Azumanga Daioh Omnibus Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Release Date: Friday, November 30, 2007
Translated by:Kaoru Bertrand (vols. 1 & 2), Amy Forsyth (vols. 1 & 2), Javier Lopez (vols. 1-4), Ai Takai (vols. 1 & 2), Jack Wiedrick (vol. 1)
What They Say
Ah, high school. A time of friends, memories…and biting cats? Leering teachers? And is that penguin carrying a tray?
Welcome to Azumanga Daioh, the acclaimed manga from writer/illustrator Kiyohiko Azuma (YOTSUBA&!) about the humor and wonder of teenage life. Join the brainy Chiyo-chan, spaced-out Osaka, over-the-top Tomo, soft-spoken Sakaki, hair-trigger Yomi and brash Kagura as they fumble their way toward graduation and the future, collected here for the first time in a single, oversized volume!
The Azumanga Daioh manga was originally released in 2003-2004 is four separate graphic novels. This omnibus collects all four novels into one thick volume. The packaging is a bit of a mixed bag. This is a larger sized manga, which is nice because it allows for clearer pictures and more readable text. The cover features a nice group photo of the six friends on the front. A neat feature of this collection is that it keeps each volume separate and uses the same title pages, tables of contents, etc. from each volume, including the original artwork from the actual covers.
The main drawback here is that paper quality is a little lower than most. This is readily apparent because a higher paper quality is used for the volume breaks and mid-volume ‘specials’ (i.e. sections done in the more traditional manga format rather than the 4 panel format of the rest of the book). Also disappointing is that all of the color has been removed from the pages that were colorized in the individual releases. However, both of these can be forgiven since this is a budget release.
The art in this title is about as simplistic as it could get. Not a whole lot of detail went into the character designs, and even shading in the four panel sections was kept fairly basic as there were very few gradients used, making just about everything either black or white. That said, anything that was color in the original releases has a grayscale shading system to replace it which looks really nice compared to the rest, and although the art is pretty simple, I find that it actually fits well with the non-complicated feel of the story.
The text in this release looks nice and is easy to read. Sound effects are given in a bolder font, while thoughts and mumbled remarks are typically smaller than the speech. The translation is mostly fine, and translator’s notes are provided for the last two volumes, though unfortunately not the first two. However, there are a few instances where the translated text seems out of place. The example that sticks out to me is in the third volume where the stores Target and Old Navy are mentioned as part of a joke. I understand their thought process in changing the stores to something American readers would recognize, but I had trouble reconciling this with a story that takes place in Japan. Also, in an editing error, the page references for the translator’s notes were not updated for the omnibus and still reference their respective page numbers in the individual volumes.
Contents (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Azumanga Daioh is the light-hearted look at an eclectic group of high school friends and their daily journey towards graduation. Each girl has a defining personality trait that is ramped up to abnormal levels, and each has something of a foil, or polar opposite, to help illustrate those traits. Chiyo-chan is as intelligent and level-headed as Osaka is air-headed and whacked out; Tomo is as boisterous and irritating as Yomi is composed and irritable; and Sakaki is as introverted and reserved as Kagura is extroverted and competitive. Even the teachers get in on the act as Yukari tends toward selfishness and childishness, while Nyamo is charitable and grown up.
Unlike most manga that reaches our shores, it is mostly presented as a four panel comic strip, similar to what appears in the daily newspapers. Therefore, there are really no complex story arcs over the course of the manga; what we get instead is quick snapshots of random moments in their daily routines, and put together, these paint an overall picture of their friendship and high school life. While there are a few sections that switch to a more standard comic book format to tell a narrative, the meat is in the four panel strips.
Since the story lines are never complex, we do not get the typical issues that face characters in most high school stories. There are no romantic interests, no overbearing parents, and no other growing pains. Even the characters situations are simple to understand: Chiyo is a child prodigy entering high school at the age of ten, Osaka is the transfer student with odd tendencies, Tomo is the class clown, Yomi is the square, Kagura is the jock, and Sakaki has trouble coming out of her shell; yet they all somehow become the best of friends. There is little growth in the characters from beginning to end, but that’s part of their charm, and without much plot, it is their interactions that drive the story. Each strip provides a little insight, not to mention a lot of humor, into each character’s personality and view on life.
As a long time, uber-fan of the Azumanga Daioh anime, I had long wanted to pick up the manga to continue my obsession. For one reason or another, I never did read it until this omnibus was released. The manga has all of the charms of the anime: non-stop humor, strong characters, and a feel-good story, and it tends to be a bit more cohesive as some of the weaker moments from the anime are not present in the manga.
Being a fan of character driven stories, I took to Azumanga Daioh very quickly. While all of the characters here typically embody one or two traits, and those traits are pushed way over the top, they all still come out as believable people. There are never any instances where a person acts out of character, and they all interact well with one another. There is never a point where their actions or reactions seem implausible.
It is the fact that each character has a foil that allows for these exaggerated personalities to exist without becoming overbearing. Tomo may be an annoying jerk, even to the reader, but Yomi’s willingness to put Tomo in her place typically balances it out. Even some of the minor characters have foils: for example, Kourin may have an unhealthy obsession for Sakaki, but Mr. Kimura’s unhealthy obsession for Kourin (or high school girls in general) keeps Kourin occupied.
I really like the four panel setup of this manga. For starters, it adds a completely different feel to the story than most other manga. Hitting plot points four panels at a time makes the story feel fast paced. I was surprised at how quickly I blew through the almost 700 pages. There is virtually no wasted space here, as the break every fourth panel allows the comic to jump around at will. The format also fits the simplistic nature of the plot well as there is no time for any complex or unnecessary detail. A four panel setup also means that it can easily be read in small chunks, not to mention being able to open to a random page and pick the story right up.
The only problem that I had with the readability of this comic was there were a number of instances throughout where I felt that I would not have gotten the joke if I had not already seen the anime countless times. Sometimes it was because of obscure facts about Japan, but many times it was also because the limited space of the four panels made it hard to follow what was going on. It was never anything that would have ruined my overall enjoyment of the comic, but it happened enough times that it made me glad I was not coming into this cold.
With all its focus on the small details rather than on big stories, Azumanga Daioh captures the essence of high school life and camaraderie pretty well. Even a jaded soul such as me got feelings of wistful nostalgia for high school as I read Azumanga Daioh and observed the strong bonds of friendship that these girls all have for one another, and when one combines all of the small details and considers the story as a whole, there is a surprising depth of character and plot that might otherwise go unnoticed.
The Azumanga Daioh: Omnibus is worth picking up for any fan of Azumanga Daioh, or for people looking for an easy, feel-good read. While those that already own the individual volumes will not find anything extra to warrant a re-purchase, at an MSRP of less than two third of the four volumes combined, this edition is the one to get for those who have yet to own it. While the plot may not be the most complex, the interaction of the characters is a joy from start to finish. I honestly cannot recommend this any higher.
Mania Grade: A
Art Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Text/Translatin Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Released By: ADV Manga
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Azumanga Daioh