio Deen)

Before I tell you why Konosuba is one of the better isekai, I should probably explain what an isekai is. For those of you who don’t spend too much time watching anime, isekai is a genre that involves people being transported to another world. This can be accomplished in several ways, such as getting stabbed, getting hit by a truck, dying of old age (a lot of death here), or just being randomly teleported. A good example would be the newest Spider-Man movie: characters from other worlds are teleported to another world, textbook isekai. 

Now that you have the general idea of what I’m talking about, let me properly introduce you to Konosuba. The show revolves around Kazuma Sato, a teenage boy who never leaves his home. The one time he does, he winds up dead and is whisked away to another world. On the way there, he meets the goddess Aqua, and his journey to save this fantasy world begins.

Close of up Aqua in tears, looking distraught.
When they're out of dino nuggets. (Credit: Studio Deen)

That all sounded relatively generic, right? Reclusive hero, all-powerful goddess, fantasy world, all tropes of the genre. But like I mentioned before, Konosuba takes the absolute piss out of it. For starters, Kazuma doesn’t die in some sort of freak accident, he dies from shock after trying to save someone by jumping in front of an extremely slow tractor which he thought was a truck. And the goddess Aqua is useless, absolutely useless. The introduction of these two characters and their personalities perfectly sums up everything that this show is trying to do: using the audience's expectations of an isekai to create some of the best comedy possible. 

Once Kazuma and Aqua are sent to this fantasy world, you’d think that within the first few episodes they would leave the starting town and be on their merry way, but that’s not the case. Instead, they get day jobs to earn money so that they can get absolutely trashed every night at the tavern. Yeah, these aren’t your average adventurers, they’re worse, and that’s what makes them enjoyable. Kazuma and Aqua aren’t the only characters that are parodies of the genre; everyone they meet is as well.

Konosuba characters Aqua, kneeling, and Kazuma, standing, both looking up at something, showing fear and shock.
When you realize you're screwed. (Credit: Studio Deen)

Isekai shows typically have similar character archetypes. Besides the overpowered hero and the all-knowing goddess, usually there is also the mighty wizard and noble knight. I’ve already mentioned Kazuma and Aqua as the hero and goddess, but the other two are here as well, and they’re just as hopeless. For the mighty wizard, there’s Megumin, an arch wizard who, instead of having a vast knowledge of spells, can only use explosion magic and can also only use it once a day. After she uses her spell, she also can’t move, not the biggest asset to a group that fights monsters. The knight of the group is Darkness who, instead of being a pure and noble knight, is, instead, a masochist who can’t hit anything with her attacks (essentially a glorified meat shield). 

Combine these two with Kazuma and Aqua and you have one of the worst groups in all of anime, and that’s why they’re great! You’ll never know how they’ll handle a new situation. Will Darkness make the villain uncomfortable as she screams to be attacked more? Will Megumin launch an explosion spell that pisses off an undead knight? Will Aqua flood the entire town and then be forced to pay for the repairs? You’ll just never know. 

This insanity isn’t just limited to the main cast, their idiotic hijinks affect everything else from the villains to the story as a whole.

Konosuba characters Aqua and Megumin with mouths agape like they're screaming with the prone body of Darkness lying on grass behind them.
An average quest for these guys. (Credit: Studio Deen)

As I said before, Konosuba takes place in a fantasy world. These types of worlds all have similar elements such as guilds, monsters, dungeons, and, of course, an evil demon king to overthrow. These things are also in Konosuba, but like the characters, they’re far from normal. Whilst the guild is still presented as a place for adventurers, Kazuma and the gang will more likely than not be getting absolutely wasted at the bar instead of taking on jobs. Dungeons don’t fare much better with the largest dungeon in the show being home to a dude who wanted to make a robot girlfriend because he was lonely. Lastly, you would think that a demon king and his army would be serious and intimidating. Instead, the undead knight is a pervert, the lich doesn’t want to hurt anyone and is running a shop, and the slime only attacks a village because it’s home to a cult that tried to convert him (which is fair enough). Then you throw in Kazuma and his band of idiots and you have one of the funniest and most refreshing isekai ever made.

Konosuba characters standing side by side: Darkness with the cat Chomusuke on her shoulder, Aqua, Kazuma carrying Megumin on his back, and Yunyun.
They do good sometimes. The cat Chomusuke is on Darkness' shoulder, and that's Yunyun on the right. (Credit: Studio Deen)

Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World is one of the best shows to come out in the last decade. Not only does it go against many of the tropes that have plagued the genre, but it’s also just an extremely fun watch. Whether you’re a fan of anime or didn’t know it existed, I would strongly suggest giving Konosuba a chance. Who knows, maybe it’ll get you interested in watching more (and become isekai trash like me).

Have you seen Konosuba yet? Do you think another isekai does a better job? Let us know in the comments and we can all discuss what we love about this trash genre of anime.

Witcher Animated Film is a Must-Watch Before Season 2

The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf is an animated feature film from Netflix extends the story of the Netflix live action series The Witcher. While the series is an adaptation of the stories from Andrzej Sapkowski's series of novels, this anime-style film from director Kwang Il Han tells the backstory of the witcher Vesemir and the sacking of Kaer Morhen that resulted in this world's shortage of witchers. Both Vesemir and Kaer Morhen will be part of Season 2 of The Witcher coming December 17, and this film should enrich your Season 2 experience if you've been following the series.

The film itself is beautiful to watch with intriguing characters and engaging storytelling. It has the style of a modern 2D anime like Attack on Titan. Be warned, though, that it also has violence and gore on par with both The Witcher series and with many teen+ anime series (like, again, Attack on Titan). Like its live-action counterpart, the film is definitely not made for either young kids or the faint of heart.

In its storytelling, the film makes no assumptions that you have read the books or played the games. The books and games do feature some of these characters and refer to the events depicted in the film, but the film is a completely original backstory for those characters and events. That said, the film is easier to connect to if you've at least seen Season 1 of The Witcher series.

If you do want to know a bit more before you seeing Nightmare of the Wolf (without any spoilers), here's the scoop:

Both novel readers and those who played the Witcher games from CD PROJEKT RED will recognize Vesemir as the mentor of Geralt, the main protagonist that gives the Witcher stories their name. They will also recognize Kaer Morhen as an old keep where witchers trained from childhood and where they gathered annually to live out each winter season. 

The film gives us a glance at Vesemir's life before Kaer Morhen, his trials to become a witcher, and his early life as a witcher around the time that Kaer Morhen was sacked. The sacking of Kaer Morhen was an event mentioned briefly in Season 1 of the Netflix series, and I suspect Season 2 will describe it in more detail. This film reveals the history leading up to that attack and how it all played out.

Tom Canton, who plays elven leader Filavandrel in The Witcher live action series, also voices Filavandrel in The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf.

Definitely check out The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf! Not only is it the perfect companion for Netflix series fans, but book and game fans should also have fun seeing familiar faces and references and an adventurous young Vesemir in action!

Have you seen The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf? What did you think? Share your reactions in the comments.

It wouldn't be The Witcher without a steamy bath scene.

Allowing Cowboy Bebop to Evolve

Does this new live-action Cowboy Bebop from Netflix still preserve the unique style and feel fans love from the anime series? Or is it something altogether new?

Classified in genres like neo-noir and Space Western, the Cowboy Bebop hit the Japanese anime scene in 1998 to both critical acclaim and commercial success. When it became part of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim lineup in 2001, it gained a solid fandom in the West, too. Creator Shinichirō Watanabe has been behind several hit anime productions, but Cowboy Bebop is his signature work and biggest global success. While fans would have loved to have more than the 26-episode series, Watanabe did state that he did not want the series to go on for years. He had a specific ending in mind, which was ultimately the ending that made it into the anime.

Spike Spiegel from the Cowboy Bebop anime series
Spike Spiegel from the Cowboy Bebop anime series in 1998 was voiced by Kōichi Yamadera in the original Japanese and by Steve Blum in the popular English dub.

When I heard that Watanabe was a creative consultant in Netflix's live action Cowboy Bebop revival, I was hopeful that creator and writer Christopher Yost and directors Alex Garcia Lopez and Michael Katleman would honor Watanabe's vision and maybe add in some things that didn't make it into the anime. My hope grew when I learned that Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts were back together to do music for the series.

But I was worried... 

Fans like me are attached to the anime series because of its singular combination of characters, visuals, music, dystopian sci-fi, and a noir/Western blend of storytelling. It's a one-of-a-kind experience. And I kept hearing people around me who had already decided, without even seeing the show, that Spike and Faye were miscast.

So I prepared myself mentally... 

I reminded myself that this isn't going to be my Bebop from two decades ago. It can't be, and, honestly, it shouldn't be. The anime series is a unique experience that can't be replicated. It was perfect as it was, and it will always be something I go back to and enjoy.

Ein on the Bebop
Ein on the Bebop

I adopted the mindset that the live-action Bebop would be an evolution, not a retelling. It may tell some of the same stories and have many of the same characters. But, it will be its own thing, and its quality and value should be evaluated independently, not held in comparison to the anime. That's the approach I've taken with Dune recently, too. It freed my mind to experience the new creation as its own experience that's inspired by the original work but not seeking to duplicate or replace that work.

The result now that I've seen it? I'm in love. Like... totally heart-eyed emoji in love. 😍

Netflix's Cowboy Bebop hits all the right notes for me. 

While I'm still only about 80% happy with how the story has evolved from the anime, the overall experience has me enthralled. The music sparks nostalgic feelings throughout each episode. John Cho absolutely rocks as Spike Spiegel, and his performance is easily my favorite part of the series. Mustafa Shakir as Jet is perfect, with Jet's character being the most faithful to the anime. And Daniella Pineda as Faye works perfectly for how this series has evolved that character, making her more grounded and sensible than her anime counterpart.

Faye (Daniella Pineda), Spike (John Cho), Jet (Mustafa Shakir), and Ein

As for the story, to make it cohesive, Yost chose to reimagine almost all the familiar bounty hits we encounter in Season 1 as part of a larger story that ties back to the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate. As a result, Spike is continuously forced to face his past as a Syndicate hitman, even when his old Syndicate partner Vicious isn't around. This cross-connecting and continuity resolve the issues that Watanabe had in his series with the bounty hunting being episodic adventures loosely connected by the main characters and the mysterious underlying story of Spike and Vicious. Watanabe's structure left his series open to continue (if he ever wanted to), but at the risk of becoming formulaic.

A flashback of Julia and Spike
A flashback of Julia and Spike (a.k.a. Fearless).

The cross-connected stories also make this new series much easier to follow than its anime counterpart. This is where I have to admit that I didn't connect to the Cowboy Bebop anime when I first saw it. I liked the story of Spike, Julia, and Vicious, and I cried at the end of "Hard Luck Woman." But it took asking friends questions and rewatching the episodes a few times to understand the world and to follow everything they talked about. In contrast, I think this evolution from Netflix makes it easier for a new audience to get into Bebop and to engage with the characters and story.

It's definitely an evolution, though...

The most common thing I've heard negative about the Netflix series is that it's "not Cowboy Bebop." What they really mean is that it's not the anime series. I feel like this type of criticism is short-sighted and not open to the idea of allowing the story to evolve or be told in a different way. I don't think it's reasonable to say, "If it's not like the original, it's crap." Is it, though? Wouldn't an exact match just be... boring?

I can empathize, though. If someone is looking to experience exactly what they experienced in the anime, they may be disappointed. Episodes 1-8 are definitely not what the anime was. Instead, they feel like Yost called in Guy Ritchie and Robert Rodriguez to consult, appealing to fans of their films (like myself). But maybe that was the natural path for Bebop to follow since Watanabe drew inspiration from some of the same places as Ritchie and Rodriguez. Ritchie stated in a 2008 interview that Sergio Leone has been an influence on his filmmaking, and Bebop is often associated with the Spaghetti Western genre that Leone is famous for. Rodriguez has cited influences from John Carpenter and Quentin Tarantino whose combined film credits have subtle reflections throughout the Cowboy Bebop anime.

Episodes 9-10, though, follow a style that's closer to Watanabe's original work and tell a backstory that fans have been eager to see for two decades. They feel like a hybrid of Cowboy Bebop and Blade Runner, a franchise in which Watanabe created the anime short Blade Runner: Black Out 2022.

A flashback of Fearless (Spike) and Vicious being debriefed by their Syndicate boss after a hit.

The most notable and, perhaps, the best overall change to the story in live-action is getting more character development for Julia and Vicious. Julia has a fully fleshed-out story from the start, and we learn that Vicious has a more concrete motivation for his actions. I won't say more about that to avoid important spoilers, but suffice it to say Elena Satine (Julia) and Alex Hassell (Vicious) take those characters to the next level in their performances. Julia's story at the end of the season, though, is part of that 20% I am still not sure I'm happy with. It's still very new to me, so I'm hoping it will grow on me after some rewatching.

Adding to what I've mentioned so far, here are some other ways that Cowboy Bebop has evolved with this new series:

Genre shift -- The first eight episodes trim back the original neo-noir elements from the anime, shifting more heavily toward the cyberpunk style that was more of a backdrop in the original series. Season 1 also minimizes the themes of loneliness and just scraping by, which were big throughout the anime. In place of those themes is a heavier emphasis on each main character "carrying that weight" of their respective pasts while seeking connection and trust with this new Bebop family.

Rebalance of comedy and drama -- The anime was a drama with some added humor, which is how Watanabe envisioned it. The first 8 episodes of the Netflix series boosts the humor factor, adding in more comedic moments, even during action scenes.

Cowboy Bebop clock showing 15 hours
Clocks across the solar system in Cowboy Bebop use 15-hour cycles instead of the 12-hour cycles of Earth.

Alternating pace -- The first eight episodes of the new series click off at a steady pace, saving the long, dramatic camera shots to slow music (a staple of the anime) for the last two episodes of the season. Those who like the slower pace may feel like those early episodes are rushed. I wonder if it's an effort to pack in as much as they could in Season 1. With the Netflix episodes being 45 to 60 minutes each, a single live-action episode is like watching three of the anime's 24-minute episodes in one chunk.

Dialog drives things forward -- The new series develops a lot of the story and characters through clever dialog. Occasionally, that dialog is delivered at a break-neck pace, usually to a humorous effect. The way dialog was woven into each scene reminded me a lot of Guy Ritchie's films. I'm always hungry for engaging and memorable dialog, and this show definitely delivers!

Gren from Netflix's Cowboy Bebop
Mason Alexander Park plays Gren in Netflix's Cowboy Bebop, a character who has been reimagined for this adaptation.

Gender and race switches -- Some of the characters who were male in the anime series have a different gender identity in the Netflix series. Also, the casting for the new series adds more racial diversity across all the characters.

Sexuality shift -- The new series shows a future where humans accept gender and sexuality differences as normally as they might accept differences in hairstyles and clothing. This manifests in several scenes and in characters like Gren, Faye, Spike, and the nice woman on the bus (you'll know what I mean once you see it).

Language shift -- The new series is loose with profanity. For a Western audience, you might say it has a language profile that matches the maturity level of its other content (violence, sexuality, etc.). 

Quick note for fans looking for Radical Edward and haven't seen the show yet: Be patient! She'll be in there, just not much, and her appearance is more of a tease for Season 2. I love Ed so much and I look forward to seeing more!

I sincerely hope that others, especially long-time fans, give this new Cowboy Bebop a chance. I think it's brilliant and evolves the story and characters in good and interesting ways. Plus, the Season 1 ending changed the game from what we're used to knowing about the story, and it's kind of exciting not knowing what's going to happen next!

Have you checked it out yet? What do you think of the series? And have you spotted all the fun Bebop and non-Bebop Easter eggs throughout? Let's jam in the comments!