Reviewby Theron Martin,
Summer break has arrived, and with it comes all the normal mundanity for Konata and crew, including festival fun, a trip to the beach, various ways to fritter away one's time while on break, and of course dealing with summer break homework. The return for the second trimester brings the athletic festival on its heels, where each girl makes her own contribution. Konata's police officer cousin Yui also appears.
If you decided to check out the second volume of Lucky Star because the first one left you uncertain about whether or not you liked it, then these four episodes are unlikely to encourage you to watch further. That is not because episodes 5-8 do anything bad; in fact, they can be entertaining if watched only an episode at a time. However, they do reaffirm that the regular content is a succession of stream-of-consciousness clips about nothing scattered with rampant otakucentric references, and if that approach did not appeal to you in the first volume then the content of these episodes will not win you over, either.
On the other hand, if the first volume appealed to you with its Seinfeld-like approach and blatant otaku-pandering efforts then you will just find more to love here. Kagami still embodies the classic tsundere style in the way she goes off on Konata and makes her disgusted observations, Miyuki still embodies everything moe, and Tsukasa is still the lovable incompetent. Konata not only embodies every non-appearance aspect of otaku but deliberately plays up otaku fetishes, especially in her interesting choice of bathing suit for the beach episode. Her ongoing observations about how things in the “real world” do or do not match up to events that regularly occur in games, manga, and anime (particularly events that would be “flags” in a dating sim) probably was intended just to be funny but also comes across as a commentary on how obsession with such media content can distort one's perception of reality. Given that this happens in a series which makes a deliberate point to play up to fetishes and stereotypes, the irony cannot easily be ignored.
Although the content can occasionally be genuinely funny based solely on its own merits, one of the main draws is, of course, all of those pop culture references. The liner notes, which detail most of the identifiable references, would probably be invaluable even for a hard-core Japanese otaku, as some of the references are so exceedingly obscure that identifying more than half of them without assistance should be regarded as a major accomplishment. The most common references are to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Full Metal Panic, and Shuffle, but in this span also watch carefully for references to/parodies of Fate/Stay Night, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Initial D, Pokemon, Pretty Cure, Dog of Flanders, Ouran High School Host Club, Strawberry Panic, Sgt. Frog, Marimite, Getter Robo, Mobile Suit Gundam, Kiddy Grade, To Heart, Da Capo, When They Cry, and Saiyuki, in addition to various video games (those old enough to remember the popular early/mid-'80s game Track and Field will get a blast from the past) and some anime/manga titles probably unknown in the West. Accompanying them are a host of Japanese-specific pop culture references, including ones to cameras, non-anime TV shows, comedians, and popular commercials; to put the latter in an American context, think about a current U.S. TV show including a parody of the early '80s Wendy's “Where's The Beef?” commercials. The liner notes also include a few cultural references on Japanese customs for clarity's sake.
A series such as this does not require an ongoing plot or story, so the only things that pass for actual developments are the addition of Konata's ditzy policewoman cousin Yui to the cast and the revelation that Konata plays with her homeroom teacher online. Nothing can be expected for character development, either, as the personalities of the four key girls were firmly set in the first volume and Yui, the only full new addition, just fits into an already-established archetype.
The “Lucky Channel” bits that close out each episode continue to be some of the most entertaining content in any given episode. Some may eventually find Akira's bipolar behavior wearing thin, but the dramatic attitude shifts between chirpy and cynic are still good for a laugh at this point and Minoru, who continues to have minor cameos in most regular episodes, makes a great straight man.
The look of these episodes is a dramatic stylistic departure from Kyoto Animation's normal efforts in every sense, though it has not changed significantly since the first volume. Despite the simplistic look, though, the production values remain as high as ever for KyoAni productions, and the color scheme distinguishes the series from any competitors as much as the actual designs do. The summer break and athletic sections allow for additional variety on costuming for the girls, while some other innovation can be found in the protracted Initial D rip-off in one episode and other occasional visual parodies. One bath house scene does show all of the girls in some state of undress, but unlike similar scenes in, say, Full Metal Panic! Fumoffu? it does not give any kind of fan service vibe. One bit in a later race scene is so blatantly fan service-ish that Konata comments on it in character, however.
The nimble soundtrack hops around, putting exactly the right silly, spooky, or ominous note to enhance the current gag; for as unobtrusive at it is, this is one of the more consistently effective soundtracks you will run across in any comedy anime, though its merits as a separate OST are more debatable. Its most interesting trait is an occasional penchant for numbers that might remind some of Enya, though it also tosses in a popular Western Christmas song, too. The nonsensical but infectiously enthusiastic opener remains a highlight, while the closers still progress through audio clips of the four main girls debating (and singing) karaoke choices as the credits roll.
Despite an English scripting effort by Bang Zoom! that retains about 95% of the original Japanese script's wit, a couple of jokes still do not survive translation and one obvious mistake – the teacher saying “cavalier” when it should be “cavalry” in episode 8 – still slips through. Both the subtitles and dub script do retain the original Japanese honorifics, however. Purists will have to nitpick much more than normal to find fault with the English casting and performances here, as most are even more dead-on here than in the first volume; Wendee Lee's version of Konata sounds uncanny like Aya Hirano's version in several places, and Stephanie Sheh may actually top Hiromi Konno's original performance as Akira, which was hardly weak.
Extras beyond the liner notes resemble those seen in the first volume: two sets of Key Scene Galleries (essentially screen shots with written commentary) and two more installments of “The Adventures of Minoru Shiraishi” live-action behind-the-scenes feature. The Special Limited Edition version also includes an Ending Theme Collection CD and a Konata School Swimsuit T-Shirt.
Lucky Star will not suit everyone even amongst the otaku crowd, as some will (rightly) accuse it of being mindless drivel. Although some may find the series growing on them by the end of this volume, more likely these episodes will just firm up your original first impression.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : A-
+ Lucky Channel bits, sometimes very funny, musical score.
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