#1 Desperate to be meta
Anime that discuss the culture that surrounds our medium are always interesting to me. There is no better way to (re-)experience the pop culture scene of days gone by than by revisiting series like Genshiken or Otaku no Video. Lucky Star attempts to do the same in the format of a moe, slice-of-life series. An attempt that, for me, doesn’t stick the landing.
Tsukasa, Kagami, and Miyuki are your everyday anime high school girls, save for the fact their friend Konata Izumi is a massive otaku. Anime, manga, and video games are her life, which she wants to remind people of at every turn. As a result, a good chunk of the comedy in Lucky Star comes down to Konata hijacking normal conversations by making them about her favorite games or anime instead. A comedy routine that gets old fast and would, in real-life, make for a short-lived friendship.
Lucky Star does also talk a lot about the anime culture of the mid-2000s. It addresses events like Comiket, talks about genres and tropes, and it has fun with mimicking the kind of silly things that happen to a typical otaku. Yet, the way it brings up a lot of these discussions feels forced. You sometimes literally just get characters wandering into a scene and loudly asking “What is moe?!”—or a similar question—followed by a plain explanation. Why is this presented like an educational segment?
Genshiken is a show about characters similar to Konata where discussions about similar topics feel like they happen organically between a cast of believable characters. By comparison, Lucky Star feels like a series of obvious setups just to show off how knowledgeable Konata is about geek culture.
#2 Uninteresting cast
When I said that the cast consists of typical, everyday high school girls, I meant that they are basically just your template slice-of-life protagonists. I don’t hold any hostility towards these girls, I just don’t see any unique appeal to grasp unto.
Tsukasa and Kagami are two sisters, one of which is punctual, serious, and smart, whereas the other is a clumsy but adorable goof. Miyuki is kind of a combination of these two, in that she is a dopey klutz in spite of being very knowledgeable. Then there is of course Konata, who is well-adjusted and super athletic in spite of being a total nerd. There is some depth to these characters, but these quick outlines alone already capture 90% of their characterization.
Most frustrating of all is the lack of development. Over the course of 24 episodes, the cast starts and ends at basically the same point with few changes in-between. Their lives and relationships are not meaningfully advanced in any way, and the few episodes that focus on some personal storylines usually peter out on a joke.
#3 Grating voice performances
My version of the show defaulted to English, so I just went with that for most of the series. A decision I came to regret after just a few episodes. The whole English audio track is just barely passable, but then there are those few performances that are so obnoxious it made me want to fast forward every time certain characters appeared.
Patricia Martin—the blonde-haired foreign exchange student of the show—is the biggest nuisance of them all. She is voiced by Patricia Ja Lee who gave her such a grating, ill-fitting voice that it bothered me every time she spoke. And boy does Patricia Martin speak a lot.
Other poor performances include Michelle Ruff as the semi-kuudere Minami Iwasaki, Hynden Walch as the pint-sized Yutaka Kobayakawa, and several minor roles.
#4 Lack of purpose
Lucky Star immediately starts on a make-or-break moment for many, as its very first joke highlights the series’ penchant for banal nonsense. Throughout a significant portion of episode 1, the cast does nothing but debate the ideal way to eat various different foods. There’s not really a joke, unless you interpret the absence of one as comedy in and of itself.
Lucky Star is absolutely fond of playing with the audience’s expectations like this, by telling bad jokes on purpose or dedicating obscene amounts of time to setups that never get a punchline. And it kind of works, at first.
Many other slice-of-life series focus on the funniest or most important moments of the characters’ lives, so Lucky Star instead shows you their menial day-to-day interactions. With a strong vision, this could work. I’d love to see a series that’s centered just on this idea and how it could be made interesting. Here, however, it gets mostly forgotten as the series changes pace to be more like a normal SOL comedy. Afterwards, its few throwbacks to this original concept feel too random and shallow to make much of an impression.
Instead, it bring to light the same sentiment I voiced a few weeks ago: “bad writing is still bad, even if you do it deliberately”.
#5 Haruhi overdose
Don’t you guys just love The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya? I sure do. I am a big The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya fan! Don’t you want to be reminded of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya at all times?! Then I got the show for you, champ!
To say that Lucky Star is a referential anime would be an understatement, but I usually tend to like shows with plenty of references. Seeing shout-outs to other anime I like is usually a hype moment for me. But Lucky Star is so absolutely stoked about its spiritual connection to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya that it just won’t stop bringing it up. Perhaps that can be explained as being emblematic of the anime scene at the time, but the intolerable fanboys are the one part of anime history that I’d actually prefer to forget about.
Everywhere you go in Lucky Star you’ll get posters and adverts for Haruhi, you see figures and cosplayers, outright cameos where they can get away with them, and the names of Haruhi‘s cast are plastered everywhere. It even goes to cringe-worthy lengths, like when Konata puts “Brigade Leader” on her school’s career survey. It has a “live” concert for Aya Hirano where she sings part of God Knows, which is a meta joke in and of itself because Aya Hirano also voiced Konata.
I get it. It’s cool that The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was such a big success and a cultural phenomenon, and that Kyoto Animation then got to make another comedy show with Aya Hirano in it. I just wish they used that opportunity to make something else that was unique and revolutionary, instead of wallowing in old glory.