After watching a whole batch of Azumanga episodes this weekend–and finding myself unable to stop–I think I finally figured out why, despite their structural similarities, it’s a whole lot funnier (to me) than Lucky Star. All the caveats that apply when analyzing humor of course are in full effect.
- Slapstick antics. I noted on Hung’s blog (which is itself an Azumanga reference!) that it really seemed to me that the verbal humor of Lucky Star is tough to translate, and that there’s a reason action movies and lowbrow American comedies tend to succeed overseas. Azumanga Daioh of course is filled to the brim with culture-specific, puntastic humor, especially any time Osaka opens her mouth. And, like Lucky Star, there are plenty of food jokes.
But Azumanga Daioh also has Chiyo-chan falling over in a penguin costume. And getting hit by a volleyball. And Tomo getting slapped around by Yukari-sensei. And Sakaki getting assaulted by cats. I double over and curl up in laughter every time I see any of that. I guess I’m a man of simple pleasures after all!
- Surprises. The sense of comic timing, overall, seems so much better in Azumanga. It may be because the five minute episodes are much closer to their original 4-koma roots, and so preserve their setup-punchline structure better than the more diffuse stories in Lucky Star. But I’m surprised how surprised I still often was at the conclusion of a sketch, even though I’ve seen the whole series before.
- Visual Inventiveness. I think it’s a shame that the vaunted Kyoto Animation, who brought such lifelike and fluid work to Haruhi Suzumiya and Kanon, is animating a show that so far has little visual panache apart from the opening dance. Azumanga wasn’t particularly high budget or impressive on a technical level. But it had not only genuine cuteness but a sense of surrealism that lent the show even more unpredictability. And those facial expressions! Of course, most of this can be chalked up to the manga artist rather than the anime studio.
To be fair: I do think I like the second episode of Lucky Star a little bit better than the first one. I still find Kona amusing, as well as the cynical idol in the closing sections–though I hope the writers can find a way to make the characters more memorable. Azumanga Daioh did not immediately grab me on first viewing either, though I definitely found it instantly funny on a deeper level; however, it took the time to make the characters not only distinct, but lovable, to the point where I was shedding bittersweet tears at the series’ conclusion.
A comedy that is able to do that without angst or drama is quite briliant indeed, and if Lucky Star intends to follow in that tradition (as it seems to be), it’s got some ways to go.