The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

The Otafest Question: Insights Into Anime Culture From An Older Era Through Lucky☆Star

“The TV show ended by saying how young people are becoming increasingly illiterate, but doesn’t browsing the Internet and blogging actually improve your literacy?” – Konata Izumi

Konata Izumi is a high school otaku who lives in Kasukabe, Saitama. A devout fan of anime and games, Konata prefers to indulge in her hobbies rather than pursue her studies, but in spite of this, always manages to get by. With her friends, twin sisters Kagami and Tsukasa Hiiragi, and the gentle but wealthy Miyuki Takara, the girls live out their high school days peacefully, from exams and sports events, to culture festivals and summer break. As the girls move into their final year of high school, the first years, Yutaka Kobayakawa, Minami Iwasaki, Hiyori Tamura and Patricia Martin, join the girls’ ranks. This is Lucky☆Star; originally a four-panel manga serialised to Comptiq from 2003, an anime adaptation was produced and ran from April to September of 2007. Author Kagami Yoshimizu originally conceived of the series as being a portrayal of ordinary high school life with a focus on the anime subculture and its members, otaku: when it was brought to life by Kyoto Animation, Lucky☆Star immediately became a smash hit despite lacking a central narrative and theme. The series presents the unique humour present in the lives of otaku, who immediately related to the circumstances that Konata experiences. Even for fans of the slice-of-life genre, Lucky☆Star comes across as being a very niche series, designed to appeal to those with familiarity surrounding the otaku subculture: there are numerous references to older series like G Gundam, as well as popular contemporary series like The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, and so, viewers begin to appreciate Kagami, Tsukasa and Miyuki’s presence, as they serve to help put Konata’s non sequitur thought processes in a more relatable manner. Unconventional by all regards, Lucky☆Star became a surprising success during its run. Thirteen years later, Lucky☆Star has aged gracefully, retaining its entertainment value, but the anime now also provides a glimpse into the anime community of a time immediately before Apple revolutionised the face of communications with its first iPhone.

Lucky☆Star portrays the otaku subculture as it was during the mid-2000s. This was when the internet began moving towards the level of ubiquity and robustness that we currently see but had not quite reached that point. Online discussions were becoming more commonplace, but networks had not quite reached the point where watching anime was as simple as streaming from an online service. In this time of transition, Konata swings by a local bookstore to buy manga volumes, watches her anime from television channels and, but utilises the internet for discussing the latest episode of a series, as well as learn of upcoming anime-related events and specials. Kagami, a more moderate fan, often accompanies Konata to the bookstore to check out manga and light novels available, too. It’s is a time where anime, manga and games were consumed in a different fashion, certainly one that was much slower-paced, and consequently, the different extents one could be involved with the anime subculture were more distinct. On one hand, Konata embodies the dedicated fan, an otaku who embraces the internet to keep up to date with everything related to her interests. By comparison, Kagami, while still partaking in anime, games light novels and manga of her choice, does not participate in online discussions or keep a close eye on anime-and-manga-related events. Despite the disparity in their level of engagement with fandom, and despite not always seeing eye-to-eye, Konata and Kagami are able to have real-world conversations together and participate in events together. This tangible interaction helps them to understand the other better. Kagami is able to keep up with Konata in discussions, and the two do genuinely care for one another, going to great lengths to do favours and look out for one another. Lucky☆Star suggests that the real-life dynamics between otaku who interact face-to-face have a nontrivial, positive impact on one another: this is a bit of a nostalgic trip that indicates that in spite of varied opinions about their hobby, anime fans ultimately share more similarities than differences, and that the face-to-face component is a very strong piece of fostering this sense of camaraderie.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Lucky☆Star‘s episodes features four main characters: from left to right, we’ve got Konata Izumi (Aya Hirano), Tsukasa Hiiragi (Kaori Fukuhara), Kagami Hiiragi (Erimi Katō) and Miyuki Takara (Aya Endō). Most episodes deal with their everyday lives and as such, portray mundane conversations in vivid detail: the topic of these conversations are small scale remarks about life, ranging from favourite foods to minor inconveniences, and their associated humour. Because these moments are mundane, I can’t remember what each and every conversation is about, so the figure captions in this post will deal with a separate set of topics I’d like to go over, most of which are tangentially related to Lucky☆Star.

  • Of everyone, Kagami and Konata have the most screen-time. Despite the dramatic difference in their personality, which is reflected in the fact they’re prodding fun at the other half the time, the two are more similar than they’d care to admit. Konata might be lazy and unmotivated unless anime, manga and games are brought up, but she holds out well enough in school. Kagami is motivated and determined, performing well in school, but in her downtime, she has the same hobbies as Konata.

  • The flat, simplistic style of Lucky☆Star means that, curiously enough, the anime has aged remarkably well: Kyoto Animation produced Lucky☆Star in 2007, and the manga itself began running in 2003. Portraying the sensibilities and styles of a much older world, Lucky☆Star‘s unique aesthetic, and Kyoto Animation’s technical skill in capturing this style, means that even today, the anime doesn’t look particularly dated. While Lucky☆Star might not be Kyoto Animation’s most impressive production from a visual standpoint, they did an excellent job of bringing the manga to life.

  • Lucky☆Star is quite unlike any series that I’ve previously watched in the sense that, over its run, there is no long-term goal, and the characters do not develop in a more traditional sense: Konata remains lazy, Miyuki is consistently moé, Tsukasa stays air-headed, and Kagami’s tsundere mannerisms persist throughout the series’ entire run. This is a deliberate choice, as static, flat characters provide reliable and consistent comedy. While the characters themselves do not change, Lucky☆Star does take some time to present everyone in different contexts to show that everyone does have more to them than their mannerisms when everyone is together.

  • Because Lucky☆Star is “an anime about nothing”, the longstanding assertion, that “Lucky☆Star is anime Seinfeld“, has endured over the years. This holds water prima facie: both series have mundane conversations, superficial conflict and cast of characters with unique dispositions. However, this is where the similarities end: whereas Lucky☆Star and Seinfeld share in common the goal of conveying humour, both series go about doing so in a completely different manner. Seinfeld‘s characters are unlikable by design, and so, the comedy surrounding them stems from the situational irony of what they do and experience on-screen.

  • By comparison, Lucky☆Star uses non-sequitur humour, gags and a parody of the otaku subculture to drive its humour. The characters of Lucky☆Star are more likeable, so the viewer’s source of humour comes from laughing with the characters. Seinfeld‘s characters are created such that viewers laugh at them whenever something comedic happens. This fundamental difference means that the claim, “Lucky☆Star is anime Seinfeld“, does not hold. To further build on this point, Seinfeld is not about nothing, and episodes there have a self-contained plot: Lucky☆Star, on the other hand, simply shows various, everyday experiences that Konata, Kagami, Tsukasa and Miyuki go through.

  • I believe that this comparison has its origins at Victor-Tango-Victor, where there appeared to be enough commonalities such that some folks figured they could create a new meme from it, and this was something that gained enough momentum to be applied to Azumanga Daioh. The exact origin of who precisely began this meme is lost to time, but the notion that any slice-of-life anime is a Japanese version of Seinfeld with high school girls erroneously endures to this day. In fact, the meme has inappropriately set the expectation that all slice-of-life anime necessarily must be funny in order to be worth watching.

  • Whether or not a slice-of-life anime should be judged for its comedic value depends largely on the author’s intention. Granted, many four-panel series utilise their format to set up a punchline and tell quick stories, but what some folks have missed is that over time, some four-panel manga (and their anime adaptations) do wrap up. Azumanga Daioh was humourous because the premise of an elementary student being bumped up to high school creates unique scenarios, but it also dealt with the ending of high school, and in retrospect, all of the experiences leading up to graduation suddenly become more than just comedy. As it stands, humour is only one part of how good a slice-of-life series is, and looking at nothing more than whether or not a series is laugh-out-loud funny is to approach slice-of-life with a very closed mind.

  • On the other hand, because Lucky☆Star is built around gags, non-sequiturs and other forms of humour, whether or not the series succeeded in its delivery is dependent on whether or not the viewer finds it funny. This is why Lucky☆Star‘s reception is so varied: folks unfamiliar with otaku or the style of humour in the series will not enjoy things as much as those who do enjoy the series’ style and/or have background in the anime subculture. There isn’t a right or wrong way of watching Lucky☆Star, and one’s own enjoyment of the series will largely depend on the individual and the extent they relate to otaku subculture.

  • My favourite moment in Lucky☆Star involves a door and static electricity: after Kagami, Tsukasa and Miyuki get shocked, Kagami shouts out “no!” when Kanata reaches for the door, only for Kanata to reply “yes” and then open the door without getting shocked. The joke flows well, incorporates a bit of English into the scene for additional laughs, and also sets up a conversation that follows into a moment that takes the joke further with Konata’s father. With static electricity, I find that susceptibility might be related to how one walks, rather than though one’s hobby as Kagamin suggests; a certain gait makes it more likely to pick up an accumulation of negative charge.

  • In 2007, otaku culture was something that still remained relatively unknown: the word otaku (おたく) is a word that the Japanese use to refer to an individual with a very distinct set of interests (equivalent to “geek” in North American English). Originally derived from the word for referring to someone’s house (お宅), columnist Ansaku Shibahara ended up popularising its colloquial usage, after seeing the original usage of otaku amongst those with a predisposition towards social awkwardness. Thus, Shibahara chose the phrase to light-heartedly refer to unpleasant fans, and almost immediately, otaku had a negative association from murders in the late 1980s.

  • English usage of the term otaku came with the 1988 release of Gunbuster (parodied as “Bun Guster” in Lucky☆Star), and while it bears some negativity, modern usage of the term refers to the general community of anime fans, and more broadly, anyone with an interest in Japanese popular culture. As it stands, Lucky☆Star‘s various anime references and the like present otaku as simply dedicated fans of anime and manga with eccentricities; over time, negativity surrounding the term has lessened somewhat, and more people in Japan now count themselves as an otaku of something.

  • Konata embodies the stereotypical traits of an otaku: utterly obsessed with anime, manga, games, merchandise and special events like Comiket, Konata goes to incredible lengths to enjoy her hobby. Her mind is so focused that she makes otaku references in everyday conversation, much to Kagami’s annoyance. However, as a person, Konata is on the whole, easygoing and likeable: otaku have previously been counted as being unsociable, but in Konata’s case, she will hang out with her friends and those around her when the moment calls for it, even if she would otherwise rather spend her time watching anime, reading manga or going through some visual novel.

  • I count myself as being closer to Kagami in how deep into the anime and games fandom I am, and there are some dedicated otaku out there whose devotion to their hobby blow my mind. With this being said, the anime communities that I am aware of, or actively participate in, are among the most inviting and friendly: beyond the community of anime bloggers and the group I follow on Twitter, courtesy Jon Spencer Reviews, Dewbond, Moyatorium, Crow’s Anime World and countless others, I also am a semi-active participant in the local anime community, having both attended and volunteered at the area’s premiere anime convention, Otafest.

  • Curiously enough, were it not for Lucky☆Star, it is actually unlikely I would still be an anime fan, and therefore, would not have visited the local anime convention. The story is that after Gundam 00 ended, I became busy with acclimatising to life as a university student, and in order to keep up with coursework, I didn’t watch anime at all. However, I ran into an interesting fellow in my discrete math class and ended up befriending him. It turned out that he was a fan of Kyoto Animation’s works, and an avid gamer himself, but unlike me and my lack of creativity, he also made YouTube mashups of his favourite series (Team Fortress 2, K-On!, The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi and Lucky☆Star).

  • Ten years ago would’ve marked the first time he’d visited Otafest: Otafest 2010 was unique in that it was the first time voice actress Michelle Ruff (Yuki Nagato of The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi) was a special guest, and my friend was very excited about being able to get her autograph. However, on the day of the Q & A panel, he’d forgotten to bring his camera, and therefore did not have a chance to film it. Back then, Otafest was held on university grounds, and in the months subsequent, he returned to campus to film re-enactments of the Q & A panel. During this time of year, with classes over, the university is much quieter, allowing for this to be a relatively easy task.

  • I came across his videos during the mid-summer, when I had been a ways into my summer research, and my interest in both the anime depicted, and Otafest itself, was piqued. That summer, I picked up Real Drive, which rekindled my interest in anime beyond Gundam 00. After Awakening of the Trailblazer came out in December, I decided to give the two series that had featured prominently in my friend’s mashups a go: Lucky☆Star and The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi. Lucky☆Star felt like it had a lower barrier of entry, and so I began watching that first. In retrospect, this was the better decision, since that winter semester turned out to be the toughest that I’d faced yet. In the end, I ended up finishing Lucky☆Star and transitioned over to K-On!, which, in conjunction with studying with my friends, helped me to survive that term.

  • The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi is frequently referenced in Lucky☆Star: aside from the fact that Konata and Haruhi are both voiced by Aya Hirano, Lucky☆Star is also produced by Kyoto Animation. This entry into Kyoto Animation’s works would eventually result in my checking out CLANNAD and Kanon, which respectively accompanied me through the MCAT and early stages of my undergraduate thesis. While my friend probably doesn’t know this, his Otafest vlogs ended up having a notable impact on my trajectory: after going through both Lucky☆Star and The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi a year after discovering his videos, I realised that easygoing slice-of-life series and Kyoto Animation’s works were my party, perfectly suited for reducing stress.

  • My friend would later bring a camera to subsequent events and present the more interesting moments of Otafest in vlogs; these ended up leading me to consider checking things out, and a few years later, I ended up inviting a few friends to Otafest. The first year was a bit of a gong-show, but a year later, superior coordination and knowledge allowed me to line everything up, and I coordinated a group of eight to visit the premiere attractions that year: Yū Asakawa was in attendance, and enough of my friends were excited to be interested in going. In order to make it worthwhile for everyone, I also decided to make reservations for the immensely popular Maid Café, best known for its combination of providing tea in conjunction with a live performance. That Otafest ended up being a superb event, and all of my friends left with an overwhelmingly positive experience, plus Asakawa’s autograph.

  • As Lucky☆Star wears on, additional characters join the main cast: Minami, Yutaka, Patricia and Hiyori are first year students that join later in the series, and like the interactions with Konata’s party, Yutaka’s group is similarly varied and eccentric. Because Lucky☆Star‘s setup as a four-panel manga is timeless, the series has aged very gracefully overall: the manga is ongoing, and the latest chapters are relatable, current. The anime’s place in the sun thus becomes unique: because it wrapped up in 2007, it is, in effect, a snapshot into the anime community of the early-to-mid 2000s.

  • To be an otaku in Japan, during the early 2000s, then, was to enjoy things at a much slower rate than we currently know it. Konata and Kagami browse through manga and light novels at the bookstore, catch anime on TV, and go to specialty shops to purchase games and merchandise. Before high-quality streaming services and internet delivery had not been prevalent, fans could take the time to really stop and appreciate a work: in the present day, ubiquitous internet makes it possible to keep up with a near-infinite pool of anime and order things in the comfort of one’s home.

  • Lucky☆Star thus evokes a sense of nostalgia for the older anime community and its means when watched. While the world of visiting a store for merchandise and watching an anime on TV is far removed from how overseas fans partake in the hobby, there is, in fact, one way to experience the anime subculture with a very high degree of immersion and authenticity, as Konata and Kagami know it. This is by attending an anime convention like Otafest, where physically being around folks with similar interests, anime panels and screenings, cosplayers and merchants really forces one to slow down and take it all in.

  • In a manner of speaking, then, one could simultaneously say that Lucky☆Star allows one to enjoy a scaled-back anime convention atmosphere, and that to experience the anime subculture to the same extent as Konata and Kagami, as Lucky☆Star portrays it, one only needs to attend their local anime convention. This year, Otafest (and undoubtedly, many other anime conventions) was cancelled owing to the world health crisis, and while members of the community were disappointed, people also understand the importance of the measures taken to ensure everyone’s safety. The remark, that there’s a little bit of anime convention in all fans, holds true: people continued to channel the positive energy associated with Otafest, expressing a promise to attend in 2021.

  • While most of Lucky☆Star is set in Saitama, one memorable episode has Konata and her friends on a class trip to the Kyoto area, where they visit locations like Nara Park and Ginkakuji before their final day allows everyone to explore freely. During my visit to Kyoto three years ago, Kinkakuji was the prime attraction of the morning, and despite it being a rainy day, the temple itself looked amazing anyways. I ended up enjoying a macha ice cream while strolling the park and got a few photographs of the Kinkakuji from precisely the spot where Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi took their group photo in K-On!! despite the crowds. After having shabu-shabu for lunch at Torihasa near Maruyama Park, it was off to Nara Park and Osaka.

  • It turns out that the deer at Nara Park are as forward as shown in Lucky☆Star: I saw a deer snatch and eat a pamphlet from another visitor who had been feeding the deer but ran out of the deer crackers. During the course of the trip, Kagami receives what appears to be a love letter from a male classmate and becomes contemplative, wondering what’s happening. She’s so lost in thought that Konata’s usual antics do not elicit a response, but it turns out the boy had been looking to ask Kagami for a favour, and in the aftermath, Kagami is embarrassed beyond words.

  • Konata uses their free day to visit Kyoto Animation’s offices around the Kyoto area, including their head office and second studio in Uji. Having meticulously planned out their excursion, Konata is able to take everyone to these seemingly-ordinary locations without any trouble, and remarks that to avoid disturbing the staff, they’ll just remain outside. Kyoto Animation is known for being a top-tier animation studio, with salaried employees who are encouraged to focus on quality of their key frames, and as such, developed a reputation as a prestigious studio to work for. However, Kyoto Animation has seen their share of In July 2009, an arsonist doused himself in gasoline and lit the first studio on fire. This tragedy killed 36 and injured an additional 34: while the suspect was arrested, no criminal charges have been formally pressed, and Kyoto Animation has since set their efforts to rebuilding, aided by help from a dedicated and caring community as well as the Japanese government.

  • Lucky☆Star‘s soundtrack was never released in album format, and was instead, bundled with the DVD volumes: this is often the method taken for series that are geared towards the more dedicated of fans. The music itself in Lucky☆Star is remarkably varied: from parodies of action series and games, to tunes evocative of humour, and everyday slice-of-life pieces, music in Lucky☆Star is of a reasonably high quality. My favourite pieces are the slice-of-life pieces such as “Minami’s Theme” and “Ran Ran Da Yo”. One of the best uses of the soundtrack in Lucky☆Star to convey humour occurs when the music goes out of tune in response to an action on-screen.

  • One aspect of Lucky☆Star that I deliberately have not covered is the Lucky☆Channel segment that wraps up every episode. While driven by humour, I’ve never found it to be too enjoyable. From a personal standpoint, I found Akira Kogami a lot less likable than the main cast; she sports a friendly and energetic façade that quickly gives way to antipathy about most everything. Before this post wraps up, I should also justify the choice of page quote: it is chosen for the fact that there is truth in Konata’s claim, and that personally, my entry into anime blogging correlated with my improved confidence in writing. At least, this mostly holds true: while bloggers are among the best company I’ve kept, those who browse the internet will find that one-liners and memes have displaced proper discussion in some places.

  • As Lucky☆Star neared the end of its run, Patricia feels it appropriate for everyone to do a cheerleading routine during the school’s cultural festival on top of their class’ activities. It’s a tall order and initially starts off roughly, but things materialise once Konata is bribed and manages to convince the reluctant Kagami to participate. This moment allows all of the core characters of Lucky☆Star to be shown on screen at once: from left to right, z-ordering independent, we have Hiyori, Kagami, Konata, Tsukasa, Patricia, Misao, Yutaka, Ayano, Minami and Miyuki.

  • Lucky☆Channel notwithstanding, Lucky☆Star is an entertaining anime, and while its jokes might not be for everyone, there is a certain charm to the series for being able to bring out nostalgia for a different time, for when things were slower-paced and simpler in some ways. With this post in the books, my next talk is going to be for Halo 2‘s campaign: I ended up beating the campaign in record time on account of both knowing the missions well and a desire to get to playing the multiplayer. This Halo 2 post will mark the final post of May; as it is a rather lengthy one that will take a bit of time to wrap up, I wish to give it proper attention. Further to this, owing to the global health crisis, the city-wide science fair I was originally set to volunteer as a judge at moved to an online format, and at the time of writing, I’ve just wrapped up assessing all of the health projects. Most of them are impressive, and I will aim to take a look at the remaining technology projects before finalising my submission.

Through Lucky☆Star, one gains a modicum of insight into the world of anime culture prior to the propagation of broadband internet and smartphones: the anime community would’ve been a bit more tightly-knit, and this closeness would have extended into the real world. While this closeness is diminishing, as more anime fans move their interests into virtual space, there are some events and venues that still channel the atmosphere surrounding the anime subculture as seen in Lucky☆Star: the anime convention is one such event, bringing fans together to celebrate their hobby. From browsing through the manga, anime and merchandise in the vendors hall, to seeing cosplayers and the immense amount of effort they put into their costumes, as well as the more dedicated panels that showcase how to paint plastic models and specialty features like a Maid Café, the sort of world that Konata and Kagami experienced in Lucky☆Star are, for a few days of the year, brought to life by the efforts of dedicated and committed convention staff. Specialty shops that sell anime and manga along with Japanese merchandise, also create this feeling at a smaller scale, and for the intrepid, a visit to Akihabara will show that the anime subculture, as Lucky☆Star presents it, is still very much alive. Of course, anime conventions don’t happen every day, and trips to Japan can be prohibitively costly, so it is unsurprising that, despite lacking a cohesive narrative and central theme, Lucky☆Star has endured after all this time: its charms come from illustrating the anime community from an older time, and the nostalgia surrounding this period is something that viewers may find worthwhile in revisiting.

6 responses to “The Otafest Question: Insights Into Anime Culture From An Older Era Through Lucky☆Star

  1. Jon Spencer May 22, 2020 at 14:59

    Oh I got a shoutout O.o Thanks 🙂

    Great write up, I enjoyed reading. I do think that Lucky Channel is a core component to the show’s uniqueness, so it’s a bit disappointing seeing that understated I suppose. I also found it unusual that you didn’t talk about the ending themes, which are equally notable.

    As for “the right or wrong way to watch”, I agree that there isn’t one, especially as time goes on. However, I do feel that Haruhi is the bare minimum prerequisite anime you should see before this as it makes several things land better. Otherwise, I wouldn’t ever consider this a newcomer friendly show, but one you could watch with a few series under your belt and probably enjoy.

    Like

    • infinitezenith May 26, 2020 at 14:44

      I’ve never been big on cynical, darker humour of the sort that Lucky☆Channel specialises in; it’s strictly a matter of personal preference. If memory serves, there was a different theme every episode, sung by the voice actresses for each of Konata, Kagami, Tsukasa and Miyuki. This post was more of a reflection of what the series reminds me of, more than anything else, so I didn’t cover everything: it’s been about nine years since I went through Lucky☆Star front to back, and I don’t remember everything about the series.

      On The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, my friends were pretty big on the series and were rather keen on showing me the best moments, so even though I started with Lucky☆Star, I had no trouble appreciating the references that were being made. At present, I am going through The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya again: after writing about The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, I realised that it was probably worthwhile to revisit the series again and see what it did that set up such an enjoyable movie, as well as the impact it had. I think entering Lucky☆Star, I had Azumanga Daioh, Death Note, Ah! My Goddess and Gundam 00 under my belt, plus a general understanding of older series, so I never felt too lost (in particular, one of my buddies is a big-time Gundam fan and loved showing me clips).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. baudattitude May 23, 2020 at 00:54

    Fun article. It hurts a little to think of Lucky*Star as coming from an “Older era” as it’s yet another reminder that I’m comfortably heading for over-the-hill status, but I still enjoy it for the time capsule nature.

    Like

    • infinitezenith May 26, 2020 at 14:45

      If it’s any consolation, I feel every day of my age, too! Watching Lucky☆Star brings back memories of a simpler time, and it’s honestly impressive as to how well it’s aged 🙂

      Like

  3. Dewbond May 23, 2020 at 04:55

    Always enjoyed your style of blog posting Zen, it’s different, but effective.

    Like

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