Ask John: Why Is Lucky Star So Popular?

Question:
Lucky Star seems to have hit the Japanese fan community by storm: ads are everywhere in Akiba, many stores play the anime on their screens, the limited edition DVDs sold out quickly, it’s popular enough to receive 2 Nintendo DS games, an upcoming PS2 game, more CDs, a full 2-season TV run, and the OP/END CDs have both broken into the Oricon Top 10. Why do you think it’s so popular?

Answer:
Naturally individual viewers will approach each anime differently. It’s impossible for me, or anyone, to identify exactly why Lucky Star appeals to each, individual viewer. But I can theorize about the characteristics of the show that probably account for its success.

Lucky Star seems to be following on the heels of the phenomenal success of The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi. One could argue that since Suzumiya Haruhi and Lucky Star are both animated by Kyoto Animation, the success of Lucky Star is simply a spill-over from Suzumiya Haruhi. In certain respects, I think that is what’s happening. But in another aspect, Lucky Star is quite different from Suzumiya Haruhi.

Lucky Star doesn’t typically exhibit the fluid animation quality of The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, nor does Lucky Star have the bright and vibrant color palate and sharp contrasts of the art design used in Suzumiya Haruhi. Lucky Star looks relatively simplistic compared to the photo-realism of Suzumiya Haruhi. Suzumiya Haruhi may also have the bigger, more devoted fan following because its story structure invites viewers to insert themselves into the program. Suzumiya Haruhi encourages a vicarious interactivity while Lucky Star presents an objective, external perspective on its cast and events.

But like Suzumiya Haruhi, Lucky Star is a consciously self-referential and inviting program. Lucky Star intentionally appeals to the tastes and personalities of hardcore anime fans by being simultaneously honest and self-deprecating. The show draws attention to the fact that its cast includes conventional otaku anime stereotypes like the tsundere (Kagami), the little sister (Tsukasa and Yutaka), the incisive, all-knowing otaku (Konata), and the “megane shoujo” (“glasses girl”) Miyuki. Lucky Star develops much of its humor from drawing attention to its stereotypical aspects, and pointing out its own silliness with good natured rationality. In other words, the show itself acts just like a real otaku who is simultaneously compelled to certain behaviours and tendencies while knowing that they are irrational or ironic compulsions. Lucky Star playfully makes fun of being “otaku”; it is “otaku” and admits its status with wry, ironic resignation. Lucky Star is the anime equivalent of the personable, outgoing person who has a natural ability to make everyone feel like a best friend.

Another similarity between Suzumiya Haruhi and Lucky Star, accounting for their similar success, is a vibrant and insidiously catchy theme. The Suzumiya Haruhi ending animation combined a catchy song with an instantly interesting dance. The Lucky Star opening animation similarly combines a catchy theme song with smooth animation and a manic sense of lively energy.

In fact, much of the humor in Lucky Star isn’t especially funny. The show consists of countless mundane events and conversations about commonplace events and thoughts. The appeal of the show comes from the impression it creates rather than from any singular character or characteristic. Lucky Star opens with a vibrant and cute explosion that encapsulates the manic energy and sense of fun associated with anime. Then each episode allows viewers to see a reflection of themselves: involved in minor, daily events, fascinated with trivia, compelled by silly and irrational but enjoyable hobbies. Lucky Star is a unique program because it panders to the tastes of otaku, but does so with good humor and sly wit. The show favors otaku by including countless in-jokes and references to other anime like Initial D, Maria-sama ga Miteru, Keroro Gunso, Full Metal Panic, Suzumiya Haruhi, and Anime Tenchou, but avoids alienating viewers by often clearly explaining its references. As a result, the show feels like it’s specifically addressing hardcore anime fans without seeming elitist or opaque.

Lucky Star is literally the ultimate in fan service. The program offers anime fans the cute characters, anime stereotypes, anime references, and general “feel good” humor that they want, along with a sly, knowing wink that makes the show, and its viewers, feel intelligent. It’s the self-referential aspect of Lucky Star that makes it feel witty, self-indulgent, guilty pleasure.

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