Sunday, February 27, 2011
Anime review: Azumanga Daioh
Assuming a comedic anime is done well enough to both keep my attention and evoke some genuine laughter from me, I'm all for it. With regards to slice-of-life anime, however, I've relatively minimal experience with this genre, and the few that I have seen were a hit-or-miss scenario. Azumanga Daioh, a twenty-six episode series based off the manga of the same name, is a hybrid of these two genres and is one anime that really took me by surprise as to how funny and well-written it is.
The events within Azumanga Daioh are nothing out of the ordinary, but the manner in which the characters dramatize normal occurrences is what drives the series. Viewers are introduced early on to Osaka, Chiyo, Yomi, Tomo, and Sakaki, and these five - along with Kagura, who is introduced later on - serve as the main cast of characters which the series is centered around. Osaka and Chiyo act as the oddballs of the group. Osaka is a transfer student who is as absent-minded as one can be, and Chiyo is the youngest of the group, having achieved outstanding academic marks to be placed in a higher class than her peers. Because of this, early episodes focus on introducing Osaka and Chiyo more so than introducing the other leads, and this works fairly well. The only character I feel is left out and suffers somewhat in terms of development is Yomi, as her story is left largely unexplored until the last quarter or so of the anime. Due to this postponing of Yomi's story, her role comes across as somewhat similar to that of a parent to the younger characters, as she is generally calm and respectful towards Chiyo but reprimands Tomo's time and time again. Tomo herself is, in many ways, Yomi's polar opposite. She sees everything as a competition is loud-mouthed and often annoys people with the hopes of simply coaxing a reaction out of them. Sakaki is quietest of the group and has a very mellow personality. Her intentions are always pure and she has a curious affinity for cats.
As important as the rest of the main characters, Kagura is introduced a bit later on after viewers have more or less gotten a feel for who the other five leads are and how they play off one another. She is initially introduced as a rival to Sakaki, but she is quickly melded into the main cast and seems to fit well overall. Admittedly, she is easily the most underdeveloped of the main characters, and a large part of that is due to the fact that she doesn't stand out as much as Osaka or Tomo.
As for the rest of the cast, viewers see very few members of the other classmates. They are there, but are rarely given names or even many lines. In some ways, this removes the realism from the scenario of six girls experiencing high school, but it does more good than harm as it allows each episode to remain focused. In fact, such a move may have been in the best interests of the series, as the only classmate that fits the role of a recurring secondary character is Kaorin, a secret admirer of Sakaki who tries to make herself a member of the group during the first half of the series. However, she only provides few chuckles here and there, and is ultimately phased out of the story when she is placed in another class during the girls' final year of schooling.
Three teachers fill the remaining secondary character roles, and are much more successful in this endeavor. The girls' English and homeroom teacher Yukari is a rather casual individual, though she does carry on a sort of friendly rivalry with physical education teacher Minamo. Yukari can sometimes take the rivalry a bit too seriously and act more childish than any given one of her students, but she is most entertaining when interacting with Minamo. And finally there is Kimura, the only male teacher seen throughout the series. He is awkward with pedophilactical tendencies, singing "Happy birthday" to himself terribly off-key and blatantly stating how he likes the bloomers that the girls wear during physical education class.
The story doesn't really tie together much until the last few episodes of the series, and to be honest watching the episodes out of order won't drastically change any given viewer's perception of it. This isn't a bad thing by any means, as it allows for both casual and hardcore anime fans to enjoy it equally. Each episode does a fine job of standing up on its own and nothing is detracted from this lack of direct connection between episodes. The soundtrack is fairly simplistic, using a number of quick and recurring pieces, which seem to fit the series' overall light and quirky mood. The art style is similar, opting for colorful simplicity over extravagant detail, and - for a series that follows a group of quirky girls through their high school education - it only seems fitting. Azumanga Daioh is as hilarious as it is relaxed as a series, and while each viewer will have his or her own preference among the colorful cast, there's someone to amuse just about everyone.
My rating: 8.75 (out of 10)