One Last Time – A Review of the Lucky Star US Box Set

Okay, so I’ve talked a lot about Lucky Star over the past few weeks, but that’s because it is a highly anticipated title that has acquired a huge fanbase in America via the fansub community. That community, my dear readers, includes mostly every one of you out there. Rest assured that if I was continuously blogging like this in the months leading up to the US release of Haruhi Suzumiya, I would have given that series plenty coverage as well (instead of only writing one post on it). However, I promise to you all that this will be the last time I ever focus on Lucky Star on this site, so please just bear with me one more week.

It is not a surprise that my rant last week struck some nerves with a couple of readers. Owen over at Cruel Angel Theses wrote the most in-depth dissection I have seen of any of my posts. I don’t think my English teacher even took so much time to criticize my writing! But the point that Owen and many others got wrong with the post was that I do not actually hate the show. In fact, I became a major fanboy for the Tsukasa character and the Lucky Channel segments, which I did mention in the post. But the show was overall very dull and I have very rarely seen anyone really enjoy the show whenever I have seen it screened or shown to friends. Lucky Star, as a show, is neither bad nor all that good. It’s just mediocre.

The point I was trying to make with last week’s post was that despite Lucky Star’s mediocrity, it has gained an insanely huge cult following based only the promise of it was the second coming of Haruhi Suzumiya. I showed this connection happening in Japan with the magazine Comp H and in America with Bandai’s teaser trailer. There was even further news of it last week when ANN reported on an Akiba shop giving away Haruhi / Lucky Star mash-up telephone cards. It is this kind of artificially created hype machine that I was pissed off about, and if you don’t see the connect then you must be living under a rock.

The day after the post went up, I received my package from Amazon, and it did completely change my view and outlook on the series. So this week, I’d like to take a look at the impressive Lucky Star box set that Bandai Entertainment released in the US last week.

Which – and I’m sure this is completely coincidental – is almost exactly like Bandai’s release of that other show a year ago… (>_>)

Some hot “Lucky Star on Haruhi” action

First off, the DVD. I popped in the disc into my PS3, which I primarily use only as a Blu-Ray player. While Lucky Star is not in HD format, the PS3 up-converts the video into 1080p for my 46-inch HDTV. The moment the opening theme song kicks into full swing, I am completely blown away. The show is jaw-dropping beautiful, and I hadn’t even gotten past the first few seconds yet!

In the world in which we watch the majority of our anime downloaded with highly compressed video formats, we often compromise video quality for the convenience and cost of pirating. So after familiarizing myself with watching the series on a small laptop like this…

.. and then suddenly seeing it on the big screen TV like this…

… I was just completely blown away. Besides for the typical artifacts you get with any standard def DVD, the transfer is perfect. Presented in wide screen, the colors are vibrant and bright, and the animation is absolutely solid. Again, I had never considered the show to be so visually stunning before, but the DVD release has proven me wrong. It’s not quite HD, but it’s still very pretty.

Another major hang-up I had about seeing the show in fansubs was the frustration of trying to follow the highly condensed – and often pretty boring – dialog of the series. Due to poor vision, I don’t often read subtitles when watching anime, so I usually end up translating most shows in my head as I watch them. This is pretty mentally exhausting and is the reason why I, unlike most American otaku out there, welcome English dubbing with arms wide open. With a dub, I can focus my attention on the anime artwork and story line without having to bother with translation.

That being said, watching Lucky Star with the dub did eliminate all the frustrations I had with the fansub. I never felt attached to any of the original Japanese voice actresses, so I didn’t have any qualms about letting them go for the new English cast. Ayu Harino did herself a disservice with the unusual voice she did as the lead character, Konata. My guess is that she was trying to do something completely different from her Haruhi voice. Wendee Lee, the most recognizable voice in English dubbing,  does the same thing in English by giving her Konata character a very masculine voice.

The humor translates well into the new language. In the original material, the tsukkomi reactions are given in a very non-aggressive manner, which translates into English as very cynical humor. This works very well, and had me laughing much more often this time around then when I was seeing it fansubbed. The Lucky Channel segments also gains a new life in the dub as the Akira character goes from a moé / yanki split personality in the Japanese version to a cute / total-bitch personality in the English version. The banter between the two Lucky Channel English voice actors gives the segment a much more ad-libbed feel than the original, which results in completely hysterical moments.

The “shooting the breeze” dialogue of the show remains just as boring in English as it was in Japanese, however, something seems even more artificial about the English actresses talking about otaku words and phrases. I was able to pick up on a lot of the obscure references much more easily in the dub. There’s one particular reference to Crayon Shin-chan that I would have never gotten if it weren’t for the excellent vocal work of English cast. Bandai also includes great liner notes inserted with the DVD, which will fill in the gaps to all the things you are bound to miss while watching the show.

Now on to the box. As you can see in the picture earlier in this post, the Lucky Star box is almost exactly like the box Bandai released for that other show last year. However, the little drawer that was in the previous box is removed to make room for the additional number of DVDs in this series. But the art on the box is still fantastic. I particularly enjoyed the clever image on the back of the box of Konata celebrating after reading the headline “ハルヒ二期決定!” on her computer screen.

By the way, that headline translates to “Haruhi Second Season Announced!” in English, which I’m sure is also just a coincidence… (>_>)

The most obvious thing you’ll find when opening the box is the sailor suit t-shirt. Bandai is planning on including such a shirt in all future “special edition” releases of the series in America, including designs of different school uniforms and school bathing suits. I have heard the Bandai reps say a number of times that, “We anticipate seeing a lot of people walking around anime conventions this summer wearing these Lucky Star t-shirts.”

So on that note, I don’t like to post pictures of myself, but if you happen to see this man at any convention wearing this shirt:

You have his permission to kill him on sight, because as you can see in the photo, this t-shirt looks really fucking stupid.

[throws the shirt into the back of his closet, never to see it again]

So the shirt sucks, but all the other extras are good. I was surprised about the cornet shaped screen cleaner. What is it is just a little cornet plushie with a brown cloth inside. What’s clever is that when you pull the brown cloth out of it, it actually looks like chocolate filling being squeezed out of the cornet. I did a double take when I saw this for the first time, and immediately attempted to fold the brown cloth and stuff it back into the plushie to create this illusion again. Kudos to Bandai on that nifty trick.

The CDs are another must-have extra. First up is the CD single to the show’s opening theme song. I have already raved over this song recently, and I even hyped up the single’s B-side the day it came out in Japan almost a year ago. Both songs make this a great disc alone, but we are even given more musical goodness with the Konata character single. The two songs showcase Hirano dropping her stupid character voice to actually sing some cute songs over a playful electronic melody.

So this special edition box set is pretty awesome, but that’s not a surprise. Bandai did do a fantastic job with the release of that other series a year ago, and it just so happens that doing the same thing again will also yield great results. A nice looking art box with a cute trinket and excellent CDs make the premium price worth it for this first DVD. Unfortunately, the t-shirt is a complete dud, and if that’s all that the future special editions of Lucky Star have to look forward to, I would say stick with just getting the regular DVDs to fill up this box. But even the DVDs offer a much better viewing experience then you’ll ever get from fansubs.

Lucky Star is not the second coming of Christ or Haruhi, but at least Bandai’s incredible US release makes this boring show much more tolerable than before.

And that’s all I have to say about that. ;-)

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