Before we deep dive into this, I need to get something out of the way. This otherwise bright show has one major dark spot, Mr. Kimura. This openly… something… for high school students trope is sadly something that shows up in some anime as the attitude toward it is slightly different. I will not go into a long thing about it and the different cultures but will say that it happens in this show. It’s uncomfortable for me as a viewer, I don’t believe it’s humorous, and we aren’t going to mention it/him again. Okay, moving on.
Azumanga Daioh is a slice-of-life anime following a group of high school girls. I was obsessed with the show when I was in high school. For those that aren’t familiar with the term, slice-of-life is pretty much what it sounds like; it is shows, movies, etc. meant to show slices of a character(s) ’s “life.” There is little to no overarching story or conflict, but rather a more natural look at just life. Now it’s anime, so by its nature, even “slices of life” can be a bit out there, but in general. A good comparison would be a lot of American sitcoms.
Azumanga Daioh is a high school based slice of life following a group of girls from their first day in class together to their graduation. The girls fall into several tropes that anime fans will be used to, although they do play with expectations a bit in certain ways. The show is centered around various highs and lows (mostly highs) of being that age and growing together as friends. I loved it in high school because I felt some connection to some of what is shown while at the same time longed for other aspects of it. As an adult, it fills me with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia, both for what I had and didn’t have compared to these girls.
The show is a comedy and is packed pretty full of jokes and humor throughout. There are moments where the show will allow the audience to breathe, but they are limited and usually sandwiched between punchlines and physical humor. Azumanga Daioh also relies pretty heavily on slow, repetitious humor. For example, Chiyo, a young girl who was moved up several grades, and Osaka, a spacey transfer student at one point, practice in PE together. Instead of doing anything productive, the two nonathletic girls proceed to accidentally hit each other in the head with a ball over, and over, and over, and over, etc. It’s moments like these that make or break the show for a lot of the audience. You can either be amused by them drawing out and pushing the joke for so long or not.
I personally, obviously, am amused. I like seeing things pushed until they almost break and even pushed beyond breaking. I also find slow dry humor pretty amusing. Other people have commented that they just find themselves bored in these moments. I would recommend trying either way, but you will see a lot of this throughout.
That doesn’t mean this is the only brand of humor you will get, though. There is a lot of physical comedy, even borderline if not outright slapstick. There is also a lot of humor around growing up, misunderstandings, and general things that people will sometimes face in life.
Humor isn’t the only thing the show brings to the table. It is largely what you are here for, but there are some great coming of age moments and even moments of the realities of adulthood. The girls go through various stresses, like exams, not knowing what they want to do with their lives and general feelings of being a bit out of place. Something that most of us went through to some degree as high school students ourselves. These moments make me reflect on my own struggles with my identity at the time and even after I graduated. It is a pretty universal experience that is well done and adds a bit extra to the show but never goes too heavy to take away from the overall comedy feel.
You also have two of the girls’ teachers, Yukari and Nyamo, and while I liked their characters in my youth as an adult, I reflect on them and their moments a bit differently. It is sort of nice to see them still a bit in flux themselves, obviously somewhat established in adulthood but also still growing and changing. It felt like the show’s way of reminding the audience that personal growth and struggles with identity never truly go away. There are moments, like pending graduation, where the majority of us experience this together and a little stronger. However, even in adulthood, there are still shifts, changes, and choices we have to make that will bring about a bit of existentialism and sometimes outright change in ourselves or our direction.
Maybe I am reading or projecting too much on to it, but it’s the message that I feel sort of floats in the background of comedy, zaniness, and cuteness.
In the end, I always enjoy my revisits of this show. I had a few close friendships in high school, so there are parts of the show that remind me of those good times and allow me to reflect on what I enjoyed about my youth. As I said though, at the start, it also makes me nostalgic for things I didn’t have. The degree and type of closeness the character have is something I feel I missed out on with my moving around and for sure with my struggles socially. It’s not a negative feeling, just “in a perfect life if I could do high school again.”
The show always makes me laugh a lot, there are many moments that are still adorable, and I overall enjoy the different events and the ways the days unfold. It also tugs at my heartstrings a little and leads me down the path of reflection about the choices I made, good and bad, since I first watched the show at relatively the same age as most of the characters.
So bottom line – Well, it starts with, do you like anime? This is not the type of anime that will sell nonfans, in my honest opinion. If you do like anime, especially comedies and slice-of-life, then I highly recommend it. The characters are fun (although they can be annoying at times, but it makes sense given their tropes), the humor is excellent and in high supply, and it’s just a delightful experience overall. If you have seen it, it’s worth a revisit, especially if you are looking for something to take you back.