It’s time to look at my first pure comedy anime as well as the first one to take an anthology style to it. Unfortunately I wouldn’t say that the mix worked too well. The series got off to a rocky start but was able to at least balance the ship by the end. It’s not the best one out there, but you’ll be used to the characters by and end and will have had a fun ride.
The plot follows a group of teenagers as they go through the various years of high school. Tomo and Yomi are already friends when the series starts, but Sakaki is a loner. The situation changes up when a little girl by the name of Chiyo shows up. She is a prodigy and got to skip enough grades to make it to high school. Another transfer student nicknamed Osaka also joins up. With the gang together, they can go on many adventures and try to achieve glory in the sports fest!
Lets quickly go with why the show had a rocky start. The anthology format is a huge warning bell for me because I just don’t like it. The concept of an anthology just sounds like a bad idea as each story is so short that you can’t fit much story into it. Some of the episodes here were split into 5-6 parts so each one was only 4-5 minutes. At first this was very jarring as nothing would happen and the segments felt like they had nothing to do with each other. I also think the writers didn’t know what to do because they acted like each 5 minute segment had to be as contained as possible. For example, if a segment had a joke, it would just keep on getting repeated and drawn out for the whole time. The show tried to limit itself to one main gag in the segment. It would even recycle animation and use a ton of stock footage to literally repeat the gag.
Another thing is that one of the few aspects where anime may lose to Western animation is in comedy. Westerns seem to prefer snappy dialogue as comedy with characters just rapid firing a ton of puns and subtle burns while anime really like having a perverse character say something crazy and then everyone either blushes or starts yelling at him. The former can be great while the latter is absolutely never funny. Daioh actually has a big problem trying to be funny throughout. I feel like the vast majority of the jokes didn’t work because either they were never funny from the start or they were dragged out way too long. That’s why it couldn’t really pick up til the second half where it started to get more of a plot or at least longer segments.
For now, one last problem is that the series is extremely low budget. I wouldn’t be surprised if the series originally debuted as 5 minute shorts behind various shows and was eventually compiled into a series. It would actually make a lot of sense with how I said that each segment limited itself to effectively one scene/joke. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show with as much recycled animation as this one. The animation can be decent at times, but usually it is satisfied with as few motions as possible. You’ll notice a lot of times that if there are two characters on screen only one will move at a time. If two are talking on screen, they’ll each only use one mouth animation which continuously loops. So, I think the show just didn’t have a budget. Sure, there aren’t any action scenes so I guess it didn’t need much of one, but it should have at least gotten enough to reasonably bluff through it.
Now, here’s why the second half was better. For starters, they gave Kimura a shorter role. Kimura was one of the reasons why the humor was hit hard as his moments were just really bad. He would make scenes tougher to watch by making inappropriate comments and pointing attention to what the characters were wearing. He took advantage of his position constantly so he could be around. The show didn’t really have much in the way of fanservice but by going to the pool and trying to create it, that sort of defeated the purpose. The fact that he is still a teacher is appalling and every scene with him just reminded me of this fact. He was never completely written out, but he didn’t do a whole lot after the opening episodes. After that, the only iffy moments left where when the characters would have quick remarks about someone’s chest and those were slight in comparison. While the show show is pretty fun for the most part, he made it hard to enjoy the early episodes. As I said those just had issues with pacing and writing, but they certainly didn’t need more problems. Without Kimura the show would have definitely jumped up a star and possibly 2.
The next reason why the second half was better is that it had less segments. Episodes would be able to have a longer plot and the segments actually did continue from each other. The characters finally had goals like getting to college or studying for it. The last few episodes were all consistent in this regard. The show also stopped relying on one joke since it had plot to cover. Most of the characters stayed pretty much the same throughout the years, but Sasaki got a considerable amount of development by the end. It was a little hard to like her at first because she is extremely quiet and spends 90% of her time blushing at various animals or anything that she finds adorable. It’s cool to like animals, but it just made for a very limited personality. By the end of the series she starts to speak up more and blush less. She becomes a lot more open about playing with the animals and had a nice bond with Chiyo. She stuck up for the kid during the final sports fest when the other teens started to mock her. It was a nice friendship between them.
Chiyo is effectively the main character even if she doesn’t always feel like it. She’s rich and a genius so that makes it easy for her to be at the top of this class as well. She’s probably the nicest character of the group and constantly tries to get everyone to get along. They make it difficult though since bickering is what they do best, but all in good fun. Chiyo invites everyone to her summer home each year and is certainly popular in the classroom. She gets traumatized after a certain car trip and doesn’t do too well at the sport competitions since she technically is just a kid but Chiyo always tries her best. She’s a nice all around character.
Osaka is a total space case as she can’t think about something for more than a minute. As a result her mind is always wavering and she says random, abstract things at times. She finds studying to be pointless because she won’t remember what she looked at anyway. Osaka is a nice enough character. She’s one of the weaker members of the main cast, but she is a nice contrast from the others. I also like how bold she is like when she decided to take a nap right after getting to Chiyo’s place even though everyone was supposed to study.
Tomo is one of my favorite characters. She was surpassed by Kagura by the end, but Tomo always kept it close. Tomo is very loud and overconfident. She doesn’t do well in school but brags about it instead of stressing. She’s constantly sabotaging the team and failing to win when it counts. She’s effectively trolling the main cast throughout and even rubs it in when something goes wrong for the others. She has fun teasing them all but it encourages the team to try harder. It was infinitely satisfying when she got accepted to college before Yomi since the latter had constantly insulted her and studied so hard. You don’t need to study when you have good intuition ya know? Tomo certainly made all of the interactions more fun.
Yomi is the most boring member of the group. She effectively plays the straight man in this series as she doesn’t understand any of the jokes and is always wondering what everyone is doing. She studies hard and doesn’t mess around like the others. Yomi tries to act mature for her age and everything but as a result she never seems to really have any fun. This act that she puts up also results in her getting sick before the big amusement park vacation so that one was really all her fault when you think about it.
Kagura is the best character and it’s mainly because of how competitive she is. Kagura is always trying to surpass Sakaki. Honestly it’s like the whole Goku vs Vegeta thing, but even more sad. Sakaki never actually trains or exercises at all while Kagura trains 24/7. Yet, Kagura can never manage to beat Sakaki….at anything. Kagura really deserves the win, but at least she continues trying and never holds it against Sakaki. She’s actually happy when Sakaki wins as it means she just needs to train more. Kagura didn’t become a main character until the first time skip in the series, but from then on she stole the show. She’s essentially Tomo if Tomo was actually good at something and is a little less extreme. She certainly doesn’t mock the others or try to sabotage anything. The two of them do get along quite well though as they both aren’t great at school work. I guess Kagura couldn’t be perfect at everything right?
Kaori is sort of one of the main characters, but she always got the shaft next to the others. Her role is just a whole lot smaller and in the second half her only role is to get harassed by Kimura. I never liked her though as her subplot is that she is admires Sakaki and has a hard time trying to talk to her. It gets old before it even begins. Finally we have the two teachers. Yukari is the main one. She doesn’t like being a teacher and doesn’t hesitate to let the kids know this. I dare say that most of her scenes are the ones that are legitimately funny. At least most of the examples I can think of involve her in some capacity. She’s effectively terrible at her job which is her character arc. Yukari is definitely crazy and she doesn’t mind manipulating her students if it will let her win the contest. I can respect her drive to win even if it’s always hard against Nyamo’s squad.
Nyamo is the other teacher and she is an example of a perfect teacher. She supports her students and is also really good at all things athletic. That being said, she can’t really handle the rowdy things that Yukari likes so if she starts drinking then things get tricky. Nyamo is fun enough. She’s not quite as interesting as Yukari but she doesn’t shut down all of the jokes like Yomi. She does a much better job of bouncing off of the moments such as when she got revenge on Yukari for mocking her students by stealing her money. (Granted, she wasn’t “stealing” it because Yukari owed her money for something else)
An example of one of the jokes that I did like was the donation box. The kids forgot to get Yukari a gift and she was pretty obvious about it so the gang decided to bring her a donation box and then they would throw nickels in it. Yukari didn’t take it well, but it was a pretty fun scene as everyone approached the box very grudgingly. A scene that was more random than anything was when this cat creature would appear. He claims to be Chiyu’s father and only shows himself once in a while. He may have some special abilities, but he’s so abstract that you don’t really need to worry about him.
One big plot that actually had an ending was the cat that would always bite Sakaki when she was in the neighborhood. She certainly fell for its tricks many times, but only once at the end. Fortunately she got her own cat guardian which stopped the bullies from messing with her. I guess the cat was just a mean person because even at the end it seemed to have a grudge with Sakaki. The gag was a little overused in the early episodes, but it was handled a lot better by the end. I also am glad that Sakaki got her own cat since it really helped give her some kind of payoff for being bitten so often.
While the animation was quite limited it did have some good shots. I liked the chibi style it would use when characters gave a thumbs up or be in the background agreeing on something. Their arms would turn into noodles at times and it was a better effect than in some other shows. It doesn’t really make up for all of the stock footage but the actual animation certainly wasn’t bad. It may be more that the character designs were simply solid, but it’s hard to say. The soundtrack isn’t very good though. It’s also quite limited/repetitive and I would have liked a little more variety.
Even if the comedy may not always have been on point, one thing you can say for the series is that is was pretty much always fun. The negatives I have with the show don’t involve language or being super dark/violent. At the very least you can always leave the show feeling happy since it is so lighthearted. It’s one thing that I always like about uplifting shows because they should be enjoyable to watch. The characters are always having fun even if things don’t really work out. If there’s any reason I’d recommend watching it, this is the main one. To that end, I actually do tend to like slice of life shows. Sonic Boom is a great example of one that’s currently airing and to date it is the best in that genre. It perfectly pulls it off every episode and I dare say that it is the greatest comedy of all time even if that is a little bold. The show hasn’t ended yet so we’ll see if it can keep that up.
Overall, Azumanga Daioh was somewhat limited from the anthology style it had, but I suppose it was to be expected since the manga was close to a 4 koma at times. Still, with full sized episodes I think it would have been more fun. The cast was solid though and even if you’re skeptical of the show at first you should be able to get on board by the end. After all, that’s one of the points of being a full show, by the end you should be used to the characters which will make the series more enjoyable. You’ll see the characters develop over the 3 years they’re at school so surely you’ll be a fan of at least one by the end.