Alas, poor Kazuma. Normally a forgotten shut-in, his time to shine finally came as he leapt to the rescue of a girl about to be involved in a road accident, saving her life at the sake of his own. Except, as it turns out, she was never in any danger, and Kazuma's own demise came from the mere shock of the situation rather than anything more grave.
If this wasn't bad enough, Kazuma arrives in the afterlife only to find himself met by a goddess named Aqua who isn't exactly taking his plight seriously - aside from smugly sniggering and giggling away at the nature of his death, she also seems desperate to get rid of him so that she can see her next customer. She does, however, have an interesting proposition for him - rather than the eternal boredom of heaven, he's offered up the opportunity to be transported to a parallel world, equipped with a single powerful item and ushered down the path to becoming the hero that can defeat this other world's Demon King.
Needless to say, former gaming addict and RPG-player Kazuma jumps at the chance, but not before enacting his revenge upon Aqua by choosing her to be the item he takes with him on this new adventure. Thus, human and goddess find themselves transported into a world that has all of the trappings of an RPG, although unfortunately for both of them it's also missing a few of the conveniences that stop life from being a hard slog. As this first volume unfolds, their party grows to number four, although unfortunately for Kazuma to call his fellow party members "unique" in character would be an understatement...
At this point, we've probably all seen or read more "trapped in a fantasy world" series than we'd be prepared to admit, and given how self-serious many of them (even the good ones) are, Konosuba is a breath of fresh air. Rather than parody or lampoon the genre, it instead twists it in the name of comedy via a cast of larger than life characters who are dropped into ridiculous situations and then left to make a mess of them.
This all comes via some truly sharp comedy writing - Kazuma walks the line between shut-in and smart-alec perfectly, Aqua's whiny self-centred goddess serves as the basis for plenty of comedy without ever getting tiresome, and later additions Megumin and Darkness both have their own singular, effective traits to flesh things out. There's a simple delight in watching this quartet flail around and somehow come up on top against everything from flying cabbages to a Dullahan, and it isn't long before you find yourself warming to its group of lovable oafs even when they're acting up.
If you're coming to this first volume of the light novel series off the back of its anime adaptation, admittedly you won't particularly find anything new here - those flying cabbages are reduced to an aside in this source material but otherwise everything is present, correct and delivered just as well - but by the same token nothing is lost even without the visual comedy of that adaptation, which speaks to how well this first book flows in terms of the quality of its writing. Yes, some of its light novel motifs may irritate a little if you're a stickler for proper grammar, but as a whole Konosuba reads well and lets its fun and silliness shine.
Some credit should doubtless go to the English translation of the release on this front, as a solid localisation that ensures everything works and reads cleanly, while the volume of the whole is nicely presented with all of its illustrations intact (including one which finally answers the oft-asked question about Aqua's underwear situation, if such things are important to you).
There really isn't too much more to say about this opening instalment of Konosuba - in different hands, this series could have been obnoxious in so many ways, from its characters through to its dalliances with fan service, yet instead it turns everything that it does into pure entertainment. It doesn't break any new ground, but instead it retreads the soil bled dry by others in a fun and refreshing way that has plenty of laughs within its compact package. In short, it's a perfect introduction to the Konosuba explosion.
Writer/Artist: Natsume Akatsuki