Get it together, anime fans, and don’t be like Osaka!
What They Say:
In Miss Yukari's English class, every day is an adventure. First off, there's the teacher herself. A bit of an air-head, she may have graduated from high school, but she sure hasn't left. And with the arrival of not one, but two transfer students - one ten-year-old prodigy and one space cadet - it's going to be an interesting year!
What We Say:
The bilingual presentation for Azumanga Daioh was fairly standard for ADV Films during the time it was originally released as the English language mix gets a good 5.1 mix at 448kbps while the original Japanese language is in stereo at 224kbps. Over time, the 5.1 mixes began to disappear for a lot of titles, but especially for ones like this where it really doesn’t add all that much since it’s a basic comedy. The dialogue is certainly cleaner and better placed in the 5.1 mix here, but it’s not something that makes a huge difference in comparison to the original stereo mix that we have for the Japanese language track. In the end, it comes down to language preference more than anything else as both tracks are solid presentations that are clean and clear of problems such as dropouts or distortions.
Originally airing in 2002, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. While the original presentation was across six discs, this collection brings it down to just five while still keeping somewhat to the layout of the original. The first two discs cover the first year of the kids high school life while the second two discs cover their second year. The fifth and final disc runs through their third year with seven episodes on it, making it the one with the most episodes with seven. The video quality doesn’t seem to suffer much though as the series has a good set of source materials and colors maintain a solid and pleasing feeling to them. There’s a certain softness to it at times but beyond that it’s a clean and vibrant looking show. There are numerous scenes where it’s pretty still and quiet and that helps to keep the bitrate low so they can pump it up later when necessary. For the most part, this feels comparable to what we got on the six volumes of single releases that came out a few years back.
This new thinpak collection is a bit bright and inviting as the heavy chipboard box for it has a god amount of blue to its background. The blue skies with some light clouds works rather nicely to highlight the character artwork that has the core group of girls on one side in their winter uniforms while the other side features smaller shots of them in street clothes alongside Chiyo in her summer uniform along with her “father” as the background. It’s a much lighter and friendlier cover than the straight white pieces of the original releases but I admit to liking the cleanliness of those as well. Which is why the thinpaks inside are favorites as they offer up a trio of pairings. The first thinpak holds the first two discs and showcase Osaka and Chiyo together while the second one holds the third and fourth discs with Kaorin and Sakaki together. The final disc is in its own thinpak case and features Kaorin and Yomi together. All of them are in their winter uniforms and look very appealing against the white background. The back covers are all laid out the same with some basic production information and a technical grid listing what’s on there. The first volume has a cute shot of Chiyo reading her English book while the background is of a school interior scene. The second volume has Kagura in her swimsuit with a pool scene behind her while the third volume has Yomi in her summer uniform with a wacky school scene behind her. All of them are quite appealing and well laid out.
The menu design for Azumanga Daioh is familiar as it works with the cute image of seeing Sakaki from behind as she’s trying to wave off the cat that’s bitten her hand. The split of the yellow on the left and white on the right for the background is a bit off-putting at first but it fits within the color scheme used in the show at times and it does keep it all rather bright and attractive. The navigation along the left is straightforward with top level episode access – a plus in my book – as well as language selection. This release seemed to be about 50/50 for reading our player presets as the odd numbered discs all worked fine but the even numbered ones defaulted to English with sign/song subtitles. Submenus, when you need to use them, load quickly and without a problem and moving about is a breeze.
None. And this is one of those shows with a real travesty as the vid-notes are important at times and the lack of the “movie” keeps it from really feeling like a complete collection.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the four panel comic strip by Kiyohiko Azuma that ran from 1999 to 2002, Azumanga Daioh is an entirely pleasant little comedic romp that follows the lives of several high school girls through all three years. The series has seen a collection previously and we watched the original singles, but it felt like it was time to revisit it. Doing this while in the midst of watching Lucky Star is certainly interesting since they have several commonalities to them.
The story of Azumanga Daioh is really straightforward and simple in that we see a group of girls starting their first year of high school. Moving between the seasons, we see them grown and change throughout the three years that go on here, with some summer activities and various holidays here and there. The only downside to it is that there really isn’t all that much in the way of physical changes among the students other than a haircut here and there and the change in uniforms depending on the season. And while not a downside, the repetition issue can be a bit problematic when viewed in quick order as well, something we found even when watching the spaced out singles. When you have the students going through the motions of the culture fest and the sports fest across each of the years, it can get a little familiar, especially on top of so many other series that cover the same things.
What makes Azumanga Daioh work is the characters and the dynamic that exists between them. The series opens with a pair of interesting students arriving on the scene. One of them is the very smart Chiyo, affectionately known as Chiyo-chan, a ten year old girl who has skipped out of elementary school in order to go to high school where she’ll be properly challenged. She’s a bright eyed and cute girl who is entirely positive except when she’s trying to not let everyone else down. Because of her size, she feels like she can’t keep up with everyone when it comes to things like sports fests as well as the way they all stay up later and have more of a social life in certain ways. Complementing here is Kasuga, a transfer student from Osaka who has come here in order to “get it together” and make a break from her past. Osaka isn’t stupid but she’s not exactly altogether there either. She gets lost in dreams at times, some of them very fanciful and amusing, but more often than not she simply spaces out with whatever is on her mind. She never truly gets it together but is the kind of cute and snuggly character that you easily adore in a show like this.
While they’re certainly the less than normal kind of characters you’d find in real life, the rest of the main crew is pretty amusing in their own ways as well. The one I enjoy the most is Sakaki, a tall quiet young woman who has a real love for animals and for cats in particular. Her parents have issues with pets so she can’t have any so she tries to spend as much time as she can with them when she sees them. Unfortunately, they all seem to either flee from her or bite her, leaving her unable to extend the love she wants. With her quiet nature, it’s amusing to watch her trying to get closer to the animals. Opposite of her is Tomo, a firebrand of a character who is bad at everything but manages to scrape by in the end. She’s very outgoing, energetic and alive which drives everyone else nuts since she’s an act first think later kind of person. She tends to be the one to cause the most trouble but also gets the group motivated to do things with enthusiasm a lot of the time.
Rounding out the group of initial regulars is an amusing pair that have a very different feel from each other. Yomi is the smart girl of the class who ends up not feeling threatened by Chiyo when she arrives and in fact becomes good friends with her. She’s smart, a little self conscious and like everyone else is a part of the “Go Home” club. Yomi’s probably one of the least worked on characters in the show but she has some of the best expressions since her childhood friend is Tomo and that mean’s she’s put up with a whole lot in her life. On the flip side, and required in a series like this, is Kaorin. Kaorin is a cute girl who has a big sister crush on Sakaki and she continually dreams about her and does everything she can to get closer to her. Sometimes it’s all sweetness and light, but when necessary she plays rough as well. The way she dotes on the completely unaware Sakaki is quite cute for awhile though it’s something that never really gets anywhere with any merit unfortunately. In fact, it’s a good character turn when in their third year, she ends up in a different class altogether.
While the students make up most of the fun, the nice twist to Azumanga Daioh is the involvement of a group of the teachers. Most of the kids are in the same class under homeroom teacher Yukari. Yukari is kind of like the kid who was popular in school to a point and she never really wanted to leave, hence becoming a teacher. She’s kind of weird at times, very outgoing and brash and she ends up doing a lot of things that would get anyone else in trouble. Most of it is in relation to her fellow teacher, Minamo. Called by her nickname of Nyamo, she’s the PE instructor and homeroom teacher that Yukari competes with often. Nyamo has known her for an age since they went to school together and it has something of a similar relationship to that of Tomo and Yomi that’s been going on for longer. The interplay between the two is fun and Yukari really brings some amusing things to the table.
If there’s an area of the series that made me a little uncomfortable, partially because it took a good all ages show and made it harder to show younger viewers, is the teacher known as Kimura. This very thin and creepy looking guy has quite a thing for high school girls. He’s constantly coming up with ways to get them to wear their bloomers and spends time watching them at the pool. His looks and phrases at times really do put him in the proper pedo-stalker category, but one that’s (For now?) completely harmless. Some of it is creepier than other scenes but there is admittedly some good humor based around him at times. When we meet his wife and see pictures of his kid, it makes you look at him in a new way that’s hard to wrap your head around.
The transition from a four panel comic to this works well in that the humor is given a chance to shine but it’s not made to hold for an entire episode. Azumanga Daioh works well by having the smaller stories mixed throughout each overall episode. Not everything is completely linked either which is a plus, as it lets the stories flow in a natural way without being forced to continue gags from earlier. Some episodes have longer stories than others, going nearly the entire length for example with the dream ones, while others skip about pretty easily every few minutes with a new title and a different avenue to explore. It doesn’t feel forced and it allows a variety of characters to have some screen time without feeling like they’re shoehorning them into the episode’s main storyline in order to make sure that they’re there.
Revisiting the show after a few years and after all the hype has certainly been fun. It hasn’t exactly captured me the way it did the first time around, partially from familiarity and partially because of the loss of the vid-notes. Most of the show plays well without it, but there are moments when they’d be entirely too useful. I don’t think Azumanga Daioh is a show meant for marathoning unless it’s in a group setting with a drinking game involved, but it certainly is worth revisiting. This collection isn’t complete by any means with the loss of the vid-notes and the mini movie, but it’s certainly a lot of fun and kept me smiling in an almost nostalgic way. It’s good clean fun, unless Kimura is involved. Definitely still recommended after all these years.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.