Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Dec 24th 2013
Good Luck Girl!
BD+DVD - The Complete Series
Ichiko Sakura is a lucky girl. And not normal lucky either. She's mega-lucky. Uber-blessed. Supernaturally well-off. She's beautiful, busty, smart, athletic, and rich. Nothing bad ever happens to her. She's so fortunate that her happiness has reached critical mass, sucking the good fortune from those around her and adding it to her own. Enter Momiji. Momiji is bony, gloomy, and terminally under-motivated. She's also a god. A poverty god. Poverty gods oversee the balance of fortune and misfortune in the world, and Ichiko is clearly upsetting the balance. So Momiji is sent to set things right. Only one little problem. Ichiko doesn't want to redistribute her luck. And with fortune on her side—as it invariably is—it'll be hell getting her to part with it.
You can think of Good Luck Girl! as a magical-girlfriend show turned on its ear. Magical Momiji drops into Ichiko's life out of nowhere, upsetting her ordered existence. Ichiko protests that she hates Momiji and that Momiji is a bother, but clearly has feelings more complicated than that. Momiji makes no bones about being affixed to Ichiko and eventually moves into her closet Lum-style and transfers into her class like…well, like every girl in every romantic comedy anime ever made. In most shows we'd be watching two people in the opening throes of young love/lust; in Good Luck Girl! we're actually watching two people in a death-struggle over happiness energy. It's the series' most persistent joke and, a few isolated flashes of comedic inspiration aside, probably its best. The moments when Momiji does something blatantly romantic-comedy-like for reasons that have more to do with impaling Ichiko on a man-sized, happiness-sucking syringe than anything remotely romantic are among the series' funniest.
It's entirely appropriate that Good Luck Girl!'s premise can, if you're inclined to reduction, be reduced to a joke. The show itself states—with some frequency—that it's a gag comedy, and it tries very hard to live up to its word. Fueled by Ichiko and Momiji's endless and endlessly weird battles for luck-supremacy and supported on all sides by a manically over-the-top secondary cast, each episode is a deluge of pratfalls, parodies, and sheer wackiness, the energy of which can border on irritating. As comedies go, it isn't the most sophisticated, but it is undeniably effective. The sight gags, anime references, bizarre behavior, motormouthed repartee, and dopey happiness-sucking schemes run together into a kind of consistently amusing background noise: a pervasive ambience of humorous chaos, above which a few truly inspired gags rise—monuments to the show's spotty but potent comic imagination. That giant syringe is one of them, as are the romantic comedy bits and the toilet god who crops up later, and there's a moment in the early running with a Chihuahua and a bedroom full of bondage equipment that ranks among the most murderous gags in recent memory.
Ironically, though, whole-hog hilarity isn't the show's real strength. Despite the doggedness with which the series pursues comedy, it works best when it backs off of the comic accelerator and lets its heart show. At its core, past the hyperactive tomfoolery and bad luck vs. good luck battles, this is a show about a selfish girl learning that true happiness is found in others, not in money or good grades or E-cup boobs. It is there from the first, when Ichiko discovers what her luck-siphoning powers have done to her surrogate father, and continues through the two-episode arc where she gets a child's-eye view of the money-poor, love-rich family whose lifestyle she cruelly mocked just a few episodes previous and into her poignantly transformative friendship with a hilariously outdated female punk.
It's a hokey message for sure, but the series delivers it with an earnestness that's surprising for a gagfest, and surprisingly winning in the end. Ichiko's transformation from self-involved happiness vampire to secretly strong friend, her well-buried inner kindness battling her bitterly ingrained protective selfishness every step of the way, is slow and sweet and deeply, unexpectedly satisfying. The series reaches its tipping point when Ichiko's (frequently unhappy) exposure to true happiness softens her enough that we begin to see her, not as she presents herself, but as she is: a hurt girl whose superficial happiness hides a deep and damaging loneliness.
After that it's impossible not to like the show, and the effect ripples out from there. The deceptive warmth of Ichiko's wacky travails blunts the sawing edge of the show's manic sense of humor, preventing it from tipping over the edge from energetic to annoying. As we grow more invested in her change, we find ourselves laughing more and more easily, be it at the recurrent Fist of the North Star references, dorky luck-sucking poverty god tech, or the recycled antics of Ichiko's class.
It doesn't affect Momiji so much—beyond revealing just how much of her abuse is actually in Ichiko's best interests—but then again, she doesn't need any fine-tuning. From the start Momji is Good Luck Girl!'s most interesting character: cold and manipulative and vengeful; terminally apathetic; and yet insightful and perceptive, sometimes seeing Ichiko's feelings before Ichiko can, though she's gleefully cruel when that gives her the upper hand. In her own warped way she's concerned with Ichiko's growth and happiness, but she's frostily ruthless in her expression of it. She's like a slothful, sadistic, luck-stealing Jiminy Cricket: always there to help Ichiko see the light, but usually in a bizarre and mean-spirited way.
As you'd expect form a self-professed gag comedy, the series can work up a head of seriously frantic steam when it wants to, but not through quality animation or canny editing so much as relentless, joke-a-second pacing. The series can be cute when asked, very occasionally sexy (mostly during the merely decent opening and closing songs), and will once and a while pull a masterful sight gag off, but overall it's a pretty conventional-looking series. It is animated enough to look reasonably good, but not enough to actually impress (though some of the more extreme facial expressions do); illustrated well enough to get its point across (Momiji is weird! Ichiko is pretty! They're both mad dogs in a fight!), but not well enough to actually be an independent draw; scored subtly enough not to be annoying, but not well enough to actually remember any of the music. The folks at Sunrise do what they need to make the show work, but not too much more.
The main body of Funimation's extras for this set lay in three dub-centric commentaries, one of which is a video commentary—which is useful if you want to know what Colleen Clinkenbeard or Brina Palencia is like in person but otherwise pretty much the same as any other commentary. The commentaries cover a wide swath of the dub cast and the main players in the crew, including some of the more minor characters (Patrick Seitz, who plays a perverted monk named Bobby, gets a brief segment). The audio commentaries are a little more staged this time around, with interrogators popping in every once in a while with fan questions. Usually the interrogators are Funimation actors, in character as people from different shows, which is pretty annoying.
As for the dub itself, it's a classic mixed bag. When the show is in wild-eyed comedy mode, it's pretty much excellent. The writers monkey with the humor enough to tailor it to their English actors (though not as much as you might expect given Funimation's history with comedies), who dig in with over-the-top relish. This includes the supporting cast, who make the most of the show's many colorful bit players. The result is a lot of very funny chaos. The problem is when things wax emotional. The series' heartfelt scenes are distinctly unheartfelt in English, and worse yet, the actors' lack of conviction leaks into the comedy, upsetting the delicate balance of humor and affect and wholly wrecking any episode with a serious component.
Which is a shame. And I really mean that. It has its bumps and messily slain jokes, not to mention the occasional outright derailment, but Good Luck Girl! is a hugely enjoyable comedy—one of the rare gagfests to successfully find and nurture an honest-to-goodness heart. And it's too bad that dub fans can't get the full experience in their preferred format. Oh well. That's what subtitles are for.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B-
+ Fun premise, heartening character development, and a surprisingly well-developed emotional side; can be very funny; complicated, interesting lead in Momiji.
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