Reviewby Theron Martin, May 13th 2008
Short, athletic 11th grader Konata Izumi is actually a total video game/anime/manga otaku with boyish interests. Together with fraternal twin friends Tsukasa and Kagami, and occasionally also with perfect moe girl Miyuki, they fritter away high school life having conversations essentially about nothing.
Lucky Star is what Seinfeld might have been had it been animated, featured high school girls instead of adults, and slanted specifically at hard-core otaku. It is a show about nothing, one which lacks any semblance of a plot and seeks to derive its entertainment value from inane conversations about mundane topics and more anime, manga, and game references than you can shake a Popsicle stick at. The way it progresses, one might almost expect the Ramen Nazi to pop up at some point and say, “no ramen for you!”
It is also not a show everyone is going to “get.” In some senses it resembles Azumanga Daioh in its stream-of-consciousness approach to examination of the ordinary, although this series relies much more heavily on its dialogue, and comparatively little on its visuals, to induce its humor. In fact, as much as it pushes to find entertainment value in conversations about whether you eat the strawberry first or last when eating cake, or whether or not Tsukasa and Kagami have a mutual telepathic connection because they're twins, it often gets entirely too casually conversational for its own good; although the conversations are nearly always fully-animated, you will be hard-pressed to find a volume of anime with less action of any kind in it than this one, and some of the conversations are, quite frankly, boring. To keep scenes from dragging too much, each episode frequently (and often abruptly) shifts gears when conversations start to wear thin, resulting in a half-dozen or more of such conversations per episode. Occasionally these conversations turn up something funny, most often when referring to the behavioral quirks of various characters, but sorting those scenes out is like sorting through a DVD bargain bin to find the true steals.
Of course, for most who become fans of the series, the obsessively fan-pandering side of the content is where the true fun is at. All of the girls are so specifically tailored to represent fan-appealing traits that their characterizations become a self-aware joke; Konata is an otaku who almost doesn't seem to see herself as a girl, Kagami is the tsundere girl always getting riled up by Konata, and Tsukasa is the lovably meek and pathetic girl. Seemingly all-knowing Miyuki, as Konata often points out, has the perfect laundry list of fanboy-loving traits: a good body, glasses, an unfailingly pleasant and friendly disposition, and faults that perfectly play into the moe stereotype. Konata spends much of the first four episodes going around tossing off random anime, manga, and game references whenever possible, with additional details to be found in background shots, incidental music, and so forth. It will take an astute fan who is very up-to-date on popular series (and especially the other works of Kyoto Animation) to catch all of the references, which in this volume include multiple Full Metal Panic!, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Shuffle! references, in addition to To Heart, Gunbuster, Sgt. Frog, Getter Robo, Wedding Peach, Case Closed, Cromartie High School, Pani Poni Dash!, Crayon Shin-chan, Galaxy Angel Rune, Star Blazers, Blade of the Immortal, and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Peppered throughout are various video game references as well as pop culture jokes likely to sail over the head of American viewers, which may make veteran fans wish for an option equivalent to the pop-up ADV Notes seen on some parody-heavy titles released by ADV. Regrettably Bandai Entertainment got their hands on this one instead, and they don't do that kind of thing.
Although humor is scattered sporadically throughout each episode (and some will find the content much funnier than others), the most consistently funny parts are the Lucky Channel bits which constitute the last 90 seconds or so of each episode. Obviously these were done as filler in a series whose content struggles to cover the allotted time, but the way host Akira Kogami bounces back and forth between chirpy cuteness and a dour, jaded attitude, and the enormous difference in vocal and dialog styles when she shifts personas, is nearly always good for a chuckle. Accompanying her in these bits is Minoru Shiraishi, a male student who pops up very briefly in the regular content's background at least once per episode and adds the additional in-joke that he is voiced by a seiyuu with the exact same name. (Unfortunately this joke gets totally lost in translation, as Bang Zoom! opted not to change the character's name to align with English VA Sam Regal in the English dub.)
The artistic style used here looks so different from any of Kyoto Animation's other efforts that even dedicated fans might not recognize this series as one of theirs on look alone, though the frequent references to the studio's other titles tip their hand. Instead of the lush, full-bodied richness normally seen in the visuals for their works, KA opted for a vastly simpler and cruder look in both character designs and background art, perhaps with the notion that such a look would be more conducive to parody. The girls are certainly cute enough, and even the twins with identical hair and eye color have easily-distinguishable looks, but these are also basic designs characterized most by the frequent use of a catlike curl to the mouth. For all the lower visual quality elsewhere and emphasis on dialog, the animation actually turns out surprisingly good and detailed, especially in the vivaciously-animated opener with dance sequences reminiscent of Melancholy‘s closer or Kodocha’s second opener; they don't even miss the jiggling breasts in the cheerleader scene, which is the only even mild bit of fan service evident in this volume.
Piece of advice on watching opener “Motteke! Sailor Fuku,” as sung by the four principle seiyuu: don't even try to pay attention to the nonsensical lyrics. Just watch, listen, and enjoy the infectiously upbeat number, which has more rewatch value than most. Instead of a regular closer, as the credits roll at the end of each episode we see the door to a karaoke parlor and hear the voices of the main characters talking beyond as they first discuss song selections and then break into song, which is always a theme for some other (sometimes very obscure) anime series sung by one of the seiyuu. The rest of the soundtrack stays light, nimble, and fun, always ready to insert a pleasant little ditty to back a conversation or trail off discordantly when a topic goes in a bad direction. For as unobtrusive as it normally is, the soundtrack shines.
While not exceptionally heavy on puns, the Japanese script nonetheless posed great challenges for Bang Zoom! and their dubbing effort. Although they came up with a workable English script, several jokes and conversation points do not survive translation well or at all. Bang Zoom! may, in fact, have actually sabotaged some of the humor in the name of remaining relatively faithful to the Japanese script, so this is one case where being more liberal in altering some of the dialog might have been beneficial. BZ fares better with the actual dubbing, which calls upon a seasoned cast of English voice actors to use modified vocal styles that match up with the original performances impressively well. The one exception might be Wendee Lee, who gets the tone and attitude of Konata right but has to use a different-sounding delivery that may not sit well with sub fans but should be fine for dub fans. On the flip side, Stephanie Sheh is dead-on, and virtually unrecognizable, in both voices for Akira; no one will complain about her sounding too much like Eureka or Orihime. Notably, the English dub retains the original honorifics more than most.
In addition to the aforementioned liner notes detailing various pop culture references, the regular disk includes several Extras. Among them are a lyrics-only opener, some promo clips, a behind-the-scenes piece called “The Adventures of Minoru Shiraishi #1,” and two installments of “Key Scenes Gallery,” which features screen shots set to music with added written side comments. The deluxe Special Limited Edition, which costs more than twice as much, includes two CD singles, a printed T-shirt which looks like a girl's winter school uniform, and a chocolate cornet screen wipe all in an art box.
Lucky Star was one of the most talked-about series in fandom during 2007, and given its extreme otaku-centric approach, it's not hard to understand why. It is a series only for veteran anime fans, who may fall in love with it but are just as likely to find it very hit-or-miss.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B-
Music : A-
+ Lucky Channel segments, opener, musical score.
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