What They Say:
For the members of Miss Yukari’s English Class, a typical day may be just a little unusual. Part of that’s due to Miss Yukari herself, whose teaching style (and personal ethics) tend to be odd, improvisational and spontaneous, but her students are just as unconventional: There’s 10-year-old Chiyo, still at the top of her class after skipping five grades, and her opposite Ayumu “Osaka” Kasuga, whose poor grades are surpassed only by her horrific skill at sports. Then there’s Tomo, a competitive slacker who puts excessive energy into doing very little, and Koyomi, whose surprising maturity is compromised by a malevolent sense of humor. Tall, statuesque Sakaki’s athletic exterior hides both unexpected shyness and a most unfortunate obsession with cats, while tiny Kaori’s heart is mainly obsessed with Sakaki. They may all seem like perfectly normal girls on the outside, but even their most mundane activities magically become the most extraordinary adventures as they learn all about life, the universe and affairs of the heart in AZUMANGA DAIOH!
The bilingual presentation for Azumanga Daioh was fairly standard for ADV Films during the time it was originally released as the English language mix gets a good 5.1 mix at 448kbps while the original Japanese language is in stereo at 224kbps. Over time, the 5.1 mixes began to disappear for a lot of titles, but especially for ones like this where it really doesn’t add all that much since it’s a basic comedy. The dialogue is certainly cleaner and better placed in the 5.1 mix here, but it’s not something that makes a huge difference in comparison to the original stereo mix that we have for the Japanese language track. In the end, it comes down to language preference more than anything else as both tracks are solid presentations that are clean and clear of problems such as dropouts or distortions.
Originally airing in 2002, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The twenty-six episodes are spread across five discs in a slightly uneven form here but it all gets the job done while dealing with the original source material and its minor problems. The video quality doesn’t seem to suffer much though as the series has a good set of source materials and colors maintain a solid and pleasing feeling to them. There is a certain softness to it at times but beyond that it’s a clean and vibrant looking show. Some of the panning sequences introduce a little bit of noise but these aren’t bad and are few and far between overall. There are numerous scenes where it’s pretty still and quiet and that helps to keep the bitrate low so they can pump it up later when necessary. For the most part, this feels comparable to what we got on the six volumes of single releases that came out a few years back.
After the last edition was a terrible stackpack, this edition gives us a standard sized DVD case that has hinges inside to hold the discs. The front cover goes with the usual Sentai Selects black border that has the artwork within it and I still don’t have much issue with the design even if it is a little lackluster. The character artwork is cute enough of the main girls together with some cat nods that work, but the brightness really does feel a little more off with the contrast to the black border and red stripe along the top. The back cover is brighter and more school oriented with the paper design and the shading of white and blue but it’s also a lot busier with some cute character artwork and a few shots from the show. The breakdown of extras is clear and we get a solid summary of the premise. The bottom rounds out the usual production and technical information in a clear way. This set does come with a reversible cover that is far better where it’s a two-panel spread that has four of the main girls set against the bright blue sky from an awkward as hell angle. It just has the right kind of cuteness, especially with the paw prints along the bottom.
The menu design for Azumanga Daioh is familiar as it works with the cute images of the various members of the cast posing along the right with it changing up from disc to disc. The split of the yellow on the left and white on the right for the background is a bit off-putting at first but it fits within the color scheme used in the show at times and it does keep it all rather bright and attractive. The navigation along the left is straightforward with top level episode access – a plus in my book – as well as language selection. Submenus, when you need to use them, load quickly and without a problem and moving about is a breeze.
Disappointment abounds once again when it comes to the treatment of extras with this series. There are the basics to be had such as production sketches and clean opening and closing sequences.Sadly, the mini-movie and character artwork pieces plus the vid-notes didn’t make it onto this edition either which to me is a huge loss and one of the reasons that these collections won’t replace any of my singles.
Based on the four-panel comic strip by Kiyohiko Azuma that ran from 1999 to 2002, Azumanga Daioh is an entirely pleasant little comedic romp that follows the lives of several high school girls through all three years. The series has seen a couple of collections previously and we watched the original singles as they came out, but since it was 2009 when we last saw it, it definitely felt like it was time to revisit it. The show is simply charming in its own way, though I do recommend spacing it out a bit because marathoning can dampen some of the impact over time.
The story of Azumanga Daioh is really straightforward and simple in that we see a group of girls starting their first year of high school. Moving between the seasons, we see them grow and change throughout the three years that go on here, with some summer activities and various holidays here and there. The only downside to it is that there really isn’t all that much in the way of physical changes among the students other than a haircut here and there and the change in uniforms depending on the season. And while not a downside, the repetition issue can be a bit problematic when viewed in quick order as well, something we found even when watching the spaced out singles. When you have the students going through the motions of the culture fest and the sports fest across each of the years, it can get a little familiar, especially on top of so many other series that cover the same things.
What makes Azumanga Daioh work is the characters and the dynamic that exists between them. The series opens with a pair of interesting students arriving on the scene. One of them is the very smart Chiyo, affectionately known as Chiyo-chan, a ten-year-old girl who has skipped out of elementary school in order to go to high school where she’ll be properly challenged. She’s a bright-eyed and cute girl who is entirely positive except when she’s trying to not let everyone else down. Because of her size, she feels like she can’t keep up with everyone when it comes to things like sports fests as well as the way they all stay up later and have more of a social life in certain ways. Complementing here is Kasuga, a transfer student from Osaka who has come here in order to “get it together” and make a break from her past. Osaka isn’t stupid but she’s not exactly altogether there either. She gets lost in dreams at times, some of them very fanciful and amusing, but more often than not she simply spaces out with whatever is on her mind. She never truly gets it together but is the kind of cute and snuggly character that you easily adore in a show like this.
While they’re certainly the less than normal kind of characters you’d find in real life, the rest of the main crew is pretty amusing in their own ways as well. The one I enjoy the most is Sakaki, a tall quiet young woman who has a real love for animals and for cats in particular. Her parents have issues with pets so she can’t have any so she tries to spend as much time as she can with them when she sees them. Unfortunately, they all seem to either flee from her or bite her, leaving her unable to extend the love she wants. With her quiet nature, it’s amusing to watch her trying to get closer to the animals. Opposite of her is Tomo, a firebrand of a character who is bad at everything but manages to scrape by in the end. She’s very outgoing, energetic and alive which drives everyone else nuts since she’s an act first think later kind of person. She tends to be the one to cause the most trouble but also gets the group motivated to do things with enthusiasm a lot of the time.
Rounding out the group of initial regulars is an amusing pair that have a very different feel from each other. Yomi is the smart girl of the class who ends up not feeling threatened by Chiyo when she arrives and in fact becomes good friends with her. She’s smart, a little self-conscious and like everyone else is a part of the “Go Home” club. Yomi’s probably one of the least worked on characters in the show but she has some of the best expressions since her childhood friend is Tomo and that mean’s she’s put up with a whole lot in her life. On the flip side, and required in a series like this, is Kaorin. Kaorin is a cute girl who has a big sister crush on Sakaki and she continually dreams about her and does everything she can to get closer to her. Sometimes it’s all sweetness and light, but when necessary she plays rough as well. The way she dotes on the completely unaware Sakaki is quite cute for awhile though it’s something that never really gets anywhere with any merit, unfortunately. In fact, it’s a good character turn when in their third year, she ends up in a different class altogether.
While the students make up most of the fun, the nice twist to Azumanga Daioh is the involvement of a group of the teachers. Most of the kids are in the same class under homeroom teacher Yukari. Yukari is kind of like the kid who was popular in school to a point and she never really wanted to leave, hence becoming a teacher. She’s kind of weird at times, very outgoing and brash and she ends up doing a lot of things that would get anyone else in trouble. Most of it is in relation to her fellow teacher, Minamo. Called by her nickname of Nyamo, she’s the PE instructor and homeroom teacher that Yukari competes with often. Nyamo has known her for an age since they went to school together and it has something of a similar relationship to that of Tomo and Yomi that’s been going on for longer. The interplay between the two is fun and Yukari really brings some amusing things to the table.
If there’s an area of the series that made me a little uncomfortable, partially because it took a good all ages show and made it harder to show younger viewers, is the teacher known as Kimura. This very thin and creepy looking guy has quite a thing for high school girls. He’s constantly coming up with ways to get them to wear their bloomers and spends time watching them at the pool. His looks and phrases at times really do put him in the proper pedo-stalker category, but one that’s (For now?) completely harmless. Some of it is creepier than other scenes but there is admittedly some good humor based around him at times. When we meet his wife and see pictures of his kid, it makes you look at him in a new way that’s hard to wrap your head around. That comes too far into the series, though, and leaves you with a difficult feeling for much of his time with the cast prior to that.
The transition from a four panel comic to this works well in that the humor is given a chance to shine but it’s not made to hold for an entire episode. Azumanga Daioh works well by having the smaller stories mixed throughout each overall episode. Not everything is completely linked either which is a plus, as it lets the stories flow in a natural way without being forced to continue gags from earlier. Some episodes have longer stories than others, going nearly the entire length for example with the dream ones, while others skip about pretty easily every few minutes with a new title and a different avenue to explore. It doesn’t feel forced and it allows a variety of characters to have some screen time without feeling like they’re shoehorning them into the episode’s main storyline in order to make sure that they’re there.
Revisiting the show after several years and after all the hype has certainly been fun. It hasn’t exactly captured me the way it did the first time around, partially from familiarity and partially because of the loss of the vid-notes. Most of the show plays well without it, but there are moments when they’d be entirely too useful. I don’t think Azumanga Daioh is a show meant for marathoning unless it’s in a group setting with a drinking game involved, but it certainly is worth revisiting. This collection is more complete than some of the previous editions, but it’s not a “final complete” version to me simply because it lacks the vid-notes and a few other extras. But it is a lot of fun and kept me smiling in an almost nostalgic way. It’s good clean fun – unless Kimura is involved. Definitely still recommended after all these years.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Production Sketches, Gallery, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: C+
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: May 3rd, 2016
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.