Azumanga Daioh is well Azumanga Daioh! To paraphrase the ADV trailer it is "a series that shows up for class one day, takes the anime world by storm and gains a life of its own". It is a manga that was written by Kiyohiko Azuma that has now also been made into a series. This article will more or less apply to the original manga and the series as most of the themes in the series are taken straight from the manga but in particular is focusing on the DVD set. I have the first of the Azumanga Daioh manga books and I like it in this form but on film I adore it. The situations gain an extra degree of life and the transfer of medium is done exceptionally well. Azumanga Daioh is (well I agree with another reviewers comment I read elsewhere) the most Japanese show I have ever seen but at the same time relavent to almost anywhere in the World. I will talk about the history of the show later in this guide, now I think I should give you an idea what this show is about.
The basic plot is very simple you follow the every day "ordinary lives" of a bunch of high school girls. Unlike a lot of Japanese animes this one does not have any characters with magical powers or any really unusual traits, also there is no romance the intire concept is built around friendship. This means all you have is a set of girls who could be from almost any school in the world, well almost. The girls are scripted so they each fill a stereotypical sort of role. You have Chiyo chan the Genius, Osaka the "Out of It" kid, Sakaki the "tough and sporty" girl, Tomo the hyperactive one and so on. To round all this off you have their English teacher Yukari who is possibly the madest of the bunch. The series does not really have an overal plot although the girls do progress through their time at school and years come and go but relies most heavily on a lot of small 5 minute shorts. Perhaps now is a good time to mention the original medium.
Origianally as I stated above Azumanga Daioh was a manga. It was written in the form of a four panel comic strip that was published in Dengeki Daioh. (The original strips have been collected together, translated and released in a set of four volumes by ADV manga.) These sketches then have more or less have then been taken straight from these strips, extended slightly and created into an anime. It works like a wonder. This was then broadcast in 5 minute sections every weekday and at the weekend they would do a compilation repeat.
This means that they episodes can jump around a bit but often do have a common theme throughout them. They also tend to be heart warming and very very funny. The only bits that I could not understand where a couple of dream sequences that happen in the series. Also some themes run through out the intire series but each time it is still interesting as you wonder if it will go right for them this time. One example of this is Sakaki and her love for cats which all seem to instinctively hate her. Each time she tries to stroke one she gets scratched but everytime she tries you wonder will this be the time she manages. The sports day episode are always really good but I won't say any more of that here as I don't want to spoil it.
Hopefully this gives you the idea that I really like Azumanga Daioh as a series and would recommend anybody who has fond memories of high school to watch it. I understand if you are a teacher it should be compulsory watching material from one of my friend's she said the stereotypes where amazing and could attribute each of the girls to members of her own classes. She was not too pleased when I compared her to the English teacher though. This is a set I would say go and find and watch right now, then buy the mangas and read them or the other way around. Also worth mentioning in passing is that there are two Azumanga Daioh short movies. One of these is included as an extra on the last DVD the other is Azumanga Web Daioh and is worth a watch if you can find it but I am not as keen on it as the actual series. It gives you a sort of idea on what to exspect but the series itself manages everthing so much better. The whole style of the series seems to suit it.
On the audio side of the series it is very good though I recommend as I believe all true anime fans would do that you watch the series in Japanese with English subtitles. Some of the tone of voice things get said in has been lost in the dub and also some of the additional sound effects are more noticable when listening to the Japanese version. That said the English dub is fairly good the Japanese one is just superior. The start and end themes are memorable and likeable though a little strange and also catchy. "Lu la lu..."
I will round off with a comment from ADVs website that I totally agree with: "Azuma’s winning style is distinguished by rare comic timing, a great eye for characterization, and a peculiar point of view that is all his own."
Here are a couple of searches related to the series.
English Azumanga Daioh DVDs - UK search. Please note the official English release is by ADV Films only. Also the official release is a total of six discs and includes a few extras on the discs. Certain DVDs also include a character pin. Official releases available in England, America and Australia. (Regions 1,2 and 4)
Azumanga Daioh Collectables - UK search. Collectables possibly including the CDs and Plushes if available.
Azumanga Daioh Collectables - International Search. Same as above but anywhere in the world.
International eBay shops that have the Azumanga Daioh Manga books available.
Pictures come from the animetempy site user reviews page. Please check out my other cartoon and anime reviews including a couple of series that are Japanese animated but I am not sure whether to class as anime.