Friday, April 11, 2014

Animeciated: Azumanga Daioh

  I've spent many years estranged from the world of wide-eyes, insane hair colour spectrums and robots galore for a while now.  I've grown hungry for anime and now my appetite is being sated.  Welcome to Animeciated.  Where I make up for lost time in the years I've ignored the medium.

Original Manga written by Kiyohiko Azuma
Anime by J.C.Staff

  Where as my last review looked at something recent I thought I'd step back a bit and give my thoughts on one of my all-time favorites from the past.  The show that helped lift me up when I was going through a very rough patch in my life.

  I'm going to start off by saying I don't like the "Cute girls doing cute things" genre.  I often feel that's overly pandering with the same stock characters over and over.  This is indicative of anime as a whole but there are good exceptions where shows break the mold.

  Azumanga Daioh was a show before there was even a mold.  Before we had girls referencing the latest anime to have the otakus giggle at their recognition there were shows like this.  Azumanga Daioh in my opinion the most timeless slice of life high school comedy I've ever seen.

  Best to start from the most important part of any story, the plot and it's characters.  Azumanga takes place in the same generic high school you've seen in a million anime.  There's a pool, there's classes, there's halls.  It's pretty much familiar to most people who have followed this kind of genre.

  It's here where or gang of misfits meet.  There's Chiyo, an unnaturally gifted 10 year old admitted to high school due to her prodigy status.  Osaka, a slow-minded, peculiar girl with a strange insight on the world.  Tomo, a hyperactive sports jock who's best friends with Yomi the stern, studious girl with self-confidence issues regarding her weight.  Sakaki is a tall, mysterious one who's fond of animals (who are not fond of her) who's constantly being crushed upon by Kaorin, the schools resident uhh..  Ask Ellen Degeneres.  Adding to the mix are three quirky teachers.  The childish and impulsive Miss Yukari, her mature counterpart Miss Minamo and the only male (and naturally perverted) teacher Mr. Kimura.

Osaka marvels over the mechanics of Chiyo's pigtails.
  What follows is a series of slice of life escapades about hiccups, vendor machines that don't work properly and failing at volleyball.  I could go on more but this is something you'll have to see for yourself to truly appreciate.  Remember all the issues I mentioned with the "Cute girls doing cute things" genre?  Well what makes Azumanga Daioh work is it's substance.

Yes this is substance, allow me to elaborate.
  Now this is all subjective as different people relate to different things, but Azumanga Daioh to me represents all the doldrums and awkward moments of youth.  So many shows of this genre rely on other forms of fiction to tell a story where this show to me showcases events applicable to just about anyone who's had friends not just Otaku.

  The show puts very little emphasis on the academic side of high school and instead showcase the girls goofing off during break period, making costumes and plush toys for the culture festivals and celebrating their summer's together in a variety of activities.  We've all had a friend who kept to himself or had a friend who didn't know when to shut up and whenever characters do anything (well almost) it makes you think "Hey.  That reminds me of the time..."

Sakaki takes Chiyo's Cat-like father who is also a bulletproof Santa Claus for a walk.  This show does have it's moments of surrealism.
  One thing most endearing about this show is it's fine line between absurdity and grounded human interaction.  Much of this show's best moments come from the slow scenes which allow the audience to soak in a very atmospheric sense of nostalgia.  When the show does lapse into the bizarre it's either through a dream or Osaka's unique way of seeing the world.  Even when this show does get strange there's always something that ties it to the world this show creates.  Not once did I feel my investment get derailed.

  Now for my complaints.  This is one of those shows I saw when I was about 14 and felt like I needed to be validated as an adult.  To me that meant anime with guns, swords, violence.  I watched the first episode and was so put off by my own insecurity that I didn't touch it again for a few years.

  How is this a complaint?  Well despite being a shonen anime (largely marketed to teen boys) the first episode to me features some jarring cases of girly pandering.  I was surprised how often when I rewatched it I skipped the first episode entirely.  Yes we know Chiyo is cute, a goofy cooking song adds nothing.  This show is at it's best when it's just people being people.  I didn't get that vibe till the second episode.  It's a minor complaint really and doesn't wreck the series.

Am I the only one who felt this scene was annoying?

  To some it all up.  It's a really good show.  If you are wanting a slice of life anime featuring cute girls but are tired of the excessive merchandise driven approach with gags and in-jokes you will probably find this show refreshing.  It's a very "feel good" type of show that makes you sad when it ends.

Final Score?


                             4/5 - Good

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