Azumanga Daioh

TV Series - 26 Episodes

This show combines a very unique style with some endearing and colourful characters to make a real all around favourite.

Follow the lives of child prodigy Chiyo, quiet and cool Sakaki, hyperactive Tomo, serious Yomi, spaced out ‘Osaka’ and athletic Kagura as they all progress through high school. Along with their friends Kaorin and Chihiro, their manic home room and language teacher Yukari, P.E teacher Minamo, and the unwelcome attention of the creepy classical lit teacher Kimura, these girls make their own unique way through their three years together, from sports days to culture festivals and even exploring their truly bizarre new years dreams.

There are no two ways about it: This is a ‘slice of life’ show. However, it has a rather surreal feel to it, thanks partly to the fact that it is based on a long series of four panel comic mangas. As such it takes the role of giving us strange snapshots of these girls’ lives from one odd or amusing encounter to the next, from Sakaki’s adoration of cats (which seem to hate her) to the bizarre and disjointed musings of Osaka. Pondering on the meaning of haemorrhoids for example. If anyone can be called the star here it is Chiyo-chan, and she helps give us a ‘normal’ insight into the strange things that these girls plan and worry about. There are strange, prolonged pauses between bits of dialogue, subjects of conversation can change randomly and, thanks to the crazy nature of characters like Tomo and Miss Yukari there is always something crazy going on despite the laid back pace of ‘normal’ life. In fact Yukari and Minamo (or Nyamo as she is often known) makes up just as large a part of the show as that of the girls themselves, and it’s intriguing seeing the stories from both sides, especially since Yukari is as warped as any of the other girls.

This is a charming and completely inoffensive show, so anyone and everyone should be able to enjoy it. The disturbing enthusiasm Mr. Kimura shows for high school girls is always played for the usual surreal laughs that the rest of the comedy is. So is the slapstick violence that emerges between the long lasting friends/mutual antagonists Tomo and Yomi, as well from Yukari whenever anyone reaches the end of her wildly flailing tether. Finally there is also the very obvious, rather obsessive crush that Kaorin has on Sakaki, but again it is for laughs as much as anything, since it has it’s polar opposite relationship with Kimura taking a liking to poor Kaorin when she is transferred to his class late in the show!

I should also make a note of the differences between the manga and the anime here. This is one of the rare shows where I read the manga first, but I can honestly say that one is not better than the other. They each just have a different feel. They both tell roughly the same story at the same pace (although the anime is slightly truncated in parts), but as a whole the manga is funnier. This is only natural really, as it tells its jokes or stories over only four panels with a few specials that last longer or cover multiple four panels strips. In the anime on the other hand each episode is a collection of these short jokes and stories, and while there are fewer laughs overall by tying it together the way it has it gives a greater sense that it is one cohesive world. It lets the anime explore the characters a bit more, especially late on where they add a few more scenes that are just pure character development rather than joke telling. Despite being so very similar I bought both, and each one has its own charm so I never seem able to choose one as a favourite over the other!

This is a nice looking show. The art is clear and crisp, and the animation is reasonably fluid too. However, there often doesn’t need to be much anyway as this is all about the characters rather than the action, and the obvious tricks to cut down on animation time actually fit well into the slightly surreal atmosphere the show had. Good stuff.

When it comes to the dub this is somewhat below what I would expect from ADV these days, but that can be forgiven to some degree because all the actresses are trying to portray kids and young teenagers. Personally I got used to it and came to easily accept the voices that each character was given, even Osaka and the thick drawl of an accent they used to replace her Osakan (Osaka is her nickname because she is from Osaka!). I would be lying if I said it was a good dub, but it was surprisingly easy to get into, so if you don’t get to watch the original Japanese it won’t be the end of the world!

This is one of those shows that is rarely laugh out loud funny, but once you are used to its unusual pace and atmosphere (which should happen pretty quickly) then you’ll probably have a smile on your face for the entire time. Just don’t be put off by the crazy opening theme music! It is charming, amusing and has a superb cast, and you would have to hunt very hard to find someone who doesn’t like it. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone.


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