Saturday, January 7, 2017

REVIEW: Azumanga Daioh Omnibus (manga) by Kiyohiko Azuma, translated by Stephen Paul

Azumanga Daioh is (primarily) a four-panel high school comedy comic strip series.

Review:

I first read Azumanga Daioh back when it was released in four volumes by ADV Manga. Although I had fond memories of it, I probably wouldn’t have gotten Yen Press’s omnibus edition if I hadn’t spotted it in the midst of a “going out of business” sale shopping frenzy. Happily, it made for a really nice reread, even though the ending didn’t affect me quite as strongly this time around.

Azumanga Daioh is a comedy series consisting primarily of 4-panel comic strips. It doesn’t really have what I’d call a plot. Instead, it follows the high school years of several girls in the same class from beginning to end, as well as the daily lives of some of their teachers. A few of the characters:
  • Sakaki: A cool-looking, quiet, and athletic girl who secretly loves animals and other cute things.
  • Chiyo: An adorable and smart 10-year-old who skipped a few grades.
  • Yomi: A girl who worries too much about her weight, but who also doesn’t let that stop her from eating the foods she loves.
  • Tomo: An energetic and annoying girl who tends to do things without thinking them through first.
  • Osaka: A transfer student who has a weird way of viewing the world and tends to live life at a slower pace than everyone else around her.
  • Kaorin: A girl with a huge crush on Sakaki.
  • Yukari: The class’s homeroom teacher. She’s so immature and lazy that it’s surprising she hasn’t been fired.
  • Kurosawa (aka Nyamo): The physical education teacher, and Yukari’s best friend.
The strips deal with everything from lunch, to hay fever, to several students’ bizarre dreams. It’s pretty light-hearted and fluffy throughout, although there’s one male teacher who’s extremely creepy.

I enjoyed revisiting this series. The humor didn’t always work for me, but there were still lots of moments that made me laugh out loud. My absolute favorite character was Sakaki, who wanted to become a veterinarian and who dreamed of one day moving out of her parents’ house so that she could have a pet cat (her mom was allergic). Unfortunately, she seemed doomed to be hated by the animals she loved - every time she approached a cat it bit her. However, one of the nice things about this series was that the situations and jokes evolved. Sakaki encountered a couple animals that didn’t hate her, and one of the loveliest moments in the series involved Sakaki meeting an animal who loved her and who she’d be able to live with after graduation (you just have to ignore a few things, like the animal technically being wild).

My other favorite character was Chiyo. She was not only ridiculously cute, she was also a good friend and supportive classmate. It was via Chiyo that Sakaki got to meet the first animal that didn’t hate her. I also loved her various ways of wishing her classmates good luck during their college entrance exams.

Things occasionally got a little weird, what with the dreams about Chiyo’s pigtails and her “father” (a weird and kind of creepy cat thing), but I still loved most of it. The things I could have done without: Yomi’s constant worrying about her weight, the moments when Chiyo’s cat-thing “father” turned vaguely threatening, and creepy Kimura-sensei and his love for teen girls wearing gym shorts or swimsuits. I felt a little bad for Kaorin. Not only did she get separated from Sakaki later on in the series, she also ended up in Kimura’s class (and then he took a shine to her, ew). While it was nice that she got a post-graduation picture with Sakaki, her crush on Sakaki was so obvious that it would have been even better if she’d been given a chance to tell Sakaki how she felt. ::sigh::

Well, complaints aside, I enjoyed revisiting this series. There’s a warmth to it that just sort of creeps up on you. I particularly liked the very end, as everyone prepared to go their separate ways, and the sweet little “You belong” drawings.

Extras:
  • Translation notes. These were located at the end of every volume in the omnibus. I really wish they had all been put at the end of the omnibus instead - I hated having to hunt for the right translation notes section, especially since the notes were pretty helpful.
  • An index. I can’t imagine ever using this, since it’s only helpful if you remember the title of a particular strip.
  • Full-color pages at the beginnings of each of the four volumes.

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