Azumanga Daioh is one of those quintessential animes that have the unfortunate distinction of being written about all the time. Anything I write here will doubtlessly be at best second rate, or at worst just another johnny-come-lately. Still, it would be derelict to my duty to ignore such a show on this site.
Whatever the reason, it seems to be the duty of anime producers to crank out as much anime as possible with a school setting. Reasons could be as innocent as wanting to capture the sweet wistfulness of high school–something people tend to feel an iconic amount of nostalgia for. Then again, it could boil down to playing on the all-too-common school girl uniform, umm, interest. Which even phrased in such a euphemistic-ladden way feels really creepy. I will admit readily to admitting that the four years of high school were some of the best of my life. And Azumanga Daioh can stand quite well on its feet without resorting to any objectionable fanservice, which is a fantastic relief.
The show has a fairly large cast of characters to play with, although the picture above depicts the six girls the show rotates around. Notable is Chiyo, the child genius who skipped right over middle school and landed in the teenage wonderland of high school. Her character is ingeniously crafted to embrace both innocence yet knowledge, being friendly yet sometimes naieve, a leader and a follower. That she can have so many dichotomies in her personality, yet still come off feeling real and natural is amazing. While she gets along with everybody, especially those in her friend-group, she and Osaka have a special affinity. Osaka is the Southern girl that starts at school wanting to change everyone’s stereotypes regarding people from the South. Unfortunately, it is hard to change a mind when you are stare into space, get lost in conversations, speak with a lazy accent, and don’t cross the street at the proper times. Despite being such a spot-on embodiment of the Southern stereotype, she feels like a character that is more than just a stock stereotype character. It is obvious that care and thought went into crafting these characters so that they feel more like people than just tools for storytelling.
Of course, using the phrase “tools for storytelling” would imply that there is actually a story to be found throughout the series. Not in the slightest. While the series follows them through high school, that is merely a guideline for the setting and not any kind of real plot device. It is rather a slice-of-life type show, where the everyday becomes interesting through the eyes of the characters. They mix in a sketch comedy feel, allowing them to add in elements of the absurd without making it out of place.
There are a ton of side characters or situations I could highlight about Azumanga Daioh, but as with Chiyo or Osaka above I wouldn’t be able to do them justice. All I can do is say that Azumanga Daioh is one of those stunning examples of anime that shows off what can be done with the proper mix of characters and humor. Won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, especially those who run screaming from anything with “cute” aspects, but for everone else this is a treat.
Title: Azumanga Daioh
US Distributor: ADV
Number of Episodes: 26
Availability: Very available in a new thinpack. In fact, ADV is re-releasing the thinpack set in the next month or so, so this show will stick around for a long time. Can be found used, although expect the savings to be kind of disappointing. I’d recommend waiting for a RightStuf sale or going to dvdpacific.com.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia