Azumanga Daioh Vol. #4 (Mania.com)

By:Eduardo M. Chavez
Review Date: Sunday, July 04, 2004
Release Date: Thursday, April 01, 2004



Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Azuma Kiyohiko
Translated by:Javier Lopez
Adapted by:

What They Say
Everyone's favorite gang of high schoolers is back for their final year. This time, the gang takes a trip to sunny Okinawa, where Osaka plays with sea cucumbers and looks for something to eat. Yomi announces her intention to join InterPol, and Sakaki gets a cat that will (gasp!) let her pet it!

When the gang gets together for a camping trip, Mr. Kimura makes his big confession to one of the students! Meanwhile, Chiyo-chan seems to be disappearing under a horde of pigeons...

It's all the zaniness and tongue-in-cheek comedy you've come to expect from this popular series, culminating in the bittersweet graduation ceremony where everyone goes their separate ways.

The Review
The girls are finally in the home stretch and after 2.5 years of fun, the time has come for stress, studying and superstition. Will any of these girls graduate? Well Chiyo should, right?!?

Packaging:
ADV's presentation is very good. The highlights include the large A5 size aspect (which is the original size), same cover art as the original tankoubon and color pages.

Logo Check!! (2003 Megs).... the logo here is nicely done. ADV did add a little "the manga" to the logo but it doesn't mess the look up too bad.

The printing is still a little dark causing some shades of tone to blend too much (it's getting better). On the other hand, the color work has greatly improved since the first volume. The art on the colored pages are great individual images of Kagura, Chiyo, Tomo and Yomi in casual wear. Very nice (but Chiyo looks a little wierd for my tastes).
Now if they figure out a way to reproduce the art that is under the dust jackets (same for FMP!) then they could come close to perfection.

Artwork:
With no new changes to the existing character designs, the issues I had with volume three are now gone. These designs are not very complex, but they remind me of another four panel comic out there with simple designs full of puns and running gags... Peanuts. The simplicity works, but one cannot forget to make these characters look different to keep confusion down (for a while in earlier volumes I was getting a few characters confused as their hair was looking a little to similar). There is very little depth to the characters or the world they are in. Backgrounds are rarely there and because of the format the layout is non-existent. I have to say I really enjoyed the work done in the chapters that are not in strip format. These feature a good mix of perspective, layout technique and story telling.

Orientation/SFX:
The orientation is right to left, as usual. And I like that they are not translating SFX by describing them instead of using onomatopoeia as often as they used to. It was a little weird but I am glad they have gotten over some of their early bugs. They also tend to mix up the use of subs and the occasional overlay for their SFX translations. Its works out pretty good actually, so you will almost always have the original SFX intact (except for the 3 or 4 times where there is little room in a panel to have both).

Text:
With quite a bit more colloquial Japanese comedy the Americanization went up, and ADV continues to change dialect. ADV tries to excuse themselves by adding a translator's note section explaining their changes. While this does clear most questions readers may have, I have to say I would rather they explain the original text instead of changing it (I mean they do that with other historical certain cultural topics, why not the rest?). Still the notes provided are helpful and quite often even fun. Honorifics off and on. It's really based on the character.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
A regular affair in Japanese schools is the class trip. They are usually only for certain years but almost every school does them. Popular destinations are: Nara, Hokkaido, and Okinawa. This year the seniors (third year students) will be heading off to Okinawa for their class trip. A week of fun and adventure is often worth three years of stagnant Japanese high school education. Traveling may not be that big a deal for Yomiko or Chiyo, but to Ayumu, Kagura and Tomo these are uncharted waters full of mysteries. Different language, food, culture, and environment is almost too much to handle. Some of the girls take things in stride, though. A change of scenery helps Sakaki get close those of the feline kind. A different culture gives Chiyo a chance to act even more nerdy as she works on another language to master. And who cares about diets when on vacation, right Yomiko! Fun times.

Contrary to what was mentioned in an earlier volume, this volume has the real last high school summer vacation these girls will share together. This time all the girls are present: Yomiko, Chiyo, Sakaki, Kagura, Kaori, Ayumu, Tanizaki-sensei and -sensei. Nothing is going to ruin this trip; unless, you are Tanizaki's car. Beachside fun during the day and studying for college exams at night may be the best of both worlds for these gals at a time where stress is starting to effect these young ladies. The stress might be getting to their teachers as well, as one of them realizes she can be little help to most college hopefuls (and it is not Tanizaki-sensei).

From here on out the focus turns to exams and eventually graduation. Annual events like sports day, Christmas and New Year's day get their share of strips reduced, as Azuma has his girls spending most of their time worrying about the future and their studies. The jokes start to lean heavily on superstition and failure from this point out but there are some good stories tossed in to change the pace here and there. Most memorable is Sakaki's reunion with the Iriomote cat she met in Okinawa. The reunion was not only memorable but was the realization of years of work for Sakaki. After so much trouble she now has a cat (albeit a wild feline) that done not mind her company. No more bites and all the petting her heart desires. Now if she can keep it in the neighborhood until she gets to college everything will fall into place. Azuma goes through the different stages of the college entrance process: exams in January, results in February, graduation in March and finally moving on to college. Each of the girls has a little time dedicated to their individual triumphs and failures. With Chiyo going to study abroad in America, she is used for moral support while the rest of the girls suffer through this coming of age ritual. Prayers must be said, fortunes read, charms shared and there even was some time for studying. There is excitement - Kagura got into her college of choice on the first try (how the character that was traditionally the dumbest passed first is like karma isn't it) and Sakaki got accepted to her fall back school. Some struggles - Ayumu and Tomo did not make the grade on their first school but they got in the second time around. And some disappointment - Yomiko tough time with her exams. She took tests deep into the month of February, when everyone else was already getting results. Even worse she would have to wait until after graduation, in March, until she would find out about her future. But in the end, everyone was successful. They all made it to college but just as importantly they all had a fun time together in these past three years.

Comments
After a pair of volumes full of filler, lacking much development where the focus was corny pun based comedy, finally got on some sort of track for a while and used the original slice of life situations to make everyday moments seem funny without much effort. The school vacation in particular was very well done. The setting was probably not the best for humor, but Azuma used these personalities to make some of the dullest moments entertaining and more importantly funny.

The rest of the volume quickly progressed to the series grand finally. Azuma does a great job presenting the rituals that most kids go through at the end of their high school careers and by keeping the situations pretty low key and accessible to the reader the laughs came really easy. For fans that are not too familiar with Japanese culture this volume does a good job of presenting some of the culture that is not often shared in anime/manga.

As ADV Manga's first completed series (Darkside Blues was a single volume title) Azumanga Daioh was a simple choice: a very popular comedy title with an anime that they have licensed. It was just as much of a risk - pun and culture heavy slice of life 4-koma (four panel) manga is not found in North America quite often. Even though I would have personally would have gone in a different direction with the translation, ADV's production values were fan and otaku friendly making this title appealing to a large audience.

Fortunately, Azuma's work is worth the effort put into the production. AzuDai may not come from a trendy genre, have detailed art, fan service or a lot of action, instead it takes readers to the lives of a few high school kids, with personalities we may have seen in our own classmates, as they go about their school days. There really is not much to it, but as you read on the situational comedy takes you back to those moments we all went through and presents them in away readers can relate to and more often than not laugh with. Other titles work hard to get laughs, AzuDai at its best gets laughs by just keeping things simple and letting the laughs come if they come. There are risks in comedies like that, but Azumanga Daioh is one that is well worth taking.

Recommended.



Mania Grade: B+
Art Rating: C+
Packaging Rating: A-
Text/Translatin Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Released By: ADV Manga
MSRP: 9.95
Pages: 194
ISBN: 1-4139-0048-8
Size: A5
Orientation: Right to Left