A couple days ago, in my review of the Spring 2014 ani-chart, I prefaced with some meandering about why I love Lucky Star. And though I’ve watched the show through half a dozen times, and enjoy it more with each watch, I cannot say I find it good, or, at least, good enough to justify my love for it. Anyone interested in critical examination of artistic work will find that evaluating the quality of a piece isn’t necessarily complex, but messy. You can’t write an objective code to score a piece from 1-10, but you also can’t just say it’s enjoyable therefore it’s good; in fact, the best works of art are often the ones that are uncomfortable to experience. As a [random person who the internet who likes to pretend he’s a] reviewer, I think the key is to explain as well as you can simply what a work is, and use your experience to emphasise what can’t be quantified. Above all though, when you describe an aspect as “good” or “bad”, understand that your audience needs more than that, and describe what it is that you found good or bad. A review isn’t about the final rating or recommendation, it’s about the content. So with that, here’s why I love Lucky Star.
Lucky Star follows the lives of high school students Konata Izumi, Kagami and Tsukasa Hiiragi, and Miyuki Takara, as they stay up late reading manga, forget to do homework, and try to figure out what the best way to eat a chocolate cornet is. There are 24 episodes, and an OVA of this. The show doesn’t tell the story of the girls going through their high school years, it tells several stories per episode about the banal events of their everyday life, from playing online games, to visiting Kyoto. As you might guess, there’s not exactly a three act structure to this plot, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In the case of Lucky Star, the lack of progression or conflict actively serves a purpose. You don’t need to pay attention or follow events to engage with the show, you can drop in at any point and instantly know everything you need to. Whereas something like Ghost in the Shell penalizes the viewer for missing a few seconds of dialogue, Lucky Star demands little to no attention. The downside to this, however, is that Lucky Star can’t build to anything. There are some basic themes that play and even progress over time, such as the responsibility of getting older or becoming a role model, but these aren’t especially and fail to really say anything. There is no big catharsis, message, or emotion, because there’s no real investment. The final episode does as good of a job as it can making the viewer think back over the series and feel for the characters a little bit, but that’s all. Though Ghost in the Shell requires a lot of attention, it rewards the viewer with philosophical insight and satisfaction at things having been resolved. Lucky Star isn’t thematic, it’s Slice of Life.
Slice of life is the illusion of friendship. It’s a pick-me-up when you’re feeling bored and a little lonely. I think the best example of this is Azumanga Daioh, a slice of life series that even people who don’t like slice of life generally enjoy, and often the explanation of why it’s so likeable is because the characters remind people real friends they’ve had. In Lucky Star, very rarely is a story is told alone. Most of what happens is an interaction between characters, and when a story does only involve one character, the very next scene almost always has that characters telling the others about it. It always affirms this feeling of engagement with someone else, even if they’re not immediately present, and the characters lend to this well.
Similar to how Azumanga Daioh‘s cast is made of friends most of us have had, Lucky Star‘s characters are friends a lot of us wish we had, especially those of us who really like our anime. Konata is a hardcore otaku who spends all her time playing MMORPGs and dating sims, and spends all her money on manga. Kagami is a tsundere straight-man who both criticizes her friends when they do something stupid, and is also the first to help them out of it. Tsukasa is the opposite of her sister, being very overtly friendly, but also kinda stupid. And Miyuki is a classy, often ditsy, rich girl, who seems to have the first paragraph of every wikipedia page downloaded to her brain. In the second half of the series the supporting cast becomes a lot larger and gets more screen time, creating a lot more variety (and one ungodly character voice). They’re all fairly simple, with some development for Konata and Kagami, and none for everyone else. Again, though this doesn’t help the show’s engagement of its audience, it does keep it accessible.
What isn’t so accessible is the humor. Most of it works fine as simple slapstick, in-jokes, and anime references. But then there are the puns. These didn’t translate well, and trying to understand them can become a chore for those not versed in Japanese culture, language, geography and kanji and kana. Heck, half the time the characters in the show don’t even understand the puns. Though a lot of the time it’s easy to figure out the general idea of the pun based off character reactions, I find that just makes me more curious.
The show’s soundtrack is relaxed, and its visual style is very chibi, with characters being distinguishable not so much through distinct features, and more through their hair color and the consistency of the blob on their shoulders meant to be a head. I can understand this style turning a lot of people off from the show, but it’s not technically poor animation, and if you like a pastel color palette it looks rather nice.
Lucky Star certainly isn’t for everyone, and it doesn’t have any real payoff. But, if you can get into the style, the characters, and the humor, it’s a lot of fun sometimes. We you’re feeling down, or just need something playing in the background, it’s a relaxing pick-me-up, and a surprisingly effective emotional retreat.
Don’t Lose Your Way.