You Mean You Haven’t Watched Azumanga Daioh?
It’s a little late, but happy holidays everyone! Whatever you celebrated this month I hope you had a great time, and I wish everybody a happy and productive 2017 going forward. My New Year’s blogging resolution is to build my output level back up after a trying few months of low productivity, and I’ll start by squeezing one more post out of 2016!
Following on from my last post concerning short-form anime I’ve reshuffled my list of classic anime to cover in this segment in order to reminisce about one of the first shows that I watched socially: the slice of life school comedy Azumanga Daioh!
Set in an average, unnamed high school, Azumanga is adapted from the 4-koma manga strip by Kiyohiko Azuma and follows a group of girls from the first day of their first year right up to third-year graduation. From average school days to exam periods and vacation times, the larger-than-life character quirks of the seven primary characters alternately clash and work together to produce a constant stream of amusing scenes covering all manner of real-life situations; from exam revision stress to eccentric teachers to unstoppable bouts of hiccups.
Azumanga has a very simple visual style, with no exaggerated physical features in its characters. This makes the girls much more realistic than other slice-of-life shows, and also allows their unique personalities to carry them as characters. And those personalities are all extremely distinctive. Chiyo is a ten-year-old prodigy whose high school level intellect can’t mask her childish demeanor and innocence. Tomo is an overly-hyperactive egomaniac while Yomi plays her long-suffering straight man. Sakaki is a cool, aloof beauty who hides an obsession with cute animals and a desire for close friendship. Kaorin is a quiet, unassuming girl who appears entirely driven by a barely-contained romantic longing for Sakaki. Kagura, introduced later in the series, is driven by competition despite a soft, sensitive exterior. And my personal favourite Ayumu, better known as Osaka, embodies the polar opposite of the stereotypical boisterous Osakan – a low-energy space cadet with a unique sense of wit and imagination. Throw in borderline unhinged homeroom teacher Yukari, sensible PE teacher Nyamo, and creepy yet strangely fascinating male teacher Kimura and Azumanga presents an uncluttered cast where each character is easy to identify and nobody feels shoehorned in or unnecessary.
The show was originally broadcast in short-form format as five-minute segments every weekday, which were compiled into full-length episodes every weekend, though most Western viewers would have seen it in its compiled form. The segmented nature of the content perfectly mirrors the four-panel format of the source manga, with each set of scenes telling an amusing contained vignette that still manages to flow seamlessly into the next one in the “full episode”, eventually telling a full overarching story that really does feel like following a group of ordinary students through their school days. All of the humour is based within a realistic framework based around the interactions of the diverse characters, never falling back on the easy slapstick or exaggerated wackiness of a lot of other comedy anime. This makes the characters and scenes much more believable, even in its crazier moments, and establishes the group as real people that the viewer can identify with; for me they felt like old friends by the end of the series.
All in all, Azumanga Daioh is a very easy show to watch. I first encountered it at university when my anime social group would throw a few episodes on during a quiet evening, and I found it to be great social viewing as all of the scenarios and jokes are grounded enough in real life that anyone can understand and appreciate them; on a personal level I really felt like the shared experience of Azumanga helped me to get closer to a group of people that I had only just met. In many ways it paved the way for me to become the kind of otaku I am today. It seems like of late more new anime fans have been discovering this classic series, and I highly recommend joining them. Bookmark a lazy evening, or throw it on in the background and get to know a new set of silly young friends.