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The thing about this junk bin, as you may have guessed by now, almost all of them are one-season long animes. That shouldn’t necessarily mean they’re bad. “Outlaw Star” was only one season. “Cowboy Bebop”, one of the more infamous ones, was only one season. Heck, “FLCL” was six episodes. However, in general, it seems people don’t pay much attention to the one season animes, and usually for good reason…they’re not that good.

But like I said, occasionally there’s a gold nugget among them. And even more occasionally, you run into one that’s so good it’s rather sad that it doesn’t get more notoriety…such at this one.

“Azumanga Daioh”

I haven’t done a whole lot of comedies thus far. Usually I go more for action-orientated animes that happen to have a lot of comic relief or the like with them, but after glimpsing a few panels of the comic version of this one, I had to try it out.

“Azumanga Daioh” didn’t start out as a true anime series. It was originally made up into 90 second shorts; a little bit analogous to the old Garfield “Quickies” if you can remember that old cartoon show. Just like the quickies, which were animated versions of actual Garfield comics, each one of these shorts translated into a yonkoma, which meant each one goes pretty much through a set-up, a delivery, and a punch-line like any joke would rather than hit you one after another with them. Eventually, the individual shorts were synthesized into full-length episodes and formed a round 26 episode series.

The series itself focuses on the three year high school term of a group of misfit female students. Each one has their own personality and quirks. Yomi is probably the “straightest” one of the bunch, being an average student and her only real quirk being she obsesses over her weight. Tomo, the one who constantly latches onto her, is an overexcited slacker who’s usually far too energetic and stupid. Sakaki, also known as “Sakaki-san”, is the tallest and most athletic student in the class who everyone else sees as “cool” and gravitates to, but secretly the only thing she’d like to do all day is pet and cuddle with cute little furry animals. Kagura, who actually doesn’t transfer into the same class as the other girls until their second year, is an athletic student who sees herself as Sakaki’s rival even though Sakaki couldn’t care less and routinely trumps her.

Then there’s the two greatest/oddest in the bunch: Chiyo and Osaka. Chiyo, or more usually Chiyo-chan, is a former grade schooler genius who got bumped up to the high school level by testing out. This is actually a joke in and of itself because unlike in the USA, students in Japan are very rarely allowed to skip grades no matter how smart they are. “Osaka”, who involuntarily got that nickname on transferring, is, in her own words, spacey. It’s hard to peg her down exactly, but she looks to be a student with either ADD or Asperger’s, and is constantly thinking of random things and spouting them out, meeting the definition in most cases of a Cloud Cuckoolander.

Aside from that there’s their gym teacher and English teacher, the latter of whom is an irresponsible big kid but nevertheless is good at English, and the former of whom is more adult and mature but is constantly suckered in to being childish around the English teacher.

The series, like I said, covers the three years the students spend in Japanese high school. It goes through all the trials and tribulations of the average group of high school student friends, how they live their lives, what concerns them, what they think about the world, and where they plan to go after it’s all done. And along the way, they go through a great deal of zaniness, overreacting, overdramatization, and lots and lots of other bits of chaos and humor. Chiyo-chan is short even for her age and has to deal with an oversized world in high school, Tomo drives everyone insane with her never-ending energy, Sakaki just won’t stop getting herself mutilated by a neighborhood cat she can’t resist trying to pet, and Osaka can’t stop thinking about everything in the universe except what’s going on at the moment.

Overall, I think this series is great. I’ll admit, it’s a bit slow-paced, which kind of figures. The old “Garfield” quickies I mentioned were only thirty seconds long and usually covered Sunday comics, which are eight panels. By comparison, Azumanga Daioh is four panel comics stretched over 90 seconds. So there’s a lot of standing around, silence, and general stretching out of a lot of segments. It kind of keeps the humor from hitting as hard as it should when a joke that should have taken 15 seconds to get through takes 90. But still, it is quite funny. Chiyo-chan is cute, but it’s the fact the characters literally can’t physically handle her cuteness that’s great. Their English teacher, Yukari-sensei, is completely insane and shouldn’t be allowed within 10 feet of a high school entrance. And as for Osaka? Oh, Osaka… Every scene she’s in or thing she says is just so off-the-wall it’s great.

It explores a lot of aspects both of Japanese high school culture and Japanese culture in general. Now…I know that one really can’t watch one anime from Japan and expect to get an accurate picture of Japanese society even if it’s grounded mostly in reality, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the parts of the show which feature aspects they don’t really lead up to they assume people in Japan already know about, such as cleaning up after class every day, having home rooms, yearly classroom events, “field days”, “buying bread” instead of hot lunches, etc. So in that regard, it’s also pretty interesting from a cultural standpoint…again, assuming you can take some of the aspects presented in the show as genuine representations of Japanese culture.

That said…I’m not completely “cool” with the series. Yeah, Yukari-sensei is insane…but she’s also, quite honestly, a jerk. So is Tomo. She’s that kind of “Chaotic Stupid” that Patrick Star is on “Spongebob”, where she’s so dumb and rude that at some point her stupidity stops being funny and just becomes mean. I’m also not a huge fan of one aspect of Japanese culture ridiculous in this series…the fact that perverts are more “funny” than “disgusting”. This takes the form of one teacher in particular who is constantly ogling these underage girls. Part of the joke is that, aside from the fact he’s a juvenile pervert, he’s actually supposed to be a great guy. He picks up litter, donates to charity, and his wife and kids love him. But…he’s also a pervert who lusts after underage girls. In Japan, the joke might have been that he’s really a great guy…in this country he’s a disgusting pervert and anything else he does is negated by the fact he’s a disgusting pervert and he should be in jail, not teaching high school students.

But that aside, the series not only manages to stay pretty distinctively funny, at times wacky (especially with fantasies about Chiyo-Chan’s pigtails [long joke…] and the “Father Cat” [even longer joke…]), and actually made me mist up a bit at the end with graduation. It actually captured for all the pitfuls and zaniness the power of commencement…leaving one thing behind to start a new chapter in one’s life. It’s touching.

So yeah, although it has things dragging it down, I’d say this is probably the best one-season anime series I’ve reviewed so far. I more than recommend it. I actually say, as an otaku, you owe it to yourself.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Because three years of great high school beats four years of boring high school any day of the week.

What You Should Do With This DVD:

Watch it once for enjoyment, share it with friends, then drag out special episodes for all the big times of the Japanese year.