Is This Dancing Anime

10 07 2007

With no research or prior knowledge whatsoever, I hereby declare Lucky Star to be a blatant Haruhi clone. From the vertical logo on white to the “memorize our dance steps obsessively so you can repeat our motion based memetic virus” gimmick, it seems to match. And of course, we have a series of interchangeable animu schoolgirls with identical outfits, plug and play rainbow hair colors, and the obligatory flat-smiley :| characters to show which ones have the Joyless/Serious Girl Archetype.

So, is the SHOW itself any good?

This is the problem with me and anime for, oh, the last five or six years. I still go to Otakon and stuff but I don’t know what to look for, what’s interesting and not just packaged consumer fetish. Japan has created a business/art/science mix of how to appeal to staple character types and how to train its viewers to enjoy and appreciate those staple character types, and finding anything that breaks the mold with a genuinely original story and original characters is hard. Which, in turn, makes it hard for me to find anime I’d actually enjoy.

I liken it to the overall plot arc of Comic Party. Lead character decides to draw dojinshi. He draws something he loves, puts a lot of work into it, barely gets it in on time but is happy with it… and it barely sells any copies. “Okay, I’ll make what people want!” he decides, and his next work is full of like, robotic catgirl maids and crap. People come up to his stand and say “Does this have insert stock cardboard anime concept here?” “Yes, it does!” he cheerfully replies.

…but his number one fan, a young girl who loved the heart he put into that first work, shows complete apathy and disappointment in issue #2. When he asks why, she explains… and so for #3, he puts his OWN ideas back into it, makes something less commercial but higher quality and more in line with what he actually wanted to do, and damn the sales. It’s the work itself that matters.

I want anime like that. …not that story, I mean that attitude. Make something wonderful, not just something that will push figurines and idol singers.

So. Whaddya got?

Examples of what I’ve enjoyed in recent times…
* Haruhi: It relies on some staples but the underpinnings about the nature of reality and god and such make this like an anime version of Waiting for Godot. Score.
* FLCL: Weirdly animated slapstick partnered up with metaphoric imagery and an underlying story of coming of age.
* Hellsing Ultimate: It knows exactly what it is and is honest about it… it is eighty gallons of action hero badass poured in a ten gallon hat.
* Paranoia Agent: Plenty of WTFfery abounds, with a scathing criticism of modern life and a nice self contained story. (Unlike Boogiepop Phantom, which didn’t work unless you’d read the books.)
* Ghost in the Shell SAC: While 2nd gig gets a little too vaguely confusing with the refugee politics, the first series and parts of the second reach for greatness with very well written stories.
* Azumanga Daioh: It’s nice. That’s all. Very calm and sweet and simple — and occasionally weird and dark in hilarious ways — but in the end it’s like having a bubble bath, you just FEEL better after watching it.
* Cowboy Bebop: Well, duh. Samurai Champloo for similar reasons.

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42 responses

10 07 2007
okashira_san

As an aside, Haruhi and Lucky Star are made by the same animation studio, so a translation of style is to be expected. In fact, I’ve heard that Lucky Star itself directly references Haruhi several times. I haven’t watched Lucky Star yet, though, but the subbed opening makes me think it’s just a silly anime.

10 07 2007
kublaikhan

Japan has created a business/art/science mix of how to appeal to staple character types and how to train its viewers to enjoy and appreciate those staple character types, and finding anything that breaks the mold with a genuinely original story and original characters is hard.
Pre-coffee-snark: This differs from anywhere else in the entertainment industry how?
It’s always about the money, sadly enough–and nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the public. Hence the reality shows–it’s the televised equivalent of gossip.
If you go to see the really good stuff, you have to find a theatre that actually shows it–and folks will label you ‘pretentious’ for talking about it, because it’s not Transformers.

10 07 2007
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Yes, well, notice I don’t watch reality TV shows, either…
Mind you, I don’t totally shun commercial media, but there has to be something there that hooks me beyond just blatant genre/archetype button pushing. Transformers I went to see, because while it’s a pretty awkward shot at commercial pap, it also has giant robots destroying things (that’s basic pure fun) and a few key hooks into nostalgia (prime’s voice, bumblebee, etc). I won’t consider it art, though, and I’m not rushing out to buy the merch.

10 07 2007
kublaikhan

Indeed–the only thing I’ve caught on TV this year has been Ninja Warrior.
Transformers wasn’t singled out for any reason other than “large movie that everyone else is seeing rather than some artsy fartsy flick that -means- something”–that’s all.

10 07 2007
omahdon

Lucky Star is closer to being Azumanga happy, slice-of-daily-life fluff than it is to the (almost confrontationally) weird Haruhi. Plus, Lucky Star is based on 4 panel gag strips same as Azumanga so it’s very much a series of gags held together by whatever setting the characters are currently in. Same animation studio as Haruhi though, as previously mentioned – a weird dance routine in the OP that’s bound to be imitated by hundreds of Otaku to come seems to be their “thang” (not to mention the weird life action stuff for the ED that seems to be happening in more recent episodes….)
It’s the kind of anime you watch because you love watching high school girls go on and ON about which end of the chocolate cornette you start ending (“The head!”) and which end IS the head anyway – and can the same eating techniques be applied to cream puffs? What about strawberry cake – do you eat the strawberries first or last? It’s all so trifling and yet maddeningly addictive to watch. Plus, the casual otaku-ness of the girls add a nice reflexive touch to the proceedings when the characters discuss (and become embroiled in) the intracacies of anime fandom in all its glory (?). Thinly veiled (and some not quite so) references abound!

10 07 2007
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Hm. I’ll consider it. I do like Azumanga, after all, and I like the semi-chibi character designs here.
Seems like the OP is a bit misleading, though… it’s so jarringly blatant. Like grabbing you and throttling you violently while saying “I AM IMITATABLE! LOVE ME! LOVE MEEEEEE” until you can wriggle away and run screaming towards the horizon.

10 07 2007
omahdon

That OP is the ultimate hook – it’s either so blatantly obvious that you’ll just accept it without question, or it’s so obvious that it makes you think that there must be something behind that blatant obviousness that bears investigating until the inevitable hooking! An OP that works on TWO SEPERATE LEVELS! EGADS! Also, the translation of the OP’s song has lyrics that seem to read like an affectionate nudge towards otaku who like their anime girls in school uniforms…. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it.
In any case, try the first episode – if you like it, then it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll like all the similarly done future episodes.

10 07 2007
lirazel

You might really enjoy Kamichu! Yeah, yeah, it sounds silly–ultra-moe girl becomes kami of Jr. High–but except for some breaks into Pure Zany, it’s very sweet and kind of giddy. The intersection of near-modern life and Shinto is several kinds of awesome. If you do get it, make sure to get the fourth disk–the ending for buyers of the DVD is much better (though not as “cinematic”) as the end for TV viewers.
Oh, and the more you know about Shinto, the more you’ll get from it. For example, the Seven Lucky Gods show up with Benten (the only female Lucky God) as the lead singer.
Doesn’t really have a “plot”, per se, but then does being a god have to have a plot?

10 07 2007
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

You missed a hook there, namely the bloody razor hook that makes you want to avoid at all costs. For people who are adverse to processed market pap like I am, the OP actually does exactly the wrong thing and discourages a viewer who might otherwise like it. Anyway. I’ll check it out.

10 07 2007
damienroc

Huh. Aya Hirano also provides the voice of the lead in Lucky Star.

10 07 2007
demota

I really enjoy Lucky Star so far. It does try to appeal to the whole otaku subculture at times, but in a way that’s poking fun at it. Even the lyrics of the OP do this, more or less implying “We’ve got high school girls, so you’ll watch this show.”

10 07 2007
malakim

Love the Kamichu!
Have to order the rest of the DVDs, though, as I only got #1 and Best Buy for some reason decided not to carry the rest. *fume*

10 07 2007
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Pest Control is five years old. There’s a statue of limitations on this stuff, methinks — otherwise I’d be stuck revisiting old material until the end of time…
Penultima City is optional, and you can manually get there by exporting your character and starting it as a ‘new game’. That’s all the fairy did, anyway, an export and opening the new module. It doesn’t carry over any variables like ReRolled does.

10 07 2007
kublaikhan

For a ‘bloody razor’ hook, you’ll want Higurashi.
Watch with the lights on. And avoid small children for a week.

10 07 2007
nikumatic

Can I recommend Kino’s Journey? 13 episodes based off a series of light novels, and with the exception of a two-part story near the middle each one’s self contained. It’s basically a series of light sci-fi morality plays, where a nearly androgynous young girl and her talking motorcycle go from city to city in a sort of victorian sci-fi world, learning the rules and customs of each place they visit and then leaving three days later. It’s pretty excellent stuff, vaguely reminscent of something like Gulliver’s Travels.
And while it’s a bit more generime in some ways, I also really dig both Jubei-chan: Secret of the Lovely Eyepatch and its sequel Attack of the Siberian Yagyu. Some fun girls-transforming-into-ancient-Japanese-swordsman fights wrapped around a pretty solid emotional core in both series about father/daughter relationships.
The plus: both Kino and the first Jubei series can be had complete for under $30 on deepdiscountdvd.com so I can at least feel even more confident in recommending them since they cost about the same as a single new anime DVD. I really don’t know how much longer the industry can honestly support single-DVD prices now that boxsets have gotten so affordable.

10 07 2007
cmdr_zoom

I actually went and watched that OP. I think you owe me a new brain now.

10 07 2007
nnjsaber

After observing hate, love, and opinions about Lucky Star from several sides of the Western spectrum, my results so far indicate the following statement:
“Seems to me that Lucky Star is Japanese cartoon made for Japanese nerds who will buy crap. Especially fans of KyoAni.”
Conjecture: “Western fans are left in the dust, because they cannot easily purchase related goods (IE: impulse purchases of physical goods during the bi-weekly visit to Gamers), or do not have any interest in said goods.”
It can then be surmised that Western anime fans and Japanese nerds are different animals, who obviously hunt for different things. That much is obviously certain.
Opinion: I think that hunting for that “feeling” and looking at a popular show like Lucky Star is looking in the wrong direction. Television shows are designed from the ground up to promote sales (Lucky Star, Haruhi) and/or pay tribute (Air, Kanon). Lucky Star is what it is, and isn’t anything else. Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it will appeal to everyone. If someone doesn’t like it, it can’t be helped.
tldr: look for “Aria”

10 07 2007
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

I wasn’t looking to Lucky Star for the type of anime I like — it made things pretty clear from the OP that it’s the polar opposite of what I want. (Although as posters have said above, the OP is very misleading and in some ways intentionally a parody — not that I can tell since it’s not in english.) So I’m not expecting a miracle from it or anything.
But note that of the shows I cited that I did like, several of them are in fact TV shows. Bebop, GiTS, Paranoia Agent, Azumanga, etc. Not all anime TV shows are pap designed to promote sales and pay tribute. What I want are suggestions for titles that go beyond raw commercialism and into quality storytelling.

10 07 2007
luinthoron

For some reason I feel like recommending Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight! – I really didn’t expect to like as much as I do. A lot of fun with some trouble mixed in as well. From your examples I’d place it somewhere between Azumanga Daioh (which I haven’t seen, so only looking at your description) and Haruhi. Also brilliant use of background music, at least in my opinion.
Er, and I should apparently learn to check my html before posting comments…

10 07 2007
meagenimage

*watches clips*
What’s this? Cracktastic braincandy about a high school gamer girl with blue hair?
This was *made* for me. One side, lemme at those fansubs completely legal ways of obtaining this in English!

11 07 2007
pockyman

Lucky Star was a manga before it was an anime, and while there are certainly similarities (due to the production house for both being Kyoto Animation), it’s not really a Haruhi clone.
It’s more like ‘Azumanga Daioh + otaku weirdness’.
The dance thing is because the director for the first few eps, and the opening, directed the end sequence for Haruhi.
Lucky Star is definitely not for everyone. >.>

11 07 2007
dkellis

It’s closer to Haruhi than AzuDai, in that there’s an apparent point to all these scenes of the girls doing stuff, but without the God Or Not of Haruhi.
It’s a Slice Of Life of a rather rambunctious group of girls in a certain situation (rather than Slice Of Life in general of AzuDai). And yes, the background music is great.

11 07 2007
dkellis

The first four episodes of Lucky Star is more akin to Azumanga Daioh in that the four main girls just talk about nothing in particular. The primary draw (for some) is that Konata (the main blue-haired character) is such a… well, an otaku that she is more or less incapable of not using anime/game/manga analogies.
After that, there was a director change (and there was indeed Forum Drama about this), and LS turned into a sort of rapid-fire series of random Japanese pop culture jokes and references. (There were some before, but not as blatant.) Some of these references are rather obscure (like a hair shampoo commercial that was popular in the… 90s? 80s?), which has alienated a lot of Western viewers.
It’s pap. I wouldn’t say it’s commercialized pap, since it’s not “buy our stuff” as much as “buy stuff anyway, since it’s all Nostalgic”, but it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a moe show with girls talking about geeky stuff. The primary hook is the feeling of “hey, I know exactly what they’re talking about, I’ve done that myself!”
I like it, but then I like moe, so I’m biased.

11 07 2007
dkellis

Thirding Kamichu, but with some reservations, since I’m not sure what 2F’s opinion is on the whole moe thing.
I particularly enjoyed it, but I remembered a few “wait, was that really necessary?” moments.

11 07 2007
nnjsaber

Good luck
Quality storytelling? In my Jap-cartoons?
Rare finds, since it’s unlikely to be in vogue anytime soon. Shows I’ve gone through in the past 5 years haven’t been anything into quality, story-wise. Good luck though.
How about Gun X Sword? It seemed to me like a Bebop with a [spoiler]. Protagonist wants revenge for his dead wife too. There’s a spot where it references power ranger shows in the middle, and it’s mostly all filler like Bebop. Plus Belldandy voices a slick chick named Carmen. Lots of familiar voicers throughout the show.
Aria and it’s second season are both slow-paced and slice of life without any real drama. Maybe not as wacky and as close to home as Azumanga, but possibly worth a look. It’s built on the general Japanese idea of futuristic female gondoliers in Venice on Mars. If you don’t like the first episode or two, put it down, since the entire series is like that. No fanservice at all to look forward to, just one “wonderful discovery” after another.
If you need more guns and fighting, I can’t think of anything else other than Black Lagoon and Coyote Ragtime show. I haven’t seen it, but:
http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=6451
Batou voices Mister. And Aria The Animation’s Alice Carrol voices Franca. Coincidence.
I can’t think of anything newer along the lines of FLCL, since Paranoia Agent was it. I’ve heard something about Tokyo Godfathers, but I don’t know if it’s an anime, or some movie. After that, it’s Serial Experiments Lain, and some show about charcoal feathered girls who die in futility. I don’t keep up with those kinds of shows much, since I like to have a good time when I watch foreign shows, haha. :)
tldr: (highlights)
Gun X Sword (travels around looking for revenge for his dead wife)
Aria the Animation (Girls on gondolas without tradgedy and drama, on Mars.)
Black Lagoon (pirate fights nazis and a hardened Columbian ex-mercenary soldier turned glasses maid with suitcase machinegun)
Coyote Ragtime show (space outlaw)
may be relevant to your interests.

11 07 2007
knurek

The ep when they visit Comiket was like the greatest thing ever.
Especially the scene with Tomokazu Seki (Sousuke from FMPanic) and Tomokazu Sugita (Kyon from Haruhi).
I just couldn’t believe my eyes/ears, that was like 30 layers of awesome.

11 07 2007
Anonymous

This one seems to always have flown under everyone’s radar, but Kaleido Star is a pretty good one. Reuses tons of tropes from Magical Girl and Fighting genres, but in a rather. . . interesting way given that the show doesn’t really fit either. No manga version, and a commercial release by ADV that’s pretty much par for the course with them. Might be worth checking out.
– TH

11 07 2007
Anonymous

Just an addendum – the show suffers from Second Season Syndrome worse than usual, with two characters who are crazier than the protaganist and a plot hole you could fit an entire circus tent through that holds the whole thing together. But Season 1 and the OAVs are still good.
– TH

11 07 2007
xyzzysqrl

You’ve seen Paprika, yes?

11 07 2007
Anonymous

Didn’t really run into any of those myself in the first DVD (only one I’ve seen), so… *shrug* ^_^

11 07 2007
malakim

Ooo, also seconding Kino. ^_^

11 07 2007
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Nope.

11 07 2007
lirazel

And I know preCISEly what you’re talking about. I was particularly disappointed by the ending to the Student Council ep, which was otherwise excellent.
On the other hand, the seashore ep and the Kami Convention ep are gold and win, to me.

11 07 2007
sptrashcan

Do. It’s the latest from Satoshi Kon: he of Paranoia Agent, as well as Perfect Blue, Millenium Actress, and Tokyo Godfathers (all of which I recommend). Kon’s style tends to be a weird blend of social realism (he really, really hates Japan, as you probably guessed if you saw Paranoia Agent) and hallucinatory subjectivity, and the latter is much more prominent in Paprika. It’s worth it for the opening credit sequence alone.

11 07 2007
lirazel

Two other suggestions: Last Exile, which is going to remind you strongly of Laputa: Castle in the Sky (if you’ve seen that) but is more of an homage than a copy (and is a full season long and much more elaborately plotted). And My Neighbors the Yamatas: The Ups and Downs of Life, which is Studio Ghibli, a single disk, based on a daily cartoon strip, and one of the warmest, friendliest, and just plain funniest things I’ve seen in any medium in years, like The Simpsons without the relentless sarc.
Last Exile has some stellar space battle sequences and excellent art as well. The art for My Neighbors the Yamatas is much more understated but equally excellent. (and you have not lived until you’ve heard Que Sera, Sera sung in out-of-tune Japanese.)

11 07 2007
pyromaniac_ks

What TH Said.

11 07 2007
jengagne

Right, and although the “find a theatre that actually shows it” approach works here… it doesn’t work for imported translated anime. After all, they’re only going to translate the stuff they think will sell here. Vicious cycle and all that.
Of course, I have no idea if there even ARE really good anime over in Japan that just aren’t getting translated. Are we getting pretty much everything at this point?
Otherwise, are we back to the “Yeah the cartoons on TV are okay but here’s a pirated fan-sub of something that will never be released here!” era of anime fandom? o_o

11 07 2007
jengagne

Whee weirdness! 2f, if you get this, lemme know if I’d like? I’m far too passive to actually seek or acquire media myself. ;)
Hey Rick — check out my comment above? You’re probably in a better position to enlighten than anybody else I know. :D

11 07 2007
gkathellar

I’d recommend Shakugan No Shana. It’s a really fun piece of work, and while it’s bits and pieces of cliched in some places is overall very interesting and very original. That and watching a schoolgirl in a black cape kick a fox monster’s ass is a truly incredible sight.

11 07 2007
pyromaniac_ks

We… left that era?
NotthatIcondonepiracyinanyform.

11 07 2007
cmdr_zoom

Of course not. *shifty eyes*

14 07 2007
pockyman

For a while, everything was being brought over for a variety of reasons; because they hoped/thought it would sell, because it was a package deal, because they didn’t know better.
Now, they’re back to picking and choosing shows they know will at least do okay, or at worst break even. The reasons are numerous, but the main one is this:
Crap, no matter how much you shovel, is still crap.
I am not going to comment on the whole ‘downloading anime instead of buying it thing’. I refuse to speak on it anymore.
Oh, I’m safe in Cali now.

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