Ogikubo is the name of the specially designated area in space in the Milky Way where Earthlings and aliens can live together. Luluco is a female middle school student who lives with her father, and no matter where she is, Luluco is a common, “super normal” girl. As she is living her normal life, one day the mysterious transfer student ΑΩ Nova abruptly appears before her. That meeting will change Luluco’s fate. – ANN
Streaming at: Crunchyroll
Review: This review contains spoilers for events that occur throughout the series.
There’s a large sub-set of anime series that seem to trade primarily on their perceived “wackiness.” “Oh, those cartoons from Japan, they’re so weird,” people sometimes say, confused by somewhat by anime’s blending of cultural call-backs they’re not familiar with, referential comedy based on other media that will likely never be available in the West, and characters that don’t seem to reflect any real human attributes. Add to that the fact that so many shows nowadays, comedy series especially, arrive in such short, punctuated doses, here and gone in the blink of an eye, and it’s no wonder that many of these silly, colorful, and over-the-top anime are incredibly difficult to relate to (especially if you’re getting on in “fandom years” like me).
Short form anime seem to only be increasing in popularity and ubiquity, but until recently I just couldn’t fine many that I actually liked. It’s only been in the past couple of years or so that several short series have started to make decent use of their format and branch out from comedy into other realms, like Yamishibai‘s horror tales or She and her Cat‘s delicate look at life through a feline’s eyes. Still, comedy has primarily the format’s bread and butter over the years, and there have been several good ones lately. While many people have been trying to get me to watch Please Tell Me! Galko-chan (I’ll get around to it… someday), which I’ve heard called “Feminist” and “like Broad City, the anime,” I haven’t found myself in the correct frame of mind to tackle it yet. Those are both really large claims to make, and I’m afraid of ultimately being disappointed if/when it misses the mark. On the other hand, I had no trouble keeping up with Space Patrol Luluco from week-to-week, I think primarily because there’s some inherent part of me that just clicks with Hiroyuki Imaishi‘s body of work.
The anime that Imaishi has had a strong hand in tend toward the silly and perverse, with a lot of over-the-top movement and fiery, uncomplicated emotion. They can be both barely-animated in the same vein as many Western made-for-adults animation series tend to be, and jam-packed with cinematic, bombastic movement, within the same episode. Their subject matter could be silly, perverse, or grotesque, but with the ability to turn serious when needed or at least provide lip service towards exploring more complex topics. It’s like he walks into a project with a big old bag full of contradictory nonsense, and somehow has the ability to smash it all together into something visually appealing and entertaining to watch. I find that pretty fascinating.
Luluco is a sci-fi comedy anime that has Imaishi’s storytelling and directorial fingerprints all over it. It’s about a self-professed normal girl who wants to live an average teenage life. She worries about “teenage girl stuff” like finding her first love, getting along with others in school, and dealing with her dad. The twist is that she lives in an area called Ogikubo that’s a hotbed for alien activity where creatures from all across the local corner of the universe interact with one-another and occasionally cause trouble. Luluco’s dad is a member of the Space Patrol, an agency that sniffs out unlawful alien activity and “deals with it.” It’s when Dad “accidentally” eats some contraband material with his breakfast and freezes his body solid that Luluco is thrust into taking his place until he’s better. Goodbye, normal life! All is not lost, however, since with her is Alpha-Omega Nova, a very attractive boy her age that Luluco instantly starts crushing on. Chasing down criminal aliens and embarrassingly transforming into a giant gun aren’t so bad when you get to spend all your time allowing your first love to bud and flourish!
Eventually Luluco’s mom shows up (she’s a space pirate with a real rag-tag crew), steals Ogikubo itself and takes it to the far corners of the universe, and Luluco and company are sent on a mad chase to retrieve it, all the while discovering just how many truly goofy planets there are out there. Eventually Luluco’s very love for Nova-kun becomes a major plot point and the fate of Ogikubo and all its characters rests in what the big-bag refers to as a teenage girl’s “shitty, worthless first love.”
Imaishi seems to have a way with female anime characters and their stories. I wouldn’t necessarily call it feminist (those of you who have seen me in person at conventions lately know that there are reasons for that), but I do think that he and those who work with him seem to have more of a vested interest in presenting girls and women in a different light than you see in many anime. In Panty and Stocking (a series that generally seemed to confound a lot of fans), we get two main characters who are basically unapologetic about their “vices.” Panty has a lot of unattached sexual encounters, and Stocking eats sugary sweet food all day. Ultimately, I interpreted the series as a whole as being critical of these mostly unexamined prejudices that are held against women, both in the anime and in real life. In Kill la Kill, in the correct light, you can tease out messages about body shaming against women and the constant pressure we face to be dressed a certain way, as well as the value of female camaraderie and friendship. There are major issues with these anime series, too, which is partly why I’m hesitant about lifting them up as paragons of female-focused entertainment. They contain plenty of leering and fanservicey stuff to round out their run time (though I maintain that late-era “good” Gainax and Trigger material has a way with fanservice that I personally find less gross than the norm), so that’s something to consider.
Luluco as a whole skews a bit younger with its characters. Its atmosphere, while appropriately zany and wacky, is a lot more tame in terms of the visual sexualization, so its handling of female-focused plot points comes across more purely than some of its predecessors. Ignoring the sci-fi element all together, the story is focused on the value of a young girl’s first love. This might not seem like particularly groundbreaking material, but consider that anime most often tackles this subject in the context of school drama where a young woman ends up becoming consumed with her feelings for the object of her affections to the exclusion of (most) everything else. The crush acts as both the focus of the plot, as well as an aspect of it which is used by outsiders and naysayers to trivialize the type of anime made for a young female audience. I knew someone at one time who called shoujo anime something like “those pointy-chin shows” referring to the types of character designs that tend to show up in those series. Getting beyond the fact that it’s kind of a funny term and there are a lot of mediocre shoujo anime (like any other type of anime) out there that kind of deserve it, I find that there are a lot of viewers who generally just trivialize anime series that have too strong a focus on feelings and emotions, and especially uncomplicated-yet-overwhelming pubescent romantic feelings, ostensibly because they find themselves unable or unwilling to try to relate to those emotions of the teenage girls who serve as protagonists.
There’s a lot to unpack there, but what amuses me about Luluco is that it does so without hesitation and without looking back… you just have to be paying attention to notice it. Luluco lays its aesthetics on thick with its bright colors, cutesy characters, madcap comedy, and constant parody humor, not to mention its lightning-fast pacing and Inferno Cop style plot progression. Luluco’s girlish crush on Nova-kun seems like a side note for most of the series, a gag that keeps cropping up that serves to re-emphasize just how bland of a personality he has. It’s only near the end of the show when the big baddie is revealed that we find out how central Luluco’s feelings were the entire time. The Blackholeians, who make their living stealing valuable items throughout the universe, have decided that it would be more interesting to start seeking out things that are considered utterly worthless. They’ve now come to the conclusion that the first love of a teenage girl is probably the most utterly worthless, most bland and most insignificant thing out there, so they steal it (visually represented by a clear heart-shaped jewel) from Luluco, killing her. Luluco then has to journey back from Hell itself to then prove the true value of her feelings.
I was incredibly impressed by this final story arc because within the microcosm of an otherwise very silly show, the creators were able to express a frustration that I’ve had with almost every kind of fandom I’ve ever been in – “this thing you care about isn’t important to me, so therefore it doesn’t matter.” Doubly-so when said by male fans when referring to entertainment targeted towards girls and women. Thinking back, I don’t think there are many people who would look at their first crush or even their early relationships, and think to themselves “this was substantial and it was made to last.” There are so many factors, including physiological ones and those relating to experience and emotional maturity, that generally doom these early relationships to be nothing more than learning experiences on the road to adulthood. But they were real and they were important, and at the time they felt all-consuming. They had value in they way they helped form my adult self; thinking back to those memories, I can tell which relationships helped me learn to appreciate others’ hobbies (even if they weren’t my hobbies) and which ones caused me to let my personal boundaries deteriorate, setting me up for a long road towards learning to respect myself again. There were happy times and challenging experiences. Sometimes there was more bad than good, but even if the emotions themselves were fleeting and over dramatic, they were always real and they were always important. Some of the same things could be said for the books, movies, television, blogs, or games that drew our attention as younger people. Some of them might have less objective “value,” and looking at them now we can tell that they were pretty terrible (I used to be in love with so much terrible anime, you guys), but people don’t attach themselves to fandoms and media for no reason; there’s always something there that speaks to us when we need to hear it.
When Luluco comes back from Hell and takes full ownership of her feelings for Nova, it’s then that she proves her power. Because there is nothing more emotionally powerful than being able to fully value one’s self and one’s emotions, at least as far as defeating black hole aliens is concerned. I like to interpret Luluco’s powerful return as a giant middle finger towards those who under-value entertainment made for women, especially since the message was stealthed into a show that from the outside seems to be nothing more than a cracked-out (and possibly a little bit self-congratulatory) comedy romp from Studio Trigger and company.
All that aside, there are some fun references to other Trigger properties throughout the series – Little Witch Academia, Kill la Kill, and Sex & Violence with Machspeed being the really obvious ones; Inferno Cop shows up in an awesome cameo later on and there are some strong aesthetic references towards Gurren Lagann, too. I would also be remiss if I went without mentioning the third member of the Space Patrol team, Midori, an alien gyaru who starts as sort of a love-rival to Luluco but ends up becoming supportive (though no less sassy) by the end. She’s used more as comic relief and provides a good foil for the pure-hearted Luluco, but unfortunately doesn’t spend much time front-and-center. Luluco’s mother, Lalaco Godspeed, is also a hoot (with prominent hooters, eheheh). The only downside is that the short format means that these fun side characters don’t really receive as much attention as I would have liked, but maybe there’ll be a sequel someday.
I’ve been a little bit snarky in person with some folks this past season, calling this “Studio Trigger’s good Spring 2016 anime series.” I’m only partly joking when I say that, though, since as much as I thought Kiznaiver was a decent accomplishment with a lot of good ideas to share, I felt a stronger emotional connection with this series. Luluco just always seemed more focused on the story it wanted to tell and on the character it decided to feature in the telling. Its entire run time only constitutes about 1/3rd of your average anime series, and yet I think it was more successful in arguing for its central conceits than a lot of other series out there. I may even have shed a tear once or twice (whether from laughing or crying, I’ll never tell). I have a tendency to dig deep into shows that I really enjoy, drawing conclusions that others might not agree with, and I gather that’s the case with this show, too. But they’re my feelings, and those feelings have power for me. And isn’t that really what’s important?
Pros: The show has a definite sense of style to it, with cute character designs, and a good balance of stills and more animated portions. I thought most of the gags were pretty funny and enjoyed the references to other anime throughout the show. There’s a good message to be found about the value of formative (and especially romantic) experiences, especially those that women have which are often belittled by the mainstream.
Cons: If you choose to seek out some of the anime referenced in the show, be warned that Sex & Violence with Machspeed is incredibly racy and grotesque, something that’s more hinted at in the episode of Luluco that references it. The short runtime leaves little time to flesh out some of the side characters, like Lalaco and Midori. Please make a sequel!