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"Azumanga Daioh" Animated Goodness

High school comedic anime are a dime-a-dozen, so to speak. There are almost as many high school anime as there are giant robot anime. So, if it’s to stand out from the crowd, it’s got to be something that separates it from the garbage. It also has to be, you know, funny. If you do that, then great things can happen, such as becoming Toon Zone’s Anime Forum’s Anime of the Month for May . Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you Azamanga Daioh.

ImageAt first, it seemed as if it was going to be a normal year of high school. Then school actually started. Ms. Yukari Tanizaki, the teacher of the English/Spanish class, has some bad luck on the first day when her bike breaks down, and then embarrasses herself in the wrong class. Things get crazier when she introduces two new students to the class: Ayumu Kasuga (a fabled Osakan!) and Chiyo Miyama, who is only ten-years-old but is super-smart. Along with Yomi (the logical one), Tomo-chan (who has way too much energy), and Sakaki (who loves cats even though they don’t like her), Osaka (Ayumu’s new nickname) and Chiyo-chan (Chiyo’s new nickname) face the trials and tribulations of high school. Things get easier when P.E. starts, as they get to be with Minamo “Nyamo” Kurosawa, the most popular teacher in the school (and Yukari’s best friend). However, that easiness goes away when it’s time for English Literature, as it’s taught by Mr. Kimura, who’s not shy about his, errr, “passion” for high school girls. There are also a few background characters, such as Chihiro, Kaorin, and Kagura, but the above are the main characters during the first volume. This DVD covers the second semester of the first year of the class, as well as summer vacation.

In another anime, the plot would revolve around Chiyo-chan and Osaka trying to fit in, as they are so different from the rest of the characters in the class. Here, though, both Chiyo-chan and Osaka are accepted into the group almost as soon as they arrive (though Osaka has to go through some of the common Osakan stereotypes first, thanks to Tomo-chan). The anime has a very quaint feel. Things feel normal, not overblown or over-the-top. The group doesn’t go through boyfriend troubles (yet), nor do they worry about evil villains. They just worry about having fun while they can and staying together for each other.

The original Azumanga Daioh manga is a series of four-panel strips, much like newspaper funnies. Though some of them do connect to each other, for the most part each strip stands alone. As you can imagine, translating this to animation can be incredibly difficult, but the creative staff has somehow managed to do just that. Each episode is split into five different parts. Usually each part is its own separate storyline, but sometimes more than one connect for a larger storyline (such as Osaka’s hiccups and summer vacation). While this does result in a greater variety of stories to be told, it also means there’s a bunch of hit-or-miss stuff to be found. The Osaka storylines are chuckle-worthy, but the timing is grating due to Osaka being so slow. Sakaki’s storylines aren’t all that funny (except in Episode 5), but they do provide some character development. Chiyo-chan is absolutely adorable, and she has many moments where people would say “awww” to. Tomo gets a bunch of laughs due to her high energy and competitive spirit, but that’s to be expected. The gold star scenes belong to Ms. Yukari, my favorite character so far. She is the total opposite of what a teacher is supposed to be: she sleeps in class, plays video games, is not above hitting a student for making fun of her, and is definitely not above turning her class into study hall so she can go to Nyamo’s class and relax in the pool.

Visually, the series definitely has that “I’m digital! Lookie!” look to it. The animation is pretty good and fits the series’s quaint feel. The backgrounds are nicely detailed, though not so detailed that it’s distracting. Nor is really nothing that stands out visually, however. The character designs aren’t super-original (I will give it points for sticking with natural hair colors though), except for maybe Chiyo-chan. Of course, she’s the mascot, so it’s expected her design would be a cut above normal. There’s also a bunch of weird cat-like creatures that appear for no reason at all and, so far, seem to serve no purpose other than to look silly. The opening deserves special mention, as it features some of the most random imagery in the series. After all, you have Chiyo-chan flying above a mountain using her pigtails, followed by Osaka, Tomo-chan, and Kagura in exaggerated anime poses doing a weird dance, then Chiyo-chan bounces back and forth in a penguin suit, with the finale consisting of a giant cat rocketing off into space.

The music is also about as quaint as you can get. The music that plays over the opening is even more random than its accompanying visuals. That opening also features the most upbeat tune in the entire show; most of the music is very soft and kind of coasts along with the action. That’s not a bad thing, mind you, as it fits the series very well. The voices are pretty well done. Jessica Boone (Misaki in Angelic Layer and Arumi in Magical Shopping Arcade Abonashi) is simply perfect as Chiyo-chan, giving her a simply adorable voice that perfectly fits a ten-year-old, which is harder than it sounds. Luci Christian (Kanami in Full Metal Panic, Kyoko in Angelic Layer) plays Yukari, and is as good as you can get, perfectly capturing Yukari’s explosiveness and jealous feelings as well as her few calm moments. She’s one of the reasons I enjoy Yukari so much. Voicing Tomo-chan is Mandy Clark (Cosette in Excel Saga, Rosalie in Noir), who gives Tomo the energy she needs, but also the competitiveness and sarcasm the character needs to be successful. The Japanese version is on here, and sounds decent. I didn’t really notice any above-average voice, but I guess I don’t have the ear for that kinda thing.

ImageExtras-wise, we get a decent showing. On the disc itself we have the clean opening (which deserves extra viewings), the clean ending, production sketches, and trailers to other ADV comedies (including Panyo Panyo DiGi Charat and Happy Lesson). The best extra isn’t on the disc itself but on the DVD insert: a character bio on Chiyo-chan and explanations about certain unique Japanese customs. There is also a little booklet that contains comments various members of the staff on each episode. It’s quite an interesting read and a terrific inclusion on ADV’s part. The cover is also reversible, with the other cover carrying the chapter listings. If you get the first DVD with the artbox, like I did, you also receive a character pin sheet. The artbox itself is pretty decent. It’s not quite Love Hina quality, but it’s pretty sturdy and should suit your needs.

Overall, if you’re looking for a fun (but not complicated) series that you can just sit down and watch, this is the series for you. And with summer vacation coming up, what could be better than watching an anime about high school?

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