Azumanga Daioh Vol. #1 (also w/box) (of 6) (

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, April 27, 2004

What They Say
Box set to come with lapel pins.

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!

The Review!
Based on the popular comic strip, Azumanga Daioh is essentially a collection of shorts strung together in fashion to create larger episodes and a sense of continuity. Amazingly enough, they pull it off.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its English dubbed format. The English track for this release sports a good 5.1 mix, though the majority of the audio is still through the center channels. There are a few kicks back to the rear speakers and if you're close enough to them you'll get a couple of good moments from them. Dialogue throughout the show is well done with some good placement and no dropouts or distortions during regular playback. We spot checked the Japanese language track and noticed no issues there either.

Originally airing in 2002, Azumanga has a gorgeous transfer for the most part. Presented in its original full frame aspect ratio, the show is rich with vibrant colors and lots of sections with large swathes of solid colors that maintain a solid feel. In particular, the pinks of the school uniforms look fantastic, nice and solid and warm. Cross coloration is blissfully absent and there's only some minor aliasing throughout. Most of the aliasing comes from segments in the opening with the replaced credits since some of it seems a little stilted at times, but something that's barely noticeable for most people.

Done up in a clear keepcase, the opening volume is simple and eye-catching with an all-white backdrop with a shot of Chiyo-chan in mid-air with the large logo and volume number around her. This fits with the opening sequence nicely (since it's basically from there) and gives you something simple and cute to look at. Of course, this kind of a cover is a harder sell for those who haven't seen the show and just see it on the shelf, but the back cover helps a lot there with a rundown of the premise, several shots from the show and an array of information scattered all over. Sadly, this release isn't adhering to the info box that's become common on ADV releases so information is in a few different places but it's all easy to find overall. The reverse side of the cover, which is sort of reversible, has a full two sided spread of the girls in class with the main cover being Chiyo-chan with her English book. Depending on how the rest of the covers are, this could be a really good series to reverse. The included booklet is great, with several pages worth of translator notes and detailed explanations of some of the puns that are hard to translate as well as comments from the Japanese staff and a few pages of full color Chiyo-chan designs and outfits. This complements the show nicely and rounds things out well.

The first volume is also available in a disc+box variant and much to the chagrin of many, the box is not the sturdy type but the softer folded together type we've gotten from ADV recently. The main panel has a really nice shot of most of the girls together in their pink school uniforms sitting on a bench outside while the spine has a simple shot of the two cats together from Chiyo-chan's towel. The other main panel is a close-up shot of Chiyo-chan herself while the top has a shot of the various critters from the series sitting astride the logo. Also included in the box is a set of pins, with this volume containing ones for Chiyo-chan and the gray cat. Volumes three, five and six have other ones in them so you need to get those to have the full set of five.

The main menu is a cute piece that utilizes elements from the opening sequence and the same style with a shot of Sakaki with her finger in the cats mouth as she tries to shake it off set to a brief bit of catch instrumental music. Episode selections are lined along the top and the other selections along the bottom. Scene selections are nicely laid out in that they let you go to each of the individual episodes within the episode. Access times are nice and fast and the layout is easy to navigate and use.

The extras are pretty minimal with this volume with just a series of production sketches in addition to the standard clean opening and closing sequences being provided.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Back when this title was announced as being licensed, the entire room essentially went wild with applause as the opening sequence played out. At the time I had certainly heard of the show and a few of the catch phrases that sent fans into fits of laughter, but I had avoided knowing much else about it other than its origins as a four panel comic strip. The resulting anime had been done in a similar fashion, which lead to episodes of an average length of four or five minutes (though they're all contained within the larger episode itself, so you don't have forty openings and endings playing here, but five episodes worth in total). With a number of semi-experimental shows being done it was little surprise that something like this would try to transition and by all accounts the anime is essentially the same as the manga, just with some scenes expanded and the obvious benefits of voices and, well, movement.

The story takes place in another high school setting with a variety of strange and amusing characters. The main teacher we see is Yukari, a woman whose plain in her speaking and says things like they are. You can tell things are a bit different in her class right from the start since everyone addresses her by her first name, even if they do apply the Miss title to her name. It's a new school semester so things are moving right along once she finally gets in there after swiping another students bike. Her class, which is primarily English, has a new student in the form of young Chiyo. She's skipped five grades and is now in high school since she's a child prodigy. At age ten, she's just unbelievably cute. Add in that honest kind of approach in her personality and the fact that she's just plain smart and it's a deadly combination. The other girls all take her in well and treat her good, letting her fit in and adjust to the bigger world around her easily. There's a lot of humor surrounding her as things go along, particularly things regarding her hair and its ability to be removed?

Another new student is arriving in this class as well today. Ayumu has transferred in from Osaka. As we learn from her, she didn't quite fit in there as she doesn't use a lot of the normal Osakan language quirks and attitudes, but that doesn't stop almost everyone from assuming she does use them and almost force her to use them. When Ayumu encounters Tomo the 'wildcat', there's some hilarious language exchanges as Tomo tries to handle the Osakan dialect. Ayumu is fairly spacey at times and she's just got that almost slow feel to her. In one priceless scene, she's sitting at her desk with her head bobbing back and forth slowly. One of the other kids asks her what's wrong and she says she's chasing the dot/bubble that you can see in your eye and that she's intent on catching it this time. It doesn't come across well in print but when you watch it, combined with her accent and the way it's phrased, I couldn't stop laughing.

Ayumu also loses out pretty quickly in the pecking order of the class. Just about everyone has a nickname, excepting Chiyo-chan since she's just too adorable, and Ayumu becomes known as Osaka simply because she's from there. Her attempts at "getting it together" and not being like she was back in Osaka are constantly thwarted and she falls into the old familiar routines fairly frequently.

While these two are the primary characters and the driving force behind a lot of the humor, there is a large cast surrounding them in this class. From the competitive Yukari with her former classmate and fellow teacher Nyamo whom she abuses to no end for free food and other amenities to the quiet and introverted Sakaki, a young woman whose bouts with the cute gray cat are obvious but hysterical. There's a good group of girls that are generally getting into problems due to Tomo's wild antics such as Kaorin and Yomi. There's no real male characters in the kids range during these episodes, or apparently at all with the series, but there is a male teacher whose sole purpose in teaching is to be close to nubile young schoolgirls. He fits the mold of creepy terribly well as he tries to get looks at the girls at various times. This character really hits the line between amusing and creepy in how he's portrayed here.

With this being a comedy series and with the shortness of the episodes, there's an element of hit or miss when the show plays out since there may be a 'strip' that's not quite as funny but then the next one just slays you. It took a bit to really get into the show and its rhythm, but once we did that we were laughing quite a lot throughout the show. One element that really helped to make it much more enjoyable I think is hearing Osaka in English with that accent. Something about the character just seemed to click a lot better with Kira's performance of the character than the Japanese actress did for us.

In Summary:
Though a bit slow to start, Azumanga Daioh won us over as we progressed through it (and actually rewatched the first episode again) and got into its groove. With it being of a different layout that most TV shows, even the shorter 15 minute episodes, there's an adjustment to be made in pacing and how the gags are told. There's a lot to laugh with here and a cast of characters that grow quickly on you as you start finding those you favor and those you don't. Overall, this is a very well done package that should please the bulk of people and definitely had us feeling quite happy after it was all over. Very recommended.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Clean opening and clean closing animation,Production sketches

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.98/39.98
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Azumanga Daioh