Azumanga Daioh is easily the most adorable and charming anime I have ever sat down to watch. Based off of the four panel manga by Kiyohiko Azuma and originally broadcast back in 2002, the entire 26 episode series gets assembled here on a five disc thinpak collection. The show has won over the hearts of otaku everywhere and is arguably one of the most enjoyable releases in recent memory.
There are several elements at play here that make this show work on so many levels. For starters while there are 26 episodes, each is broken down into sections or sub-episodes. This makes the series fresh and fast paced, plus there's no denying the similarities between this style of show and the four panel comic. It keeps the series from getting monotonous and everything stays fresh from start to finish.
Another component to its success is the concept, which focuses on the lives of six high school girls. Through the course of the series you will get to know and love each of the characters thanks to their wild personalities. The group of friends has such great chemistry that they work together flawlessly. Added to the cast are a couple of teachers and some secondary characters that each brings something special to the table. All in all everyone in this show works off of each other magnificently.
By far though the biggest thing that makes this show a success is the zany sense of humor it has. Each episode is packed with hilarious situations, random insanity and such an intelligent amount of humor that you'll be in stitches. Of course some of the jokes are funnier than others but there's plenty here that will hit your funny bone in a big way. Many of the gags are at the expense of the girls but it's their reactions that make the whole thing priceless. The show also stops every now and then to use reactionary humor that lasts for a few frames (kind of like the Family Guy).
Azumanga Daioh doesn't rely on mecha, fan service or cliches to tell its tale. Instead, as the show progresses you'll become attached to the characters and an impression will be made on you like no other. This series follows the characters through their schooling together and you'll witness them grow as people and closer together. Just who are these school girls though and what makes them so special?
I personally think that the star of the show (as in the one who steals all of the scenes) is the irresistibly adorable Chiyo-Chan. She may be in high school but she's a ten year old prodigy who is cute as a button. Many of the jokes revolve around her being too young or short but it's her energetic personality that gives her character the most charm. She stands out the most from the rest of the pack thanks to her childlike emotions and constantly upbeat personality.
My next favorite character is nicknamed Osaka because she's, well, from Osaka. She is easily the biggest space cadet I have ever seen and often stops randomly to stare into space or mutter something completely out of context. She never can seem to get it together and many of the show's funny off-guard moments come about thanks to her idiocy.
Miss Sakaki is considered to be the coolest girl in class though she secretly has a fetish for all things cute, especially cats. She develops something of a rivalry with a gray neighborhood stray that continues throughout the series. Every time Sakaki tries to pet the thing it either runs away or turns into a fluffy piranha and bits her hand. She's a very quiet and distant character that everyone wishes they could be. A girl named Kaorin is also relentlessly infatuated with her.
Highly competitive and irritatingly persistent are the best ways to describe Tomo. She's constantly trying to be the best at everything yet at the same time she is inherently lazy. Tomo adds a certain level of random insanity to the show and is one of the more outstanding personalities of the group. She's the type of person that expresses herself by teasing and poking fun at everyone else.
In contrast to Tomo, Yomi is the completely polar opposite. She's very subdued and mature for her age and is a real smart cookie. She's the typical nerdy high school girl with glasses and is often the voice of reason for the group. The last girl joins the friends in the second semester and is kind of a tomboy. We meet Kagura in the first semester during some athletic competition but her character isn't very pronounced until she switches classes.
Apart from the main characters there is a wealth of secondary ones such as the girl's teachers, Yukari and Nyamo. Yukari is very confrontational, aggressive and brash in her decision making process. You'll often see her making bets, yelling at people or getting drunk off her ass. Nyamo is the more level headed of the two and differs from Yukari quite a bit. The two were high school chums when they were younger and comparably their relationship is similar to Tomo and Yomi's. There is of course one other teacher that takes the main stage occasionally. He's a pedophiliac who loves high school girls and gawking at young bodies. Mr. Kimura is obviously disliked by all of the girls and it's hilarious to see him walk around with his mouth agape ogling everyone.
It's this insane group of characters that come together to form a show so memorable and charming that it will win over anyone. There is so much here that works on nearly every level that Azumanga Daioh is an instant success that will weave a spell over otaku and newcomers alike. The misadventures of these girls are a blast from start to finish and all 26 episodes here will keep you glued to your TV up until their graduation. This is easily one of the most widely enjoyable shows I have ever been fortunate enough to watch.
Azumanga Daioh is presented with the 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio that it was originally broadcast with back in 2002. Everything about this show is beautiful from the character designs and art style to the fluid animation and great sense of emotion. This is one of the more colorful anime I have watched in a while and will easily win you over. There are only trace amounts of grain and a few points of aliasing during the entire show, otherwise the transfer is flawless. An anamorphic widescreen presentation would have been appreciated but I am so pleased with the way this show looks as it is I'm not going to complain.
There are two soundtracks available on this DVD set and each offer a great amount of quality. The English 5.1 track offers some decent directionality though most of the audio comes via the front channel. The English dubbing is acceptable though there are a couple of voiceovers that left a lot to be desired. Giving into my preferences I watched the bulk of the show with the Japanese 2.0 audio and was very pleased. I didn't notice any flaws with the audio on either track but the aural presentation just isn't as beautiful as the visual.
The cost we pay to get 26 episodes on five discs doesn't really allow any room for bonus material. It's unfortunate but considering if extras were present on the disc that would probably mean we'd see some compression in the video quality. There are some ADV previews on the first discs but other than that there's nothing else.
I simply can't get enough of Azumanga Daioh. I love everything about it and it stands as one of the most charming, hilarious and sentimental shows I have ever seen. If you are looking for an anime that marches to the beat of a different drummer, then this one is definitely up your alley. There is so much class A material in the 26 episodes presented here that this show graduates with high honors. Add too that some fantastic visual quality and a decent audio presentation and you have a DVD package that is a must buy. Highly Recommended
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