Discourse on Azumanga Daioh – Part 1: The Recommendation

Goodbye sadness.

Part of the title sequence of Azumanga Daioh: the six main characters jumping onto screen one after another.
Clearly, the fine art of .gifs eludes me,
because I can’t tell if this is looping properly.
Azumanga Daioh the Animation: J.C.Staff and Sentai Filmworks.

To come right out and explain the situation, I’ve written and re-written this post a couple times now, for reasons that will soon become apparent.

The short version is that Azumanga Daioh is both a very good anime and one that is immensely resonant with me on a deep, personal level.

So, I’ve since decided that, rather than writing a giant manifesto about Azumanga Daioh, I’m going to divide my original post into two smaller posts.

This one will focus on the actual recommendation. The second will be a more in-depth explanation of why Azumanga Daioh is so meaningful and relatable to me on a personal level.

Now, up until my recommendation of The Castle of Cagliostro this summer, all of my previous recommendations have been Fantasy-y, or at least Fantasy-adjacent.

And even Castle of Cagliostro managed to be at least thematically Realmgard-adjacent.

An image of the poster for The Castle of Cagliostro, and a quote for an earlier post: "But, hey, Castle of Cagliostro is about a gentleman thief hunting down a legendary treasure; I write about a little girl pirate hunting down legendary treasure. Six of one, really."

And, yeah, despite being one of my favourite animes ever, Azumanga Daioh doesn’t even have that sort of tenuous connection to justify a description of “Realmgard-esque” or “Realmgard-adjacent.”

In fact, I’ve been sitting on a draft of this recommendation since at least May and I’ve been struggling to find a way to justify including this.

And I think I’ve finally managed that.

No, Azumanga Daioh is not Realmgard-adjacent. But it is at least Greatest Living Author J.B. Norman-adjacent.

Look, there’s no good way to announce this subtly or euphemistically, so let me just tear off the proverbial band-aid:

I’m autistic.

A screenshot of The Simpsons: Bar, wit the caption "Oh, don't look so shocked."
The Simpsons, “Treehouse of Horror” VII: Disney and Gracie Films.

I’m not going to focus on that angle now — that’s going to be the focus of my forthcoming second post about Azumanga Daioh.

But, in brief, as an autistic viewer, Azumanga Daioh gets high marks from me for its depiction of autistic characters.

Or at least autism-adjacent characters; they’re never explicitly described or identified as “autistic”, but they’ve got enough of the traits that it’s not hard to see a lot of myself in these characters.

Most significantly, they’re portrayed positively and sympathetically. But, like I said, I’ll save most of that discussion for my next post.

Moving on, if the “Azumanga Daioh” name sounds at all familiar to you, it may be because it’s the origin of the “waifumeme that has become rather ubiquitous on the Internet — particularly where anime and video games are concerned.

Mr. Kimura from Azumanga Daioh, speaking the words "my wife."
Thus spake Kimura, and the Internet rejoiced.
Azumanga Daioh the Animation: J.C.Staff and Sentai Filmworks.

In fact, Azumanga Daioh has proven to be something of a powerhouse where Internet memes are concerned. That’s hardly shocking; the series has some very memorable scenes, easily-quotable characters, and a pretty ludicrous sense of humour.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around a group of six main girls in the same high school class:

The six main characters from Azumanga Daioh.
Left to right, that’s Kagura, Tomo, Yomi, Osaka, Chiyo, and Sakaki.
Azumanga Daioh the Animation: J.C.Staff and Sentai Filmworks.
  • Chiyo, probably the closest there is to a main character, a child genius not unlike our own Annie Darkstone and skipped ahead all the way to high school despite being a mere ten years old.
  • Sakaki, probably the second most prominent character, who is tall, strong, and outwardly stoic and collected, but inwardly obsessed with small, cute things, prone to ridiculous flights of fancy, and probably the biggest softie out of all the characters.
  • Osaka — spoiler: her real name is Ayumu; second spoiler: she’s the autistic one, not unlike our own Annie Darkstone. She’s proven hugely popular on the Internet, and usually flighty and just plain weird, but also possessing several very particular talents and capable of insights that all the other girls miss.
  • Longtime best friends and total opposites Tomo — rash, hyperactive, and rather self-absorbed, and Yomi — serious, uptight, and usually the one responsible for reining in Tomo.
  • Kagura, Sakaki’s hotblooded self-appointed athletic rival is a later addition to the group, added to the class by their teacher to serve as a ringer for the school’s Sports Festivals.
  • Also Kaorin, a girl with an obsessive crush on Sakaki who’s largely a periphery character to the main girls, but does get the spotlight every now and then.
Kaorin from Azumanga Daioh, looking very, very happy.
And here’s Kaorin, just happy to be included.
Azumanga Daioh the Animation: J.C.Staff and Sentai Filmworks.

Notably, Wikipedia categorises Azumanga Daioh as both a “Slice of Life Anime and Mangaand a “Surreal Comedy Anime and Manga.”

And, yeah, as weird as it seems, that’s fair.

“Cute (usually female) characters doing cute things cutely” is basically an anime genre unto itself. I doubt that Azumanga Daioh was the first anime (technically, manga first) to do it, but there do seem to have been a lot of Azumanga Daioh-esque animes and mangas since then.

But maybe that’s just because a high school class is fruitful ground for stories in the genre, rather than any direct influence…

Beyond the “cute characters being cute”, it’s fundamentally about a group of high school girls doing high school girl things, with occasional asides featuring their teachers being nominal adults and trying (and usually failing) to do mature, adultful things.

Nyamo and Yukari from Azumanga Daioh, in their office.
Figure 1: A pair of mature, responsible adult women. Allegedly
Azumanga Daioh the Animation: J.C.Staff and Sentai Filmworks.

It doesn’t even really have a plot or an all-encompassing story arc. It plays out (especially in the manga) as a series of short, loosely-connected vignettes, rather than a story unfolding episodically.

Comparisons have been made to Seinfeld. Never having really got into Seinfeld, I can’t really comment.

Kimura's "my wife" scene again.
“What’s the deal with mai waifu?”
Azumanga Daioh the Animation: J.C.Staff and Sentai Filmworks.

Now, plenty of the episodes do have an overall theme — things like “Culture Festival” (I wish we had those in Canadian high school), or “Sports Festival” (I don’t wish we had those in Canadian high school), or “Summer Vacation“, or “School Trip to Okinawa

Basically, it’s the humour of everyday life. Helped in large part of the main group of girls having such good chemistry together and most of them being prone to pretty funny comments or actions.

There’s also a lot of really, really weird stuff that goes down. Now, most of this is consigned to the girls’ day dreams, regular dreams, or imagine spots, rather than anything really fantastical happening in the real world.

Yet multiple characters somehow all imagine Chiyo’s father as the same weird orange cat-looking… thing

Osaka and the Father Cat hovering beside her.
Also, he’s Santa, wishes he were a bird, can fly Mach 100, is bullet-proof, plays baseball, and looks like Bill Clinton and/or former Prime Minister of Japan Yoshirō Mori.
Azumanga Daioh the Animation: J.C.Staff and Sentai Filmworks.

It’s, uh, it’s a long story.

Also, there’s a not insubstantial of just plain old slapstick comedy, with the characters getting hurt in inventive and funny ways.

Chiyo being run over by a large ball during a Sports Festival.
Mostly Chiyo…
Azumanga Daioh the Animation: J.C.Staff and Sentai Filmworks.

I first watched Azumanga Daioh when I was myself in high school. I’ve since re-watched in recently (via Sentai FilmworksHIDIVE streaming service) now when I’m almost 30.

Man, it’s scary having to admit that…

That basically means I’m now closer in age to the girls’ teachers than to the girls themselves.

And as a consequence of that, the girls’ two main teachers, Yukari, and Nyamo (that’s a nickname but is what she’s mostly commonly called; her real name is Minamo), have become a lot more relatable to me now than when I first watched Azumanga Daioh.

Nyamo and Yukari in Yukari's very, very messy room.
That thing on the table is a schedule Nyamo wanted Yukari to make to plan her time for summer break. The two sections are “Free Time” and “Sleep.” She’s living the dream.
Azumanga Daioh the Animation: J.C.Staff and Sentai Filmworks.

Yukari and Nyamo basically have an ‘Adult Tomo and Yomi’ dynamic going on. Nyamo’s the responsible, composed one (but, uh, not so much after she’s been drinking…) and Yukari’s the brash, loud, self-centred one.

Now, Yukari’s not exactly what you’d call an accurate depiction of a high school teacher, given that she’s probably done enough to get herself fired at least once an episode.

Mostly, her profession as the girls’ teacher consists largely of her being a jerk to her students.

Yukari whacking Chiyo with a magazine.
Mostly to Chiyo…
Azumanga Daioh the Animation: J.C.Staff and Sentai Filmworks.

It’s a lighthearted show and an easy watch with very little objectionable content.

There’s some suggestive conversation every now and then. And’s Mr. Kimura’s whole “I like high school girls!” schtick is inevitably going to offend somebody. That being said, when he’s just being weird rather than creepy, he’s actually a pretty funny character…

Azumanga genuinely hilarious. It’s almost relentlessly positive. It’s sincerely uplifting. It’s got a great artstyle that allows for the characters to utilise some great poses and expressions.

There’s a big, orange cat-looking… thing.

It’s a very welcome change of pace from how incessantly grim a lot of modern Pop Culture is.

Plus, it has autistic characters that don’t make me want to pull out my hair in frustration. And that will be what I focus on in the second half of my manifesto.

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