Actually, Lucky Star is a Comedy

This is a slice-of-life picture. If you don’t get it, you’re looking it at wrong.

Ever notice how Lucky Star is a comedy? Ever been told that if you’re not watching it as a slice-of-life anime, you’re watching it wrong? Ever wished that Baka-Raptor would write a post on how that’s the stupidest shit in the universe? Well your birthday just came early.

For the record, this is not a post on whether Lucky Star sucks (I’ve already written one). This is a post on whether it’s proper to view Lucky Star as a comedy. To a lesser extent, this is an examination of whether the slice-of-life tag cleanses Lucky Star of its failures with pure virgin goat blood. This is definitely not a review post opining that Lucky Star blows. I can’t imagine why anyone would get that idea.

Before getting into the specifics of why Lucky Star is rightfully judged as a comedy, it’s necessary to bust five common myths about the slice-of-life genre:

Myth #1:  Slice-of-Life describes anything that doesn’t defy the laws of physics

Drama? No, it’s slice-of-life. Comedy? No, it’s slice-of-life. Fanservice? No, it’s slice-of-life. Slice-of-death? No, it’s slice-of-life. It’s getting ridiculous. Just because a show is about people doing stuff they could possibly do doesn’t make it slice-of-life.

We could have an intellectual circle jerk trying to define slice-of-life, but let’s not get carried away with theory—that’s how this whole mess of overusing/misusing the term slice-of-life got started. Why don’t we just find an established, authoritative definition and stick to it?

slice-of-life

–adjective
of, pertaining to, or being a naturalistic, unembellished representation of real life: a play with slice-of-life dialogue.

slice of life
n.   pl. slices of life
An episode of actual experience represented realistically and with little alteration in a dramatic, fictional, or journalistic work.

That’s the definition I’ll be using for the rest of the post. If you don’t like it, find a definition from a source more authoritative than dictionary.com.

Myth #2: Any scene with character development is slice-of-life

Look at the definition. Does it say anything about character development? Didn’t think so. Slice-of-life shows often have character development. So do shows from every other genre ever created in the history of the universe. Whenever you’re watching characters, you’re probably also learning about them. They could be telling jokes, battling aliens, or both at the same time for all I care. The fact that you’re also gaining a greater understanding of them doesn’t make the show slice-of-life.

Myth #3: Slice-of-Life can’t suck

This is perhaps the greatest myth about slice-of-life, and it can be dispelled in three quick words: Akikan episode 10. The episode is textbook slice-of-life: one character does her laundry, another character does her hair, and a third character cleans her room. That’s the whole episode. Total slice-of-life, total bullshit.

The moral of the story is that you can’t defend a show by simply claiming it’s slice-of-life and stopping there. You actually have to explain why it’s good slice-of-life. Or, if you still insist that slice-of-life can’t be bad, watch Akikan episode 10. I triple-dog dare you.

Myth #4: More Comedy does not mean less Slice-of-Life

Yes it does, unless your life is so blessed with hilarity that making a joke every minute is a naturalistic representation of real life. Sure, comedy is a natural part of our everyday experience to some extent. It’s not unusual to act silly, make humorous observations, or even pull off a slick one-liner when an opportunity presents itself. However, the line between naturalistic, unembellished comedy and unnatural/embellished comedy can be crossed quite easily in any number of ways, including:

Quantity: More jokes = less representative of real life.

Setup: More setup = less representative of real life.

Farce: More exaggeration = less representative of real life.

Presentation: Artistic/directorial embellishment = less representative of real life.

Absurdity: Absurd situations = less representative of real life.

Myth #5: Jokes about everyday topics are Slice-of-Life

Wrong. Look at the definition. Does anyone else find it ironic that this trendy, overexpansive view of slice-of-life is accompanied with a nonsensically narrow view of comedy? It’s common sense that comedy covers everyday topics. Jokes stemming from everyday observations are called observational comedy. Jokes expressed through everyday situations are called situational comedy. Watching a show “as a comedy” doesn’t in any way suggest that you can’t appreciate the realistic aspects of the show.

Now that we know the true meaning of slice-of-life, we can see how the definition applies to Lucky Star. The random number generator chose episode 9. This worked just fine:

  • I wanted to do this analysis as if I were watching an episode for the first time. I specifically remembered scenes from episodes 1 and 24, so they were ruled out.
  • The director was fired after four episodes. It didn’t change anything, but just to keep any bullshit excuses about the director change from popping up, episodes 2-4 were ruled out.
  • I distinctly remember having a positive opinion of the comedy in episode 23. Naturally, I’d have a lot to say about how that episode is best viewed as comedy, so I had to rule it out.
  • For the purposes of this analysis, the intro sequence, ending sequences, and Lucky Channel (definitely not slice-of-life) were excluded.

Let us venture into the heart of darkness.

Scene 1:

Konata: Since fall is for reading, I’ve been doing a lot of reading.

(Let me guess, you were “reading” manga)

Kagami: That’s unusual!

(Read between the lines you dumbass)

Konata: The expenses are piling up.

Kagami: You don’t have to buy them. Can’t you just go to the library?

/punchline music begins, background changes from classroom scenery to abstract scenery

Konata: A library wouldn’t have manga.

(Told you so)

Kagami: “Reading” huh?

(Wait, I still don’t get it. Please continue to explain.)

Kagami: They mean books, you know…

Wow. Not having watched Lucky Star in over two years, I thought I may have been exaggerating when I said that Lucky Star can’t stop masturbating after punchlines. Nope, I was dead on. Why do they do this? Do I need to jerk off to prove that my “read between the lines” comment is a hilarious double entendre?

But as I promised, this isn’t a post on whether Lucky Star sucks; it’s a post on whether it’s proper to judge Lucky Star as a comedy. The dialogue in this scene is undeniably a well-structured joke, not a natural conversation pattern: it has an extensive setup, a punchline, and some follow-up masturbation, not to mention all the effects thrown in to aggrandize the punchline. If you don’t see this as comedy, you’re watching it wrong.

How exactly is one supposed to watch this scene as slice-of-life? This is a serious question. If you can’t answer it, you admit it’s complete bullshit to argue that “you must watch Lucky Star as a slice-of-life anime to get it.”

Scene 2:

Konata is too lazy to study. She makes her way over to the computer with comical movements and comical sound effects. As she starts playing a game, she sees her teacher online and reacts comically because her teacher knows she’s playing games instead of studying. The comical situation is reinforced with masturbation. Then Konata asks her teacher how she studied as a student. The teacher admits that she also screwed around instead of studying but insists on being strict to Konata now that she’s a teacher. The comical situation is reinforced with masturbation, sound effects, and an abstract background.

It would be very easy to make this into a slice-of-life scene:

Konata is too lazy to study. She makes her way over to the computer with comical movements and comical sound effects. As she starts playing a game, she sees her teacher online. and reacts comically because her teacher knows she’s playing games instead of studying. The comical situation is reinforced with masturbation. Then Konata asks her teacher how she studied as a student. The teacher admits that she also screwed around instead of studying but insists on being strict to Konata now that she’s a teacher. The comical situation is reinforced with masturbation, sound effects, and an abstract background.

How did I do it? The formula is quite simple: get rid of all the punchline music, punchline backgrounds, and post-punchline masturbation. These are all comedic embellishments that serve no other purpose than to say, “hey, this is supposed to be funny, you should be laughing right now.” The scene is begging you to view it as a comedy. If you can’t see that, you’re watching it wrong.

Scene 3:

Tsukasa wants Kagami to help her study. Kagami agrees. Time skips forward an hour. Tsukasa appears distracted in the middle of a problem. When Kagami asks her why, Tsukasa explains that a juicy new episode of her favorite TV show is on. Kagami asks Tsukasa if she’ll stop studying to watch it. Tsukasa makes an enthusiastic-denial moé face followed by a determined moé face and replies that it’s ok that she’s missing the show because she’s taping it. Time skips forward another hour. Tsukasa is falling asleep. Kagami wakes her up. The background music cuts off and Tsukasa makes a flustered moé face. She says that she gets sleepy when she doesn’t understand a question, prompting Kagami to quip that Tsukasa must always be sleepy. Tsukasa calls it a day.

Rather than a realistic representation of a study session, we’re only shown two comedic moments. When you take an otherwise normal scenario and cut out 99.2% of it (124 minutes cut from a 125 minute study session) to show only the funniest and most interesting parts, it’s no longer slice-of-life—it’s a highlight reel. Once again, we have a scene that’s designed to make you laugh, not to depict life as it happens.

Scene 4:

Konata calls Miyuki for advice on studying for a test. Miyuki says she studies best when she follows her usual habits. The next day, Konata brags to Kagami that she expects to do well on the test because she took Miyuki’s advice. Kagami masturbatorily questions the wisdom of the irresponsible Konata following her usual habits.

An irresponsible character interpreting advice irresponsibly—this is classic comedy. It’s also why anyone who’s seen a fair amount of comedy won’t laugh. This scenario has been repeated thousands of times. You’re not going to laugh unless there’s some interesting variation on it. But just because you won’t laugh doesn’t mean it’s somehow more appropriate to label it slice-of-life. After all, it’s too absurd to be slice-of-life. Here’s what would realistically happen:

Konata calls Miyuki for advice on studying for a test. Miyuki says she studies best when she follows her usual habits. They both realize it’s obviously a stupid idea for Konata to follow that advice. Then Miyuki gives Konata some useful advice. The next day, Konata brags to Kagami that she expects to do well because she took Miyuki’s advice. Kagami masturbatorily questions the wisdom of the irresponsible Konata following her usual habits.

Scene 5:

Miyuki, Tsukasa, and Konata are talking in the library. Kagami walks in and tells them that she did worse than usual on the test. Tsukasa says she did better than usual. Konata says she did poorly, which is strange, because she was so sure she’d do well. The background music cuts off and Kagami seizes the opportunity to masturbate. When she’s done, the background music starts up again. Konata makes an extended joke comparing everyone at the table. When that’s over, Konata says she’s not worried about doing poorly on the test. When Kagami asks why, Konata says it’s because she didn’t make any bets with her father about the outcome of the test. This punchline is delivered with brand new punchline music in a brand new abstract background. Kagami once again masturbates after the punchline. Then Kagami suggests the right way to study like Miyuki. This leads into a long conversation about blood types and sushi types in which the characters joke about each others’ blood types and sushi types.

Everything here is comedy except in the initial conversation in the library, which lasted about three lines. Parts of the blood type discussion could be construed as slice-of-life if you’d simply remove their comedic embellishments (as I did with Scene 2). Other than that, nothing is colorably slice-of-life.

There’s not much to analyze in the remaining scenes that’s substantially different from anything I wrote above. Just to summarize the rest of the episode, comedy is at the heart of every scene, Kagami can’t stop masturbating after punchlines, and the only scenes potentially worth anything from a slice-of-life viewpoint are:

  • Early parts of the cake shop scene
  • The part of the sale discussion before Konata enters
  • Miyuki’s eye drop scene

Conclusions

1. Lucky Star must be viewed as a Comedy

Not only is comedy prevalent in every scene, it’s emphasized in every scene. The show wants and expects you to view it as a comedy. The comedy is in your face. You can like, dislike, or tolerate it, but you can’t dismiss or ignore it. That would contravene not only common sense but the clearly manifested intent of the studio.

The whole “if you’re viewing Lucky Star as a comedy, you don’t understand what it’s trying to accomplish” argument is ridiculous. By that logic, the studio didn’t know what it was trying to accomplish either. If they thought they’d accomplished what they’d intended, why did they fire the director after four episodes? Also, do you think you’re doing the studio a favor by saying their work shouldn’t be taken seriously as a comedy? Have you ever written comedy? Can you imagine what it’s like to hear people saying that the best way to appreciate your work is not to view it as comedy? There is no harsher insult to a comedy writer. Lucky Star is clearly written to be a comedy. Even if you don’t think it’s a good comedy, it at least deserves to be acknowledged for what it is.

By the way, a lot of Lucky Star fans actually do think Lucky Star is funny. There you go.

2. Lucky Star is not a Slice-of-Life anime

Slice-of-life shows aim to depict real life with little embellishment or alteration. Does Lucky Star do this? Rarely. Sure, most scenes are premised on natural situations. The girls are studying for tests. They’re talking about horoscopes. They’re eating cake. These could all be slice-of-life scenes if depicted naturally, but they’re not. Rather than depicting everyday life, Lucky Star does everything in its power to transform these otherwise everyday situations into something greater. The humor is aggrandized through every trick in the book. The characters’ behaviors are farcical. The soundtrack and its utilization convey a mood of comedy, not normalcy. The scenery constantly shifts from reality to the abstract. Get rid of all this embellishment and you’d have a perfectly qualified slice-of-life anime.

What about everyone who sincerely claims to like Lucky Star as a slice-of-life anime? Am I calling you all liars? No, I’m just saying you’re using the wrong term. There’s certainly more to Lucky Star than comedy. However, that something more isn’t slice-of-life. There are many valid reasons to like Lucky Star, such as:

  • You like the humor
  • You like the parodies/references
  • You like the characters
  • You relate to the characters
  • You like the character interaction
  • You think the characters are cute
  • You relate to the situations
  • You like the animation
  • You like the direction
  • You like the pacing
  • You like the fan culture

Some of these legitimate reasons to like Lucky Star have been used to reach the illegitimate conclusion that Lucky Star is slice-of-life. “Lucky Star is a good slice-of-life anime because I relate to the characters and their situations.” Why not just say you relate to the characters and their situations without jumping to the slice-of-life conclusion? It justifies your liking of the show perfectly well without all that pesky incorrectness.

Nobody called Lucky Star a slice-of-life anime when it first came out. The first line of defense against criticism back then was, “If you don’t like Lucky Star, you don’t get the jokes.” That failed pretty miserably, so the excuse was abstracted from the easily disprovable “you don’t get the jokes” to the impossible-to-conclusively-prove-or-disprove “you don’t get the show.” The ensuing battle of attrition was unsurprisingly won the by more passionate side, the Lucky Star fans, as one by one the Lucky Star critics decided to stop wasting their time and moved on to watching better shows that season, such as Claymore and Darker than Black. They thought to themselves, “What’s wrong with letting people justify their fandom however they want?”

Little did they know the cancer would spread. More and more shows were praised with the same flawed slice-of-life justification supporting Lucky Star. Slice-of-life, once a term used to describe the niche genre of unadulterated depictions of real life, was now being used to describe every show under the sun without giant robots. As word of these fake slice-of-life shows spread, true slice-of-life shows and shows falsely presumed to be slice-of-life were dragged through the mud by association.

Sanity needed a hero.

This one wears a feathered cap.

Well, I usually wear a feathered cap.

By the way, this was a slice-of-life post. If you didn’t like it, you were reading it wrong.