Shounen – Comedy, slice-of-life
4 Volumes (original), 1 Volume (omnibus)
ADV (Out of print), Yen Press
A group of friends (Chiyo, Yomi, Tomo, Sakaki, and Osaka) go through high school together. However, between their homeroom teacher’s antics and their own idiosyncrasies, their high school life will certainly be memorable.
Azumanga Daioh is an excellent 4-koma, but I wish Yen Press had opted for 2-in-1 omnibuses instead of a 4-in-1.
Originally released by ADV years ago, Yen Press rescued this series and retranslated it. The original four volumes were then compiled in this one large volume. And I do mean it’s large. Clocking in at 675 pages and nearly one inch taller and a half-inch wider than standard US manga size, Yen Press’ version of Azumanga Daioh could double as a murder weapon. At the very least, I feel like I should be standing at a pulpit and reading it aloud to a crowd. At MSRP $25, this is a bargain for a four volume series. Translator’s notes are included in the middle at the end of each original volume, and color pages are included. Unfortunately, this is also super heavy to read. This isn’t a manga to just stuff in a bag and to read on a commute or to read in the bathtub. It’s too bad, as the nature of this series is perfect for light or quick reading. I really wish it was divided into two volumes with an MSRP of about $15.
But onto the actual manga.
This is not a series based on deep plotlines or character development. This is a fast-paced 4-koma comedy. But it does what so many manga fail to do: it finds its groove quickly and keeps going until its well-defined conclusion. There are repeated gags, but the author mixes them up to prevent staleness. He doesn’t introduce new characters just for the sake of a joke. Random acts of coincidence are only sparsely used. The author knows his characters and lets them control the comedy instead of the other way around.
One of the strengths of this series is that time flows. Each chapter corresponds to a month or part of a month. Characters do not suffer from the “please ignore the seasons” aka “repeat a year” techniques to keep them in school. Time flows. Tomo’s hair actually grows. (Shocking.) The characters eventually graduate and separate. The author doesn’t force them all to go to the same college to continue the story. While some part of me wishes to have read more about Chiyo and the others’ adventures in high school, part of Azumanga Daioh‘s charm is the fact all good things must come to an end. Some series drag on far too long (and some are axed well before their peak), but this isn’t one of those series.
Surprisingly, romance does not play a part in this manga. One character is married (much to everyone’s shock), and Kaori’s infatuation with Sakaki can be perceived as either admiration or a crush. Otherwise, outside of some wishing from Yukari and a few stories about Nyamo, no plotlines deal with love. The boys in class are limited to a few scenes. One male teacher is a recurring character. Otherwise, the series focuses on the girls and the two teachers. Compared to how romance-crazy some manga (both shounen and shoujo alike) portray females, this is a refreshing change.
Yukari is the type of teacher you wonder how she got the job. While the first few strips make it seem like she is going to be the protaganist, both she, her coworker/friend Nyamo, and the six girls are all given their fair share of pagetime, and they get several occasions to switch between the source of comedy and observer/snarker. While Osaka is generally the spaciest of the characters and Yomi functions mainly as tsukkomi, they have their moments in each others’ shoes. The child genius Chiyo and space cadet Osaka have some character overlap, but their similarities versus their differences adds to the humor. Sakaki’s obsession with cute things is a running gag, and Tomo is the annoying friend everyone has. Kaorin, Sakaki’s fangirl, initially functions as the sixth ranger, but she is demoted in favor of the sports girl Kagura. While Kagura is okay, I kind of wish Kaorin was around more once the girls moved to their second year. The teacher Kimura is the other major recurring character and is the source of the more perverted humor in the series. All in all, the characters are all quirky without relying solely on one facet of their personalities. Sakaki, for instance, spends much of her time trying to get along with cats, but she is also loyal to her friends. Nyamo may be the more down-to-earth one between her and Yukari, but she gets quite talkative when she’s drunk.
The art is generally simplistic. Eyes are usually only given detail in close-ups and chapter splash pages. Osaka’s eyes are the most different, and this reflects her unique worldview. The art is very clean and easy-to-follow. Art is confined to the individual panels. A couple of bonus side stories are written in typical manga format. The main cast is easily identified from each other without resorting to crazy haircolors or hairstyles. Backgrounds are limited, but this keeps the art crisp. Screentone types are rather limited. I wouldn’t call the art the best in this category, but it is visually appealing and effective.
Honorifics are used, and a quick guide in the translation notes is included. A lot of jokes are based on the Japanese language, but the translator found good English equivalents for many of them. For example, “maru” (round) to Maruko (Marco) becomes “arc” to Marco, and Osaka’s ponderings on Japanese counting terms becomes jokes about pairs of panties vs a panty. A lot of the original Japanese jokes are explained in the translation notes. Others like the water to ice joke are kept. Osaka’s Osaka accent is adapted as an American Southern accent, which is common in localizations. The manzai comedy is again explained in the notes, but terms “tsukkomi” and “boke” are translated as “straight man” and “idiot”. One character uses an offensive term for idiot. The cat toys Sakaki loves are written as “Neko Koneko”, the standard romanization. It is written as “Neco Coneco” on a shirt in the text, and Wikipedia claims the alternative romanization brings up another joke as Connected Cat. Anyways, this is a solid adaptation.
On the back cover, Yen Press bills this series as “an absolute necessity for any manga enthusiast’s library”. I agree. Just make sure you find nice spots to store and to read this monster of a book.
The anime was licensed by ADV films. It’s faithful and features a great cast. Because you always wanted to hear the epic WAKAMOTO Norio as a cat-dad. ‘Nuff said.
The author’s series Yotsubato! is also quite popular and available from Yen Press.