Not all small things are pretty. In fact, some are petty. Like Konosuba‘s Aqua.
This post is the second of my entries into 2016’s rendition of the 12 Days of Anime aniblogger project. For more about the project, read appropriant’s introductory post. For a spreadsheet containing the work of all the bloggers participating, go here. For my previous 12 Days posts, go here.
Pettiness lies at the heart of Konosuba‘s setup. Aqua’s petty verbal abuse of Kazuma causes his petty retaliation against her, and an ignoble preoccupation with the self lies at the heart of both of their characters. But while Kazuma’s pettiness winds up paired with frequent positions of relative power (leading to him feeling more like a jerk than anything else), Aqua’s is paired with the triple threat of haplessness, spats of depression, and a need to be liked and useful despite her seeming inability to be either.
Pettiness is not a character trait I believe is admirable, but it is one I find particularly appealing when displayed in fiction. Characters who are tied to small, personal, and ultimately inconsequential concerns (which often find themselves tied to the bitter chain of lacking self-confidence) are characters who are also gloriously human. To show pettiness is a small thing—and in Konosuba, it is buried underneath sarcasm and recognizably millennial angst and perviness—but it also expresses a truth. I love the idea of defeating the demon lord for the good of the entire world as much as anyone (a grand and philosophical noble aim, to be sure), but the fact is that the concerns of most of us lie more in the realm of fetch quests, if you’re Konosuba, or the minutiae of our selfish internal desires, if you’re a character in a Mari Okada anime.
Her show as a whole does this, but Aqua in a special way, I think, gives voice to this small pettiness of humanity. Whether it’s the gleeful way she takes advantages of chances to abuse Kazuma or her pathetic pleas for him to lend her money, her demands to be respect despite rarely doing anything worthy of esteem or oft-swollen ego, Aqua lives a truly glorious life of pettiness—and is, aside from brief moments where she displays her literal divinity, generally the worse off for it.
I find it rather interesting that Aqua is largely reviled by fans of Konosuba, but perhaps it makes sense that it is Kazuma who is worshiped as a God by views rather than the true goddess of the show. Again, Kazuma’s pettiness is often joined to power and success—he is usually rewarded (or at least goes unpunished) for being a generally nasty human being. On the other hand, Aqua is eaten by frogs, locked in cages assaulted by alligators, constantly in debt, and otherwise a disaster. Her pettiness as a person is joined with weakness and failure—and perhaps it’s obvious why her brand of littleness is less appealing in comparison. But she also, I’d say, runs closer to the truth of the matter.
Aqua’s appeal goes deeper than just her pettiness for me (it takes more than that for me to identify so strongly with a character that I’d want to make them the foremost symbol of my online presence), but the presence of that trait is a critical one. I try hard not to be a petty person outright. Despite that, though, the impulses are with me constantly, as I expect they are with many others. I flare internally at perceived slights, attribute failures of my own making to others, crave affirmation without giving anything myself. And so, seeing Aqua act externally out of the same impulses is something I find almost cathartic.
“Ah, yes, that is me. However others perceive me, I can recognize the bumbling, selfish, mess of a person I often feel inside in this dumb goddess. And yet… despite all that, shreds of goodness peek through every so often. And yet.. despite all that, at our cores, this prick of a blue-haired deity and I also possess the self-confidence, groundless as it may often feel, to pick ourselves up and out of the disarm we inflict upon ourselves. We’re small and dumb, but we carry on.”
9 thoughts on “ -konosuba: pettiness-”
Great insight. I don’t think I ever thought of Aqua’s character in these terms, but the element of pettiness definitely a large part of what makes her so endearing to me as a character (I didn’t even realize most of the fandom surrounding the show hated her, which I guess shows how much I actually follow that stuff). I can’t really say that impulse of pettiness you describe is present in me the exact same way, but I do think that part of her character really gets to the heart of what I love about the show: A bunch of idiots embark on a fantasy quest only to roll ones at every turn and have their dumb, small, selfish interests largely get the better of them, and it’s more relatable for it.
Separate point, but I find the point about Kazuma interesting. I guess most of his exploits in the show stood out to me more for their failures than for the success he eventually achieves and his lack of direct consequences (except for episode 9, which was awful and almost single-handedly soured my opinion on the show). I don’t disagree with it, but it wasn’t necessarily what stood out to me.
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Well, I’m sure it does depend on where you go, but places like Reddit loooove Kazuma and hate Aqua.
You are right in that Kazuma experiences a number of failures himself, but I think they still do occur in a different kind of way that Aqua’s do, and are less existentially brutal (even when he gets his head sliced off, lol) in that they still leave him in positions of relative power. Cause he’s a dude or something, I dunno. Either way, Aqua’s miles better.
I thought you only make typos in tweets. Dammit, Bless the typo maker.
My main window into internet anime fandom is mostly through blogs and some youtubers, so my perception of what the majority thinks of new shows is definitely skewed (though part of that is by design; I think my experience with Euphonium last year prompted me to really cut down on how much reaction I follow online).
In spite of what I said, I agree Aqua is definitely a better character and is definitely best girl.
Oh, I loved Aqua. She’s such an all-around well-balanced character in all of her virtues and faults and all-too-human failings. I can laugh at her foibles, enjoy watching her ego get cut down to size, and still feel sympathetic for some of the rotten stuff she has to put up with (even if she brings a lot of it on herself). She’s a lot more like the old Greek gods with all of their passions and hubris, compared to most modern religions where divine beings are above such human weaknesses. I hadn’t thought about her in terms of pettiness specifically, but your analysis is spot-on, I think.
Echoing magicsquirrel, I didn’t know so many people hated her either, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. She doesn’t really fit neatly into any of the most popular female character archetypes, and she’s definitely not anyone’s idea of a perfect waifu, while some of her flaws might be a little too uncomfortably human for the subset of people who watch anime as an escape from real life. But that’s exactly one of the reasons why I find her so interesting, as it sounds like you do too.
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Comparing Aqua to the Greek gods of yore seems to give her rather too much credit, but I see your point for sure.
Believe me when I say I also was quite stunned when I first witnessed Aqua hate. I adored and identified with her so strongly that it hadn’t even occurred to me that people might hate her with a passion (calling her a “bitch,” and such). They’re all dumb, though, so there!
I greatly enjoyed this post. You made me think of my favourite character from Konosuba in a new way. I too identify with her, for better or worse, but with the restraint we all need irl. It is refreshing to see that kind of flawed heroine imo, and also one with a wide variety of gags that don’t just lean into fanservice material.
And also I see quite a lot of love for her? I know Megumin is the most popular, but Aqua does well for herself in terms of fanart and appreciation(I’m thinking more on the japanese side but I see some eng fanbase like her too.) Her issues aren’t gonna jive with everyone, which is understandable.
Restraint is indeed needed in real life! I might identify with Aqua, but I wouldn’t want to let my worst impulse take hold of me in the way they do her.
I do know there are people out there who love her, but I really have (sadly!) seen quite a lot of hate for her. 😦
There does seem to be an unfortunate segent of anime fandom who takes it as a personal insult every time a female character one ups the male protagonist — perhaps a deepseated racial memory of Love Hina — and Aqua is everything they hate. Smug, loud and obnoxious in a way that’s usually reserved for male characters, unrepentant, never learns, doesn’t fawn over Kazuma, not waifu material. They’re the people who of course would also choose the succubus dream over hanging out and partying with friends.
There may also be some sour grapes about this not being a real harem, with the three girls in orbit around Kazuma; rather Aqua and Megumin and Darkness each have their own friendships. They’re just as likely to hang out together as with Kazuma and when he isn’t around Aqua is a lot less petty too.