Watching Azumanga Daioh can cause you to feel like you’ve stepped inside someone’s happy memories. The series focuses on a group of teenage girls as they progress through high school. Perhaps because of the show’s roots as a serialized four-panel comic strip, there are no major story arcs to drive the narration, with the episodes instead mainly consisting of little scenes loosely tied together by an overall theme, such as preparing for a school Cultural Festival. The lack of deep storylines may drive off some viewers hoping for something more complicated, but I found it to be very refreshing and, in many ways, rather realistic. Life is nothing more than a series of moments, after all.
However, “realistic” is perhaps a term most people wouldn’t think to associate with Azumanga Daioh. True, the show is based on the daily lives of the central characters and features a typical Japanese high school setting, but it is peppered with bursts of absurd humor fueled by over-the-top, exaggerated animation and lively voice acting. Both the English and Japanese vocal cast perform admirably and effectively bring the characters to life, though I preferred listening to the show in its original language. The animation team did a stellar job as well, using a warm yet subdued color palate that really adds to the feelings of nostalgia permeating throughout the series.
It’s hard not to become attached to the characters as you watch them grow and see their friendships with one another blossom. I have a soft spot for the quiet Miss Sakaki. A natural athlete with a calm disposition, she is viewed with awe and admiration by her peers. However, underneath her seemingly somber exterior lies a sensitive soul who loves cute things (especially cats) and names her stuffed animals, imagining them to be alive. Quite endearing!
Though Azumanga Daioh will have immediate appeal for teenage girls, it is such an enjoyable series that will likely attract other groups as well. However, it should be noted that the show contains a few elements present that people might raise an eyebrow at. For instance, there are jokes about the girls’ chest sizes and scenes of teachers going out to bars and getting drunk. But the biggest culprit is Mr. Kimura, a teacher at the school who chose his career because he “likes high school girls and things!” Kimura’s fixation with the young ladies pushes the boundaries of what American audiences might be willing to tolerate. This type of humor might actually fly over the heads of younger viewers, but all the same the series is best suited for high school age and above.
Azumanga Daioh is a collection of all the little things that make life special. Despite the show’s seeming simplicity, it manages to breathe more life into its characters than most other animated works. Even if viewers may not be familiar with the many idiosyncratic Japanese cultural aspects that arise during a number of the episodes, it’s still easy to build a connection to the cast and the situations they find themselves in. Azumanga Daioh is a celebration of what makes our everyday lives wonderful, and it will warm the hearts of all but stodgiest of audiences.