Azumanga Daioh (2001 IMDb)

Categorization

Absurdist slice-of-life comedy.

Subject

Scenes from high school.

Commentary

Clearly intended for fans of the comic, with too little exposition for a wider audience. Superseded by the TV series that followed, and not as good.

The author of the comic is Azuma Kiyohiko, hence Azu-ma-nga. Daioh, “great king”, refers to the magazine where that comic was first published. Azuma's other works include the excellent, more diverse and extensive Yotsubato in a similar style.

Japanese production animation movie

Spin-off:

Azumanga Daioh (2002 IMDb)

Categorization

An optimistic sitcom purged of the normal flaws of the genre, except the reduction of characters to type. No laugh track, no freezing of time, no escalating implausibility.

Subject

All of high school, specifically for some of the girls in a class. None of the guys have identities, but we get to know a few of the teachers.

Commentary

You can do great things very differently from how Aristotle liked them. Here, the measured cuteness of To Heart (1999) is stripped of science fiction, fantasy and romance, to distil a relaxing “looseness” (adj. yurui) akin to Here Is Greenwood (1991) but with a stronger focus on comedy. Think of it as Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist (1995) with somewhat drab digipaint animation instead of Squigglevision and sincere schoolgirls instead of cynical mental patients. As a sitcom it combines the animated freedom and disrespect for authority of the early The Simpsons (1989) with the naturalism of Seinfeld (1989), but Azumanga Daioh does not inherit the knee-jerk irony of either, nor does it implement the cringe humour of post-Seinfeld American sitcoms or the familial myopia of the generation before that.

The slow and fluffy everyday feel surpasses the humble comic strip. From a certain point in episode 9, it’s a balm for the soul. The only things that drag it down are the pedestrian animation quality and the implication that the main characters are all women—and romantically uninvolved—not for arbitrary or feminist reasons but for objectification. There are many ways that added realism could have improved the show and just as many ways it could have damaged the material. The delicate balance might be coincidental, but Azumanga Daioh stands out as the finest of its breed among dozens of similar Japanese shows “about nothing”.

References here: Strawberry Marshmallow (2005), K-On! (2009), Dear Lemon Lima (2009), My Ordinary Life (2011).

Japanese production animation series