30 CommentsFavourite and Forgotten / By Scamp /

2002 Anime: Azumanga Daioh

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This was always going to be an interesting one to review. Azumanga Daioh is frequently held up by people such as myself as a cutesy 4-koma adaptation that is actually good and therefore proof that I don’t unconditionally hate moe comedies. But Azumanga was made long before those series became a commonplace and diluted the market with their terribleness. I was genuinely unsure what returning to it would reveal. Was there some secret trick Azumanga pulled that all subsequent series failed at, or will I regard Azumanga with the same disdain at disgust I usually reserve for stuff like A-Channel?

Or will I just post a review that consists entirely of screencaps of Chiyo looking distraught?

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vlcsnap-2013-02-11-17h28m12s180Yup, I think it will just be pictures of Chiyo being distraught.

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vlcsnap-2013-02-11-21h57m42s81All right fine, I’ll do an actual review.

People often say that Azumanga doesn’t have a plot, which isn’t true. Or perhaps ‘plot’ isn’t the right word, but there is a very strong narrative running through the show. You know the way Japan has this idea that high school is the greatest time of your life. There’s a whole load of societal reasons why this time period is fetishised to this degree, from the oppressive lifestyle that is working salaryman life to the widespread culture of idolising youth in general, but it’s a big part of why 99% of anime are set in high school. Anime fans take issue with this, but that’s because anime fans are nerds and therefore high school sucked for them. Western culture likes to idolise college life because it’s seen as when you finally get freedom to get away from your parents, drink alcohol legally and have lots of sex, which again comes down to a whole load of cultural reasons.

But anyway, Azumanga is selling this idea of this idolised highschool life, and does this by presenting it through the eyes of a 10 year old girl. It’s similar to the author Kiyohiko Azuma’s other work, Yotsuba-ampersand, which takes the view that you can enjoy even the simplest things in life if you view it through the eyes of a 6-year-old. The other thing that Azumanga does is, while events are certainly suger-coated in that nobody in the show suffers severe repercussions from their crippling social anxieties, child-molesting teachers, or closet lesbianism, it’s also not like everyone is wonderful to each other all the time. A nice subtitle for the show would be “Teenagers bully a 10 year old girl: The Animation”.

Case in point:

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This one is my favourite one. Osaka asks Tomo something and Tomo absent mindedly responds while she’s pulling on Chiyo’s pigtails. They never draw attention to it. It’s just happening as part of everyday life.

The first half is more about setting up the various characters and giving them their single defining trait that will make up every single bloody joke they’re involved in for the entire rest of the goddamn show, but the second half leans way more heavily on the high school life portion. This is largely because the characters are leaving school and everyone becomes introspective about how their friendships formed and what they’re going to do with their lives from now on. It’s about the importance of the relationships you form and how each person’s eccentricities make up the entertaining concoction that is your school life. But equally it’s about this being the last portion of your life where you don’t have to make any serious choices that affect your career direction. It’s about the characters coming to terms with what they like and making those decisions by themselves, but also about hoping for the best for your friends and giving them support, even if it’s as dumb as giving them charms to take into exam.

The inclusion of the teachers as major characters is fascinating, because in many ways they’re constantly reliving their high school life. Apart from still physically being in the school, they spend most of their time together reminiscing about high school. They also are made face the decisions they made at the end of highs chool to become teachers in the first place. That episode in particular was weirdly poignant. It came before the rest of Azumanga got more reflective and was mostly a dumb comedy, so the teacher’s hard thinking about where they were in their life and whether they made the right choices was a perfect mirror to hold up to the same questions the girls had once the final batch of episodes kicked in.

Speaking of the comedy, here’s more pictures of Chiyo looking unhappy.

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The comedy in Azumanga isn’t particularly clever or anything. Its connection to the overarching narrative of girls growing up and forming relationships gives it a bit of weight at least, but as singular jokes they’re hardly the height of social satire. There are a few occasions where it slips into the surreal, in particular an episode focused around each character having bizarre dreams involving Chiyo and her cat-dad. Those episodes are brilliant, both from a surreal humour perspective, and the way they tie how the other character’s views of Chiyo. Chiyo is kinda surreal in her own way, being this ball of cuteness so concentrated that it forces you into a fever dream that distorts reality around her, so seeing that presented in the form of dream sequences was fantastic.

But those surreal sequences are few and far between. Most of the rest of the humour is the same gag for each character repeated to breaking point. Sakaki is the worst in this regard. At least when Osaka is dopey, she’s dopey about a different thing every time. Sakaki is so single minded about cats that she basically has nothing else inside that head of hers. Yomi is even worse, to the point that they struggle to come up with any personality trait whatsoever and in the end make a half-hearted attempt to have her weight issues become something more character defining. The comedy gets by mostly on its timing, for which it has the best comedic timing for anything anywhere anytime. There was a scene where Osaka runs after her friends with her hands above her head yelling “CAKEEII~”.

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By itself not particularly funny, but the pause they did before where Osaka’s brain clunks into gear before she realises that there’s cake to be had is so perfectly timed. Osaka is usually the recipient of these pauses, which work brilliantly because you can practically hear the rusted gears inside her brain whirring as she comes to some nonsense conclusion. Generally though, the humour’s quality wanes alarmingly quickly because there’s so little to it and it repeats itself so bloody much. The show’s depth doesn’t truly appear towards the end, so the occasional surreal episode and cuteness of Chiyo are left trying to hold up the rest of the show by themselves. They do a surprisingly good job of it though. Only towards the 3rd quarter did some of the episodes really start to bore me.

As I was watching this show and formulating these thoughts about Azumanga’s depiction of high school life, I realised that I had seen these exact same arguments made about another anime: K-ON! This idea that you’re watching the characters form relationships and live their high school life, coupled with that same depressing feeling when you reach the end and watch them leave school together. That is exactly what I got from Azumanga through exactly the same format with exactly the same genre construction. Which got me thinking as to what the hell it was K-ON did wrong that caused such an internet backdraft against it? Perhaps I could blame the fact it came once the moe boom was in full swing, or that it came after Lucky Star ruined that genre forever by being literally Hitler. But Azumanga’s jokes are fairly repetitive with stupid characters and leans heavily on cuteness too. I didn’t enjoy Azumanga as much this time around, but I still certainly enjoyed it. Maybe I should try watch K-ON aga-

NO SCAMP BAD SCAMP DON’T DO THIS QUICK POST MORE PICTURE’S OF CHIYO!!!

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30 Comments

  1. Posted March 7, 2013 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    Huh, you even covered the point I was going to make re: K-On.

    As for why K-On got a backlash and Azumanga doesn’t, well, keep in mind that when Azumanga aired in 2002, digisubs were still a very new thing, and the online anisphere was much less…lets say jaded about it all. This was also pre-4chan and pre-almost-any-other-thing-you-might-name.

    I mean hell, it was long enough ago that I only technically watched it “as it aired” by dint of marathoning it right before the final episode was released. I remember being hunched over my DC++ client, eagerly awaiting episode 26 to appear, having only recently learned how to acquire fansubs of ongoing shows.

    So yeah. Get off my lawn!

    • Anon
      Posted March 7, 2013 at 1:01 am | Permalink

      “As it aired” is a strange thing to say about the show. Azumanga aired in the same way that Puchimas is currently airing. 5 minute episodes every weekday that were later collected and rebroadcast five in a row in a single 24 minute episode.

      • Posted March 7, 2013 at 1:44 am | Permalink

        Errr…how so? I don’t think that really makes any difference to my assertion that I saw it (esssentially) while it aired on JP TV.

        As far as I know, no one subbed the daily version, only the end of the week compilation. So I don’t see what your point is.

      • shytende
        Posted March 7, 2013 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

        It makes me think more of Hidamari Sketch, than K-On, honestly.
        Except Hidamari Sketch is far lighter, but Sae and Hiro leaving soon is a really important part of the recent episode.

  2. lmm
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 12:35 am | Permalink

    Nitpicks: you may or may not mean “affects” rather than “effects”, but you definitely mean “they’re” rather than “their”. Also you want to add a “to”, I think you mean “teachers’”, and you don’t want “highs chool”

  3. Posted March 7, 2013 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    It would have made me SO happy to see Sakaki go petless. Seeing Yomi flunk all of her entrance exams would have rocked as well.

    That’s the only place where Azumanga fell down. It wasn’t mean enough.

  4. lmm
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 12:44 am | Permalink

    I think K-ON! was a lot less funny, and I say this as a fan. K-ON focuses more about the cuteness, and at times steps into “healing-type show” territory (i.e. something like Aria) – in that there are episodes where not only does “nothing happen”, but there aren’t even jokes as such. Whereas Azumanga at least keeps the jokes coming, whether you find them funny or not.

  5. Posted March 7, 2013 at 12:48 am | Permalink

    Somewhere in your second block of words you yourself identify what endearing comedies have that K-ON lacks in humor: a willingness to be mean to its characters and laugh at their flaws, as we do with people we know in life but still hold affection for. Tomoyo is a jackass and Osaka is often the butt of jokes, but it rings more authentic to our experience of “friends” and “high school” than the cloying, infantile air-heads the light music club is often reduced to.

    There are gaffs with Azumanga you can simply chalk up to just being a pioneering comic strip anime adaptation: imperfect cast composition, awkward timing, repetitive structure (see all the same school events and holidays 3 times over!). But it undeniably made its own rules and relied on its own comic wit, which is always rare in a world of canned jokes, commodified stereotypes, and reliance on inward-looking industry references.

    • Scamp
      Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

      I dunno, the characters in K-ON were mocked a lot. Mio had social anxiety disorders. Yui is really dumb. The show was quite happy to mock its own characters

  6. blargh
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 1:15 am | Permalink

    My name is blargh, and I approve this blog entry.

  7. cepech
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 1:30 am | Permalink

    It’s simple.

    Azumanga has Wakamoto.

    K-on not.

    • shytende
      Posted March 7, 2013 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

      Well, that’s true, but Dog Days also have Wakamoto, you know.

      It also have Osaka.

      • Scamp
        Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

        So does MD Geist

  8. DarkEnergy
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    I liked K-On! because it was light and enjoyable. Azumanga got pretty boring for me and I didn’t understand a lot of the jokes.
    K-On!: 7/10
    Azumanga Daioh: 6/10

  9. Thrashy
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 2:28 am | Permalink

    Funny thing, I remember loving this show, but the only things about it I remember distinctly are Osaka’s cake rampage, and Chiyo’s PTSD-flashback recounting of a car ride with Yukari-sensei (“GRANDPA! GRANDPA, RUUUN!”). I may have to dig out the DVDs again…

  10. Posted March 7, 2013 at 2:40 am | Permalink

    The lack of meanness definitely hurt K-ON, as I seem to recall the funniest parts being when Mio strangled Ritsu and when the teacher went all Satan when her past was revealed. Then Azusa showed up and everything just went to blegh. And other than Milky Holmes and the early episodes of Chuunibyou, I can’t think of an anime that was mean to its moe girls.

    What I’m saying is that we need more female abuse in our anime. And not the shit kind that SAO gave. I mean the actually funny kind.

    • shytende
      Posted March 7, 2013 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

      You says that, but everyone hate Kotoura-San.
      And Kotoura-San is everything about abusing moe girls.

  11. Posted March 7, 2013 at 4:56 am | Permalink

    I remember this show being one of the few times I waited a long time before finishing a series simply because I didn’t want it to end. It’s not until you reach those last few episodes that you realize just how attached you’ve grown to everyone. Especially Osaka, who may still be my favourite anime character.

    Sadly, I can’t compare this show to K-On! because I never actually saw that show. Perhaps I should correct that?

  12. Inushinde
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    Azumanga is one of those few shows that still holds up years after I’ve first seen it. Unlike K-On, which just doesn’t click, there’s a definite sort of risk-taking that Azumanga has. It’s very rare that the cuteness is done for the sake of cuteness, an attitude that’s difficult to find in the modern industry. In short, it’s all in aid of comic victimization, which I’m 100% in favor of.

  13. Shengar
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    You watched many older animes recently Scamp. What’s next on your list? Will Mushishi got it own share if the S2 officially released? Ah, well its one of a serious anime.

    • Scamp
      Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

      This is part of the 2002 anime series I’m rewatching, so I’ve still got a few from that year I plan to watch

  14. Posted March 7, 2013 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    OMG, just as my belated birthday Azumanga Omnibus arrived, you post a lenghty review of the anime version! It’s like another one gift, but only if you only praise it. I’m now going to read it and curse you every time you complain.

  15. Shikamaru
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    When I watched Azumanga years ago I didn’t know what moe was. I enjoyed it because it was really funny. I didn’t watch anime because it had cute girls doing cute things. Now that I’m K-on! fanboy I enjoyed Azumanga even more when I rewatched it 2 years ago.

    As a teenager I enjoyed anime because it had fanservice. I enjoyed shit like Girls Bravo, because you could see boobies. Nowdays I hate fanservice, but I love moe. Is this upgrade or downgrade? I honestly don’t know.

    Watcing K-on! cheers me up, no matter how sad or mad I am. That’s the reason why I personally love K-on!. It’s not that funny but for some reason I have this really stupid looking grin the whole time while watching it. I’m trying to find a way to describe this feeling…

    If you love kittens, imagine 10 of them purring and demanding your attention and when you try to leave they all follow you quietly meowing because they want even more attention. That’s when you have that stupid grin on your face.

    • shytende
      Posted March 7, 2013 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      I don’t really have this feeling toward K-on…
      It’s nice, but it didn’t really fixed itself in memory..

      However, it’s how I see Hidamari Sketch. To this day, I still can’t say why I like it so much. It’s just throw away every clouds, and makes me feel serene…

  16. Zacsi
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    “Lucky Star ruined that genre forever by being literally Hitler.”

    Scamp, March 7, 2013

    • Shikamaru
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 5:05 am | Permalink

      Godwin’s law.

  17. mikedude
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Not even a mention of Tadakichi-san? Shameful!

  18. Kenji
    Posted March 11, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    I watched Lucky Star before Azumanga Daioh roughly six years ago so Lucky Star became the standard ‘moe 4-koma’ for me. Given that it’s one of my first few contact with the moe genre, it is pretty good in my opinion. Then Azumanga Daioh appeared in my life.

    Based on my vague memory, I rated Azumanga Daioh a 1 in MAL. Convinced by Scamp’s superior taste in anime, I rewatched the first episode on Youtube. Poor voice acting, deliberate pacing and weak OSTs are some of the flaws I noticed. Though to be honest, I did gave in to the show’s humour from time to time; either due to the severely pitiable characters or my desperation for humour.

    That said; from how I see it, Azumanga Daioh is pretty much Japan’s version of slow paced Teletubbies (especially Osaka). Hence I wonder; did you all (who favored the show) watched it in dub or is Azumanga Daioh the prime show of it’s season/year? I’ve no idea how I can like it even in the slightest.

    If I rewatch the whole series perhaps it’ll get promoted to a rating of 2 or 3, but it’ll never go above 4.

  19. Triple_R
    Posted March 11, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    I think these are the five main reasons Azumanga never received the backlash that K-On! did:

    5. Azumanga’s format (heavy high school focus, pretty much all-girls cast, mix of comedy and slice of life) was more original at the time, or at least SEEMED that way at the time. There was novelty value there, in other words. K-On! didn’t enjoy this quite the same because of the many shows that came before it that had this format.

    4. Azumanga had sharper comedy, and I say that as a K-On! fan. This made Azumanga feel a bit edgier. It’s not so much that the K-On! girls never tease or mock each other, it’s that Azumanga simply does it better. A lot of this is how the slapstick comedy in particular compares between the two shows.

    3. Azumanga’s artstyle is edgier, literally. The lines are sharper, there’s less curve to how characters are drawn. K-On’s artstyle is much softer, smoother, which I think gives off that moe vibe a bit stronger. Critics would say that the girls in K-On look like amorphous blobs, and such a criticism could never apply to Azumanga. This is like the difference between two sugars in your coffee and four sugars in your coffee. For most, a couple sugars is Ok, but four or more is too sweet. Of course, for people who can’t get enough sugar in their coffee, four is just great! ;)

    2. Disgruntled Haruhi and FMP fans. Many of them resented KyoAni doing K-On! instead of more Haruhi or FMP. Azumanga Daioh had nothing like this to deal with.

    And now the main reason why….

    1. Azumanga never pretended to be anything other than what it is – A slice of life “coming of age” comedy focused entirely on a group of high school girls. K-On, OTOH, pretended to be about music. Some people picked up K-On because they wanted to watch an anime that focused a lot on music. Some of these people I know personally, and they were downright pissed by how K-On spent more time with the girls sitting around eating cake then actually practicing, discussing, or playing music.

    • MetsThe2
      Posted March 12, 2013 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

      Only 4 spoons? :(

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