Anime Review: Lucky Star

Lucky Star follows the lives of four friends, Konata, Kagami, Tsukasa, and Miyuki, through high school. Konata is an otaku with unusual tendencies, who is often at odds with the straight-laced and serious Kagami. Tsukasa is well-meaning but a bit dense, and Miyuki is the archetypal meganekko character. Based on Yoshimizu Kagami’s four panel comic series, Lucky Star is told as a series of short stories revolving around the gang and their network of friends and family.

Plot

Being based on a 4-koma, Lucky Star only has a plot in the loosest sense. Vaguely following the structure of high school life, each episode tends to jump around a lot in terms of setting. Some episodes spend much of their time on a single story thread, but most seem like clip shows with a common theme. I don’t mind the way the story is presented – there’s really not a whole lot you need to keep track of.

When the series does slow down to focus on telling a single story, the results are usually pretty good. Such stories can range from a trip to the beach to the dynamics between the members of Kagami’s family. I enjoy these moments because they do a lot to flesh out the characters; as a matter of fact I enjoy them more than the humor that Lucky Star claims to have.

This is supposed to be a comedy show, but the humor just isn’t there. Well, it’s there, but it’s not there for you. You know how sometimes, you’ll go to a party, and meet a bunch of people who are already close friends with each other? Chances are, they’ll have their own in-jokes and buzz words that won’t make any sense to you. Lucky Star, dear reader, is that group of friends, which makes you that guy. And nobody wants to be that guy.

I’ve said it before on my blog posts: Lucky Star, more often than not, relies on the impression of humor rather than actual humor. Punch lines are set up for, but rarely delivered. And all the while, if you’re not watching Code Geass or the latest Gundam (I don’t blame you), then you won’t know why Konata can drop a name like “Lelouch” and have it be funny.

Each episode ends with a “Lucky Channel” segment, which generally contains better content than the actual show. These bits are kept afloat by the bipolar Akira, and her assistant, the comedy gold mine Shiraishi Minoru. As far as satire goes, this is the best that Lucky Star has to offer. Shiraishi’s live action shenanigans during the credits are what you should really be watching for.

Lucky Star is definitely a niche anime for anyone outside of Japan. Even in its niche, though, the show just doesn’t do what it aims to particularly well. It would have benefited from some more focused humor, instead of the aborted half-jokes and Haruhi references that pepper most episodes. Don’t let the prevalence of Lucky Star memes on the internet throw you. The series may have a devoted online following, but then again, so does Will It Blend?.

Characters

Fortunately, it’s not all bad when it comes to this series. When it comes to characters, Lucky Star puts a fresh spin on a few tired conventions. Ordinarily, a comedy show would just stick to its comfort zone and focus on the humor. The writers of this comedy show, for one reason or another, took a risk with several largely character-oriented episodes, and it paid off. Even though I didn’t care about the humor, Lucky Star‘s idiosyncratic cast was what kept me watching.

Of course, I have to start with Konata. We’ve seen plenty of male otaku characters in anime, but how about a female one who is probably a closet lesbian? If that’s not over the top enough for you, then I should also mention that she likes H-games, looks like she’s 12, and is in all likelihood a bit of a lolicon. These attributes of Konata are understated, though, and what you end up seeing (without reading too much into it) is just a high school girl with an abnormal love of anime and MMOs. There isn’t anything specific for me to point my finger at, but Konata’s general demeanor and mannerisms set her apart from most other anime characters I’ve seen. In that respect, she is extremely well characterized, and has a truly interesting personality.

Konata is the focus of many episodes, but any development her character gets comes only sporadically. Even so, she’s charismatic enough to justify her screen time. The next major character is Kagami, who is decidedly less intriguing than Konata, but still quite watchable. She is, predictably, the straight foil to Konata’s antics; the two have an inextricably linked destiny, it seems. As a comedic device, Kagami doesn’t add much to the jokes. But from a character standpoint, I found a lot to like. Her relationship with her many family members is explored in a couple of episodes. Though it didn’t get as much screen time as it should have, Kagami’s family dynamics do provide a good change of pace to the rapid-fire mediocre comedy.

Tsukasa, Kagami’s sister, is a lot like Osaka from Azumanga Daioh. She’s thick, but her charm leads to a few Zen-like moments of hilarity. Miyuki, who doesn’t actually get much screen time, fits the meganekko persona to a T. I didn’t appreciate her contribution to the show, though her mom was pretty funny. Aside from the central four, Kagami gets her own group of friends, and Konata’s cousin Yutaka is featured prominently later in the series.

Yutaka and Iwasaki share the same relationship as Chiyo and Sakaki in Azumanga Daioh, but their mutual friend Hiyori manages to twist the situation into a somewhat perverted fantasy. This isn’t so much a fault of Hiyori as it is a symptom of Lucky Star‘s overemphasis on pleasing a very specific group of people. Konata’s dad is the subject of the best comedic moments, and his scenes in episode 22 are more endearing than they have any right to be. The teacher, Kuroi Nanako, is my favorite out of the supporting characters. She does not live like the ideal traditional Japanese woman, and her single (rather lonely and sad) existence is the source of many sympathetic laughs. Of all the characters in the cast, I feel most for Kuroi sensei.

Despite the shortcomings of its special brand of humor, Lucky Star still manages to please with a diverse, lively bunch of characters. I wish the screen time was shared more evenly between them, as I found something interesting or likeable about all of them. I hate to be a downer, but even a gang as colorful as this isn’t able to make up for the show’s unfunny delivery. Hey, not even Robert DeNiro could save Hide and Seek.

Technical

As with most Kyoto Animation productions, Lucky Star has a consistent visual style, a varied palette, and good animation. The character designs are pretty close to the manga – simplistic, cute, yet distinct. 4-koma based anime series tend to be pretty minimalistic, and Lucky Star sticks with that trend for the most part (although you should be prepared to see Haruhi stuff everywhere).

Sometimes, as the situation warrants, the visual style will shift to parody that of another anime. There are also two dance numbers that were meticulously animated (one borrowing from Haruhi‘s “Hare Hare Yukai” ending). As with the jokes, I enjoyed a lot of the visual references to other anime. If you don’t understand them, though, they can be off-putting.

Hirano Aya leads the cast of voice actors, and she does an outstanding job as Konata. Her best moment is at the cosplay cafe, where she switches between her Konata and Haruhi voices seamlessly. Hirano is a tremendously talented voice actress, and I really hope to hear her again in the near future. Oh, I should also mention the other absolute gem of this series: Shiraishi Minoru. His presence is minimal in the show, but his antics in the ending credits alone almost make the series worth watching.

Although Lucky Star isn’t changing any design paradigms, it does have a unique visual style that adds a lot of charm to an otherwise dry script. One thing’s for sure: you won’t have any trouble picking it out from its contemporaries.

[summary score=”5.5″][/summary]