Never has there been a series that set out to be as pointless and pandering as Lucky Star. It has the slice-of-life comedy of four school age girls approach like Azumanga Daioh and Nichijou, albeit favoring the mundane and otaku over the awkward, random, and nonsense of the other two. And while it does what it does extremely well, its one-dimensional approach prevents it from ever being more than just a giant 20+ episode in-joke.
On its surface, Lucky Star seems hardly original or interesting. It’s about four girls (plus several more supporting cast, many that only appear in the second half onwards) in school and has little in the way of plot beyond the notable passage of time. It is drawn in a very simple and slightly SD cutesy girl style with little attempt at realism. While Kyoto Animation does, as always, a really good job at consistency and movement, it is still nothing to be impressed with overall. Really, the whole thing just seems kinda mundane.
Worse, the first episode further cements this by spending practically half the episode, easily ten minutes or so, talking about different desserts, how to best eat them, and other trifles. Seriously, why is there such a cult following for this thing?
Well, if you give it a chance and you’re in the right target demographic you’ll see why. The number of subtle/explicit references to other anime, life as a gamer/anime fan, songs, you name it, plus the occasional note on random bits of life, are what drive everything in this show. Its humor is understated and subtle and its appeal is niche at best since to get a lot of the references you have to already be fairly well versed in both anime and even things outside it like gaming, MMOs, and other tangential fandoms and internet culture. I’ll also point out that KyoAni stuff, in particular, is especially referenced a lot (Haruhi most frequently, Full Metal Panic! occasionally). But if you do get all that then the whole thing is one long smile as they poke fun at the genres and terms and so on. It’s less about cackling belly laugh humor and more about small “that’s so true” grins.
Outside of all the in-jokes, as good as they are, the characters (primarily the main four) actually manage to do a really good job of being likable and real. Sure they kind of start off with some very obvious archetypes (which even Konata loves to point out), but they manage to be very consistent and very well acted, such that you’ll really grow attached to them. They manage to make the inane conversations fun and interesting simply because of their strong individual personalities. This is probably the main reason the show works as well as it does, and the constant nods to the otaku culture become merely the icing on the cake.
Konata is the obvious Mary Sue otaku stand-in who spends all her time reading manga, watching anime, and playing games, and spouts most of the in-jokes and internet references. Miyuki is smart, attractive, mature, wealthy, sweet, but also a little clumsy and afraid of simple things like dentists. She frequently goes on extended Wikipedia-like explanations of all sorts of random trivia and facts. Tsukasa is ditzy, sleeps a lot, can never focus on her studies/homework (worse than Konata even), and is not good at sports or really anything, but means well. Kagami, her twin sister (fraternal, though), is the opposite: a dedicated student, good at sports, responsible, and level-headed (and she’s easily my favorite), but she has a habit of being too serious and difficult to approach.
Its episodic and incredibly meandering approach (why do they even bother titling the episodes?) means it is, at least for me, difficult to marathon watch and is best consumed in small 1-3 episode bunches. But it does mean you can pretty much re-watch them in any order you want since the occasional new character introductions (which you won’t need if you are re-watching) is all that you might miss.
Refreshingly, the show manages to avoid the cheap and easy sources of humor like “accidental” nudity in bathhouses, dressing rooms, and other sexually-driven oopsies that so often plague a lot of anime. It even, occasionally, manages some sweeter and more meaningful/touching moments, though admittedly these are rare and often punctuated with gags.
If you get the references and you’re down with its strange subtle humor then you will undoubtedly devour the whole thing and enjoy it quite well. There is certainly little else like it out there that I’ve seen. For everybody else, though, you’ll probably wonder what the point is and move on. I have to say, as much as I personally enjoyed it, I can only recommend it to those select few it seems to be specifically designed for.
As of this writing, you can watch Lucky Star for free on Crunchyroll.