Seriously. I’ve been neglecting buying this thing for a while, and thank God it was only when my dad offered to get me something at Barnes and Noble that I finally picked it up, cuz I’d hate to have spent my own money on it. There are no shortage of reasons that this is a disappointment, some of which come from the Bandai release in particular, and others inherent in the manga that prove, in my opinion, the vast superiority of the anime.
I’ll start from a technical standpoint – I think it’s very important to highlight the weakness of the translation of this manga. I understand that Lucky Star would be criminally difficult to translate, because it is a series so thoroughly ingrained into ‘being Japanese’ in general, but seriously, it’s been done much better before. This translation is fucking wooden. It feels like the translator was 100% literal with every sentence and did nothing to give the characters any sort of voice. It’s like reading a conversation between robots. (‘I am Konata. I like games.’ ‘I am Kagami. Konata, I expect that you have not studied, and wish to examine my homework.’ ‘Indeed.’ ‘Ah, I thought so’ <- 50% of the exchanges)
This is why I don’t feel like I can attack the general language and delivery in this manga – I suspect a lot of it has to do with the shitty translation. It feels so unnatural, so uninteresting, and never, ever funny. I read half of this volume and then went to the back and read the last few chapters, and I don’t think I can read any more. I just can’t derive any joy from it. I haven’t so much as cracked a smile once at any dialog exchange, nor found anything funny. The author or translator has a habit of telling an unfunny joke and then using the small text to hamfistedly explain it, driving it right into the ground. But this isn’t all the translator’s fault – I think the 4-koma format is actually one of this manga’s big weaknesses.
In Lucky Star, there are basically two types of conversation between characters – conversation that involves the anime and game fandom of Konata Izumi, and conversation about the everyday lives of high school girls. The difference between how these are handled in the manga and anime can be seen in an instant. The manga begins with the same infamous ‘choco coronet’ scene as the anime, only in the manga, it ends as soon as Miyuki tells Konata which end is the head. And that’s it. In the anime, the food conversation goes on for about 6 total minutes or so.
The thing is, the anime version feels like a real conversation between real girls. It is somewhat interesting and fun to watch unfold, as you laugh and say things like ‘ah, that’s true!’ or ‘oh, she’s that type!’ and you get to know the characters and get into the flow of the show. As for the manga, it really gives you nothing. You learn that Miyuki is the smart one… that’s all. It’s played like you are actually supposed to find it funny, like it’s a joke, but it comes off more as pointless, poorly delivered, and uninteresting.
And let’s not forget the natural advantages of anime as a medium. For one thing, voices. This is part of what makes me wonder if the translation is at fault, because I imagine that a lot of my enjoyment of the anime came from the excellent vocal performances, and generally, it’s going to make more sense to hear these conversations in Japanese. I’ve often posited that not understanding Japanese/Japanese culture is one of the biggest reasons that many people can’t enjoy Lucky Star, and outright reading a bad translation of it is not going to do you any good.
What’s more, the anime is gorgeously animated, and the manga is… barely passable, really. The character faces are practically templates with very minor distinctions, and at first look extremely awkward with the positioning of features (this improves throughout the volume, but it doesn’t pardon the embarrassing beginnings.) While I appreciate the author putting characters in different outfits, all of the body drawing is ultra-simplistic and it’s not like the bottom halves of their bodies are almost ever shown. This is truly and utterly a ‘talking heads’ manga if there ever was one. Sometimes, the top halves of bodies even get this sort of triangular shape, like slightly advanced stick figures, perhaps when the author was strapped for time. That’s just kind of sad. Character designs are one of the biggest selling points in the Lucky Star anime, and seeing them so weakened almost strips them of being themselves at all (coupled with having no voice and being terribly translated makes them not really resemble the characters I know and love.)
But as much as the art, dialog, and characters suck, there’s something more that bothers me the most about this manga, and the translation cannot excuse it – the portrayal of Konata’s ‘otaku’ humor. One of the main points of Lucky Star is that it’s a show that otaku can relate to and that has lots of anime and game-centric references that are done exceptionally well. When watching Lucky Star, I really feel that the team who created it understands otaku culture and honestly knows what otaku will like, if not are a part of the culture themselves. I felt no such thing towards the Lucky Star manga.
It’s pretty much boiled down to ‘HEY GAIS I LIEK ANIME AND GAMES’ with the response ‘OH KONATA U SO CRAZY’ over and over and over ad nauseum. There are next to no actual references to either individual games/anime or regular phenomena associated with them. Konata sometimes mentions incredibly broad methodologies of an anime fan/gamer, but it’s less like the author actually understands the culture and more like they are observing it from afar, like someone on safari looking at this ‘otaku’ creature through binoculars and being fascinated by their alien nature. It really kind of pisses me off.
The conclusion is that this manga is not even worth your time. Maybe the Japanese one is worth reading, but I wouldn’t know – the English translation is fucking terrible and the manga is not in any way interesting to read. I can’t finish this volume. I feel like I should sell it or something. It really doesn’t belong in my collection. I hold onto some pretty mediocre manga, but I can’t even see finishing this volume.