Lucky Star is, on paper, potentially a recipe for disaster. It is very much a show just about the daily lives of high school students, not even following any coming of age arcs or concrete plotline, and mostly just features its characters talking about everyday stuff. It’s full of pop culture references and nods to otaku culture from its time of print, which was the year 2006. And… like, literally nothing happens. If you asked me to tell you the “plot” of Lucky Star I wouldn’t know where to start—it’s not even dramatic enough to root itself in a “four friends in their last year of school” framing device. Stuff just kind of happens. This show should be a boring pile of ridiculous, but it’s not—it’s hilarious, compelling, and has held a special place in my heart for years. Why? I’m not sure I can tell you, but I’m going to attempt to crack this mystery for the ages.
Lucky Star is the tale of a group of friends—slowly expanding over the series to include relatives and other classmates—attending school and living life and talking about food. Konata is a deeply ensconced geek forever lamenting that the late night anime schedule gets messed up by baseball season, Kagami is the self-proclaimed Only Sensible One, her twin sister Tsukasa is delightful but ultimately airheaded, and Miyuki is a ladylike but somewhat hopeless (but in the most appealing of ways) genius. One of the first (and by now surely iconic) scenes in the show is Konata, Tsukasa and Miyuki having a long and strangely philosophical discussion about the “correct” way—if indeed there is one—to eat a chocolate cornet. It veers away into them talking about food, including the age-old world-stopping dilemma of whether to eat your favourite part of a dish last (because then you go away with that flavour in your mouth) or first (in case you’re too full to eat it last).
It’s like a million useless and engrossing conversations I’ve had with my own friends. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I’m almost reminded of Richard Linklater’s work, especially Boyhood and the Before Sunrise movies, which also have their characters speak in a very natural, non-scripted, and ordinary way about very ordinary things. Much in the same way ordinary people really talk! This technique always sparks a creative debate: at what point does this realistic “ordinary” dialogue stop being engrossingly relatable and start being boring? We love to see ourselves in fiction, after all, but we also engage with fiction to step outside of our real lives for a little while. At some point, characters being so relatable they may as well be people you know goes from poignant to redundantly boring (though of course this point will be different depending on the viewer).
Weirdly enough, for me Lucky Star’s banal dialogue/banter successfully straddles that threshold—it’s relatable enough (I also talk with my friends about how to eat food!) that I feel almost included in the conversation, but at the same time the show will throw in outlandish and anime-ish effects and jokes that remove you and remind you you’re watching something entertaining. It ends up being “relatable” in a similar vein to the way Aggressive Retsuko is “relatable”, in that you wouldn’t actually start yelling to heavy metal about your daily annoyances, but you can, from the comfort of your couch in the real world, see where she’s coming from. Like announcing “this is so me” in the tags for a picture you found of a shiba inu stuck in a fence, or something—it strikes that balance of ironic reality and detached comedy. Especially in Konata’s case, where the jokes she makes and the life she lives becomes closer to home every time I rewatch it.
Funnily enough, despite being a snapshot of the anime world in 2006, Lucky Star‘s referential humour taps into some apparently timeless and weirdly universal aspects of the industry and fandom that still lets it be funny today. In fact in some cases it’s funnier–we knew the trope of having adult teachers that look like tiny children was dumb eleven years ago, so why is it still a thing we recognise today??
The ever self-aware Konata is a picture perfect geek who, again, manages to walk the line between being an entertaining parody of the type and a relatable and fun character in her own right. Kagami is the voice of reason pointing out how weird Konata’s lifestyle and interests are, but the joke never seems to be that anime nerdom is weird, so much as it seems weird to outsiders and that’s something they have to deal with (case in point: the manga artist character going into cardiac arrest when a classmate innocently asks her what yaoi is. Which, well. In some form or other we’ve all been there).
A feature I certainly enjoy, being the jaded feminist harpy that I am, is that though this could very well slot into the “cute girls doing cute things” genre, the girls themselves, their actions and their lives aren’t overly portrayed to be appealing to any kind of male gaze. There’s endless self-aware discussion of moe and fan service (to the point of leaning on the fourth wall—that’s the trouble with having anime nerds as anime characters; sooner or later they’ll realise they’re living in an anime) but the girls themselves aren’t actively sexualised, be it in character design or camera angles. Even the part at the beach where the four main characters are bathing is presented remarkably nonchalantly, just kind of showing them sitting there talking, where goodness knows it could have been sweeping the camera all over their steam-caressed shimmering nude bodies.
The most tongue-in-cheek feature, of course, is the existence of Kogami Akira, the idol star who hosts the “Lucky Channel” segment at the end of each episode. She plays into that long-standing—but again, in this case still funny—trope of the girl with the adorable stage persona and a cranky, cigarette-huffing, selfish interior. Akira gets jealous of the main cast for all the attention they’re getting from fans (again, what fourth wall?) but then jokes that at least she’s still got her paedophile fanbase to rely on, and naturally as soon as her long-suffering co-host realises in horror what she’s said the show ends and she cuts back to being adorable.
Again, this show is self-aware as all hell, and freely has discussions and jokes about schoolgirl moe and how that attracts older male anime fans and associated skeeviness, but I can’t quite decide whether it’s condemning it or not as it pokes fun. Konata’s dad is the butt of “old otaku perv” jokes in all directions but is also a sweet and positively-portrayed character at heart, and while jokes like Akira’s are clearly meant to be shocking due to her everyman co-host’s reactions, they’re still clearly jokes since her entire character is a wild parody of the ideal of a cute, angelic idol.
While it loves taking affectionate digs at its target audience, it would be a stretch to say that Lucky Star actively satirises and points out the problems otaku culture has with girls. Especially since most conversations that bring this up end with some sort of punchline about Konata, a teen girl herself, being massively into waifu dating sims. But it’s at least less hypocritical than a show that tries to satirise it and just ends up providing teen girl waifu fan service of its own. Even among the obligatory boob jokes and Hiyori shipping her friends, the girls aren’t overtly sexualised or framed as fan-bait, whatever else might occur outside of the show—they’re just kind of there, living their strangely self-aware anime girl lives for no one but themselves, managing to be well-rounded and fun characters written to be funny and outlandishly lifelike.
What I’m trying to say is that this show is by no means perfect, and by no means a masterpiece of portrayed female friendship that defies the clinging male gaze to get to the heart of what it means to be human and a woman, but it is spectacularly nice to see a show that’s blatantly less “cute girls doing cute things” and more “ordinary girls doing stuff”. Combined with whatever witchcraft the showrunners used to make their everyday exchanges entertaining rather than dull, it makes the characters hugely accessible and relatable to viewers as well as being appealing via moe factor to people who watch it for that (and if you do, hey, I’m not telling you not to. Just be prepared to have this pointed out to you by the moe characters who know what you’re up to).
It’s got a geek character who generates humour rather than being the butt of jokes, and the everyman character of Kagami has more to her than just reacting to weird anime fandom antics. It feels intensely weird to say this, but Lucky Star’s main cast all seem decently vivid, layered, and interesting as characters, as well as having the right blend of relatable realism and wackiness required for a comedy series. You get genuinely attached to them as you come to understand their different lifestyles, backstories, and views on the best way to eat a chocolate horn. And you laugh unexpectedly and say “real” a lot.
Lucky Star’s recipe—realistic dialogue, pop culture references, fourth-wall-leaning, and no real central plot to speak of—should be one for a mess, and indeed in other cases it’s led to a mess, but something about the execution has made it a wondrously entertaining series. If you’re looking for some light (and by now, classic) slice of life entertainment with just the right spice of quirkiness to be soothing rather than obnoxious, I’d recommend it.