Azumanga Daioh

July 7, 2010 dreamkaleidoscope
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TITLE: Azumanga Daioh
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Kiyohiko Azuma
PUBLISHER: ADV Manga and Yen Press
RATING: Teen (13+)
SCORE: 9 (Great)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Kiyohiko Azuma (mangaka of Yotsuba&!), 4-koma manga, Azumanga Daioh anime, Lucky Star, comedy, slice of life

Before I begin, I’d like to point out that for the purposes of this review, I’m referring to the new Yen Press omnibus edition that came out last year. For those who don’t know the history, Azumanga Daioh was originally licensed to ADV Manga, who put out the four individual volumes and an omnibus edition of their own, but those versions are now out-of-print. I’ve never read the ADV version, so I’m afraid I can’t compare the two. Chances are, though, if you want to pick this title up nowadays, this is the edition you’re going to get, since it’s easier to find.

Now, onto the review.

Azumanga Daioh is different in format than your typical manga. Instead of being drawn as one continuous story, the majority of this series is made up of yonkoma (or 4-koma, as it is commonly known) comic strips. What is 4-koma? Well, it’s similar to the comic strips (like Garfield, for example) you read in the Sunday paper. Each strip consists of four panels of equal size, usually vertically drawn, and they are almost always comedic in tone. Though you can read them each individually and still get the joke most of the time, there is a sense of chronology in Azumanga Daioh — the  volumes are broken up into sections titled by month — and a lot of the strips build on each other to form story lines.

This is my first true foray into the world of 4-koma. Some of the other manga series I’ve previously read have featured 4-koma strips as bonus material — the Death Note 4-koma strips, in particular, are favorites of mine — and I watched the Azumanga Daioh anime years ago, which I enjoyed quite a bit, but I was curious how a series consisting of almost entirely all 4-koma would fair. Turns out, quite well.

Azumanga Daioh is, in a word, hilarious.

The premise behind the series is simple. It’s about a group of five — later six, and maybe seven if you count Kaorin — female classmates who become a close-knit group of friends during their three years of high school. It’s the characters, however, who provide the laughs, and what an eccentric group they are.

Let’s start with the teachers. The girls’ homeroom advisor and English teacher for all three years is Yukari Tanizaki. She’s greedy, she’s jealous, she’s sarcastic, she’s lazy, she drives like a maniac… She’s comedic gold. In fact, she’s my favorite character in the series, though I don’t think I would have wanted her as my teacher. Her best friend Minamo “Nyamo” Kurosawa, who is a gym teacher at the school, is quite frankly a saint for managing to put up with Yukari for so many years and not killing her. Rounding out the “teachers” group is the only male character of importance, the creepy classical literature teacher Mr. Kimura, who boldly informs the class that the only reason he became a teacher is because he likes high school girls. He’s especially obsessed with Kaorin. How he managed to get such a pretty wife is one of the series’ greatest mysteries. 

Moving onto the girls themselves, Yomi and Tomo are the backbone of the group, in my opinion, as they have been in the same class ever since elementary school. If I had to chose a favorite of the girls, I would probably pick Yomi. I can certainly empathize with her dieting woes, and she’s the most “normal” of the group, often playing the straight man to the other characters (especially Tomo). But on the occasions when she shows a naughtier side to her personality — such as when she tricks one of the girls into eating a flaming-hot chili croquette — Yomi gets some of the biggest laughs. As for Tomo, she’s like a hurricane, always leaving destruction in her wake. She is a force not to be trifled with, saying and doing whatever comes to mind, no matter who it might hurt or inconvenience. Admittedly, she’s a bit of a jerk, but she’s so funny that you forgive her for it. 

Then there’s Chiyo, an adorable ten year old who is allowed to enroll in high school because of her high intelligence. Though she is a genius, she can’t compete with the older girls in physical feats, and her short stature is a source of annoyance for her, as most people still treat her like a little kid. On the other end of the height spectrum is Sakaki, one of the tallest girls in school and admired by her classmates for her quiet, cool personality. Behind her elegant facade, however, Sakaki has a secret love for all things cute, especially animals. Too bad the cats in her neighborhood inexplicably hate her.

Though she’s mostly oblivious to it, Sakaki has a friendly rival in Kagura, who joins the class during their second year. Kagura, a member of the swim team, is into sports and considers Sakaki her biggest threat in athletic events. Outside of competition, though, she tries to become friends with Sakaki, something that would be much easier if she would stop doodling violent images of animals being killed.

And last, but certainly not least, is Ayumu “Osaka” Kasuga. Osaka is… Osaka is… I’m just going to quote directly from the back cover: “Well, she’s…different.” That about sums her up in a nutshell.

It would be nearly impossible for me to talk about my favorite strips without spoiling most of the jokes, so I won’t. Just know that it’s funny stuff. And if you enjoyed the anime, you’ll probably like the manga as well. I thought a lot of the material actually worked better in the manga, although, like I mentioned before, it’s been years since I watched it.

Presentation-wise, Yen Press did a really nice job on this omnibus edition. There are twelve color pages, including a short colorized “special” — chapters that are drawn with the more typical manga paneling — focusing on Tomo, a section of translation notes between each volume break, and a handy index in the back that makes it easy to find your favorite strips as long as you remember the title. Azuma’s artwork itself is nothing special — to be expected, given the limitations of 4-koma — but well-suited for a manga like this. He has quite the talent for portraying comedy, with nice comic timing.

I was a bit hesitant to give a 4-koma series a try, but I’m happy to report that Azumanga Daioh more than exceeded by expectations. Looking for a good laugh and maybe feeling a little nostalgic for your own high school days? Azumanga Daioh may be just the title for you.


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