by Andy Hanley.
If you want to make a particular generation of anime fans feel old, remind them that the first season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya anime is ten years old in 2016. In fact, the show’s broadcast marks an important era in the recent history of the anime industry – the series was a breakout hit for studio Kyoto Animation, its success brought about a slew of similar “light novel” adaptations looking to reap similar rewards that continues to this day, and the show’s subsequent western release came at the peak of an industry bubble which burst soon afterwards.
Looking to capitalise on the success of Haruhi and the boom in interest it had wrought, Kyoto Animation turned to a four-panel comedy manga from author Kagami Yoshimizu, birthing another anime sensation whose reverberations are still felt throughout the industry.
Lucky Star first appears to be a simple slice-of-life comedy series in the mould of Azumanga Daioh, following a group of friends through their daily lives inside and outside of school. But much as Otaku no Video sought to capture the otaku mind-set of the early 1990s, so Lucky Star does likewise for anime fandom in the early 21st century, through the character of Konata Izumi. Lucky Star, however, dumps much of the self-deprecation of its forebear, which speaks volumes about the changing face of fandom, and its sense of entitlement. Instead, it celebrates the soft power of the otaku, elebrating a time where to be thought of as an otaku was a badge of honour (at least, within the circles an otaku might frequent) rather than a mark of shame. Konata herself is the poster child for this view – cheerful, friendly, and not at all ashamed of her hobbies, reflecting the louder and prouder nature of the era which endures to this day.
Lucky Star certainly panders to an implied otaku audeince, and you don’t have to look far to see how it set out to achieve its aims. Casting former Haruhi Suzumiya actress Aya Hirano as Konata was only the first of many allusions of the studio’s previous megahit, packing in nods to anime and its surrounding culture wherever possible. Episodes end with the cast singing karaoke versions of anime themes, the mascot character of the Animate store chain puts in a number of appearances, and Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya cast member Minoru Shiraishi (the voice of Taniguchi in that series) appears as himself before turning into his own one-man comedy juggernaut. No stone, it seems, was left unturned in celebrating the culture of anime to add to the show’s appeal.
Not every element of the series was smooth sailing. Lucky Star granted the controversial Yutaka Yamamoto his first gig as a director, thanks in no small part to his work on the Hare Hare Yukai dance that used to end each episode of The Melancholy of Haruhi Sumumiya. But he lasted only four episodes before a groundswell of dissatisfaction from both viewers and studio executives saw him ousted with the announcement that he had “not reached the standard of director yet.” While Yamamoto had sought to remain close to the source material, new director Yasuhiro Takemoto (a safer pair of hands who had helmed much of Full Metal Panic) was more willing to deviate in search entertainment value, and the result is a sharp uptick in pacing and gags from episode five onwards. Not that Yutaka Yamamoto’s influence upon the series should be dismissed entirely – he once again managed to craft an iconic credits sequence with dancing aplenty, this time serving as the eye-catching opening animation.
The series opened the floodgates of four-panel manga adaptations trying to capitalise on its success; it brought about a whole new era of self-referential shows around otaku and anime; and above all, it arguably provided another inflection point in the boom of so-called “moe” anime and characters. All of these elements persist to this day, which is perhaps why the flood of material and merchandise related to Lucky Star has never entirely stopped – you can still find new figures in production even now, while 2013 brought a spin-off manga and internet series which themselves gave rise to a one-shot light novel.
Away from its legacy, Lucky Star remains an enjoyable comedy series – for all of its deeply referential jokes which may be lost on newer anime fans, there’s still plenty of broader comedy strokes, and the aesthetic of the series has mostly aged well thanks perhaps to its own influence over its successors. It may sound odd to file a slice-of-life comedy under a list of highly influential anime productions, but take a look at the industry’s output almost a decade later and it’s easy to trace the roots of plenty of series back to this production. Its outlook may prevent it from being truly timeless, but Lucky Star’s place as a gem of its time that truly captured the zeitgeist of mid-2000s fandom will never leave it.
Lucky Star is released in the UK by Funimation.