Come journey, for the last time, with Judge Joel Pearce to the frightening, alien world of...Japanese high school girls.
School's almost out! But, it ain't over yet…
With a certain level of sadness, I have reached the end of Azumanga Daioh. Although some of the volumes have been stronger than others, on the whole the series has been a total delight. Even though I am well outside of the target audience of the show, I can understand why these girls attracted so much attention in their daily comic strip in Japan. As it turns out, it works just as well as an episodic series. This volume is a fitting close for the series, and does a wonderful job of mixing the warm humor of the whole series with the sadness of the parting of these friends.
This last disc houses three episodes:
• "Onward, Entrance Exams"
• "Graduation Ceremony"
I think this time around I need to step back and try to evaluate this entire series in a reasonable and objective way. I'm still amazed that I enjoy the series as much as I do. From the very beginning, I've had to turn a blind eye to the shrillness of some of the characters, and the repetition of some of the jokes. By the final episode, that can be hard to do at times. It's still a bit of an obnoxious show that people who don't get the humor might find intolerable. Also, even though this is the climax of the show, it doesn't feel like very much has happened. The scope of the show simply isn't as epic as most anime series. I don't just mean that the girls don't transform and save the world from giant robots; there just hasn't been a whole lot of character development through the series. By the end, we are still seeing this older world through Chiyo's perspective. Tomo and Yomi fight the same way that they did in first year, and Miss Sakaki is still working through her issues with the neighborhood cats. The biggest changes through the series seem to be Tomo's new hairstyle and a slight change in the Chiyo animation. There is a lot of talk in these final episodes about how much the girls have grown and changed, but I really don't see it.
At the same time, I don't think that the series was ever trying to change the world. It's a cute little high school series, and this volume is just as light and funny as the previous ones. This isn't the strongest disc in the set, but it has a number of wonderful moments. The conclusion of the cat business is quite delightful, and highlights the relationship between Chiyo and Miss Sakaki. Yomi's part in these final episodes is also larger, which creates a number of solid laughs. There is a wistful sort of sadness as these characters all move on with their lives—and the series has been touching and believable enough throughout that I am able to connect to this feeling of sadness. These girls aren't a perfect group of friends, but high school is a difficult thing to get through, and there is something unique about the group that helps you make it through those most challenging years.
Unfortunately, these final episodes generally ignore Kaorin and Osaka, my two favorite characters from the show. By this point in the series, there is almost no time given to events in the classroom, from which came the best laughs in the early volumes. The last two episodes wind the series down nicely, but the pace slows down enough that it feels like the creators didn't bother keeping up the same number of jokes. There's a great scene on the inside cover with the girls in science class that never shows up in the series. It looks really funny, too.
The transfer on this disc is exactly like the others in the series. It's not the most dazzling animation ever, and the transfer isn't quite perfect, but it does a great job of delivering the look and feel of the comic series. The subtitles are fantastic, and the dub is comparatively easy to listen to as well.
The extra features are a bit better this time around, thanks to the addition of an Azumanga Daioh mini-movie. I think this was probably a test footage clip. It has a number of the jokes from the first volume, using slightly messier animation. Once again, the best extras are the translation notes in the booklet, which help explain the cultural references that keep popping up.
The Azumanga Daioh series is unlike anything else I have ever seen. It has a fun blend of manic innocence and sophisticated subtlety, and it's great for repeat viewings. If that sounds like a good time to you, and you haven't seen any of the series yet, pick up the first volume and give it a try. If you have, like me, been enjoying the series this far, then there's no reason to stop now. If you didn't like the earlier volumes, this last one isn't going to change your mind.
It's very sad for me to see this last volume of Azumanga Daioh come and go, but unlike many comic strips, it's ending before the quality of the jokes runs too thin. Like "The Far Side" and "Calvin and Hobbes," this series leaves us still wishing for more; leaving behind a small body of work that can be returned to and enjoyed in the future.
This disc and series is not guilty. Perhaps the girls could somehow meet again during college…
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
• Azumanga Daioh Mini Movie
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