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Review: “Good Luck Girl” – Feelin’ Lucky, Anime Fan?

by on January 21, 2014

The term “born lucky” has been around for a long time, so it’s kind of amazing no anime series has attempted to take the term and run with it to its natural conclusion: that being born lucky will somehow decide the fate of the world. Finally, one anime has, and that is Good Luck Girl!

Good Luck Girl Binbogami GaGood Luck Girl! is known as Binbogami Ga! in Japan, where the source material was published in Jump Square (home to Blue Exorcist, Rosario + Vampire, and Claymore among others). In other words, it’s a Shonen Jump title, which will likely surprise people considering it doesn’t really feel like one. Perhaps wisely, FUNimation opted to change the title of the series for North American shores, even though it changes the character the title is referring to in the process.

The whole plot of this series is based around the concept of “Happiness Energy,” or the amount of luck one has, balanced out by “Unhappiness Energy” which shows how much bad luck a person can have. This creates the ultimate conflict of this series, centered between two main characters: Ichiko Sakura and the “Poverty God” Momiji.

Ichiko Sakura is blessed with everything she could ever want. She is beautiful, rich, and well-endowed (which is pointed out rather frequently in the series), with a host of boys wanting to be with her and a host of girls who despise her and wish she would go away precisely because she has everything. However, Ichiko also starts off as one of the most unlikable characters in anime history, as she tends to act like a total jerk to everyone, relentlessly pushing them all away except for her butler Suwano.

And that’s when Momiji upends our lucky girl’s life.

Good Luck Girl Binbogami GaMomiji is everything Ichiko is not, right down to having a washboard of a chest (which is also pointed out quite frequently in the series, driving her berserk).  As a “Poverty God”, her mission is to suck out Happiness Energy out of those who have too much and spread it around to others to keep balance in the world.

And Ichiko has a lot of Happiness Energy. So much, in fact, she is sucking it out of everyone around her unconsciously, leaving them burdened with increasingly more Unhappiness Energy until it kills them (a point driven home when Suwano collapses in the first episode of a heart attack). However, Ichiko wants no part of having her Happiness Energy sucked out and being potentially left in destitution. So the war begins between Momiji and Ichiko, escalating when Momiji decides to take up residence in Ichiko’s home and stalking her when Ichiko’s at school, waiting for an opportunity to strike and steal Ichiko’s Happiness Energy.

The end result for the first half of the show is that gags (some old and tired, others fresh and new) fly everywhere as Momiji’s schemes repeatedly blow up in her face in dramatic (and frequently hilarious) fashion, and the cast slowly but steadily grows in size, eventually growing to include a perverted monk (Bobby), a pretty-boy next door trying to take care of four siblings on his own (Keita), and various other gods (the most prominent being dog god Momo’o). Without any hesitation, all of them wind up connecting to Ichiko in some way or another, and fade in and out of episodes naturally, without making the viewer think any appearance is wasted. However, the series also shows a willingness to step away from the gags on occasion, showcasing surprisingly serious scenes every now and then and hinting at serious past trauma in Ichiko’s life. This balance is precarious and not elegantly made until episode 7, when the street-punk Ranmaru is introduced. Until then, Ichiko’s character development seems to reset every episode, and while her chemistry (or lack thereof) with Momiji fuels some hilarious moments, Ichiko doesn’t seem to learn from the lessons she is being taught, by Momiji and others.

Good Luck Girl Binbogami GaRanmaru changes everything. It’s only after she is introduced that Ichiko’s character development finally begins to show, instead of being something we get told about repeatedly. After a memorably bad start to the relationship that has Ranmaru initially vowing to destroy Ichiko, Ranmaru becomes Ichiko’s first true friend, willing to support her and stand up for her, especially after Ranmaru learns of Ichiko’s past and loneliness. It’s then that the series finally manages to find the heart that it’s claiming it has, when Ichiko finally crosses the line from a jerk protagonist to a likable one, as Ichiko learns to trust Ranmaru. Even Ichiko’s relationship with Momiji becomes more of a “vitriolic best friends” type of relationship more than two enemies trying to “get” each other after Ranmaru joins the series. Good Luck Girl! as a whole improves after Ranmaru’s introduction, balancing the ridiculousness of gag comedy with tender drama surprisingly well for the remainder of the episodes, especially after Momiji mysteriously pulls a 180 in personality and becomes angelic and altruistic. In the last episode, even some overpowered shonen action gets thrown in courtesy of a car chase, with some awesomely cheesy violence between Ranmaru and Momo’o.

The only true “wasted” character is Yamabuki, the chief of the Poverty Gods. She seems to exist primarily to become exasperated by Momiji and seems to have nothing else to do, though she does show a bit of a crazy side in her final appearance that I wish the show had the opportunity to explore more. However, this is a fairly minor gripe on my end as everyone else, major or minor, manages to naturally enter and exit the show seemingly at will.

Good Luck Girl Binbogami GaMany of the gags reference various anime and manga through the years, many of them from Shonen Jump. Naruto, One Piece, Dragonball Z, Fist of the North Star, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Lupin the 3rd, the references just go on and on and on. And they are surprisingly well done at that, feeling like a true part of the show rather than a gimmick for attention. The best one probably goes to a parody of the Fist of the North Star artstyle in episode 7 that must be seen to be believed, with a reenactment of Nappa’s death scene in episode 6 coming a close second. Savvy English dub watchers will also be amused by a certain gag in the “tennis” scene in episode 9 for a reason I dare not spoil.

Sunrise, the studio behind Gundam, is the animation studio backing this series directed by Yoichi Fujita. Fujita is no stranger to this type of work, as he also directed Sunrise’s adaptation of Gin Tama. Fujita brings a veteran’s touch, conserving his moderate budget well, using creative camera angles and overdramatic portraits of character’s faces to move the scenes along. The result is that no episode looks off-model and while the animation certainly does not impress (the first and last episodes do show a noticeable boost in in-between frames), it gets the job done. The same goes for the piano-based score by Masashi Hamauzu. It won’t win any awards and would sound bland out of context, but it’s placed well and decently supports both dramatic and comedic sequences.

FUNimation at this point is no stranger to comedy anime and they have found an approach that works for them, and that approach works well here too. Jamie Marchi seems to have become FUNimation’s go-to woman for comedy anime, and she showcases why here with her dub scripts. The dialogue is free-wheeling (and frequently drops in Buffy-speak and Americanisms like “It’s on like Donkey Kong!”) but generally sticks to the original meaning of the lines, if not the exact words, and finds American equivalents to Japanese puns and gags. However, Marchi also knows when to stick closer to the original script, which is generally reserved for the more serious and dramatic sequences in Good Luck Girl! 

Good Luck Girl Binbogami Ga

Joel McDonald, the ADR director, is also no stranger to this kind of work, and he assembles a strong cast. Brina Palencia (Ichiko) and Colleen Clinkenbeard (Momiji) are pure veterans at this point. While Palencia turns in a good effort as Ichiko using her patented, pitch-perfect rendition of an American teenage girl’s voice, Clinkenbeard is the standout. As Momiji, Clinkenbeard has to pull off Momiji’s rage, quirkiness, and general snark through a wide variety of voices and accents, and it gets more difficult with Momiji’s personality 180 near the end of the series. Somehow, Clinkenbeard pulls it all off beautifully.

Ranmaru, voiced by relative newcomer Martha Harms, is also pitch-perfect, as Harms keeps Ranmaru sounding feminine, tough, and young, without diving into boyishness or making Ranmaru too deep. The standout on the male end is probably Patrick Seitz as the perverted monk Bobby. Seitz’s voice is a bit of a caricature but it matches up to the comedy perfectly without going into outright political incorrectness. In general, the English dub is masterful in the comedy scenes but also performs the dramatic scenes with sincerity, making it one of FUNimation’s strongest dub efforts for a comedy anime.

Good Luck Girl Binbogami Ga

The Japanese dub is well-performed as well, pulling off the gags with ease and Ichiko’s Japanese actress (Kana Hawazawa) sounds like she’s having the time of her life. The only serious casting difference between the dubs is in the character of Yamabuki, where Lydia MacKay makes the character’s voice deeper and projects a more maternal air than Kikuko Inoue does. I personally think MacKay’s approach works better than Inoue’s more casual sound, but that is obviously subjective. However, the Japanese version’s humor doesn’t translate to Western viewers perfectly, so if you’re looking for a more accessibly funny (if less faithful) approach to the material you should probably go with the English.

Overall, despite a bit of an up-and-down start, Good Luck Girl! eventually did win me over with an excellent second half that rewarded me for sticking with it. Recommended.

Good Luck Girl Binbogami Ga

P.S. I will mention is that before you begin viewing that you should turn on the first subtitle setting to activate the subtitles for Japanese text. You will miss a lot of the rapid-fire jokes without that setting turned on.

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