Azumanga Daioh is a twenty-six episode anime series that originally aired on Japanese television in 2002. Its title is a portmanteau; “Azumanga” being a combination of “Azuma,” the surname of the original manga’s creator, Kiyohiko Azuma and “manga.” “Daioh,” or “Great King,” comes from Dengeki Daioh, the shounen manga publication in which it originated. And this silly, borderline nonsensical title is a perfect fit for the series that bears it.
Despite its original run in a shounen publication (manga for young men), Azumanga Daioh is almost completely devoid of serious conflict, violence, or for that matter, male characters. Originally written as a 4-koma, or four-panel comic strip, the series follows the daily lives of a small group of high school girls with a tone of charming, goofy innocence and absurdity, falling neatly into the “slice of life” sub-genre. The manga follows the characters from the start of their first year of high school all the way to graduation, but the passage of time is kept vague, with the girls all looking about the same at the end of high school as they did in the beginning.
The anime follows many of the manga’s beats and adapts the source material for the length of a standard television series. Each episode is divided into a series of segments that form a narrative. Sometimes the set-pieces are fairly standard, such as when the girls compete in the school sports festival, or they join together for an exam study cram-session. On the other hand, the series will often fall into the realm of fantasy, whether it’s through exploring a character’s dream, or someone’s imagination runs wild.
It’s very much a light-hearted, easy-going show based entirely around the goofball interactions of the core cast. And what a cast it is. There’s Sakaki, the tall, beautiful, athletically gifted girl that everyone assumes is the strong and silent type, but has a secret love of cute animals. There’s Chiyo, the cheerful elementary-school aged genius that’s an intellectual superior to many of the girls, but still has the childish naivety, diminutive height, and all of the other hurdles involved with being among students five years her senior. And then there’s Osaka, the kansai-speaking space cadet transfer student christened with a ridiculous nickname and blessed with an unusual pattern of thought. Mix in the hyperactive Tomo and her friend Yomi, who basically functions as Tomo’s straight-man, and you have the core cast.
Comparatively, there are only a few adults seen throughout the series. Primarily Yukari Tanizaki, the girls’ slacker homeroom teacher, her best friend, the gym teacher Minamo Kurosawa, and Kimura. Just Kimura. As the only recurring male character, Kimura stands out for being an unapologetic creeper. The jokes revolving around his character are probably the closest to anything that some might consider inappropriate, but at the same time, there’s an absurdity about his demeanor and behavior that prevents anyone from taking him seriously.
It’s hard to really explain how charming Azumanga Daioh is with just words. It’s simple, often-times goofy, sometimes patently ridiculous, and occasionally nostalgic. Three years of school blow by in a flash, and before you know it, the girls are fretting in their own special ways over college entrance exams and career aspirations. But for a show based on a series of four-panel comics, it uses its time well, and all of the characters are able to shine in their own ways before they inevitably graduate and spend what time together they have left before they all go their separate ways.
Azumanga Daioh was released on DVD in North America by ADV Films with both the original Japanese and English subtitles and an English dub. The series is rated TV-PG.