This is a series which I’d previously heard a lot about, but never really had an opportunity to watch, with it being constantly put aside for watching other things. I knew that it was considered to be a top-tier slice of life comedy and quite influential on other series, but I still hadn’t seen it. When Anime Lab put it up on their website, I figured this must be a sign. I love comedy slice of life so it’s a wonder that I hadn’t watched it previously. I have no idea if anything really constitutes spoilers in a slice of life series but I will include the warning that I’m going to discuss some characterisation in this review.
Azumanga Daioh (I’m going to just call it Azumanga in this review because there’s no great abbreviation) is a comedy series following the high school years of Miss Yukari’s homeroom class. To be honest, I don’t think that a plot synopsis is super useful for a series like this, but I guess some kind of idea of the premise is good for people who are unfamiliar with the series. I’ve heard it likened to many other series, especially Nichijou. I’d actually say that Azumanga and Nichijou are fundamentally different in their premise, despite both being slightly absurd comedies set in high school. Nichijou is a show which shows that the absurd can be everyday, whereas Azumanga is a show which shows the everyday can be absurd. All of the actual events in the show are plausible, if occasionally improbable. The only totally weird and impossible stuff happens in the imagination of the girls.
As is common in this sort of series, the characters are somewhat one-dimensional and have ongoing gags which focus on a personality or character trait. Osaka is always slow on the uptake, Sasaki loves cute things despite her cool demeanour, Kaori has a crush on Sasaki, Chiyo is precocious and so on. If you don’t like the personality traits after the first few episodes, you won’t like the show, but I found that there was a good variety of different situations, and more than anything else, the show really nails the timing of the jokes. I wouldn’t call it madcap comedy, but the show builds up situations well into a punchline and then hones in on the joke. It actually has quite a relaxed tone overall.
The female teachers as characters were quite interesting. While they were teaching classes and responsible for students, they both (especially Miss Yukari) didn’t seem to be especially mature and still showed the same sort of zest for life that their students did. It’s actually nice to see adults who are still having fun in life and don’t have it all together. I think that there’s a misconception that as adults we’ll suddenly have our lives under control or be serious (I know it’s something which I thought a bit as a child), and this is very much not the case. While you do have additional responsibilities, you don’t necessarily feel more competent and you certainly don’t need to stop doing things which you find enjoyable.
I will give fair warning that one of the jokes in the series is based around a high school teacher who in his own words ‘likes high school girls’. While it’s definitely played for comedy, I did find it an uncomfortable note in the series. Thankfully it’s not a frequent joke, but I felt that the series would have been better without it.
Visually, the animation is used to great comic effect. There’s lots of exaggerated expressions and there’s also a clever use of repeated frames to emphasise a joke. I’m still not especially good at analysing visual and animation techniques, but it was interesting seeing how the repeated frames helped to increase the comic effect instead of feeling like a cost-cutting technique as they do in many anime.
The soundtrack features a lot of simple, easygoing instrumentation. There’s use of a single recorder or glockenspiel at times which creates a very light-hearted feel. While it’s not the sort of OST which I would listen to on its own, I think that it works in context to help complement the feeling of a relaxed, fun, everyday life. The OP and ED, Soramimi Cake and Raspberry Heaven respectively also have that sort of charming, lighthearted and relaxed feeling.
It did feel a bit strange to me that in a co-ed high school, that we only really got to know female students. We see male students in class, but we don’t even know any of their names. To me, this felt somewhat unrealistic, as normally by high school most friendship groups contain both girls and boys, and it’s not as though having characters of the opposite sex means that you automatically have to include a romantic element if the creators didn’t wish to. There are many more people in our lives who we don’t have romantic involvement with and I’m sure it would have been possible to portray the boys as funny (and maybe cute).
At its heart, I found Azumanga to be a show which showed that everyday life can be fun and funny! I felt that it encouraged me to look for the magic and joy in everyday life. I’d definitely recommend the show to fans of the comedy slice of life genre. It’s become a personal favourite, and it’s a show I think I’ll go back to in the future.