Azumanga Daioh, Vol. 1: The Animation (2003)
Review by Dindrane

Based upon the manga by Kiyohiko Azuma
Directed by Hiroshi Nishikiori


Dindrane's Anime Warnings:

Released by: ADV
Region: 1
Rating: 13+
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Buy it now for yourself and others

Based upon the manga by Kiyohiko Azuma, Azumanga Daioh is one of the most unusual and charming anime titles to hit region 1 DVD in 2004. It is unusual in that it does not have the usual progressive storyline or even episodic tales; given that the comic it was based upon is a daily strip like Get Fuzzy or Dilbert, the episodes are much quicker and more like instances instead of ongoing arcs.

The show is on the average a slice-of-life show about a group of friends starting their first year of high school. They've known each other for years, but into this mix are thrown two new transfers: Osaka, a space-cadet from...well, Osaka, and Chiyo, a ten-year-old prodigy. We get to see the girls as they handle their insane English teacher/homeroom teacher, Miss Yukari, Sakaki's endless attempts to pet the cats she loves, and Tomo's attempts to be funny. We also go with the girls on a summer vacation at Chiyo's family beach house, where hijinks ensue.

One of the things to keep in mind with this show is that it's softly surreal in places, and the comedy is gentler than many of the more slapstick shows out there. The real focus is not joke after joke, but just getting to know and love this group of girls and also learning about their personalities and how they fit together. While it's always dangerous to learn about a culture from their entertainments--we all know otaku who think they understand Japan just from watching anime--viewers of this show can still get a feel for what it's like to attend a Japanese school, as well as what it's like to be a teenage girl anywhere in the world, as so many things are constants: friendship, worry about fitting in, the desire to be cool, having fun, getting good and bad grades, and so forth. In the grand tradition of kids' entertainment in any nation, the parents are nowhere to be found.

The DVD also comes with a cute little enameled pin, though there's some confusion about which one you'll get. It doesn't really matter though, as all the ones I've seen pictured are adorable, from the little Chiyo-chan head to the Nekoconeko and angry kitty pins that are my personal favorites.

These days it's unusual to see a DVD with poor production values, especially from a major studio like ADV. It is therefore more appropriate in some ways to talk about the quality of the animation, which here is phenomenal. The colors are bright and clear, but not garish or over-saturated; the aesthetics match the manga perfectly, so if you like the look of the print version (and how could you not?), then you'll love the DVD showing your favorite characters walking and talking. Fans of the show's look will be absolutely thrilled with the keen reversible cover.

With regard to the audio, the directors did an awesome job finding voice actors whose voices matched the characters' personalities. Chiyo-chan could easily just sound irritating, given her age and how ten-year-olds are often depicted in anime, but instead, she sounds innocent and fresh, but sweet and very bright--just as she should sound. Nyamo sounds mad as a hatter, but not overdone, Osaka sounds spacy, but kind-hearted, and Sakaki is just cool and sardonic. What's more, all of the above comments go for both language casts.

Some of the funniest bits center on Osaka, and Tomo's comments about what an Osakan/Osaka-ben must be like. Osaka the city is kind of like the New York City of Japan--a boisterous city that is supposedly very brash and in-your-face. Osaka the character is nothing like this, so Tomo decides she must be an impostor. It's interesting to see how other nations have the same sorts of regional stereotypes as the USA does and how those perceptions color our relationships with people.

The producers made the slightly curious choice to give Osaka a Southern accent instead of a Bronx-type accent as she has in the manga, possibly to highlight the way other Japanese perceive Osakans as backwards hicks, just as Americans tend to assume Southerners are uneducated and so forth. "Southern/Texan" is the usual choice for Osaka-ben in anime, so the producers here were following tradition. A note on the translators: they did an excellent job of changing Japanese-only tongue-twisters and riddles into English equivalents--that can't have been easy, and the comedy, as well as the character personalities, stays mostly intact.

If you like slice-of-life type shows, then you'll love Azumanga Daioh and should get it instantly. Anime fans will relish how different this is without being just bizarre, and anyone with pre-teen or teenage girls should get this for their kids who will love it. Gentle, genuinely funny, fresh, and clever with great characterization, this show is a winner in any category.

(UK!) (CAN!)

Discuss the review in the Gabfest!

Greetings to our visitors from the IMDB, OFCS, and Rotten Tomatoes!
Stick around and have some coffee!