Azumanga Daioh Vol. #4 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Dani Moure
Review Date: Monday, May 08, 2006
Release Date: Monday, February 21, 2005



What They Say
Get ready for a slew of crazy new challenges in the sports fest, culminating in an action-packed 10km race! The ever-hyper Tomo is dying from excitement but Osaka is afraid of just plain dying! Later, Chiyo-Chan adds to the hilarity as she scrambles to pull things together for this year's culture fest. Will it be a big hit or a miserable miss for our cast of high school cuties?

But wait - there's more! Extracurricular activities aren't the only source of action. Between classes, the girls doggedly debate things like the colour of pandas, the merits of dieting, and the existence of Santa; or even more improbable, Mr. Kimura's wife! And speaking of spouses, isn't it time Minamo found a man? Her busybody mother sure seems to think so!

With trips to Hokkaido, magical land and a hilarious visit to the local karaoke club, this charming comical costumed volume of 'Azumanga Daioh' proves once and for all that time spent with friends is time well-spent!

The Review!
The second year concludes in another hilarious volume of Azumanga Daioh.

Audio:
I listened to the Japanese stereo track for my main review, and noticed no distortions or dropouts. The track itself was a fairly standard stereo mix for a television series. The performances from all the voice actors were a riot, and I enjoyed their work immensely. The entire cast is really good.

The English language track is presented in 5.1, and it sounded fine while writing the review, though it didn't seem that enhanced over the Japanese stereo track. The dub sounded good from the portions I listened to, with most of the main characters seeming to spark a similar chemistry as their Japanese counterparts.

Video:
Azumanga looks fantastic in what is a very good transfer. Colours are very vibrant and the transfer is clean, and I noticed no artefacts, aliasing or other problems during regular playback. There were a couple of areas of cross-colouration, but it's barely worth mentioning. There's really little more I can say about the transfer as it really is very good. Subtitles are the usual nice ADV font, and are in a yellow as always.

Packaging:
Packaged in a clear keepcase, the cover replicates the Japanese DVD cover with an image of Yomi doing the bounce this time. The volume number and show's logo appear in large graphics on the cover, too, and there's a cute little Japanese "A!" above Yomi's head. The cover makes great use of white space, and looks really good. The back cover is a bit manic with a description of the show, some screenshots and the credits list all scattered about. There are also plenty of arrows pointing around. The usual ADV info box appears here, clearly listing technical information.

The cover is also reversible, with a wraparound image of some of the girls in class. Yomi is naturally the focus on this one, with her holding some chalk and a book, preparing to write on the board. Osaka and Kagura are sat at their desks on the other side while Tomo causes chaos. An episode listing is also included (with a breakdown of the individual segments in each).

As a nice extra we also get the 12-page booklet that includes a Yomi profile, translator notes, staff comments, production images and more. It's a really nice extra, with the translator notes being an especially good feature of a culturally based series like this, and I love that ADV go the extra mile to bring these inserts over to the UK.

Menu:
The menus are exactly the same as the last volume. The main menu features Sakaki getting her hand bitten by the cat, and waving it up and down, while the episodes are listed across the top. The show's logo is on the right hand side, while that yellow toy thing appears around the screen. Sub-menus are also animated simply. The extras menu features Chiyo-chan flying with her pigtails bobbing up and down, and Osaka following her with some pigtails of her own. The scene select menu features Tomo swaying back and forth, while the language menu features Yukari about to hit Osaka with a textbook, and the sub-menus all feature different pieces of music. These menus are far more creative than the usual ADV fair and I like them a lot, as they really fit with the tone of the show.

Extras:
My only disappointment with the disc is the on-disc extras department, which simply contains a standard textless opening and ending, and a selection of production sketches set to some music. I'd expect to see this trend continue across the series, so it's not particularly an exciting prospect in that regard, especially when you get the same things on each disc.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
One of the things that makes Azumanga so enjoyable is that you always know you can sit down, watch an episode, and know you're going to get plenty of laughs; even if you don't find every single joke funny there's bound to be several that you do. This volume is no exception and has some of the funniest moments in the series so far for me. There's a bit of focus on each of the girls here, with a bit more Yomi than some of the others, probably the only character who has suffered from a slight lack of screen time on occasion.

Another great thing about this series is how it manages to take an idea, run with it, then use the same themes again but completely reinvent them and make them funny all over again. This is no more apparent than the fact that the series takes place over the course of three school years, with the episode spread being such that each year is on two discs (making this one the end of the second year). That means that several key events take place again, but with a different slant to the previous year. This disc sees the latest sports day, the latest culture fest and the dawn of a new year.

It's sports day that begins the disc, but whereas last year Yukari's desire for her class to get one over on Minamo's was fuelled by Sakaki's power and led to the rivalry with Kagura (at least from the latter's point of view). This year things are different though, as Kagura and Sakaki are now both in Yukari's class. But while Minamo isn't really bothered by the whole rivalry thing, Yukari is more passionate than ever and we all know what that means " the offer of juice and, this year, steak in order to drive her team to victory. There are numerous amusing moments here, but most are off the sports field. For me, one of the funniest was not only finding out that Kimura, the ultimate pervert-like teacher, is not only happily married but has a daughter as well! One of the best scenes here is when some of the girls actually meet the wife for the first time, and we get to see her reactions to Kimura and his odd tendencies as well. It's quite surreal but hilarious all the same.

Then we're in for another cracking treat, as the culture fest returns once more. This year the girls try and think of something different to do, and with Sakaki's input come up with the idea of putting on a café with a rather cute twist. All of the girls wear hats in the shape of the show's mascot, except for Sakaki who has to wear a neco coneco on her head because they've run out of hats. But cutest of all is Chiyo-chan, who dresses as a penguin. This leads to some side-splitting reactions as everyone is quite literally dumfounded by the sheer cuteness that she exudes. Minamo is caught by it, and one of the brilliant moments in the episode comes when Osaka and Chiyo go looking for food and Osaka has to feed her because she can't reach her mouth in the suit. The onlookers are just flabbergasted and it leads to a real surge in business.

Then comes the end of the second semester, and Christmas and the New Year. Again, there are some great moments scattered throughout the episode, such as Tomo showing more of her, well, lack of knowledge as she laughs to herself that not only does Santa exist, neither do reindeer. Of course, she's wrong and she's not to please when she finds out the joke is on her; even Osaka knows! The Christmas party is brilliant as well, with some great singing moments, especially from Yomi.

Yomi also gets to shine as a character in the next episode, as we see more of how she thinks when she returns from a trip to Hokkaido. She's one of the few of the group to have been on a plane, and angers Tomo by going on about it constantly. Tomo even manages to get Yukari on her side, and watching them try and catch Yomi out together, only for Yukari to find the oddest common ground, is both unbelievable and funny at the same time. But angering Tomo doesn't pay off when Yomi suggests that the girls go to a new theme park at the weekend, and then comes down with a cold. Though Chiyo-chan suggests they give it a miss and instead go visit Yomi as that might cheer her up, Tomo assures them all she'd want them to go, and then rubs salt in the wound by phoning Yomi up and getting Chiyo-chan to say how great a time they're having.

The final episode on the disc, for me, was the weakest of the batch. This one brings the end of another school year, as it's spring and the weather is making everyone really tired. There's a great little yawning contest thrown in there, but I didn't find a great deal of laughs in there. My favourite scene in this one was watching Chiyo-chan run to the convenience store at night stopping at every street light, only to run in to Kagura (and the ensuing scene was quite sweet), but it didn't come off quite as well as the rest of the episodes. Having said that though, it's not bad by any means and one not quite as funny episode is hardly anything to cry over in context of the series.

What always amazes me about Azumanga is how well the characters all fit together and complement each other so well, and it's evident in abundance on this disc. There are great moments between all the main girls, and even the supporting characters have their moments as well. There are numerous priceless Kimura moments here, especially with his wife and then a couple of random appearances, there's some funny stuff from Kaorin, the girl who idolises Sakaki, and we even get a lot more Minamo as well. With no ongoing story to speak of and discuss I realise much of this review is just my relaying some of my favourite moments throughout the episodes, but this show lives and dies by its characters, and the moments I mention are just some of those that affirm their standing as one of the best comedic casts you'll find in an anime comedy.

In Summary:
In short, this volume of Azumanga is every bit as good, if not slightly better in places, than its predecessors. The comedy still isn't boring or tiresome, the characters are wonderful and it's a show that you can just sit down and enjoy to the full. It's great and I highly recommend it, and that's all there really is to say.

Features
Japanese Language (2.0),English Language (5.1),English Subtitles,Clean Opening & Closing,Production Sketches

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Philips DVP5100 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.



Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: C-
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: ADV Films UK
MSRP: 19.99
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Azumanga Daioh