Back at you with another standard Anime Review, and to make things direct I’m going to be looking at Lucky Star! Wait, that doesn’t sound right – I already reviewed that series way back in the blog’s early stages, when I didn’t have much time nor a coherent writing style to go about and analyze it. Hold it… you mean to tell me there are no borderline-schizophrenic, red-uniformed girls in Lucky Star? I was actually looking at Azumanga Daioh this whole time? Well, I’ll be swooshed.
That’s how I was pretty much introduced to Azumanga Daioh, a comedy series which turned 20 this year, albeit unknown at the time for me. My origins with this series started around the winter of 2012, thanks to these things known as YouTube Poops, which were basically videos of mish-mashed clips put together using the wonderful technology of video editing either to make for a wholly distorted viewing experience, or something resembling a story. One such video featured Disney characters Judge Claude Frollo and Gaston having some trippy kind of adventure involving them and characters from said series, as well as Lucky Star. I ended up confusing the two series and it took me four years before I figured out which one was really which. Either way, they might as well have been the same title since there wasn’t much differentiating the two in terms of episodic tropes, character archetypes, and whatever goes on in their day-to-day life. Heck, you could swap the two environments and it still wouldn’t make a difference…
Azumanga Daioh: The Animation
If you’re wondering what Azumanga Daioh literally means, don’t bother. It means absolutely nothing significant, just like how the show contains absolutely nothing significant. For those who are familiar with the Yotsuba series of comics, its author, Kiyohiko Azuma, was also the creator of this series, with the manga originally appearing in four volumes at the Dengeki Daioh magazine from February 1999 to May 2002. When it was serialized for American readers starting in 2003, it was highly rated and became popular due to its relaxed nature and well-timed comedy routines. Meanwhile across the Pacific, the manga received minor positive feedback by readers, which warranted the series to be recognized by the renowned studio J.C Staff and aired in the form of two short OVAs in 2000 and 2001, and then topped with, near the end of the manga’s lifespan, a full-blown series April to September of 2002. That series was also praised for maintaining the manga’s free-spirited, yet absurd-at-times, humour style and keeping with its fairly realistic setting, and to this day remains a classic amongst the older generation of anime fans. And in case you can’t get enough of this series, puzzle and card games based on this series can be found lying around for consoles such as the Game Boy Advance, the first Playstation, and an obscure Japan-only SEGA console.
(By the way, if you’ve reached this point of the section, you should be able to piece together how the anime’s title came to be)
Chiyo Mihama, a short, yet energetically cheerful child prodigy, arrives one morning at her new high school in a quiet, little, everyday Japanese town, placed in the classroom of the short-tempered, irresponsible and hedonistic Yukari Tanizaki. Her classmates include Tomo Takino, a hyperactive, dimwitted gal; Koyomi Mizuhara (hereafter Yomi), the intelligent girl with dieting issues; Sakaki, a shy girl described as a beauty by many, and later with fellow tomboy Kagura and newcomer Ayumu Kasuga (more commonly known as Osaka), arguably the most recognizable character of the group for her extreme levels of ADHD and mental retardation. The six of them become friends with each other, and soon get caught up in a myriad of mini-adventures across various episodes. You might find them:
- Getting roped into sports rivalries by Yukari against her friend and academic rival, Minamo Kurosawa, or as she calls her, Nyamo
- Spending summer vacations at Chiyo’s beach house, occasionally with their teachers in attendance; expect some elite driving skills from Yukari
- Watching Sakaki attempt to befriend a local stray cat only to get eternally pwned by its unfriendly demeanor
- The exploits of a yellow, weirdly-shaped cat known by names such as “Chiyo’s father” or “Prime Minister Mori”
- Doing group study sessions for various high school assignments and university entrance exams
- Participating in school culture festivals, selling plush dolls, class cafes, and school trips
What I Liked
- Anytime “Chiyo’s father” appears on the scene, the scene is bound to be a mix of ethereal, funny, and bonkers that you’ll enjoy it just for its sheer ridiculousness. Imagine you’re just minding your business, and then a yellow cat bursts onto your eyesight and begins to start talking in your second language; or if you’re just going home from work and you see it flying over you for no discernable reason whatsoever other than “the plot demands it”. Dare I say LOL.
- The show can have a knack for delivering certain bits of humour rather well, always innovating new situations in each bit. Tomo and Yomi’s interactions are anything but boring; Yukari’s random outbursts towards her friend Nyamo, and Osaka’s vivid imagination and mental untouchability turning her into the life of the party (waking up Yukari in serial killer mode, hallucinating about “Chiyo’s father”, pissing off Tomo with food, and obsessing over Chiyo’s magical pigtails) are just bits of what Azumanga Daioh thrives on using.
- I liked seeing Yukari and Nyamo’s opposite personalities duke it out with one another, especially with how they handle life. Their driving sports major differences which may make you wonder how Yukari passed her driving exam, the back-and-forth banter during sports competitions, complete with Yukari knocking out Nyamo during a race, and their drunk escapades are pertinent to this dynamic.
- The faces that are made by characters when something funny goes on is worth mentioning. They’re designed so outlandishly, yet at the same time it fits with the visual style so well that I’ve actually found myself asking “What am I even watching?”. Especially when it comes to Osaka’s spaced-out faces or Yukari when she’s at the point of rage quitting at life, those images are just so memorable to see that it’s hard to miss.
- In between the funny, there’s heartwarming moments, though few, mixed in that do good in balancing the emotions. For example, after meeting an Iriomote cat in episode 21 and being on good terms with it, Sakaki gets a chance in being the owner of a pet three episodes later when said cat, named Maya, returns to protect her from a feline ambush. It was a rare example of a heartwarming glory to see the two of them bond so well, despite her abuse by felines. Not to mention the final scene when they all part to different schools and new chapters in life.
What I Didn’t Like
- Some certain episodes it suffers from repetivitis, or when a series repeats the same kind of plot multiple times without offering anything new or significant. Most notably, the school festival, beach, and the sports competitions themes got this treatment where, outside of a few aesthetic changes, like new characters being thrown into the mix or different things being shuffled around, the structure was basically the same. What would have been better was if they spent more time exploring them doing other non-academic related things like amusement parks, visiting restaurants, or going shopping.
- Like Lucky Star, it would have been nice if the series explored the characters’ family backgrounds which was practically non-existent throughout the show. Instead, this role is entirely replaced either by Yomi being the voice of reason, or Yukari and Nyamo popping up randomly as if they were their favourite students or friends from another family. No, “Chiyo’s father” does not count for this.
- This series has a fixation on the weirdest ways to elicit unoriginal and gratituous means of fan-service, like on the female characters’ breast sizes, whether it’s during swimming-related episodes such as in episodes 4-5, Mr. Kimura’s perverted tendencies towards high school girls (it’s the reason why he became a teacher), and most uncomfortably, Kaorin’s crush on Sakaki to the point she will scare off anyone who tries to get near her. Not that this was any bit necessary to begin with.
Like any high school slice-of-life anime, the main characters are distinguishable by their personality types, which carry over throughout and determine how they will interact in any given situation. Tomo will often react in a hyper-enthusiastic manner with little regard for being serious – a trait shared by like-minded characters such as Kagura, another athletically-gifted yet, surprisingly, dimwitted schoolmate, and resident franchise knucklehead Osaka. On the other hand, Yomi, Chiyo, Kaorin and Sasaki’s wackiness is replaced in favour of a more controlled, intelligent and rational demeanor that offsets any potential chaos the former group can set alight, and gives more variety to the cast. Adult characters are not spared from this treatment as rather than having them serve as merely stand-in characters, they join with the youngsters’ masquerades, accompanying them in their journey through life for better or for worse. Hilarity thus ensues.
The character interactions were very well done, and the series made great use of the diverse personalities to trigger a dynamic that was entertaining to watch and guaranteed to pull a few laughs here and there. It’s a stark contrast to Nichijou where characters relied on being put in weird situations for the humour to work, to become a more pot-induced version of Lucky Star. It was nice to see them engage in meaningful activities during and after school hours with varying layers of comedy to supplement them rather than leaving it only for one setting. However, if there’s one slight flaw to mention with the characters it’s that sometimes they characters have some weird fixations with a certain features that are either underdeveloped, like Yomi’s weight loss obsession, or, in the case of Sakaki’s feline focus, outright nonsensical.
The episode OST has a very goofy, carnival-like flavour to it, and is very fun to hear. At times I can’t help but be reminded of either Mario Party from tracks like these ones, Cardcaptor Sakura in its laid-back tunes or Nisekoi when it comes to its acoustic pieces like this. I guess, given the show’s spontaneity, the music adds flavour to the numerous situations, by livening it up or keeping it slow and simple. The OP and ED songs, typical to shows of their type, are presented as complete polar opposites. In the first, the visuals perfectly describe the sheer absurdity that awaits, like in the iconic waving hand dances of certain characters. Music-wise, it’s bright, happy and quite catchy to listen to. I found it hard to skip through such an opening. The ending, not so much – this time the music is more lightened, ballad-like and somber; but beyond that, the melody was too flat and therefore boring to listen to, as are the visuals up until the end, so I ended up skipping that each time.
Favourite character: Yukari is by far the craziest excuse of a teacher I’ve ever seen in anime. That’s why she’s my favourite character, and if she was real given her bombastic attitude it would be funny to see her blow up on a live-stream when she loses at a video game.
Favourite episode: Episode 13 currently stands as the wildest of them all; basically, the part where Kagura, Tomo, and Osaka troll Yomi with their collective stupidity was just too much for my senses – “knuckleheads” isn’t even the proper term to describe them. From their intentional self-degradation where they bear witness to who has the crappiest studying plan, circling around Yomi begging her for the test outline to her outright annoyance, falling into distractions while attempting to study themselves, Tomo systematically duping the entire class with her “flawless test-question predicting skills”, and to top it all off, after all three fail horribly, subsequently claim to have beaten both Chiyo and Yomi, who got 100 and 92 respectively, by combining their test scores. Cue a victory dance routine.
Favourite quote: Yukari’s interactions are some of the best from the series. From the first episode where she goes on a bike rampage, to utterly humiliating Nyamo’s class after hers wins a school athletic competition, complete with a dank dance, going off on her students for the most trivial thing imaginable, or her sleep-induced/drunken rants. In fact in the final segment of episode 7 this causes her to say something rather wise during one such incident:
Nyamo: Come to think of it, you still remember what we did for our class during the culture festival, right?
Nyamo: Yes, I’m surprised you still remember!
Yukari: I was right.
Nyamo: You dummy, this isn’t a quiz.
Yukari: So what? I don’t care about what my students did last year… I don’t let my past define me! Let’s live in the now and evolve with time!
Nyamo: Don’t tell me you got drunk on orange juice…
Yukari: OH THE JOYS OF YOUTH!!!!!The smartest thing Yukari said all series long
Azumanga Daioh successfully implements the formula of a slice-of-life comedy. Each episode was presented linearly with each segment tying to the overall plot idea, combined with plenty of perfect comedic opportunities and satisfying character personalities in the fray. For that it becomes easy to follow along with and remember exactly when and where certain events happened rather than being a colossal mish-mash of sideshows. Even if at times there might be certain parts that appear juvenile or a tad bit objectionable, there’s no denying that it’s got lots of good traits that make it a quintessential slice-of-life series for any fan to stumble across. Just be warned though, once you step into the zany world of Azumanga Daioh there’s no forgetting what you’ve seen.