Reflecting back on Azumanga Daioh Azumanga brings quite a bit of thoughts. As someone who grew up watching mostly American cartoons and later dabbled with anime through such shows as Hokuto no Ken and Cowboy Bebop with the occasional mecha thrown in for good measure Ive always had certain prejudices about what an animated program should be about and how it should proceed that Ive had to fight over the years. After getting further into anime over the years and trying to branch out the genres that I watched to try to figure out a bit more of the language and culture I sought out some slice of life shows that were recommended. I tried a few of the popular shows that people had recommended eventually hitting a few of the cute girls doing cute stuff shows such as Kon and Lucky Star and I never quite understood what the hype was about. While I didnt actively dislike the shows although Lucky Star really tried my patience I couldnt wrap my head around what was going on and what the shows were really trying to be. After discussion with a good friend who had walked the paths before he recommended that I take a look at Azumanga in order to fill in the gaps about what was going on. While I cant say that Azumanga changed my life or made me think too deeply about things like certain other anime did over the years I can say without reservation that I finally got the whole cute girls doing cute things genre after watching Azumanga and what it can be when done well. Sometimes in order to understand where you are and where youre headed the right course of action is to look to the past and see where it all began. Azumanga is the Ur example of these girls doing slice of life comedies that more or less swept through the 2000s and to some extent never really left the rotations as there still seem to be a lot of anime that borrow heavily from the popular shows in this genre to some extent. Sadly even the more popular shows even if they became household names to anime fans do not quite hold up to the original in a lot of ways which I hope to collect a few thoughts on in this review which may or may not stay coherent. To give a review of the basic technical aspects of the anime and the staff Azumangas art style follows the actual manga which is a great read very closely. The huge eyes and rather simplistic art style play well for how the show presents itself. While the show is generally fairly realistic there are occasional flirtations with the surreal and the art style and simple animations hold up well. Nothing looks terribly out of place the colors are generally bright and vibrant the characters are expressive even if things occasionally go over the top. The art stays very grounded in the cute side of things. The show has a soothing feel to it most of the time. The sound track is excellent and stays with you as you watch the show. The opening track is one of those great catchy tunes that sounds and pairs well with with the playful and lightheartedness of the show. The closing theme is surreal and dreamy which the show also wades into on occasion. The voice actors are great and really lend life to the characters. Tomo Chiyo and Sakakis actresses stand out to me for sheer expressiveness and giving great life to these characters. Sakakis character especially could not have been easy to voice precisely for her dearth of lines and personality but the actress nailed it. I cannot comment on the English voice actors but I would strongly recommend that this one be listened to in the original at least once as the actresses are great at expressing the personalities of the characters and their growth over the course of three years of high school. Ive also never quite seen characters in this genre done quite as well as in this show. The character of Osaka was amazing and its worth watching the show just to see whats going to pop out of her head. Chiyo is innocently adorable in all the right ways. Tomo is that overly genki friend of ours whos always trying just a little too hard to mask some insecurity or other. Yomi may as well have been many of us with the cynical wonderment at what our idiot friends are up to while trying to keep things on track. The awkward yet sensitive soul Sakaki round out the major characters that we watch grow up through high school. Yes Kagura exists but I never really felt she was as important as the other five in the anime. The female teachers Yukarin and Minyamo also operate on an interesting yin and yang dynamic as they are both friends rivals drinking buddies and a great subtle commentary on twenty something career teachers in Japan as well for those familiar with the realities of that lifestyle. The one male teacher put in as a creepy dude who is a bit too obsessed with the high school girls rounds out the staff and is a tongue in cheek riff on the type of creep whos getting the wrong thing out shows about high school girls. All excellent actresses and actor I would suppose. Technical analysis out of the way what exactly is it that makes Azumanga a must watch anime? Others have wrote what needs to be written on character analysis and given their thoughts on their favorite characters. Im not here to say whos the best girl in the cast or to tell you why thats something everyones perfectly capable of figuring out themselves. Although it can be difficult to pick a favorite character as theyre all great in their own ways. Azumanga does what many slice of life shows actually forgot about over the years in that it actually showed the ups and downs of high school in a way that was realistic showed character development and remained wholesome and heartwarming all the way through. Most slice of life shows after Azumanga just cant quite get that formula down correctly for some reason. They all seem to lack something Azumanga had. Azumanga also stays away from fanservice outside of the very occasional swimsuit shot staying firmly into a level of innocence and wholesome high school antics that is strangely out of character for Japanese entertainment of this type. While its not 100 pure at heart its about as close as it gets and the fact that it became one of the most interesting shows about nothing despite the temptation for cheap fan service says more than I could say about how they take a show thats literally about high school life and made it compelling to watch. I dont have a whole lot of say about any kind of deeper message here. Theres a general message that life moves fast and that time waits for no one. In many ways you cant take it with you and life moves on after school as people take different directions in life. Azumanga never really gets deeper than this and thats fine. Thats not the point of a show like this. To sum up this mess of a review which Ill probably clean up at some point watch Azumanga to see what cute girl slice of life can be when done well. I cant really think of anything that came after it that does the cute girls doing cute things quite as well as Azumanga. Its not a masterpiece but its quality. Its one of those anime that should be watched as it was so influential. I wish that I had seen this show before others in the genre. I cant think of many shows with all female protagonists that quite stand up. Highly recommended all audiences.
80 /100
30 out of 33 users liked this review