I’ll be honest, I put Lucky Star on my list entirely because of its opening theme, which took over forums, conventions, and memes. I’m pleased to report that this silly slice of life show offered much more to me than I could have hoped, so enjoy a little appreciation for a job well done!
Lucky Star is a 2007 slice of life anime based on the ongoing manga that started in 2003, and follows a group of girls as they navigate high school in all of its daily stresses and excitements. Though not much actually happens in the show, Lucky Star keeps it interesting by getting creative with its franchise references, and poking fun at anime’s behind the scenes. Even watching it over a decade after its airing, Lucky Star stands out as one of the best examples of slice of life I’ve seen.
The Slice of Life Sweet Spot
I think I’ve found my perfect slice of life show. Lucky Star is almost 100% characters discussing what they did or will do on weekends. And if not that, they’ll be at each others’ houses eating while lamenting schoolwork. It’s pretty consistent, and that made it really easy to watch. The show combines daily life and embarrassing or relatable moments in such a way that I never felt like I was being hit over the head by competing ideas, something that really turned me off with K-On!. It’s a safe show for casual viewing; almost none of the scenes are crucial for understanding the characters (except for the very last few episodes), and you can get the gist without needing to invest.
I also really liked the mix of otaku and “normie” POVs. They balance each other out and call attention to some similarities between the two, but they never override each other. The show allows regular daily life to affect its characters no matter what their interests are, and this helps the characters all seem relatable. Anime doesn’t always point out how regular people see otaku, which is one thing I really liked about Lucky Star. We get a rare glimpse of how otaku are “out of touch” with the world. Speaking of that…
…OUT OF TOUCH THURSDAY
I needed to include how my watch through of Lucky Star coincided with Out of Touch Thursday becoming a larger meme in the past few weeks. I thought I was going crazy for suddenly seeing it everywhere, but it’s just the Internet doing its thing while I happened to be watching Lucky Star.
Sketches and Segments
Although Lucky Star has little substance, it does have recurring bits that feature in each episode that form a sort of storyline. Each episode ends with a variety show called “Lucky Channel” that features a washed up and underpaid teen idol named Akira-chan, and her overworked doormat of an assistant, Minoru. It mostly consists of Akira complaining about how she wasn’t in this week’s episode, pleading with fans to send her fan mail, or bossing Minoru around, all with the production team making noise behind the camera. I had no idea about this going in, and really liked how it added just a little bit of lore to Lucky Star – if lore in a slice of life is even a thing!
The OP and EDs also had a bit of fun with the audience. Now, going into Lucky Star blind, I was delighted to see the second half of the show feature live action ending songs sung by the voice actors or production staff and filmed in forests, parking lots, trails, cars, etc. At one point the cast reenacted the OP on the road, at another they had a lightsaber battle…it was such a treat and a breath of fresh air from the tropes and look of anime. There are quite a few meta comments made on the show’s OP and ED as you get further in, right up until the final episode where things come full circle!
Lucky Star and Haruhi Suzumiya: Franchise-topia!
One of the big talking points in Lucky Star is its constant references to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, another of Kyoto Animation’s properties. The wild success of Haruhi plowed through anime fandom in 2006, and KyoAni didn’t hesitate to milk its success in Lucky Star, which came out only a year after. Haruhi dojinshi, figures, cosplay, posters, and other merchandise are jammed into the show at every opportunity, especially whenever otaku are onscreen. Konata is actually voiced by the same VA as Haruhi, which becomes really trippy when Konata dresses as Haruhi at the Haruhi-themed cosplay cafe she works at.
This kind of studio awareness didn’t stop at Haruhi, though. There were a lot of internal politics that went into making this show! Popular VAs associated with KyoAni made appearances that brought other KyoAni properties like Air and Full Metal Panic into Lucky Star’s world (as well as their celebrity histories). Since all of these properties are owned by the same studio, blurring or misspelling wasn’t needed to protect copyright, though this was still the case for franchises that weren’t under KyoAni, such as Gundam, Code Geass, etc. As someone doing research into anime fan-oriented work in North America, watching Lucky Star be so blatant about its ownership was really fun, and was especially rewarding if you happened to have seen these other shows.
Grieving, Retrospectives, and Kyoto Animation
For such a light-hearted series, Lucky Star was a slap in the face at times in its more production-focused beats. Since Lucky Star is a Kyoto Animation property, its characters visit Kyoto on a school trip at a later point in the series. Konata, the otaku, insists in a move of meta brilliance that they visit Kyoto Animation to buy merch and take photos near the studio buildings. Watching this show at this particular moment in time hurt me unexpectedly because of the 2019 Kyoto Animation arson attack. I’ve never explicitly said so in this blog, but I was in Japan at the time, and visited Kyoto for a digital game research conference later that month. My supervisor suggested paying respects at the studio while we were there. So, one day we all got flowers and took the train way out into suburban Kyoto.
It doesn’t come across in news footage very well, but Kyoto Animation Studio 1 is right in the middle of a residential neighbourhood. There are no malls, no busy roads, and hardly any restaurants. The studio would ordinarily be in a very quiet location. It was shocking to walk along the quiet roads and stumble upon something so devastating. Fences had been put up around the building, over which I could see scorched window frames and rubble. The tragedy hit home for me and the others who had gathered there. A tent had been set up across the street with a guestbook and room for flowers, bouquets, charms, and other memorial tokens. Studio 1 was torn down later that month, and I realized how crazy the timing was for me to have actually seen the wreckage. In Lucky Star, Konata takes photos at Studio 1, which no longer exists due to the cruelest of circumstances, and I can’t help but mourn. The director of the majority of Lucky Star, Yasuhiro Takemoto, was one of the victims who died in the attack, and learning this coloured my viewing experience considerably. It’s crazy to think that if I had watched this show earlier, I wouldn’t have approached it in the same way.
Kyoto Animation’s continued impact on quality anime since its establishment in 1981 meant that even knowing very little going in, Lucky Star lived up to my expectations. Make no mistake, Lucky Star is at its best when it sticks to generic conversations about daily life. However, it’s these hints of deeper structures in its production and its understanding of fan culture that push it into being great for me, and it definitely adds to the viewing experience. All of the meta happening at the edges of this anime made a huge difference in what I got out of it (and there’s tons more where that came from). The result was a field day of research and analysis for me that I’m going to keep in mind for a long time!