Azumanga Daioh Box Set (Thinpak) - Mania.com



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Info:

  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: N/A
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: ADV Films
  • MSRP: 69.98
  • Running time: 650
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Azumanga Daioh

Azumanga Daioh Box Set (Thinpak)

By Brett Barkley     November 07, 2005
Release Date: September 20, 2005


Azumanga Daioh Box Set (Thinpak)
© ADV Films


What They Say
The wait is finally over! Class is in session for the long-awaited comedy series Azumanga Daioh! Join charming Chiyo-chan, closet softie Sakaki, rambunctious Tomo, studious Yomi, bashful Kaorin, and oblivious Osaka as they brave instructors at the fringes of sanity, dodge murderous volleyballs, and grapple with unceasing homework, ultra-impossible quizzes, and an unrelenting case of hiccups that makes for some rather hilarious “cures!” And that’s just beginning! So crack open those books, copy those notes, and get ready for a serious lesson in laughter with Azumanga Daioh!


The Review!
“120 percent cuteness!”

Audio:
The Azumanga Daioh: Class Album set is presented in Dolby 5.1 in English and Dolby 2.0 in Japanese with English subtitles. The English track is very sharp, though there isn’t a great deal of use from the rear channels. The dialogue is clear and well handled and the music and sound effects are nicely reproduced. The rear channels are used primarily for off-screen voice and ambient environmental sound effects, and while it’s nothing dazzling, it’s very effective. Understandably, the Japanese Dolby 2.0 comes across slightly flatter in comparison. There are a few discrepancies between the Japanese sub and English dub, most notably in the substitution of the Japanese word “English” for the English track’s use of “language.” I would imagine this was solely for the purpose of keeping the series a bit more grounded in the Japanese culture. There are a few other issues, though nothing particularly glaring that would detract from a viewer’s enjoyment of the dub. That said, I found the English dub to be very acceptable and would not hesitate recommending that for the sound quality alone.


Video:

With an original Japanese air date of 2002, Azumanga Daioh looks clean and crisp enough to have been released only yesterday. In fact, I could find nothing wrong with the transfer and was, throughout my viewing of the set, continually impressed with the video quality. This series utilizes a color scheme that is primarily light and airy, giving a true fanciful feel to the characters and environments, and is reproduced very nicely.


Packaging:

The Azumanga Daioh: Class Album set ships in a sturdy white box with dimensions similar to that of ADV’s Najica Blitz Tactics Thinpack release. In this case, however, the Azumanga box lacks the glossy finish of that set, which was slightly disappointing. The box is decorated with a number of a number of group shots, featuring Yomi, Sakiki, Osaka, Tomo, and Kagura in their waitress uniforms from the Culture Fest episodes (complete with “father hats”) and their P.E. uniforms on the reverse. Various and prominent shots of Chiyo-chan adorn the spine and cover, as well as Chiyo’s “father.” The Azumanga Daioh Animation logo is boldly displayed on four sides of the box, though I would have liked to have seen the “Class Album” set designation used a bit more (rather than only once on the spine), particularly in conjunction with the group photo-type shots employed.

Each of the five disks in the set are fairly straightforward, featuring one of the primary characters as seen at the very beginning of the opening credits. The reverse, however, features some nice graphic design. As opposed to the disk covers, the reverse features a contrasting and attractive orange and blue color scheme that immediately makes it stand out. Fairly detailed accounts of the episodes included on each disk are accompanied by six images from series, as well as the bold form of Chiyo’s “father”(as imagined by Sakiki). The rear cover design works nicely as it conveys a sense of energy and spontaneity. The included text is written in a freer, more organic font, and arrows point guide the eye through the images/”photos” on the back, lending the box the feel of a class album or scrapbook.


Menu:

The Azumanga Daioh Class Album menus are really very simple in design and therefore very easy to navigate. The color scheme utilizes a left justified bold yellow block to retain all pertinent text and navigable features of the menu. The menu includes the same font from the disk case reverse side, retaining its more organic and spontaneous feel. Episodes are clearly marked by number, with a corresponding indication of episode title in a smaller font, moving left to right and occupying the majority of the screen. A familiar image of Sakiki with cat firmly chomped down on her hand from the opening credits overlaps the yellow block, the easily recognizable Azumanga Daioh logo is situation above her head against a primarily white background. A brief and jaunty audio loop plays throughout. Again, while simple, the menu is effective and still manages to retain much of the energy and feel of the episodes.


Extras:

N/A


Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)

Based on the widely popular manga by Kiyohiko Azuma, Azumanga Daioh the anime originally aired on Japanese television in 2002. The manga series was originally published in four panel comic strip form in Dengeki Daioh and, following this format, the series was originally broadcast in five minute segments. The series follows the everyday lives of six Japanese high school girls from the first day of class through graduation, and while including several secondary characters to lesser degrees, retains a tight focus on the six (initially five but with the second year addition of Kagura) primary characters.

Having never seen Azumanga Daioh prior to this review, I did not know precisely what to expect. After watching the bright, cheerful and very cute opening sequence, I wondered if this series was really for me. Rest assured, after only a couple of minutes, I began to understand why Azumanga Daioh has achieved such widespread acceptance and respect. The characters are very well done, each standing out with her own very unique qualities, but not so as to become cliché. I was thoroughly impressed with how well the creators managed to walk this line and still keep the stories and experiences fresh.

Having no familiarity with the original manga prior to my viewing, I immediately found the storytelling in this series to be different than any other anime I can recall. Each episode consist of a number of smaller and very distinct chapters, each with its own introduction (as well as title) building toward an often humorous conclusion. The format and brevity of these “chapters” struck me as something akin to American serialized comic strips and actually works quite well, building a larger whole within the episode and within the series. It wasn’t until researching for this review I discovered this format echoes the four panel per page style of the manga. I believe this artistic direction translated well to the anime.

Developed through a largely character-driven storyline, Azumanga Daioh follows the cast of characters through their high school years. As opposed to the myriad sitcoms and character-driven television series, a great deal of the series’ success rests in the finite quality of the setting. By placing the series in a high school setting, the viewer has the natural understanding this period in the lives of these characters has both an end and inherent expectation for change and growth. I would argue this sets Azumanga Daioh firmly apart from many of its contemporaries across genre. As opposed to a similarly based television sitcom, for instance, which would tend to seek to prolong the school life of the actors for as long as possible, the understanding of a definite end in sight works to offer a bittersweet quality to the relationships of these characters and therefore places greater emphasis on the blossoming friendships and interactions.

Azumanga Daioh focuses on the primary cast of Chiyo, Yomi, Sakiki, Osaka, Tomo, and Kagura. These six and their blossoming friendships comprise the heart of the storyline. Of the cast of secondary characters, Miss Tamizaki and Miss Kurosawa, English/Language and Phys Ed teachers respectively at the girls’ high school are likely the most prominent. They are followed by an eclectic handful of characters from Mr. Kimura, a high school teacher with less than noble intentions toward the young girls around him, to Kaorin and Chihiro, both classmates of the girls, as well as a number of different pets and a fantastical cat-like character.

Chiyo-chan is the youngest of the six primary characters, and the one through which the viewer will most perceive the world of Azumanga Daioh. Having been advanced through a number of grades directly to her first year of high school, Chiyo is only ten years old when the series begins. Incredibly intelligent and kind, Chiyo quickly rises to the top of the class. Far smaller than the rest of the girls, she longs to be more like Sakiki, who she greatly respects for her height and size. While very close to the other main characters, Chiyo forms her closest bonds with Osaka and Sakiki. It is Chiyo’s internal monologue that closes the series and summarizes the feelings these six friends have, and will continue to have, for one another.

Yomi is another of the original five characters prior to Kagura’s introduction to the group in their second year. Serious and slightly more composed than the other girls, Yomi is intelligent and possesses a wry sense of humor. She is overly concerned with her weight and struggles with a number of diets throughout the course of the series. She has known Tomo since grade school and the two share an interestingly love/hate relationship.

Sakiki is tall and mysterious. Having gained a measure of popularity due simply to the fact she has developed quicker than her peers and is naturally quite good at sports, she is actually quite introverted. Sakiki is fascinated by all things cute, from stuffed animals to stray cats and dreams of becoming either a stuffed animal boutique owner or a veterinarian. She decides on the latter after a chance encounter on a school field trip in Okinawa. Despite her outward appearance, Sakiki very much retains a youthful naiveté. Ironically, as Chiyo is envious of her size and development, Sakiki is envious of Chiyo’s own size and cuteness.

Ayumu, is a transfer student from Osaka. Apparently, the students have a number of stereotypical ideas of how Osakans must act and, as a result, Tomo quickly gives Ayumu the nickname, “Osaka.” The nickname sticks. Not altogether gifted at sports or school, Osaka is instead prone to daydreams and irregular observations and comments, when she’s not sleeping through class. She is incredibly good-natured and marches to the beat of an entirely different drum. Her personal mantra is, “Get it together.” She gravitates most to Chiyo-chan, as neither is particularly gifted at sports and both, to differing degrees, are slightly out of place.

Tomo lives for competition, though she rarely actually prevails over her target. Full of energy and prone to wild compulsive behavior, she spends a great deal of her time teasing and generally annoying the rest of her friends. While she her competitive nature typically does not extend to her class work, she is actually quite capable of scholastic success when she applies herself. Prior to the start of the series, due to her grades in middle school, there was little chance for her to attend the same exclusive high school as Yomi. When Yomi told her this, Tomo began a frenzy of study that allowed her to just scrape by and qualify for attendance at the high school—all to prove Yomi wrong. Having known Yomi since grade school, these two have a relationship most like their teachers Yukari and Nyamo.

Kagura joins the class in the second year, basically stolen from Nyamo’s class by Yukari in order to give her class a greater competitive edge in the Annual Sports Fest (insight in to Yukari’s wildly competitive personality). Having great ability and interest in athletics, she initially begins a competitive relationship with Sakiki, but when she finds Sakiki less competitive than herself, gravitates more toward
Tomo. Kind and easy-going, she dedicates a very large amount of her time to the swim team and hopes to attend a college with a strong athletics program.

While the two teachers, Yukari Tamizaki and Nyamo Kurosawa are not part of the central group of six, they are an integral aspect of the series. As stated above, their relationship is most like Tomo and Yomi, having both known one another for a very long time and having a large dose of (primarily one-sided) competition. Yukari is largely a slacker, and regularly seeks to steal all attention for herself. Loud, compulsive and prone to wide mood swings, Yukari’s class (in which the lead characters find themselves) are often perplexed by their teacher’s strange behavior. Yukari has been known to leave class in order to purchase video games on their day of release and is a terrible driver (though she does not own a car herself, her parents’ car, referred to as the “Yukari-mobile” is suspiciously covered with dents and damage). She is not above misleading or taking advantage of her students’ feelings to get what she wants.

On the other hand, Nyamo is typically more quiet and reserved and is, in general, more mature than Yukari. She appears to have a high tolerance for Yukari and it takes a great deal for her to respond or reciprocate Yukari’s competitiveness. , Unlike Yukari, Nyamo is beginning to want something more in her life and has begun considering an arranged marriage. Though she finds herself somewhat conflicted between her friendship to the less mature Yukari and her desire to move to the next stage of her life, she continues to remain true to their friendship.

Over the course of its twenty-six episodes, Azumanga Daioh brings these relationships and diverse personalities in to strong focus, illustrating how the characters and their friendships change and grow, yet remain somewhat the same throughout. The girls progress from the early days of their first year, where relationships are formed, through the Sports and Culture fests, field trips, vacations at Chiyo-chan’s family summer home, through strange New Year’s dreams, and day-to-day trials and experiences, to graduation. By the series’ conclusion, the viewer has come to know truly know these characters and feel a bit of their connection to one another.

I was thoroughly impressed with the way this series managed to develop characters with personality types that are unique without feeling cliché, and genuine without losing sight of the series’ strong sense of humor. The viewer can instantly recognize and even sympathize with nearly all the characters and this contributes a great deal to Azumanga Daioh’s success. Tomo may often be more than a little annoying, but we still can’t help but laugh at her bizarre competitiveness. Osaka is just so out of it, but the viewer can’t help but hope she gets it together just this once and wins the bread eating contest at the Annual Sports Fest. And even though we’ve seen Sakiki bitten by that alley cat every single time she’s tried to pet him, we’re still hoping that one last time will be different. In their own way, these characters develop a life of their own and the viewer cares.

Azumanga Daioh also works so well because of how well it develops and maintains its humor. The series’ humor is incredibly strong and very witty, often used to great effect in expanding the characters’ personalities. I very regularly found myself laughing aloud during my viewing of this series. However, I was slightly disappointed the Azumanga Daioh: Class Album set didn’t include anything in the way of liner notes to aid those not native to the Japanese culture. Regardless of how much I caught throughout the series, I still had the feeling I was likely missing a fair amount of the series’ humor.

But what Azumanga Daioh does so successfully, so subtlety it’ s almost imperceptible, is to capture everyday life through the vignette. And isn’t that really what life truly is? Take some vignettes, string them together, and soon enough a life will emerge. This series does that will aplomb. And it is the lives we see emerging amidst these utterly charming characters that really draws the us in. The viewer will care about these girls, will likely see them as more than simple characters as they take on a life all their own.

The overall character designs, by this I mean to suggest the school uniforms, while simple, work very nicely within the context of the high school setting. There is some variation of school uniforms for the main characters based on setting and season. Where the character design truly soars, however, is in the girl’s faces and even posture. It appears great care was given in developing very unique faces, body types and expressions. I regularly marveled at how so much of the characters’ personalities read so easily on their faces. From Sakiki’s shy, stifled smiles to Chiyo-chan’s bright, wide-eyed expressions, to Yukari’s explosive reactions and Mr. Kimura’s somewhat zombie-like appreciation of the young girls around him, the characters feel unique and instantly recognizable.

For the most part, the art and overall design is simple, but very consistent. However, the creators employ a wide array of techniques to infuse the piece with atmosphere and dynamics, including a number of homages to the series’ manga roots. Several different background patterns are used to expand on the mood of each scene and are really quite effective. The color scheme typically maintains and light and airy feel, genuinely adding to the series’ ambience. I don’t believe a color scheme even slightly different would have worked nearly as well. The animation itself is very well done and typically very smooth. There are a number of still shots, but they never felt awkward of out of place.

I found the sound and music to be very nicely handled, particularly in the creators’ attention to the use of sound in creating ambient nose and better establishing environment. City and crowd scenes made great use of the rear channels, giving the impression of actually being surrounded by people talking in the background. The music was appropriately light, upbeat and very infectious. I still find myself humming from the opening and closing tracks.

The voice acting is just superb in this series. I actually lean toward the English Dub due to some truly spectacular performances by the English cast. Kira Vincent-Davis performs brilliantly as Osaka, bringing a Southern drawl to the character that simply defines her. Jessica Boone flawlessly brought Chiyo-chan to life, maintaining an intelligent and insightful, yet youthful perspective that I found very effective. Christine Auten’s performance as the reserved Sakaki was very nicely done, as was Luci Chrstian’s handling of the very wide and ever-changing emotions of Yukari. As strong as the character designs are, the voice acting in this series is just as, if not more effective in building these unique personalities.



In Summary:


Azumanga Daioh certainly impressed me. Having no idea of what to expect with this series, I was very, very pleasantly surprised. The primary characters are wonderfully written and, for the most part, nicely explored. While the story focuses on the everyday relationships and struggles of a group of Japanese high school girls, it manages to at once remain light and fanciful, but also convey a sense of genuine growth and development. The series creators maintain this exploration of friendship all the while never allowing the series to take itself too seriously, managing to maintain a consistent sense of humor until the very end.

Voice acting for the series was nothing short of spectacular and serves to once again clarify just how much strong voice work lends to a series. As always, the inimitable Kira Vincent-Davis creates a truly unforgettable character in her work bringing Osaka to life. Ms. Vincent-Davis’ work on that character alone makes the English Dub worth listening to. Jessica Boone, Lucy Christian and Christine Auten also perform spectacularly. In total, I found the voice acting work for this series to be exceedingly well done and well cast.

The only area in which I could truly find fault with the Azumanga Daioh Class Album set, however, was in the lack of liner notes of any sort. Considering how deeply the series is rooted in contemporary Japanese culture and that culture’s humor, offering something to perhaps clarify certain references, or even give background to characters and settings is almost essential. Though ADV have done a great job with the dub in trying to bridge the cultural gaps, something more would have been a great way to get an even better understanding of the copious humor and references found throughout. I understand ADV would not want to essentially punish those who purchased the original releases by adding extras to its Thinpacks, however I think this set would have been much better served with that inclusion. I may even go so far as to suggest something along these lines is actually essential to getting the most enjoyment out of the series.

In conclusion, I was truly impressed and more than a little surprised by Azumanga Daioh and would recommend it very highly to anyone.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
34” Sony FD Trinitron Wega HDTV KD-34XBR910 and Sony Dav-FR9 progressive scan Home Theatre System with 114 watts per channel to each speaker and 115 watts to each of the subwoofer's two woofers.

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