||home / september 2002 / feature
By Dillon Font
One of the most popular anime series currently running Japan has no giant robots. It doesn't have fantastical beasts, girls in revealing clothing, or people with magical powers wreaking dark, impending doom around Tokyo Tower. Actually, I don't even think Tokyo Tower is in the anime at all. When you come down to it, it doesn't even have many recurring male characters or any sort of ongoing plot.
Okay, hold on now, what kind of bizarre anime can survive without containing the basic plot elements of most successful anime. Based on the name of this article, you probably have figured out that it's the new anime Azumanga Daioh, currently being broadcast on TV Tokyo on Monday nights. Based on the comic of the same name by Azuma Kiyohiko, the anime simply enough follows the day-to-day lives of a set of female high school students and some of their more quirky teachers. Within this simple formula, the creators of the show were able to create a level of humor and mirth based around daily life, which could be compared to the way that America's Seinfeld treated the lives of New Yorkers.
Now, normally, the rest of this feature would focus on the plot of this anime. However, this is an impossible task, for the plot is very episodic. Following such footsteps as other classic comedic anime such as Crayon Shin-chan, it simply places the characters in most everyday situations and let them interact. Thus, the strength of this show lies in the fact that it doesn't revolve around a plot as much as it revolves around a concept; being the creation of a show that is so completely character driven, all forms of continual plot become inconsequential. Simply put, the creators of the anime have taken these quirky characters, and simply placed them in normal situations, where the hilarity and eccentricities of daily life are dealt with to the great enjoyment of the audience.
Many of the events that occur in the show are the big events for most high school girls. Cultural fairs, New Year celebrations, the yearly school fair, the athletics festival - All of these basic, yet special events are put into a highly comedic perspective, mostly based on how the six main characters bounce off of one other. By taking these common occurrences and injecting them with the rather bizarre humor, it creates an excellent formula that has helped make it the popular anime that it has become.
Thus, the charm of Azumanga Daioh lies primarily in its characters. Representing certain prototypes of your "typical" Japanese high school girls, the characters of Azumanga Daioh represent some of the most hilarious yet honest portrayals of high school girls of today.
Take little Chiyo-chan for example, the cute mascot of the show. She is a ten-year old genius who bypassed all of elementary and junior high to attend the local high school. While her brain easily rivals most of the cast, she's usually put into situations where her brain offers no help. Usually in sports meets and swimming trials, where she bursts into tears after realizing that she is now the dead weight. She is also expected to carry out all the cute tasks that the group requires, such as dressing up as a penguin for their yearly fair, a feat that makes the room insanely popular due to the overwhelming cuteness of it all.
Then comes the longhaired Sakaki. Tall and quiet, Sakaki oozes a cool disposition, yet seems to hide a wild girl prone to fights and passions of the heart. Except, you know, she has a hidden nature. No, she's not a gang leader or a hostess; she just has a bad weak spot for all things cute, especially kittens. The sad thing is the adorable kitten she yearns for loves nothing more than to bite her hand. Many of her quests involve the search of the cho-kawaii (ultra cute), usually ending in some sort of failure. While being a master at sports and crushed on by a certain girl on the class, she would want nothing more than to be short and cute like Chiyo-chan.
Tomo is the group's ultimate genki (energetic) girl. She's your typical bad student, known to copy the homework of her friends and rarely pay attention in class. She also has the habit of challenging everyone to bizarre contests, such as swimming contests with Sakaki or cute contests with Chiyo-chan. She's gets very revved up over these challenges, but usually ends up failing in the end. However, this never seems to bother her in starting another contest.
Serving as Tomo's foil, is Yomi, who has been in Tomo's class since first grade. Sensible and intelligent, she would usually fall into place as the most balanced of the group, but her constant association with Tomo shows a more relaxed, yet violent nature. Her deep friendship with Tomo is usually reserved for name-calling and wrestling with her friend than hugs and deep secrets. She is an angry girl, and is quick to call on the teachers and students about the stupid things they end up doing.
And then, there is the representative of the Kansai region, nicknamed Osaka. Her introduction to the school had the cast force her to speak in Kansai dialect, and her nickname becomes so pervasive that it's the name used on the test scoreboards and student class lists. By no fault of her own, she becomes the biggest slacker in the class, so completely scatterbrained that all education goes over her head, even when she keeps telling herself to keep it together. Add onto this her bad habit of wondering what the meanings of words and phrases are during bad situations. An otherwise sweet girl, her bizarre nature and way of speaking makes her become the lovable idiot of the group.
Of course, no high school anime can last without the teachers, and the main three represented in the show are just as quirky (read: bizarre) as the students. Yukari-sensei, the group's homeroom and English teacher, is just as irresponsible as her students are. Referred to mostly as Yukari-chan by her students, she tends to get overly competitive with her co-worker and childhood friend, Kurosawa-sensei, the group's gym teacher. These two teachers end up having a friendlier attitude to their students, but that surely doesn't stop Yukari-sensei from using her students in whatever plots to win bets against Kurosawa-sensei.
Finally, there is Kimura-sensei, the only recurring male character in the series. Kimura-sensei serves the important role as the lecherous male teacher, who often interjects certain philosophies on his love of high school girls into the school lessons, such as stating that girls should tuck in their shirts while wearing the gym uniforms during his Classics class. Always drawn with his mouth gaping open, his over-the-top creepiness is completely hilarious. He also serves as a great parody of this sort of teacher that most high school girl students do have to deal with at times.
The anime relies not just on its strong comedic features, but also comes equipped with excellent production values. The animation quality is solid, complete with solid colors and excellent backgrounds. The music of the series also helps to add to the total package. The background music is utilized to make the situations in the show much more humorous. Add to this an amazingly catchy opening song, and we get a great result, a product of excellent writing and good production values.
The sort of humor that pervades Azumanga Daioh is one that is not seen much in the Western side of fandom, and that's a shame. Azumanga Daioh can serve as an entry for many anime fans on this side of the planet to get interested in this sort of character-driven, comedic anime, other examples being classic shows like Chibi Maruko Chan and Sazae-san. Here's to seeing this quirky series eventually released on American shores.
|AZUMANGA DAIOH - CHARACTER DOSSIER
The 10-year old genius girl. Just because she can get excellent grades doesn't mean she can survive the hells of swimming class.
The kakkoi (cool) girl of the group. Don't forget, those bandages on her hands aren't because of any gang-fight, but rather due to an ill-tempered kitten.
Yomi is there to verbally kick ass when necessary. She doesn't take much crap from either her classmates or her teachers.
Please. Don't judge all of the Kansai area based on her. Believe me, they are not all as scatterbrained and dumb as this sweet girl.
Teachers are supposed to be good role models for their students, right? Yukari is much more interested in winning bets and getting tanked on a regular basis.
She's known Yukari since grammar school, and knows all of Yukari's embarrassing moments. Not that Yukari will ever let her tell them to the students without massive repercussions.