This anime fills the Facts of Life-sized hole in Judge Joel Pearce's life since the cancellation of that show. For that, he will always be grateful.
In Miss Yukari's English class, every day is an adventure!
If you missed ADV Films' original DVD releases of Azumanga Daioh, there is good news. Now you can get the whole series in this cheaper box set. It's a great value, and highly recommended for most anime fans.
While many anime series are adapted from manga series, Azumanga Daioh is a rare offering that's adapted from a daily comic strip. Each of the 20-minute episodes contains several of the strips, expanded into hilarious five-minute segments. The series follows the (mis)adventures of a class of students through their three years of high school. Chiyo-Chan is a ten-year-old transfer student who skipped five grades. Tomo is a loudmouthed, energetic brat. Osaka is a naïve, spacey girl who just moved from Osaka. Rounding out the group are the smart and bossy Yomi, and Miss Sakaki, a shy girl whom the other students find threatening. They are all taught by Miss Yukari, who is just as immature as they are.
The series follows each one of these characters, and by the end of the sixth disc, it's hard not to get attached to them. They represent a variety of personalities, from Chiyo's nearly sickening cuteness to Miss Sakaki's secret love of animals. There are a lot of repeated jokes, but they only work to better build the characters. The timing is exquisite, and there is never a dull moment. In the second half of the series, there are even some surprises as the creators toy with the conventions they have established. The issues the girls face change over the course of the episodes as they begin to look ahead to their future plans.
To an extent, Azumanga Daioh is a series that will either grab you or leave you cold. It is shrill at times, and a bit too manic, and the humor is generally quite slapstick and goofy. For those of us caught under its spell, though, it simply can't be beat. So much of the comedy in anime is tainted by overt fan service and wildly imaginative events. Watching this series, where the laughs come from the humanity of the characters and the situations they find themselves in, is quite a relief. It's all very cute, but it's rarely just about the cuteness. Since I usually hate this kind of series, it makes it even harder to explain why I love Azumanga Daioh so much. I think it has something to do with how alive the characters seem. They remind me of the silly people I grew up with, and the embarrassing moments shared with them.
Still, I have a couple warnings for necomers to the show. First, since we North Americans were never the target audience for the books or the show, the steady stream of Japanese cultural references in Azumanga Daioh can be quite overwhelming at times. Unfortunately, ADV hasn't done everything they could have to solve this problem—this new set doesn't have the booklets with helpful explanatory notes included in the original releases. The series is mostly funny even without understanding these jokes, but it helps a lot to have those cultural references. A few of the episodes don't even really make sense without the context they provide.
My other warning is that many viewers are likely to find the series a lot more annoying than funny. From the next room, it really does sound obnoxious, and many will find it even worse from the same room. I would definitely recommend checking out a few episodes before dropping money on the whole series (unless you are an avid Shoujo viewer).
The animation of Azumanga Daioh is delightful, and the transfer is just as strong. It's one of the rare series that looks better as it continues, full of details and subtle design changes as the characters age. ADV presents this colorful world in a top-notch transfer, in the original full frame aspect ratio. The dub and subtitle tracks are pleasant as both have been well translated by ADV. Unfortunately, all of the special features and cultural notes have been removed to pack the entire series onto five discs for the new set. That means that this set should not be considered as an upgrade if you already have the individually released discs. Still, budget-minded anime fans will find this is a much better value. After all, there are only so many clean opening credits the average person can sit through. I miss the cultural notes more, as mentioned above.
Ultimately, my recommendation for this box set is qualified. Azumanga Daioh is still a great series, and this set represents a lot of great entertainment at a low price. At the same time, the lack of cultural notes really does damage the value of the series if you plan to watch it with the literal subtitle translation. Those who prefer the dub won't run into as many confusing moments, but it would have been nice for ADV to include a larger booklet with all of the translation notes.
If you have the original DVDs, don't bother with this set, even if you need the shelf space. If you haven't picked up the series yet, you will have to weigh the price difference and lack of extras carefully. Either way, the series itself still comes highly recommended. It's not for everyone, I suppose, but it's a wonderful anime series to get hooked on. Give it a try.
Although ADV hasn't packed as much value into this set as they could have, it still represents a solid value.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
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