July 19, 2009

Chocolate Cornets are Best if not Consumed in Raspberry Heaven

 Some months ago I finished watching the last of the Lucky Star TV series. Due to life issues, a review has been languishing in draft form for just about as long. Rather more recently, I watched the entirety of Azu Manga Daioh, having previously only seen the first half. Both of the shows are quite similar on the face of it:
Both are based on 4 panel comic strips.
Both follow a group of girls through the three years of Japanese highschool.
Both have fairly dry humor, similar in tone to Shulz's Peanuts.
Both have likely been reviewed in depth by every blog that features any anime reviews on this side of Antarctica save this one.

However, I found the tone and rewatchability of the shows quite different.

Azumanga Daioh, is an astonishingly popular show in the US market.
It was a huge hit when it came over in part because it was so vastly different from what had been licensed before.

The show is mostly a series of short skits that successfully convey the feel of the 4 panel strip and often preserves Azuma's superb visual timing. The show was originally aired as individual 5 minute skits and is probably best viewed in that format. It is, in many ways, interesting and entertaining, but several factors cause it to grate on me after a while.

The young girls tend to be archtypes. They are not terribly developed in most cases but one does manage to stand out...and not in a good way.

Tomo is a loathsome wicked and hateful character. She was likely intended as a story hook, sort of a Goofus to everyone else's Gallant. She comes off as a genuinely evil person. She is untrustworthy , cruel, parasitic, abusive, and obnoxious. By the seventh disc, given her total lack of ANY endearing, or even decent characteristics, one is left wondering what sad co-dependent flaws the other must have in their hearts to not cut this vile horrid creature off.

But wait, there's more...

 Tomo is quite surpassed in the unlikeability department by Kimura, the pervy teacher who lusts after his female students. The mystery of why this ambulatory atrocity is considered funny is a cultural divide I hope never to cross. In the early episodes the girls were creeped out by him (quite understandably) but there was always some indication that he was largely, (or somewhat) misunderstood, perhaps framed by circumstance.  On the last disc these doubts are put to rest.He is a waste of skin better used by burn victims, who in the last few episodes is stalking and terrorizing one girl in particular (poor Kaorin!). This is supposed to be funny...I found it far from amusing and it became very, very hard to enjoy the show.

The final disc of the thinpack is very hard to get through for a number of reasons. The show is very much an exercise in nostalgia, attempting not just to do little funny skits, but to relive (with wacky anecdotes) the scheduled events of ones high school years...which...except for graduation are repeated 3 times...by the third time around the show had a definite painting by numbers feel.
The show also sort of jumped the shark for me. In particular, Sakaki's trip down the narrowing corridors of her sanity as she comes to believe not only that Chio's dad is a...umm...thing...but to believe the "prophesies" the thing gives her in her dreams...which brings us directly to the magical-endangered-amphibious-homing-wildcat-as-pet...which was wrong on several levels.

There is little character development, but given its 4 panel origins and the skit format this is, perhaps, understandable.

Oddly, the greatest character development takes place in a character who seems to have been an afterthought, Kagura. She is introduced as a star pupil/athlete to act as a foil for Sakaki. She is largely unused, but over the course of the series we see her fall in with Tomo and naturally have her grades and apparent IQ thus drop. Then she realizes that she is being a jerk, and stop being one. She buckles down and gets her act together. This is more development that we see in the rest of the cast combined.
This is not to say that the show is bad. It is not. Most of the skits are amusing and there are some truly awesome and poignant bits. The jump rope skit was masterfully done and the graduation actually brought a tear to my eye, but Kimura and Tomo ruined the show and I have a difficult time rewatching it. I feel that frankly it went on 5 or 6 episodes too long.

Lucky Star is similar in format, though as it was originally aired as 30 minute episodes the skit format is not as consistently used throughout. This gives a bit more flexibility, though it is not always well used. Like AzuManga, there are no earth-shattering, world-changing developments or terrible dark threats...just several girls, initially 4, later 10, that interact and talk about life the universe and everything.

For several reasons, this show really spoke to me. Pretty much all the girls, even the crazy irresponsible ones, are basically likable. All have at least some some admirable traits. Most of the girls, in some way or another, grow over the course of the series.

Some mention needs to be made of Konata.\ The female Otaku who likes Mech shows is a fan favorite of course, but at the start of the series she is arguably the least likable on a personal level, being a mooch and a bit of a flake. However she is later revealed to have considerable ( if rather misdirected) drive and determination as well as a competence that is not entirely obvious. She also provides a good deal of the comedic friction with the less fannish members of the cast, particularly Kagami, who watches and reads some of the same thingss, but is bewildered by Konatas intensity and monomania.

The Otaku angle is particularly appealing to me and the show is aimed in part (I assume) at fans of my age. It has been described as fan service without the panties and that is pretty accurate...and damned refreshing.

The show is quite heavy on the in-jokes, which some might find off putting. It  is nevertheless, full of cute, non-otaku oriented skits. The most unlikely set of twins are probably the best developed characters in the series. Kagami in particular is an especially likable character.

Lucky Star does not as slavishly adhere to the highschool timetable of activities as Azumanga, but it could have very easily fallen into the same "painting-by numbers" issue as the girls go into their third year...

It does not, and I think what saves it is that in the "third year" a whole new crop of 4 freshmen are introduced.
In some ways these areeven  more interesting than the main cast and could easily carry the show a second season. In keeping with the geek oriented theme not one but 2 fangirls are amongst them. One is an American weeaboo who could have been handled quite negatively (but for the most part is not). There is also the most accurate dramatic representation of a fangirl artist in all of creation. Of course if one has not hung out in fan communities, this astounding feat will be unappreciated. Another of the new characters Konata's cousin is really the catalyst for Konata's (attempting to) get her act together later in the series.

As the show is sketch comedy, it can be hit or miss, but in general I found it quite pleasant and enjoyable. I watched some random episodes last night and they once again brought a smile to my face...comedy rarely works twice...this is fine achievement.

Therefore in my humble opinion....

Lucky Star >Azumanga


Your mileage may vary....Let the flaming begin.

Update: I fixed all the damned typos...I think.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 03:22 PM | Comments (13) | Add Comment
Post contains 1324 words, total size 9 kb.

1 A bold premise, stated forthrightly, sir! I shall watch the responses... on closed-circuit video... in a bomb-proof bunker 23 miles away from the "event". ;p

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at Mon Jul 20 21:49:27 2009 (pWQz4)

2 I am afraid that I disagree with your opinion.

Posted by: Wonderduck at Mon Jul 20 23:47:42 2009 (Duio9)

3 Seriously, dude, do you even read what Steven wrote? Awarding Kagura the most advancement is the dumbest review idea ever.

Also, how can you review Lucky Star without Lucky Channel? That shit was worse than Kimura by 1.8km. What selective memory!

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at Tue Jul 21 00:22:12 2009 (/ppBw)

4 Interesting... it's been quite a while since I watched Azumanga, but I remember being bored by the Chiyo-dad sequences as well as the New Year's Dream episode (episodes?). Can't really relate to the rest of your complaints, though. Kaorin in particular was such a one-dimensional character that I never pitied her.

Lucky Star has a lot of flaws, but once you've gotten to know the cast it makes a first-class comfort anime.

Posted by: Andrew F. at Tue Jul 21 07:00:06 2009 (d5+fR)

5 I'm not saying Azumanga sucks, it kept my intrest for nearly all of 6 dvd's. Azuma is, after all, exceedingly talented. The unlikeability of several characters put me off towards the end and, for me, its rewatchability is low

Kaorin in particular was such a one-dimensional character that I never pitied her.

I agree that Kaorin is a one trick pony and the least fleshed out of the girls, however the crap she puts up with from Kimura is pretty awfull.  That isn't the only reason  she elicits sympathy of course. Just about everyone can relate to the heartbreak of unrequited love.

...can't they?
...or.....am I the only one who has had that happen?

Oh dear..I suddenly feel so utterly alone....

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at Tue Jul 21 08:53:30 2009 (+QU+M)

6 Criticizing Azumanga Daioh is the third-rail of this hobby. That's the only review I've ever written, posted, and then taken down again because of all the crap thrown at me for my opinion -- which pretty much agreed with yours.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at Tue Jul 21 09:02:06 2009 (+rSRq)

Seriously, dude, do you even read what Steven wrote?

Uhhh...a little... a loooong time ago...something about wanting a varmint rifle Is all I remember..I avoided most reviews because I was avoiding spoilers as I had the thin pack for a time and intended to watch it. I never saw SDBs full  review because he got rid of it. (I think a bunch of angry Slavs invaded his comment section or something )

Awarding Kagura the most advancement is the dumbest review idea ever.

Actually the review idea was that I find Lucky Star more rewatchable than AzuManga, which I must say is an awesome idea, chock full of win!

 As to the question of Kagura, I agree that she is not well developed as a character. We know very little about her as she has little screen time and, like Kaorin seems to be included as a foil.

 However, she is the only one who really grows and changes. This is most obvious in the scene with the tent where she apologizes for her asshattery and offers to rebuild the thing herself (to the scorn of Tomo). She also buckles down quite noticeably in her studies towards the end and seems to mellow on her competitive streak a little. The character changes over time, in this case for the better. Most of the other girls have stuff happen to them, and we find out more about their quirks...they are fleshed out far better. However, the others don't really change or grow emotionally, except perhaps Sakaki and her changes are less pronounced.

Also, how can you review Lucky Star without Lucky Channel? That shit was worse than Kimura by 1.8km.

I disagreeI feel that a 30 something man wanting to kindle a romance with his unwilling 17 year old student is worse than an amusing bipolar jaded celebrity by a full nautical mile.   Now in fairness, when I sawLucky Channel first on a fan sub, my response was "WTF is THIS CRAP!?!1!". However, Sam Reigel and Stephane Sheh did a fine job with it in the dub.
I found it amusing.
A lot of people didn't.
 But, it is sufficiently detached from the show proper that I'd think anyone who didn't like it could just hit "SKIP" and be none the worse. Their stupidity is not integral to the story proper except for a few gags.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at Tue Jul 21 09:38:54 2009 (+QU+M)

8 Lucky Star -has- a Kimura. The difference is that it's Konata's dad. In Azumanga your sympathy is all with the poor girls, having to put up with this molester-wannabe (we hope). In Lucky Star, it's Soujirou that gets all the development, such as it is, and his "victims" never appear (possibly excepting how warped Konata turned out). It's not as bad because Soujirou never does anything (that we know about) and at least the same girls aren't subjected to him over a protracted period, but at the same time, he's no less of a perv (and quite possibly much more of one!) than Kimura ever was.

There's plenty you can criticize about Azu. It's true that Kagura is the only one who really develops. Everyone else coasts through the series, more or less exactly the same person they were before they got into high school, except with some happy memories to recall later on. And there's room for that kind of story too, of course, but it's not a literary masterpiece.

But there's the problem with comparing the two shows in the first place. With Lucky Star, the audience is expected to be "in" on the joke. Whether it's Kagami making fun of Konata for being a geek or Konata making fun of Kagami for being a norm, the fan watching the show is involved with the humor. (Which is one reason that Miyuki falls flat as a character - her jokes are flavored differently, and while "oh, look, she's done something absent-minded" is funny a few times, it can't carry the show.) Even Lucky Channel is in this mold, and this is coming from someone who is sworn to punch the hell out of Minoru Shiraishi should the opportunity arise, right?

With Azumanga, you can't be "in" on the joke because it's not joking. It's an idealized high school life, with most of the problems elided out, except for the obviously despicable guy who's SOOOO evil that he's a parody of the entire concept. Come on, they even have one wacky cool teacher and one serious cool teacher, both of whom are perfectly comfortable hanging out with them...

So comparing the shows like they're head-to-head rivals is mistaken in the first place. Sure, okay, slice-of-life. But Azu isn't a slice of YOUR life; Lucky Star is.

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at Tue Jul 21 20:30:59 2009 (pWQz4)

9 @ Avatar
All your points are good ones, although I don't find Konata's dad particularly disturbing. He is very much what I thought Kimura might be before the seventh disc. That is, he is socially inept, finds teenage girls attractive... and thinks out loud. We never see him stalk anyone unless one counts a wistful glance in the credits and in the later episodes we see him being a pretty good...if unconventional...father figure to Konata and Yutaka.

I think that bothered me most about Kimura was that the over the top creepy stuff towards the end (most of which IIRC was not in the trade paperback) was supposed to be funny...that left a really, really bad taste in my mouth.

I do think that Lucky Star flows somewhat better and has better characterizations but the parts that so appeal to me are going to alienate a lot of others. The post explains why I find LS more rewatchable.

I heartily agree that the series are quite different shows and comparison is more than a bit of a stretch. However, the comparison comes up frequently and I've been asked more than once how I could possibly like LS more than AzMD...hence the post. While the post is more than 140 characters long the URL is not....making my life easier.

Your last paragraph is, of course, spot on.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at Tue Jul 21 21:46:34 2009 (V5zw/)

10 I can't figure out what it is Pete is referring to that I wrote.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at Tue Jul 21 22:40:39 2009 (+rSRq)


I left a comment earlier but it seems to have vanished? An expanded version if it can be seen here.

Posted by: Andy Janes at Wed Jul 22 16:48:16 2009 (lNf10)

12 Steven, I think he's confusing Kimura (the teacher) with Kagura (the student/jock).

Posted by: Wonderduck at Wed Jul 22 17:57:56 2009 (Duio9)

13 I think you're being overly harsh on Tomo. She's hyperactive and insensitive and has terrible impulse control, but she's not really evil. Her misbehavior energizes the others and helps keep them from getting into a rut.

The most overtly malicious thing that she does is come up with a plan to bully Chiyo with a harassing "home inspection." But that actually starts the chain of events that causes the group to bond as friends.

Kimura is loathsome of course, but I think even that serves a purpose in the story by reminding us of the darker side of adolescence (which is never far from the surface in this show.)

The show isn't trying to say that high school is a wonderful, carefree experience. It is saying that it is a good experience if you do it with friends, and miserable otherwise. (Even if the friends are less than perfect people.)

 That is probably why Kaorin, who is only marginally attached to the group, suffers much worse than the others. (One can, of course, come up with more negative interpretations, e.g. the writers are predjudiced against lesbians.)

Posted by: Jonathan Tappan at Thu Jul 23 21:58:58 2009 (7wFYN)

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