“Well, don’t worry. You’re already taking back something with you. That’s right, your precious memories of everyone!” –Yukari Tanizaki
Chiyo Mihama is a child prodigy who is enrolled into high school at the age of ten. Her exceptional academic performance and diminuitive stature makes her stand out in class, where she is quick to befriend a small group of fellow students: scatter-brained Ayumu “Osaka” Kasuga, energetic and boisterous Tomo Takino, serious and studious Koyomi Mizuhara, stoic and tall Sakaki, and competitive Kagura. Although Chiyo’s everyday life at high school is anything but ordinary, thanks to the antics of instructors Yukari Tanizaki, Minamo Kurosawa and Kimura, she comes to find her own place amongst a disparate group of classmates who become closer as a result of their time together. From track-and-field days to culture festivals, exams to vacations, and slow lessons to a class trip to Okinawa, Azumanga Daioh is an anime adaptation of Kiyohiko Azuma’s manga that follows the humourous consequences of admitting a ten-year-old into high school, depicting three years’ worth of events to also demonstrate how seemingly unlike individuals can nonetheless become friends over the course of their shared experiences together, and that everything, from the mundane, to the absurd and grandiose, all come together to form treasured memories of time spent together in the halycon days of youth that is high school. The anime began running in April 2002 and concluded in September. Unusually for its period, Azumanga Daioh is a series that focused purely on everyday life of high school students rather than more fanciful or action-driven series, such as Please Teacher! and Mobile Suit Gundam SEED: while the series occasionally presents surreal flights of fancy, it is largely realistic. Typifying Azuma’s skillful use of comedy, Azumanga Daioh‘s anime adaptation breaks out segments of the manga into acts that serve to amuse, but taken together, the sum of these acts form a cohesive and powerful theme about the appreciation of individual’s in one life: Chiyo herself might be seen as unusual for entering high school at such an early age, but her classmates are all unique, even eccentric, in their own right, and it is amongst such a curious group of individuals where the extraordinary can be found in the mundane. Azumanga Daioh is therefore a series about appreciation of memories, living in the moment and all the while, keeping an eye towards the future – concealed behind clever gags and surrealist humour satirising life as a high school student, Azumanga Daioh is a story about living life to the fullest, and its anime adaptation brings the manga to life to completely immerse viewers in a world that reminds them of a simpler time.
My first exposure to Azumanga Daioh stemmed from the most unusual of places – when one of my friends was made the president of my high school’s anime club, he set aside a day where we ended up watching the infamous AMV Hell 3, a titanic project that sought to parody scenes in anime by combining out-of-context clips with humourous music. Azumanga Daioh was featured prominently, and I became curious to see the series for myself in its original context outside of the parody components. I was not disappointed: the standout aspect of Azumanga Daioh had been that, despite being a satire of high school life, had actually felt quite close to reality. My time as a high school student had featured some colourful characters, amusing instructors and memorable events; Azumanga Daioh thus served to remind me that reality was indeed stranger than fiction, and moreover, high school was a time to be enjoyed, as well: my focus had originally been to simply perform in my classes and determine what lay ahead for my future, and I took up a handful of extracurricular activities along the way, as well as spending time with friends where I had time. While the adventures I experienced were never on the same scale as in Azumanga Daioh, the series did remind me to slow down a little and appreciate what I did encounter. From things like helping my arts instructor bring in a shipment of yearbooks I helped to make, to enjoying German cuisine after placing second at a German poetry competition at the local university, high school had been rather enjoyable for me, and Azumanga Daioh ultimately served to remind me that there was much joy to be had in the moment. During my journey through Azumanga Daioh, I connected immediately with Koyomi the quickest: in manner and temperament, I am most similar to her, doing well enough in athletics but preferring to hit the books where I could, and despite being focused on studies, also enjoyed adventure and excitement. However, Koyomi alone doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it is the sum of the characters’ interactions that make Azumanga Daioh so enjoyable. Chiyo’s adorable plights, Tomo’s wild antics, Ayumu’s spacey non-sequitur remarks and Sakaki’s pursuit of all things cute (which is misunderstood by her friends) come together to create memorable cast whose experiences are worth remembering as though they were one’s own, and so, viewers laugh alongside the characters and root for their successes. By graduation, then, it feels as though one has lived a full three years over the space of Azumanga Daioh: as the characters prepare to depart, one feels the emotional connection to everyone as though they were there themselves, and Chiyo’s tears convey what viewers felt, as well: it is quite sad to see everyone part ways, but Azumanga Daioh astutely concludes on a happy note, suggesting that graduation is not the end, but rather, the beginning of a new journey.
With its emphasis on characters, Azumanga Daioh possesses minimalistic artwork, and instead, counts on the combination of dialogue, facial expression and timing of jokes to bring the characters to life. Consequently, while Azumanga Daioh may lack the same animation and artwork compared to its contemporaries like Gundam SEED and Please Teacher!, the anime remains highly enjoyable to watch. On its own merits, as well as its legacy, Azumanga Daioh was an innovator in its time, setting precedence for what was possible in slice-of-life anime and coming to impact works for over a decade. However, Azumanga Daioh‘s success also had one curious side-effect; because it did so much, so well, it set the bar for slice-of-life that critics came to expect as standard-issue from other anime. The consequence of this was that humour was supposed to be the only meaningful criteria from which to objectively assess slice-of-life anime, leading critics to harshly, and unfairly, dismiss other slice-of-life anime adapted from 4-koma manga: Sorrow-kun of Behind the Nihon review popularised this mode of thinking, suggesting that all fiction alike could be objectively evaluated for quality, and that how funny a given work was, would be a fair universal metric. By Sorrow-kun’s logic, if a work possessed sharp wit, good timing, was self-referential and displayed self-awareness in its comedy, this was smart humour and therefore worth watching. However, Sorrow-kun is missing the point here: humour is only a part of Azumanga Daioh, and the methodology Sorrow-kun outlines as being appropriate for gauging personal enjoyment of slice-of-life anime is, in fact, incomplete. This attitude is why Sorrow-kun enjoyed Azumanga Daioh, which specialised in well-timed non-sequitur jokes, but Sorrow-kun fails to appreciate that there is a greater journey in Azumanga Daioh well beyond Osaka memes. The humour livens individual episodes up, but where Azumanga Daioh really shines is the overarching story and emotional connection viewers form with the characters over the series run. There is an inherent danger in judging slice-of-life purely on the basis of whether or not it is humourous or no: far from being objective, humour is also subjective. Conversely, I use a completely different methodology – in slice-of-life works, I’ve found that the fair and reasonable criterion for evaluating a given work lies within how well the series sells its story and immerses viewers into its world. A good work helps viewers to connect with characters and their journey, while an unsuccessful work gives viewers little incentive to support the characters or fails to indicate the significance of events. This is a more universal approach that is applicable even when a work is not intended to elicit laughs, and I’ve found it to consistently help me to determine how enjoyable a slice-of-life series is. Azumanga Daioh, with its clear themes about treasuring the mundane and embracing the future, a cast of memorable characters and exciting experiences, passes this test with ease, and the comedic elements thus end up being a highly engaging way of conveying the series’ themes, rather than encompassing the entire anime’s worth.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Azumanga Daioh simply means “Great King Azuma’s Manga”. While ostentatiously named, Azumanga Daioh is a great classic, a forerunner that in retrospect, does live up to its name as being the great king of slice-of-life anime. Classroom scenes dominate Azumanga Daioh, and here, Yukari expresses irritation at Ayumu’s lack of attentiveness in class. Ayumu hails from Osaka, and it was thanks to Tomo’s persistence that Ayumu also becomes referred to as “Osaka”. Of course, now that I’m here writing about Azumanga Daioh, I’ll call Ayumu by her given name rather than nickname, because that’s how this blog rolls.
- Chiyo is the heart of Azumanga Daioh, and while she’s more mature than her classmates despite her age, her unusual presence in high school is actually one of the least remarkable things about the series. With such a colourful cast of characters, Azumanga Daioh excels with integrating Chiyo into the high school environment. Here, Yukari openly speaks about wanting to go hit up a beer place after work to Minamo in front of Chiyo; despite being older than the students by at least ten years, they seem only slightly more mature. This is supposed to be a caricature of youthful high school instructors, but I’ve found that unusually, Azumanga Daioh‘s portrayal of younger instructors was actually spot on.
- While I started watching Azumanga Daioh on account of the out-of-context jokes, the precursors to today’s memes, a few episodes in, it became apparent that, like today’s memes, the out-of-context jokes do not make up a considerable portion of Azumanga Daioh, and I immediately found myself enjoying the series for what it did well. I eventually ended up buying the Azumanga Daioh omnibus manga, a gargantuan doorstopper of a volume that consists of all four volumes over some 650 pages, which in turn kicked off my modest manga collection.
- One notable element in Azumanga Daioh was that it had a particular emphasis on moé elements, which is supposed to evoke a sense of warmth in viewers. This manifests in Chiyo’s helplessness in some situations, as well as Sakaki’s love for animals. A recurring joke throughout Azumanga Daioh was that Sakaki’s love for cats was not returned by the neighbourhood cat, which evades her attempts to get pats in, and on some occasions, said cat will even bite her. With Mr. Tadakichi, Chiyo’s Great Pyrenees, Sakaki finds better luck: Mr. Tadakichi is gentle and composed, even allowing Chiyo to ride him.
- Throughout Azumanga Daioh, school events like culture festivals and track-and-field days are shown: they add excitement to the series, and while minimalistic compared to what current anime do (GochiUsa‘s culture festival, for instance, was might be considered what is colloquially “next level” on account of its scale), Azumanga Daioh does get the details right, giving insights into what life is like as a Japanese high school student, from the mundane right up to the exciting.
- Because I watched Azumanga Daioh during my time as a high school student, the series didn’t exactly inspire a sense of nostalgia in me – instead of reminding me of what once was, it was showing me my present at the time. As a high school student, I possessed Koyomi’s studiousness and Kagura’s competitiveness: I wasn’t a member of the band, and I didn’t play any team sports, so I spent all of my free time hitting the books, so that I could get into whatever faculty I’d felt inclined to. Exams and the like were thus never a concern for me; even though I participated in a fair number of extracurricular activities, I always managed to find the time to keep up with coursework, give my all to the extracurricular activities and squeeze in a bit of World of Warcraft on the side.
- Even now, I find that Yukari and Minamo were really just slightly exaggerated portrayals of the high school instructors I had: my favourite instructors were always lively and found engaging ways of teaching their materials. My old maths instructor made one joke after each day’s lesson before setting us loose with the coursework, my biology instructor found immensely amusing analogues for processes, and my physics instructor had a penchant to shout G O O D L U C K during quizzes, scaring the bejesus out of students. My fine arts instructors (also the advisor for the Yearbook Club) were around the same age as Yukari and Minamo and shared every bit as deep a friendship with one another. I was always welcome to hang out in the arts room during breaks if I felt so inclined.
- While my high school days never saw any overnight trips anywhere with friends, they were still characterised by the occasional excursion to exhibitions, plays and competitions: taking German allowed me to experience authentic German cuisine at the Edelweiss, a specialty store near campus that my supervisor would buy German cookies from, and also compete in a poetry competition on campus. This, coupled with extracurricular activities with the Yearbook Club, the Chinese class I had, and LAN parties, dominated my time.
- After AMV Hell, I knew that I had to watch Azumanga Daioh properly – even back then, I was never fond of memes and always sought to enjoy something to the fullest of my ability in its original context. I thus picked up Azumanga Daioh and set about converting episodes so they could be played on my 80 GB iPod Classic. In this manner, I shot through the series on a 320 x 240 screen in evenings before I slept. In retrospect, this was a pretty bone-headed decision, as such a tiny screen would induce eyestrain very quickly: when I went back to rewatch Azumanga Daioh, its 640 x 480 format already felt tiny. Fortunately, the series’ visual simplicity meant that when expanded out on a 1080p screen, the visual quality isn’t degraded to a considerable extent.
- Kimura is probably the most objectionable character in the whole of Azumanga Daioh, openly acting lecherous towards all of the female students in the series. He is said to be a parody of bad instructors, and in spite of this, is supposed to be competent as a teacher. His wife, on the other hand, is as ordinary as people get, and how Kimura refers to her became a meme that persists to this day. Since I watched Azumanga Daioh in its English incarnation, I never heard this meme at all.
- For me, Azumanga Daioh‘s English dub is exceptional: besides Gundam Unicorn, Azumanga Daioh is the only other anime that I feel more comfortable watching in English than in Japanese. The voice actresses playing Chiyo, Tomo, Koyomo, Ayumu, Sakaki, Kagura, Yukari and Minamo sound very natural and believable. By comparison, I actually found the Japanese dub to be a little stilted. This speaks volumes to the quality of the dubbing – on the prickly topic of subs or dubs, I generally prefer the Japanese audio paired with English subtitles, but there have been cases, like Azumanga Daioh, where the dubbing is exceptional, even surpassing the Japanese audio.
- Cafés are a common culture festival theme, and with Sakaki’s suggestion, the class decides to go for another cat-themed café during their second year. This time around, with better preparation, the class is able to create more elaborate implements, such as nekokoneko hats, and for Chiyo, a full-scale penguin suit that captivates all those who gaze upon her. While Azumanga Daioh does not have the same moé aesthetic that would come to dominate slice-of-life anime by the time of K-On!, the anime manages to convey cuteness in a very effective manner, as well, counting on the combination of visual humour and situational irony to accentuate this.
- On the other hand, by 2009, director Naoko Yamada created a very unique aesthetic in her interpretation of Kakifly’s K-On! – her character designs emphasise shorter limbs, stubby fingers and kindly-shaped eyes which resulted in Yui and the others being more child-like than their manga incarnations had suggested. Yamada specifically knew what appealed to viewers of all sorts, and crafted her characters accordingly, which explains K-On!‘s vast success. Both K-On! and Azumanga Daioh use dramatically different art styles and storytelling devices, succeeding in their own way.
- Consequently, when I first read Sorrow-kun’s “Attitudes Towards Slice-of-life Comedy Anime” post at Behind the Nihon review, I was taken aback by how narrow-minded he’d been in the post: the post had aimed to demonstrate that his personal dislike of K-On! did not extend to other slice-of-life series, and that K-On! had specifically failed to appeal to him because it wasn’t funny. This, I understand – humour depends on the person, and what works for some may not work for others. However, Sorrow-kun’s post also strove to suggest that there was a single, objective way for evaluating slice-of-life anime. The implication was that some works can therefore be objectively better than others, and so, K-On! could be counted as an “objectively” bad anime.
- I found that Sorrow-kun had simply taken a very roundabout way of trying to justify that K-On! was a poor series on the virtue that he didn’t enjoy it, and while it is completely okay to dislike a series, it is not okay to claim that there exists a method that can reliably determine whether or not an anime is worth watching. Sorrow-kun might’ve sounded impressive explaining his own stances, but this does not make his approaches towards slice-of-life more authoritative. As it was, I saw someone who was convinced that they were the authority on what shows were good or bad, and as such, used arcane verbiage in an attempt to create an academic tone to intimidate readers. Sorrow-kun was more eloquent than his contemporaries; others had simply stated they watched K-On! so we, the viewers, don’t have to.
- These approaches are a textbook example of elitism; elitists believe that their penchant for esoteric academics, arcane vocabulary and obscure concepts serve to create a sense of authority surrounding them. As Bill Watterson so bluntly describes in Calvin and Hobbes, academic writing can become an intimidating, impenetrable fog which inflates weak ideas, masks poor reasoning and inhibits clarity. While Sorrow-kun asserted that Behind the Nihon Review was definitely not an elitist blog, and that their aim was to challenge viewers and promote the idea anime could always be something more, this wasn’t exactly true. What this was, however, was never established. Back in Azumanga Daioh, the group of friends go for kareoke together, where Sakaki shows a hitherto unseen talent for singing. Koyomi, on the other hand, despite being voiced by the legendary Rie Tanaka, cannot carry a tune to save her life.
- After returning home from an enjoyable trip in Hokkaido, Koyomi incurs Tomo’s jealousy, resulting in a devastating, but hilarious cafeteria fight. Azumanga Daioh excels with over-the-top humour, and Tomo’s interactions with Koyomi were amongst the most hilarious in the series. The dynamic between the pair is similar to manzaishi routines, where the joker and the everyman exchange jokes at blistering speeds. The two have the rockiest relationship in the whole of Azumanga Daioh, but beneath their constant fighting, Tomo and Koyomi genuinely care about one another.
- Episodes in Azumanga Daioh typically deal with a series of loosely-related bits of everyday life, but since the manga has events proceed in a sequential manner, the anime adapts these in a faithful manner, as well as taking certain liberties to ensure that events in Azumanga Daioh flow very well together. The end result is that each episode tells a set of stories that all share a common theme, resulting in the anime flowing very smoothly throughout the school year and various events that Chiyo and the others experience.
- After returning from Hokkaido, the other girls plan a trip to a local amusement park, but Koyomi gets sick before she can go. The actual amusement park itself is not shown, and instead, most of the episode’s humour stems from the exchanges that follow once the girls return. While Chiyo and Osaka attempt to be nice, Tomo cannot help but rub it in Koyomi’s face. The manga actually had these events occur quite separately, but the anime chooses to merge them together, since the topic of travelling about and having fun forms the episode’s focus.
- While Azumanga Daioh takes some creative liberties in its anime adaptation, these differences never negatively impact the flow of events or the humour, and so, the anime can be seen as a very successful porting of the manga over to the animated format, adding sound and motion to bring certain jokes to life. One thing that the anime doesn’t carry over from the manga are the characters’ appearances: in the earliest chapters, Azuma had been experimenting with the character designs, and so, Chiyo and Ayumu both look different than they did later on. In the anime, the series goes with the later character designs.
- Slice-of-life anime are often assumed to have unremarkable soundtracks, but I’ve found that this doesn’t hold true; GochiUsa has a soundtrack inspired by French elements, while Yuru Camp△ has an Irish-influenced soundtrack. Houkago Teibou Nisshi uses woodwinds to create a warm, sunny feel in its music, and ARIA makes use of Spanish guitar to create a sense of calm. Azumanga Daioh‘s soundtrack covers a spectrum of emotions, from the main theme’s confident tones, calm pieces marking the start of a new term, music that augments moments of comedy and sentimental songs. Altogether, Azumanga Daioh has a memorable soundtrack that I found as enjoyable as the series itself, and listening to the music while reading the manga creates a superb experience.
- Back in high school, I strove to always get my work done before eight at night, and slept promptly at ten-thirty most nights. On lax days, I would often finish enough of my work so that I could squeeze in an hour of World of Warcraft, and when thing got serious, I would always push forwards with my studies until eight, after which I could call it quits. Towards the end of my high school career, even though I had a spare period in my final term, calculus challenged me to my limits, and it took everything I had to keep up with the course. In the end, I did well enough to avoid falling below the admissions requirements for the health sciences programme.
- I’ve biased this post in terms of screenshot distribution towards the end of the series: Azumanga Daioh‘s first half is really about setting things up and creating jokes to establish the characters’ personalities, so once that’s something viewers were familiar with, the series delves into smaller details about each of the characters, from Osaka’s vivid imagination, Chiyo’s everyday life and Sakaki’s attempts to pet cats, all the while oblivious to Kagura’s attempts to compete with her. There is no surprise that, while I enjoyed Azumanga Daioh‘s first half, the second half is really what I enjoyed about the series.
- Graduating classes going on memorable trips is a staple in anime, a reflection of real-world practises: in K-On! and Lucky☆Star, the third year students visit Kyoto as their class trip. In Azumanga Daioh, the class trip is to Okinawa, the southern Japanese islands known for their warm climate and distinct cuisine. In the sunny skies, crystal-clear water and white sands of Okinawa, viewers get to see Chiyo and her friends bounce off one another in a setting outside of the classroom, giving everyone a chance to show their personalities when thoughts aren’t on keeping up with coursework.
- During high school and my undergraduate degree, I never travelled with classmates, on account of having never signed up for programs that were heavier on the travel. However, by the time of my final year in graduate school, I traveled more than I cared to keep track of for conferences and presentations. The year opened up with an unexpected invitation to fly out to act as a reserve for the Giant Walkthrough Brain, followed by a long anticipated pair of conferences in Laval, France, and Cancún. It was a particularly fun and memorable end to graduate school for me, which left me with the same memories as high school and undergrad despite being a much more lonely experience (by the time of graduate school, all of my friends were largely out of university, pursuing their own futures).
- I’ve never been a fan of Behind the Nihon Review, and my attempts to engage Sorrow-kun in conversation had ended up failure simply because I’d shown up to the party after he stopped blogging. I would have liked to have a discussion with Sorrow-kun to hear more justification behind why there was a need to direct so much vitriol towards K-On! when he had evidently enjoyed shows like Azumanga Daioh, Sketchbook and even Strike Witches, as I do. This wish to speak with Sorrow-kun will only become less probable: Behind the Nihon Review’s domain expired earlier this year and their site is now offline. Nihon Review, the site hosting their reviews, is set to expire today, and I’m hoping it’ll go offline, as well. Truth be told, I’m not sorry to see either site go: far from being a bastion of noteworthy discussion, Behind the Nihon Review existed solely as an ivory tower to tear down moé series like K-On!.
- Similarly, I’ve never been fond of Nihon Review for their low-effort reviews: their K-On! reviews for each of the seasons and movie appear to have been copy-pasted from a template where the only requirement was to use the words “banal” and “mediocre” a set number of times. The domain expiring would simply mean that some of the internet’s worst K-On! reviews will finally be lost to time. Back in Azumanga Daioh, the stoic and taciturn Sakaki really gets her chance to make up for all of those times when the grey cat bit her: here on Okinawa, she decides to visit Iriomote, the second largest island in the Okinawa chain famous for the Iriomote Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis iriomotensii), a subspecies of the leopard cat that is critically endangered, and whose population is roughly 200 individuals. Iriomote cats have been unsuccessfully kept in captivity for the most part, and human activity continues to threaten their habitat.
- Sakaki being able to take in an Iriomote Cat is probably the most unrealistic part of Azumanga Daioh, which is saying something: aside from Ayumu’s flights of fancy, the series is very much grounded in reality, and rather than the extraordinary, focuses on finding joy in the ordinary. With this in mind, the Iriomote Cat that Sakaki met in Okinawa returning to Tokyo to meet her after its mother died in a vehicle accident was likely done because it helped to drive home the idea that some things in life can only be chalked up to fate. It was really fate that brings each of Chiyo, Ayumu, Tomo, Koyomi, Sakaki and Kagura together.
- Surprise faces in Azumanga Daioh are always hilarious, and while use of mouths stretching off-face and simple white eyes likely predate Azumanga Daioh, it was through Azumanga Daioh where I began appreciating the artistic choices that were used to convey comedy. Until then, I had only watched Gundam 00 and Ah! My Goddess, which were series that possessed a completely different aesthetic than Azumanga Daioh and therefore employed different character designs which were less conducive towards comedy.
- Each of their summer vacations, Chiyo has brought her friends to her summer home. The archetype of having an incredibly rich classmate is a bit of a cliché at this point, but the merits of having such characters around means being able to experience adventures with friends in relative privacy. During such outings, Chiyo and her friends swim, frolic in the ocean waters, smash water melons and light fireworks. In this last year, the fun is punctuated by the girls using the time to study, and when Minamo realises she is unable to do high school math, she is embarrassed. However, Minamo’s finest moment in Azumanga Daioh occurs during one particularly rowdy evening in their second year, where she ends up drinking too much and giving the girls a functional lecture on the birds and the bees.
- As Azumanga Daioh entered its final act, focus shifted purely towards entrance exams, which Japanese students must sit through in order to gain admission to their post secondary institution of choice. The exams are difficult and intended to filter out only the best and brightest students; students who fail their admissions to their preferred university typically will try again for other institutions. With so much riding on these exams, students are at their most stressed in their final year of high school, where entrance exams dominate their lives: Azumanga Daioh is no different, and studying becomes the main topic towards the series’ end.
- Back home, post-secondary admissions are a cakewalk by comparison: as long as one has the requisite high school courses (or equivalents) and grades, they’ll make it into their institute and faculty of choice. In my time, the high school grade was a combination of in-class marks, worth fifty percent, and a province-wide standardised test that was also worth fifty percent. These exams were never stressful for me, since I had so much time to prepare for them, and in the end, I cleaned house with them, securing my place in the Health Sciences program.
- For Koyomo, Ayumu, Kagura and Tomo, their futures are a bit more uncertain, since the exams are tricky: while everyone is shown studying diligently, other exam-related superstitions are shown, adding a bit of humour into the mix. While it seems laughable that snapping disposable chopsticks cleanly could result in a better exam performance, I imagine that every student has their own pre-exam ritual to optimise performance. My old practise in high school was to do as many practise exams as possible in an exam-like manner. In my undergraduate degree, things eventually became too difficult to solo: in my second year, I ended up studying with friends for my toughest exams.
- Walking into an exam always felt like the Battle of the Pelennor Fields: the worst part was the march into battle, but once the battle started, instinct and skill kicked in. My old exam-taking style was to briefly leaf through the papers, decide if the exam as a whole was challenging or not, and then either do the problems sequentially (if the exam was straightforward), or take on the easiest problems first (if the exam looked difficult). During my university career, the MCAT probably comes out on top as being the trickiest exam, and while I continue to cite a score of 35T/517, I actually have no idea what my actual percentage of questions missed was: the only thing an MCAT score tells is my relative performance against a given cohort of students.
- Chiyo plans to study abroad and therefore isn’t taking exams along with everyone else. She spends most of the remainder of Azumanga Daioh rooting the rest of the characters on, and one-by-one, Tomo, Kagura and Ayumu make it into their institutions of choice. Sakaki, being a skillful student, has no trouble earning her admissions, and ironically, it’s Koyomi, the most serious and studious of everyone, who looks like she might not make it. While done for humour, there is fact that Koyomi is very much results-driven, and so, might enter her exams more stressed than the others. Similarly, since she’s more ambitious, she might be gunning for institutes with tougher requirements. Of course, she does make it in in the end.
- Azumanga Daioh‘s finale is set during graduation, marking an end of a twenty-six week long journey. Much as how Chiyo, Ayumu, Tomo, Koyomi, Sakaki and Kagura have gotten to know one another very well over the course of their three years together, viewers have similarly come to love and root for a cast of characters as they move through high school. Azumanga Daioh might be counted as a comedy, but the heartwarming life lessons the series cover should not be overlooked: my impressions of Azumanga Daioh were to show up for the comedy, and then stay for the discoveries and learnings the characters make during their journey.
- Ayumu was seen carrying a box of tissues into the graduation ceremony, and while this initially seems extraneous, their utility soon becomes apparent, when Chiyo breaks into tears while singing the graduation song, Aogeba Tōtoshi. This song is of a debated origin, but work from Masato Sakurai in 2011 found that “Song for the Close of School” (written by T. H. Brosnan), published to The Song Echo in 1871, would’ve likely been the origin, since the melody is identical. This would make sense: at that time, Japan was in the midst of the Meiji Restoration, and foreign influence began prompting Japan to modernise. Elements of Western culture would’ve doubtlessly made their way into Japanese culture, and it is not inconceivable that Aogeba Tōtoshi came from this.
- Yukari’s last appearance in Azumanga Daioh is to see her students off and assure them the future for them is bright: her parting words to Kagura are most befitting that of a teacher, and while Yukari may be sloppy and immature, she’s very much a competent instructor who knows her material and cares for her students. Azumanga Daioh‘s closing thus serves to reassure viewers that Yukari and Minamo’s future students will be in good hands. It is not lost on me that I’m actually nearing the end of this post: there’s quite a bit of Azumanga Daioh I’ve not touched on, including Kaori and Kimura’s unusual dynamics, the rivalry between Yukari and Minamo, and Ayumu’s daydreams. Azumanga Daioh is, in retrospect, a very busy work, but a part of its genius lay in weaving all of these disparate elements into a single, cohesive story.
- Azumanga Daioh was my first-ever slice-of-life anime, establishing what I would come to expect from slice-of-life series that I would pick up later on. What makes a slice-of-life work enjoyable for me is purely the journey, and what is learnt along the way. As long as there is a meaningful journey portrayed, a slice-of-life work has succeeded in my books, and whether it be dealing with everyday life, learning how intricate a given activity, such as playing the guitar or fishing is, or rediscovering joy after suffering from a loss in life, slice-of-life anime can be enjoyable despite employing different methods of telling their story.
- Incidentally, watching Chiyo cry during the graduation ceremony did have the same effect as cutting an onion, and since Azumanga Daioh ultimately did warm me up to the slice-of-life genre, and in turn, sent me towards K-On!, it has had a nontrivial impact on my life. These are the criteria for making the “masterpiece” category for me, and Azumanga Daioh succeeds in both realms, so I am happy to count this series a perfect ten, an A+.
Azumanga Daioh‘s legacy and impact on the slice-of-life genre cannot be understated: it demonstrated that 4-koma manga could be successfully brought to life in the anime format, and would pave the path for future works, such as Hidamarie Sketch and Sketchbook, to become adapted, as well. However, one of the recurring themes in contemporary reviews, is that Azumanga Daioh had been compared favourably with Seinfeld – both series had been about “nothing” and utilised humourous discussions to drive engagement. This is, strictly speaking incorrect – Seinfeld‘s characters had been deliberately unlikeable such that the show’s comedy arose from viewers laughing at the characters when situational irony was created, whereas in Azumanga Daioh, likeable characters meant that viewers would laugh with the characters in similar moments. Further to this, Azumanga Daioh was not about “nothing”: the themes in Azumanga Daioh, pertaining to appreciation of the ordinary, become apparent towards the series’ end, and there had been a clear progression, even if on a day-to-day basis, Azumanga Daioh‘s humour and strong comedic elements were front and centre. One can see where this mode of thinking came about: Gundam SEED had dealt with how atrocities in warfare only breeds further conflict, and Please Teacher! was about the challenges of relationships. Comparatively speaking, Azumanga Daioh‘s theme, which was much subtler, did not feel as present by comparison. However, the reality is simple enough: the suggestion that Azumanga Daioh can be comparable to Seinfeld is to do the former a great disservice. Azumanga Daioh‘s influence in the slice-of-life genre is indisputable, setting the precedence for how stories in a 4-koma manga can be weaved cohesively together in the animated format, and upon finding success, set the stage for other series to follow suit. By the late 2000s, Kyoto Animation successfully brought Lucky☆Star and K-On! to life. Their adaptations were a resounding success, as well, further demonstrating that slice-of-life was not only viable, but that there as a strong demand for it. The positive reception both Lucky☆Star and K-On! received would continue to shape anime for the next decade: GochiUsa and Kiniro Mosaic are examples of more recent 4-koma adaptations that found great success, building upon the lessons from K-On!, which had in turn drawn inspiration from Azumanga Daioh. Azumanga Daioh revolutionised portrayal of everyday life by placing a deliberate focus on the mundane, and its winning formula had been to strike a masterful balance between the surreal and the real to create a distinct world where the characters were likeable, and whose journeys were worth following. With a timeless feel and unexpected depth, Azumanga Daioh provides so much more meaning and enjoyment well beyond Tomo’s antics and Ayumu’s flights of fancy, telling a tale of appreciating the remarkable from the ordinary with people close to one.