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Anime Reviews: Azumanga Daioh
How many of you knew that 2010 marked the tenth anniversary of the original Azumanga Daioh comic?
Yes, in 2000, Kiyohiko Azuma’s groundbreaking manga was first published in Japan’s Dengeki Daioh magazine, and fans of both genders and all levels of otaku have embraced it and its spinoff anime ever since. Since then, there have also been dozens of other series which have attempted to recapture its charm with varying degrees of success. And it seems for every Bamboo Blade, Haruhi and Paniponi Dash that takes the formula in an original and unique direction, there’s a Kanon, K-ON! or Lucky Star that slathers it with moe cliches.
Five years after the manga was first released in Japan, I found and skimmed through the first volume at my local Borders, and it made me giggle so much that I decided to buy it. Eventually I collected all four volumes, and midway through I had an appetite to see the anime. One of the reasons I joined my college anime club the following year was because I wanted to see this show; I eventually did, and fell in love with that, too. Today, the Borders store has since gone out of business, while the thin box set and omnibus edition of the manga (both released by ADV, which also no longer exists) now sit on my bookshelf. The Best Buy where I found the box set is still open, meanwhile, though its selection is now a fraction of what it once was.
For the three or four of you out there who haven’t seen it yet, here’s the rundown: it’s a slice-of-life comedy set in a high school with a predominantly female cast, perhaps the most popular title of its genre. It stars Chiyo Mihama, a child genius who skipped all the way up to high school at the impressionable age of ten, and her classmates of varying personalities who go thorough the seemingly mundane routine of everyday school life. A routine which happens to involve giant dogs, magic flying pigtails and cat bites.
Part of the reason that this show’s appeal has held up for so long in my opinion is that it doesn’t depend on the numerous tropes and cliches of thousands of moe series. The characters aren’t just ripped from a dating sim or meant to sell dolls or body pillows—they walk, talk and feel like actual people. I think that’s why it sells to folks like me who think there’s too much moe in the market these days; because at one point we knew people like them. There was always someone from our high school years who was like Tomo the wildcat idiot or Kagura the over-competitive athlete or Sakaki the cool loner with a soft side. A few may even identify with the perverted Mr. Kimura, as much as it makes me cringe.
There isn’t much on story or plot, but then again you don’t really need any of that in a show like this. It really isn’t about anything except six girls going to school. That’s it. That’s all you need. You’ve got other high school anime where one of the characters is a magical girl or a giant robot pilot, and you also have those Disney Channel series where the lead character is a pop singer or a secret agent, but you don’t get any of that here. It’s just six high school girls with their own little quirks just having fun. It’s simple, it’s basic, and it WORKS.
The lack of plot, however, doesn’t mean there is nothing in the way of continuity. We do see the girls from the first day of their first year all the way to graduation. We meet them, we get to know them, and by the time we get to the last episode it’s kinda sad to see them head off into college. Another example would be Sakaki and her ongoing struggle to befriend the neighborhood cats where one in particular keeps biting her hand every time she tries to pet it. Not only does it give you at least one character you can root for, but the payoff makes for one of the best episodes of any anime I’ve ever seen, maybe of any TV show I’ve ever seen.
If you haven’t yet seen Azumanga Daioh, then it must be a very comfortable cave you’ve been living in. What’s been stopping you all these years? It’s cute without overdoing it (too much), it’s ingenious in its simplicity, it has a great cast, it resonates with people, it’s hilarious, it’s charming, but most importantly, it’s FUN.
Hilarous; memorable cast; adorable while staying within the bounds of realism
If YOU can think of one, I'd LOVE to hear it