Azumanga Daioh Vol. #6 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, December 08, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, November 23, 2004



What They Say
School's almost out! But, it ain't over yet…Mountains of career sheets and last minute homework threaten to drown the girls in a wave of paper and exams are looming larger than ever. To improve their chances, the girls go through all sorts of bizarre rituals, from splitting chopsticks to drawing fortunes. And even studying – a little. And then... the final face-off between Sakaki and the gray cat! The last tests the girls will ever have to take! It's all here in the final wacky, wild and whimsical volume of Azumanga Daioh!

The Review!
Like all good things, Azumanga Daioh comes to an end itself and as the characters deal with it so too may many viewers.

Audio:
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.

Video:
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.

Packaging:
Done up in a clear keepcase, the cover is simple and eye-catching with an all-white backdrop with a shot of Tomo exuding all the energy that her character is simply imbued with while 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 as well as a good series of consistent looking covers. The back cover provides a rundown of the premise, several shots from the show and an array of information scattered all over. The reverse side of the cover, which is sort of reversible, has a full two sided spread that has Yomi and Kagura having their science experiment go bad while the other panel is a mix of the other girls fearing whatever Tomo may do next. 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. The rest of the booklet has a nice two page full color spread of the girls, lots of Tomo outfits in her usual pose and some basic uniform shots.

Menu:
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.

Extras:
With the last volume we get some of the standard extras, such as the clean opening and closing sequences and some production sketches, but we also get a couple of really neat pieces that belong at the end. The first is the bigger of the two obviously with the inclusion of the mini-movie. Running about five minutes in length, this is a very detailed and fluid piece that aims for that theatrical level quality and really hits it nicely for such a short piece that gives us a number of our favorite gags from the series. In addition to that, there's a gallery of character art just for the movie itself..

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With three episodes and a mini-movie, Azumanga Daioh comes to its conclusion in the most basic of ways by going through the girls graduation and dealing with the events that lead up to it. As they say during one of their study sessions, it's hard to believe three years have gone by and that they've been together that long. If only Chiyo-chan had grown some!

Each of the episodes here does a good job of covering something really specific in the broad way that the show has been doing from the start. The opening episode does probably one of the best things by bringing Sakaki's story to a sense of closure, though it does carry on into the next episode. After learning of the possible death of the big boss cat in her neighborhood, that little gray cat that she's always trying to pet ends up exerting some control and gets himself a big old gang of cats to teach Sakaki just who is in charge around here. When Sakaki and Chiyo are walking home, it's an amusingly scary sequence when all the cats show up and start hissing at them. But it gets even better when that Iriomote cat shows up out of the blue and defends them. This cats arrival brings Sakaki's attempts to pet cats full circle as she's now able to have one, though keeping it at Chiyo's, since when she graduates she'll get her own place and keep the cat for herself. Watching the way Sakaki changes throughout the two episodes here with her new friend and playmate and the realization that she too can be cute is very satisfying to watch since there really is a sense of closure for her on things.

Before everyone graduates though, they have to go through some career decisions so we have a bit of fun watching that played with. One of the best moments is when Chiyo suggests to Osaka that she'd be good as a teacher. Osaka, being who she is, promptly tells that to Yukari and asks advice. Yukari's reaction is priceless as she finds that an insult and goes off screaming at Chiyo about how little Chiyo must think of her, feeling that she equated Osaka with Yukari. The girls get pretty introspective about their time together as they work hard on their studying for the entrance exams, except for Chiyo who is going abroad to study and doesn't need to take the exams, and there are some good revelatory pieces about them. As the testing gets underway and things don't go exactly as you'd expect, it's amusing to see some of them turn against each other in a mild way.

The graduation ceremony, the last looks in the school and the tension over what schools they've gotten into is extremely well done. The closeness of the girls really shines through here as each of them deals with it differently and they come to terms with the end of a big part of their lives. I personally hated my high school years but did much the same when I graduated and watching them do this brought back a lot of memories from that. It's rare that an anime can cause such memories to come up and I've seen a lot of school age dramas so the nature of this last episode really struck home much more than I expected.

In Summary:
While I thought the show was fairly uneven in a lot of places, particularly early on, it's one that really grew on me the more I watched it. I wasn't able to deal with large chunks of it at a time but the smaller sets of episodes and one-off viewing style really helped to enhance my enjoyment of the show. With Chiyo as the surprise glue that holds everything together, we get to see from her perspective a lot and seeing her watching her friends all come together for the last time in this manner and her difficulty in handling it due to her age, we get something that really manages to connect with the viewer than a lot of other shows that try the same. There's something really special about Azumanga Daioh and it's not the style of humor or the various gags; it's the real heart that these characters bring out in themselves.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Azumanga Daioh mini-movie, Azumanga Daioh movie character art gallery,Production sketches,12-page booklet with translation notes,Clean opening and closing animations

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, 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
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Azumanga Daioh