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I’m a big fan of Lucky Star, but it’s not an easy show to recommend to people. I’m sure there are those who can and do get into the show just because it’s a fun, cute little slice of life series with likable, relatable characters and some pretty funny moments here and there; but so much of why I like the show has to do with the context that I bring into it. When I talk about Lucky Star, I rarely talk about my favorite scenes and jokes; but I often talk about who I watched it with, or the climate of the anime fandom at the time that it came out, or the fan creations which spawned out of it. Lucky Star might be the best example I know of a show that changes for each individual depending on the context that they view it in, and as such is the perfect subject matter for a meditation on why context matters.
For a lot of viewers, one of the funniest scenes in the early part of Lucky Star is this super intense driving scene. It’s pretty funny in general just as something random and wacky, but the main reason that so many people find it funny is because it’s a stylistic parody of the racing scenes from Initial D, a famous and long-running anime and manga series.
“Ugh. References are LOWEST form of comedy.”
I’m sorry, who asked you? What-what are you the comedy police?
“W… yeah, that’s… it’s the joke.”
Get out of here. No one cares.
I’ve never understood the sentiment that references are an inferior form of comedy. Yes, the appeal is inherently limited, because you’re not going to find it as funny if you don’t understand the reference. But if you DO understand the reference, then a lot of the time well-placed references can not only be funny, but create a feeling of connectivity and culture between the audience and the work. I don’t think the goal of art should always be to appeal the the broadest possible audience, but to appeal to the audience it wants to at the deepest possible level, and making references can often help a work to be more relevant to certain people.
Lucky Star is pumped full of references at pretty much all times, but all of those references have a purpose. The show is about the daily lives of four high school girls and their friends, and typically a person’s everyday life is full of cultural nuggets and references. There’s a reason that period pieces always contain nods to things that were relevant to the time period they take place in to set the stage–and Lucky Star is essentially a period piece for the year 2007. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the characterization of the hardcore otaku character Konata, who constantly makes references to anime, games, and cultural terms which were relevant to otaku at the time.
Back when Lucky Star came out, much ado was made about the show’s constant references to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Not only was Haruhi animated by the same studio, but the voice actress who played Haruhi, Aya Hirano, also played Konata, which lead to some incredible meta moments when Konata goes to see a live performance by the Haruhi voice actors, which was a real event that actually happened, and sees the cartoon version of Aya Hirano on stage.
But Lucky Star’s constant references to Haruhi weren’t just Kyoto Animaton making nods to their past work–they were relevant because Haruhi was a HUGE deal in otaku culture. It would arguably have been downright unrealistic to portray a hardcore otaku in 2007 who didn’t know anything about Haruhi, because it was pretty much the biggest thing in otaku culture for the better part of two or three years. If you watched Lucky Star at the time it was airing, and were a member of an otaku community which had been losing its shit over Haruhi for the past year, then you probably related to the show immediately. And it wasn’t just Haruhi–Konata would do karaoke of the Dragon Ball Z opening or make references to old robot shows and things like that, so all kinds of anime fans had things to relate to in her; and there were plenty of general Japanese cultural references throughout the show as well.
So now you can probably see how this show is difficult to recommend to people if they don’t know where it’s coming from. During one of the Lucky Channel segments, Minoru Shiraishi goes on this long rant about how otaku had bastardized the word “tsundere,” and at the time, this was so relevant that people were posting it in response to others for misusing the word. But if you don’t know what a tsundere is, or how its original definition had gotten bastardized by its use in describing characters like Shana and Louise around that time, then you might not know what the hell Shiraishi is talking about, much less why someone like me would find it funny.
And it’s not just the cultural references inside the show that matter, but the ways that the show itself influenced otaku culture in turn. Remember that dance I was doing poorly at the start of the video? That dance is pretty entertaining on its own, but it felt even more special when you were constantly seeing videos of people performing it at home or at cons. Not to mention the fact that Haruhi’s ending theme dance had been famous just a year prior. The icing on the cake for me was Shiraishi Minoru performing his terrible half-assed version of the opening in one of the later ending videos, at a point when the opening had already become famous in its own right. This show was basically referencing its own relevance while it was still airing.
Lucky Star was one of the first anime series that I ever tried to watch while it was airing back in 2007, but I initially dropped it after 11 episodes because I’d gotten bored of it–and even when finished the show months after it was over, I still didn’t care that much about it. But over time, I was exposed to so much cool fanart, doujinshi, and fan content that the show took root in my mind, and when I eventually rewatched it in 2008, it became one of my favorites.
Which brings me to the subject of personal context as well. Often times the reasons we love a show have to do with the context in which we watched them previously. For some people, scenes like the Shiraishi Minoru rant might seem dated and irrelevant, but to me it invokes nostalgia for the the anime fandom as I experienced it back in 2007. Lucky Star lets me reminisce about my early days as a hardcore otaku, back when that word meant a lot to me–when the life of collecting figures and DVDs and manga was as big a deal to me like it was to Konata. It’s like a time capsule of how I saw otaku culture in 2007.
But there’s also the more literal context that I watched it in. Both in 2007 and 2008, I marathoned Lucky Star with my best friend, whom I’d only just met in 2007, and was the only anime fan I knew who’d seen more shows than myself. When he and I rewatched it, we did so while reading a guide on the animesuki forums which explained every reference in the show, and any time we didn’t understand something, we’d pause and look it up. I remember sitting on the couch for like ten straight hours, entombed in a cadre of 2-liter Mountain Dew bottles, having the time of my life, and it’s one of the fondest anime viewing memories I have.
In 2009, I marathoned the show again and wrote about how I felt that in doing so, I’d achieved otaku nirvana. Then in 2011, while I was staying in the Philippines for a month with fellow anime blogger Ghostlightning, there was a day when we came home from buying asstons of anime merch at a toy fair they were having at a local mall, brought two other anime bloggers back to his place, and played a Lucky Star drinking game. We only made it through four episodes before we were all shitfaced, and it was the first time I’d ever gotten drunk, so that too is among my fondest anime watching experiences.
So how exactly can I go about recommending this show to people? Sure, there’s the memorable and lovable characters, the incredible design sense which brings the world to life by featuring real locations and outfits, the legitimately funny bits, the awesomely relatable bits, the comfy tone, the cute girls–I mean, Lucky Star is a great show in its own right, and I’m sure a lot of people like it without any context at all. But so much of why I love the show has to do with the time and place that it was released, the people I watched it with, and the culture surrounding it, that I can hardly imagine what it would be like to watch it fresh in 2014 without any context going into it.
I also wonder to what extent having the context explained to you can improve your viewing experience. A lot of people say that explaining the joke will ruin it, or that you can’t appreciate something you didn’t experience, but I think that while your experience of a joke or a situation will change depending on context, I don’t think that it’s impossible that having things explained to you can enrich your experience. As someone who usually does substantive research on a piece of media before I consume it, there have been plenty of times where I enjoyed something more knowing about the context in which it was released or the ways that people reacted to it at the time. I doubt that me relating my experiences playing a drinking game in the Philippines would help anyone to love the show more, but I do think that if I watched the show with someone and explained what was going on, and if they were into that sort of thing, then it could enrich the experience. In other words, if you scream hard enough at your monitor, maybe I’ll do a Lucky Star commentary someday. But for now, I hope I’ve helped you to think about the importance of context and how much it can affect your perception of a piece of media.