I bought this series on Blu-ray, knowing that it was a popular one and that it also shared most of its voice cast with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, both in the original Japanese and the dub version. At first, I have to say I was very puzzled by its popularity. This is slice-of-life in its purest form, and for Western audiences that’s a difficult thing to get a handle on. There are plenty of slice-of-life shows where not much happens but there is often some kind of a hook. That might be a school club the characters attend, or a series might have a strong emphasis on comedy. But this is a series that really relies on the characters and nothing else. Don’t be fooled by the cheer-leading in the opening sequence – you won’t get to see any of that until the last episode. There is some comedy, which improves greatly as the series progresses and keeps getting better, but to start with it really is nothing more than a bunch of animated girls talking to each other about nothing much in particular. Unusually for Kyoto Animation, the art style isn’t especially impressive either, so this one really does risk the ultimate crime that a television show can commit: being boring.
It’s worth persevering though, because if you stick with this series you will find a few things happening. Firstly, you will gradually start to really like these characters, and eventually you really will be happy just to watch them having random conversations about nothing of any great importance. The series benefits from a great main character, Konata, who is in some respects a reflection of the viewers because she spends far too much time watching anime, reading manga and gaming. She shares a voice actor with Haruhi Suzumiya in both versions, and Aya Hirano and Wendee Lee are both capable of bringing any character vividly to life. The other main girls are a fairly textbook line-up of tsundere, gentle little sister, and nerdy girl. Later in the series things improve markedly with the introduction of some girls in the school year below Konata, one of whom comes to live with her and has some comedy yuri moments with her friends. A lot of the girls’ conversations reference other anime and games, most of which was lost on me, but I did enjoy the abundant references to Haruhi. This is a series you will get a lot more out of if you have watched Haruhi first. The standout episode finds Konata working in a cafe where the staff dress as Haruhi characters.
A few running gags liven things up as the series progresses, my favourite being the manga shop Konata visits, where she is known as the “legendary girl”. Apart from obviously spending a huge amount of money on manga, she has an eye for quality and talks about manga a lot to her friends, so anything she picks out tends to become a popular hit. The staff see her as a target for making a significant sale, and are often left close to tears if she gets distracted and has to leave, or doesn’t buy the book they wanted her to notice, or something like that. But the best episode of the series is one that blends comedy with pathos successfully, and is the only time that really happens, when Konota’s late mother returns in spirit to see how her family are doing. Talking of family, Konota’s father is a character who will divide viewers. He has an obsession with teenage girls that becomes slightly uncomfortable to watch at times, but is equally often very funny.
Each episode concludes with a separate segment called “Lucky Channel”, a sort of animated fan show for the main action, which is incredibly meta, instantly fictionalising what we have just watched. The tone of this is entirely different, relying on some very dark humour. It is presented by a young idol named Akira and her male assistant Minoru, and each episode Akira’s cutesy persona gives way to her jaded diva side, becoming ever more jealous of her assistant who is scoring himself cameo appearances in the main show. It’s very funny but also gets to a point where the humour becomes quite dark, with things turning violent in the last few episodes. By that point it’s like watching two completely different anime series stuck together. A brave choice.
This is not really a series I would recommend to anyone, and I did struggle to get through it over quite a long period of time. Having said that, I think Haruhi fans will get a kick out of it if they have plenty of patience, and also if you have watched a few other slice-of-life series and have a high level of tolerance for the more uneventful end of the scale then you will find that your patience is rewarded and you will come to love these characters. If you are a newcomer to anime, steer clear. RP