Episodes: 1-26 (complete)
Genre: High School, Comedy, Slice of Life
(Note: this review was written more than 10 years ago)
There are hundreds, if not thousands of comedic anime out on the market today with just as many more on the horizon. Even though there are so many different titles, there is depressingly little variety in term of what the comedy encompasses. Most are content in rehashing tactless plots which heavily revolve around sexual innuendo, panty jokes, and similar lowbrow angst. While shows such as these have their place, I was beginning to get a little tired of all the predictability. Then, Azumanga Daioh came along. Featuring a heavily character-driven plot with absolutely no male main characters whatsoever, this show took me completely by surprise. Was it even possible for a comedy – highlighting the high school years of a group of girls no less – to never once stoop to the lowest common denominator of its sub-genre? How was Azumanga supposed to compete with the other, more risqué shows?
The answer is remarkably simple: charm. This is by far one of the most charming and genuinely cute animated shows I have ever watched. Based upon a four-panel weekly manga by Kiyohiko Azuma (whom the show was named after), Azumanga’s charisma begins with what is arguably the most entertaining opening credits sequence ever devised. From there, one is immediately struck by endearing character designs and the style of the animation in general. Everything is drawn simple, with bold colors, clean lines, and other things you would expect from classic anime. While, objectively, it would seem that Azumanga cannot compete with Spirited Away, X, or Kite in terms of actual animation quality, these concerns becomes entirely inconsequential when one of the character sports a sweat-drop or when Chiyo-chan dresses in the penguin outfit. In other words, it does not matter that each character has forty different shades of color in their design when all that is necessary to get the point across is seven.
The plot for Azumanga could not get any simpler; all it really entails is watching a group of girls grow up through high school. However, this is perhaps Azumanga’s biggest draw: the characters themselves. Each and every one of the six girls has a distinct personality, and the greatest facet of the entire show is watching said personalities play off one another. Chiyo-chan is the 10-year old child prodigy, Tomo-chan the tomboy, Osaka the easily amused clown, Kagura the eternal competitor, Sakaki-san the mysterious silent-type, and finally Yomi, whom often acts as the (only) voice of reason. Beyond the main girls, there is an entire cast of secondary characters which prove to be equally hilarious: Yukari-sensei and Kurosawa-sensei, two teachers who have not quite grew out of their own childhood, and finally the other teacher, Kimura – the only male character in the entire anime to actually have a name. What makes the comedy even more endearing however is the fact that these characters still have ways of surprising you even in the later episodes, either with their surprisingly ironic insights or their overall dynamic nature.
In a brilliant move by composer Masami Kurihara, the music which accompanies this light-hearted comedy knows when to set the mood and when to let the characters do it themselves. Performed by the band Oranges & Lemons, just about every song on the OST is short, and yet oh-so-sweet. The opening credits would not be the same without Soramini Cake, as it sets the mood for the show perfectly and always manages to bring a smile. For that matter, the ending credits deserves mention because of Raspberry Heaven, which makes sure that every episode ends on good note (pun fully intended). Most of the other tracks are less than a minute long, but otherwise serve their function beautifully. The beach episodes wouldn’t be the same without Konna Tokini! nor would Osaka’s antics if Tsunawatarlyade was missing. Kurihara should also be commended for discovering the secret of storing nostalgia in pure audio form – this breakthrough can be heard in Kono Kara Noyouni, Mata Ashita, Shin Gakki, Yasumi Jikan Desuka, Yoi Keshiki, and pretty much all the rest of the songs for that matter.
Just about the only disappointing thing about Azumanga Daioh is the fact that it eventually ends. It begins as just another high school comedy, but as the season continues you begin to lose all track of how many consecutive episodes you’ve just watched, until at last you realize how close the adorable cast is to graduation. And while it is a bittersweet event – knowing that the amazing ride has reached its final conclusion – one just cannot help to sport a smile, and be thankful that one was along for the ride.
Anime comedies just do not get any better than this.