Reviewby Carlo Santos, Dec 1st 2008
Life continues as normal for geek girl Konata Izumi, although with her, one can never be too sure about the meaning of "normal." End-of-term exams bring about the eternal struggle between procrastination and studying, but also a celebratory post-finals trip to a cake shop that goes awry. Later on, slow-witted Tsukasa discovers the joy of text messaging ... while twin sister Kagami discovers the pain of receiving all those messages. Then the twins come to visit Konata's house and learn just what kind of oddball father would raise a daughter like her. The onset of winter also means making Christmas plans, but for Konata, the real festival of the season is Winter Comiket. After that it's a quick flip from pop culture to traditional culture as Konata and dad visit the Hiiragi shrine to pray for good fortune in the New Year.
Chocolate cornets and cell phones in the laundry were amusing enough, but now comes the real challenge. Even Lucky Star, that most off-kilter and unpredictable of comedy shows, must trawl the dangerous, cliché-infested waters known as Christmas and New Year. Can it survive that period of the anime calendar where most other series end up mindlessly copying each other? As the events of Volume 3 prove, not only does the series survive, but it manages to thrive, putting an idiosyncratic twist on the holiday season. Just call it A Very Lucky Christmas—with Comiket thrown in for good measure.
But first things first. Before tackling the end-of-year holidays, this set of episodes must traipse through the usual slice-of-life assortments. These range from topics so mundane that they border on boring (school exams; having a sleepover at Konata's house) to ones more unusual and therefore laugh-worthy (text message madness; the dangers of gorging on sweets). But the real highlight of these episodes is the debut of Meito Anisawa—a.k.a. the big-haired anime store manager, and actual official mascot of the Animate chain—who burns with such manly passion that one can only share in his pain when Konata chooses not to purchase his wares.
The Christmas-Comiket-New-Year arc arrives at last in the latter two episodes, and even as the show enters festive mode, it still does so in its own inimitable style, led by Konata's eccentric outlook on the holidays (in other words: Santa Claus cosplay). Having dodged all the clichés so deftly, it's easy to forgive a moment of earnest schmaltz when class teacher Kuroi spends her Christmas alone. The real winter miracle comes in this disc's final episode, though, as Comiket provides a fertile ground for the show's greatest strength: geek humor. For the right kind of viewer, the entire Comiket segment is one laugh after another, from Konata's intense convention-hall tactics to the raging fanboy hilarity that can only be had when our favorite anime shopkeeper is running a booth at the show.
Whether tackling everyday occurrences or once-a-year festivals, it's the perfectly timed rhythm of the series that keeps it constantly enjoyable. Consider, for example, the sequence where each girl gets zapped by static buildup on a metal door handle: "Ah!" "Ah!" "Ah!" "No!" "Yes." Who knew that simple household physics could be turned into a sight-gag masterpiece? If there's any point where the humor falters, it's in the Lucky Channel segments, where Akira's bipolar shtick is really starting to wear out and sidekick Minoru Shiraishi continues to outshine her simply by being Minoru.
At first glance, the artistic style of the series would appear to be a drawback—simple 4-panel-gag character designs, frequent talking-head scenes, and animation shortcuts like the crowds at Comiket are all things that normally bring down the grade. But visual sophistication is exactly what the series doesn't need; rather, the unpretentious appearance and a cheery primary color scheme are a perfect fit for the subject matter. And when animation quality does matter, the series is quick to kick into high gear: the parodical old-school apperance of shopkeeper Anisawa and his compatriots is accompanied by a heaping dose of dramatic close-ups and virtuoso special effects. In addition, it goes without saying that the oft-parodied opening sequence is still as entertaining as it was in Episode 1.
Also equally entertaining is the song that serves as the opening theme; between that and the simple melodic cues throughout the show, this is a soundtrack that thrives on being unapologetically catchy. The ending sequences, meanwhile, are a musical curiosity all their own, with Konata and friends in a karaoke booth sampling various oldies and anime classics (good thing they tells us what they are in the closing credits).
As an ensemble comedy, it's the harmony of voices that matters more than any individual performance in the cast, and viewers of the dub will find the English track consistently charming. Konata's wry observations and Kagami's sarcastic comebacks steal the show, of course, and even Minoru gets a moment in the spotlight with his impassioned "tsundere speech." The dubbed script may drift from the exact translation from time to time, but when the humor's this much fun, laughing is clearly a better option than nitpicking. Bonus content on the disc comes in the form of two "Adventures of Minoru Shiraishi" live-action shorts starring the voice actor himself, although the absurdist humor is even more bizarre than the anime and may not click with everyone. A gallery of screencaps, on the other hand, comes with captions that do complement the humor of the series. Meanwhile, for the culturally inquisitive, the liner notes about the show's numerous cultural references provide the necessary context for scenes that may have gone over the heads of Western viewers.
The formula for Lucky Star's success is simple: it just needs to keep doing what it's doing, offering pointed observations on modern life while dishing out regular winks and nods to the anime-obsessed audience most likely to watch the series. Some segments may be less entertaining than others, but the impeccable sense of comic timing and the addictive charm of the characters can't be denied—especially when one of those characters is a fanatical shopkeeper with the ultimate spiky shounen hair. Clearly, the cliché-infested waters of the holiday season are no hindrance to the imaginative minds behind the series—so here's wishing everyone a Very Lucky Christmas, Comiket, and New Year.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B
+ Consistently funny and offbeat, tackling even the most familiar aspects of the winter holidays in its own idiosyncratic way.
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