“Cooking is so fun! Cooking is so fun! Now it’s time to take a break and see what we have done! YAY! It’s ready!”
– Chiyo Mihama “Azumanga Daioh”
Before “Nichijou“, before “Hidamari Sketch“, before “Lucky Star“, there was a twenty-six episode phenomena known as “Azumanga Daioh”. Often revered as the template for all modern-day, female-centered, high school comedies, “Azumanga Daioh” has earned a spot of honor in the hearts of fans the world over. But why? Why does this show, which focuses around the normal everyday lives of six girls and their teachers over the course of three years of high school, garnish so much praise? Could it be the unassuming yet heartwarming story? The memorable, mental, lovable and completely identifiable characters? The simple yet pleasing animation style? The freakishly catchy opening theme? Or the vocal talents of both the Japanese and American actors? Well, let’s head to the rooftop for lunch and talk it out.
Story and Premise – “Azumanga Daioh” [Which means “Great King Azumanga”] is a twenty-six episode series based off a manga created by Kiyohiko Azuma. The series is centered around six girls from the beginning of their high school life through graduation, and their interactions with each other, their unique teachers, and the world as a whole. While this story might seem simple and bland and done before, it should be noted that “Azumanga Daioh” did it first…and better! It can be tricky to make a show based off regular high school life interesting without being boring, but this series does it perfectly, taking the simple and making it fascinating, funny, and extremely relateable. It’s funny at times, contemplative at times, and heartfelt at times, but it never takes itself too seriously. The ending is very heartfelt and genuine, and it gives you hope for the characters in the future. (25/25)
Characters – Like all great anime before and since, “Azumanga Daioh” lets the characters tell the story, and what a group of characters it is. You have your child genius in the ten-year-old Chiyo Mihama, the space cadet transfer student “Osaka”, the hyper-active Tomo, her best friend and straight man Yomi, the shrinking violet Sakaki, and the tomboyish Kagura. In all these characters, I was able to see aspects of my own friends, and, heck, even myself! The teachers, themselves, are also outstanding characters; the straight-laced Nyamo-sensei, and the lax, yet caring Yukari-sensei are joys to watch interact with their individual classes and each other after-hours. Kimura-sensei is downright creepy, but hilariously so. Among other things, I love the fact that these characters actually change and grow as the series goes on. We notice changes in them with each passing season, but they still remain the same crazy bunch we were introduced to in the first half of the series. (25/25)
Animation and Music – “Azumanga Daioh” does not try to rewrite the book on animation. It’s really good, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t try to do anything too special. It remains consistent throughout the entire series, save for “Azumanga Daioh – The Very Short Movie“ which changes the animation style of the characters pretty drastically. Music wise, “Azumanga Daioh” does a lot with a little. The opening theme, “Soramimi Cake [Cake of Mishearing]” by Oranges and Lemons, is pleasant without being annoying, while the ending theme “Raspberry Heaven” also by Oranges and Lemons, is nostalgic and sweet. [Heck, what else can you expect from a song named after berries sang by girls named after fruits?]. All the incidental music is well done and does not overtake the action on-screen. It’s also very addicting, and several times, I found myself humming the eye-catch music between acts. (25/25)
Performances – This series was directed by Hiroshi Nishikiori in Japan, and was dubbed by ADV Films with Don Rush & Sandra Krasa directing in the US. Both performances are above and beyond the call of duty. Both languages are a joy to listen to with special notice to the actresses playing Chiyo-chan and Osaka. Now, I know that Jessica Boone and Kira Vincent-Davis got a lot of flack for their portrayal of their respective characters, but personally, I feel they did an awesome job and stayed true to the feeling of the original Japanese actresses Tomoko Kaneda and Yuki Matsuoka respectively. Chiyo-chan sounds age appropriate without being overly so, and the southern drawl given to Osaka is the perfect substitute for the Kansai accent used in the original. I also have to show love to Andy McAvin for his portrayal of Kimura-sensei. He meets and surpasses the creepiness factor established by the original actor, Kōji Ishii. (25/25)
Story and Premise – 25 out of 25
Characters – 25 out of 25
Animation and Music – 25 out of 25
Performances – 25 out of 25
Final Grade: 100/100 = 100% (A)
Availability – Sadly, “Azumanga Daioh” is not readily available in stores at the time of this printing. Most of the sites I’ve checked had them either on backorder or not at all. Your best bet is to check out a retailer like FYE that carries used DVD’s or hit up or check out or good friends eBay and Amazon. “Azumanga Daioh” was originally released as a six-disk set like these from my own collection. As you can see, I love the fact that these covers are reversible. Later, ADV re-released the series as a thin pack collection, which contains all twenty-six episodes and the mini-movie.
Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra)
- As with other productions, ADV Films changed a few aspects of the original plot for American adaptation. For exmaple, in the original Japanese version, Yukari-sensei was an English teacher, whereas in the dub she is simply a Language teacher. All the English dialogue spoken in the Japanese version was changed to Spanish in the dub.
- In Episode seventeen, “Osaka’s Scary Story / Feeling Different / December / Incredible Santa / Christmas Meeting”, each of the characters that get up to sing are actually singing their character songs from the “Azumanga Daioh” soundtrack.
- Tomo’s numerous mentions of “Fujiko” and “Lupin”, are, of course, a reference to “Lupin the Third”, another anime series.
- Sayaka Ohara, the voice of Kimura’s wife, also plays another saint-like character; the ever-graceful Alicia Florence from “Aria The Animation/Natural/Origination”.
- In episdode twenty-three, “Chewed / Cheerleaders / I Didn’t Think / We’ll Run Together / United”, Yukari mentions the name “Mr. Yukichi”, and how she once had “Mr. Yukichi”, and then summarily lost him. “Mr. Yukichi” is a famous person found on the 10,000 Yen bill, and Yukari was referencing the events from episode five when she won and lost 10,000 Yen on a bet with Nyamo-sensei.
- In episode fifteen,”Kimura’s Family / Ya See, Ya See? / An Unexpected Mother? / Hardness / Results”, Kimura refers to his wife in the Japanese as “Mai Wafu”. Since the airing of this episode, “Mai Wafu” has been used in the anime community, attaining meme status.
So where does that leave us? Well, the score tells it all. “Azumanga Daioh” is a show that has withstood wave after wave of copy-cat series and still holds up as one of the best comedies of all time. With it’s simple yet inspiring story, memorable characters, excellent animation and music, and acting that goes beyond expectations in both languages, “Azumanga Daioh” is and will forever be a classic series.
And there you have it! The grandmother of all slice-of-life high school comedies is now officially reviewed! This was extremely fun to do! But I’m not done…oh no…not by any means. We have one more branch of the “Azumanga” tree to review! Keep on the lookout for my next [and quite possibly shortest] review…
“Azumanga Daioh – The Very Short Movie”