The Perils of Prodigy–Azumanga Daioh

Welcome, all, again.  In this season’s spirit of sharing, I’ll now share something with you–that no matter how immersed I become in current titles, I sometimes long for the comfortable familiarity of an old favorite.  I have for the last few days been [re]watching the 2002 series Azumanga Daioh, and it feels so good!  The subtle joy of watching vaguely remembered storylines develop is juxtaposed against the thrill of rediscovering all those specific bits that had since slipped my mind. . .favorites become favorites for a reason, so I make sure to go back to enjoy them again every once in a while.  I tell you, it’s time well-spent!

And it’s really no surprise that I like Azumanga Daioh so much: it’s slice-of-life; blends an eccentric but believable cast; and takes place in the innocuous but likewise tumultuous setting of high school.  And, of course, it is the creation of mad genius Kiyohiko Azuma, who also created my favorite manga, Yotsuba&! (the 13th volume of which was recently released).  In fact, Yotsuba&! began its run in March 2003, not quite a full year after the May 2002 conclusion of the Azumanga Daioh manga, both published in the magazine Dengeki Daioh.  And although the settings are different, both follow a similar premise: an established group of friends and acquaintances react to the introduction of a young girl into their midst.  In Azumanga Daioh, that girl is Chiyo-chan.

Chiyo Mihama is a ten-year-old child prodigy who is elevated straight from elementary school into her freshman year of high school.  While this move poses no intellectual challenge for her, Chiyo is suddenly thrust into the social machinations of students who are roughly half-a-decade older.  She is not only much smaller than her classmates physically, but is also not so emotionally developed as they are.  Her new environment confuses and even occasionally intimidates her, and she is very cognizant of others’ uncertainty and discomfort around her.  Luckily for Chiyo, her classmate Sakaki has a natural liking for things small and cute.

While Chiyo’s presence is what drives this story, her friends are also brought vividly to life.  It is Sakaki who first gives Chiyo an actual social presence within their class.  Sakaki is the strong, silent type to whom people seem naturally drawn, so Sakaki’s friendship immediately changes the way in which Chiyo’s classmates interact with her–especially Yomi and Tomo, childhood friends who had been teasing Chiyo.  While that teasing never altogether stops, it is largely replaced with genuine interest that soon develops into friendship.  Ditzy transfer student Osaka (Ayumu Kasuga) rounds out the core group of friends, although–as in real life–others pass in and out of this social construct (witness Kagura’s gradual eclipse of Kaorin, for instance).  Also playing important roles in Chiyo’s new life are her homeroom teacher Yukari Tanizaki and her P.E. teacher Minamo “Nyamo” Kurosawa.  These two teachers are former classmates who now teach at their alma mater, and the term frenemies was probably invented just for them.  All of these characters are developed brilliantly, each with her own telling quirks that just scream authenticity (such as Yomi’s fixation with her weight or Yukari’s automotive death wish).

Azumanga Daioh follows its subjects from the first day of their first semester all the way through their high school graduation.  And at 26 episodes long, the series allows viewers a leisurely immersion into its characters’ lives, creating a warm familiarity.  Additionally, this is just a very pleasant show to watch, with warm, soft artwork that complements the simple, natural feel of the story.  Sometimes you just want to relax and laugh–this is the show that will make that happen.

Scorched Doki-Doki

Welcome, all, again.  We will this time be discussing Scorching Ping Pong Girls, one of the very few sports-themed anime series to attract and then hold my attention.  And it’s not that I dislike sports; rather, I carry over from real life the attitude that a sporting event should be watched as a particular event, without undue interest in the personal lives of the athletes.  That might sound strange in this age of instant celebrity, but it’s my attitude, even towards my own favorite teams.  So realizing just how much I was actually enjoying this show came as something of a shock!  Yes, this show is pretty alien to my normal viewing habits. . .but sometimes you just have to admit that change can be fun.

So, I’ll come right out and say it: by my best estimation, this show is basically YuruYuri with table tennis as storyline.  Honestly, protagonist Koyori both looks and acts a lot like YuruYuri‘s Akari–I even keep waiting for her to fire her bun bazooka!  And all the lead characters are paired-off with one another, just like on. . .well, you get it!  And that’s what initially got me interested in the show, because I am a huge fan of YuruYuri and shows of similar sort (such as: Aiura, Yuyushiki, Chronicles of the Going Home Club, etc.).  The ping pong was an admittedly new element for me, but was organic to the storyline and thus to the fun and humor.  And as a bonus, I’m even learning about the sport–rules, techniques, and more.  Not bad for a show whose initial draw was a hairstyle.

But what’s it all about?  Well, you might be vaguely familiar with the premise: a school club sets out to practice and improve in order to–wait for it–get to Nationals!  Oh, the joy of competition!  Oh, the sound!  The euphonium!  (HAIKYU!, HAIKYU! very much!)  Meanwhile, friendships (and couples) are formed; life lessons are learned; and heart attacks become the newest fashion accessory.  Or so you might think, what with all the doki-doki.  Yes, lots.  In fact, I don’t think that I’ve ever seen another show with nearly this much doki-doki.  So prepare yourself, and get ready to have all life’s big questions answered.  How much doki-doki causes heart failure?  Diabetic shock?  How does a shy, klutzy girl court a tsundere?  And will the world’s favorite vocaloid Miku ever get her twin tails back from this imposter pictured above?  You’ll need to watch to find out!

 

Girlish Number

Welcome, all, again.  I apologize for my long absence, so let’s get right to it!  Our subject series this time is Girlish Number, yet another take on working in the anime industry.  We’ve been treated to several such shows recently, from the frenetic Shirobako to the rather cute Seiyu’s Life.  And while voice acting was just one of the myriad industry components examined in Shirobako, it defines the stories of both Seiyu’s Life and Girlish Number.  Both shows specifically follow the career trajectories of three rookie voice actesses, but what a difference attitude makes!

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The main character (I simply cannot conceive of her as an actual protagonist!) of Girlish Number is Chitose Karasuma, an aspiring voice actress with just one year in the industry.  Managed by her older brother, himself a veteran voice actor, Chitose has been squeaking along with bit parts.  Squeaking along, that is, until her brash attitude and willingness to accompany a questionable producer out on the town land her a juicy lead role in an upcoming anime.  But whatever that producer’s original designs were for his clueless arm candy, Chitose’s brother Gojo manages to steer things towards work.  And that’s good, because this might be the last work that the headstrong Chitose ever gets!

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Oh, she’s loud.  And she’s definitely confident.  Sadly, however, talent seems to be AWOL.  As is a little thing called work ethic.  Honestly, it’s enough to make people question how she got the job–not a good situation in a cutthroat industry, especially when one innocent misstep has already potentially branded her as a good-time girl. . .Fortunately, she’s sharing her starring role with two more rookies, Yae Kugayama and Koto Katakura, and two seasoned professionals, Momoka Sono and Kazuha Shibasaki.  Koto and Yae are more conscious of their inexperience than is Chitose, and make great effort to improve themselves and their performances.  Kazuha, meanwhile, is rather stand-offish towards everyone, but Momoka takes an interest in Chitose and actually comes to like her.  Sadly, this only feeds Chitose’s vanity and makes her even more unbearable. . .

Maybe that’s what makes this show work–Chitose is that coworker, that acquaintance.  We all recognize her from someone whose company we’ve been forced to endure.  And the fact that we’re watching it happen this time–rather than living it–allows us to see humor in the situation.  That humor is often tongue-in-cheek, with a number of running gags.  As just one example, consider this: in an anime series about making a sub-par anime series with shoddy character design, notice how our show’s characters never seem to change their clothes.  Sly, but in-your-face all the same.  Older viewers such as myself might compare this show (at least in spirit) to All in the Family (1971-1979), with all its self-indulgent rancor and glorious moments of indignation, self-justification, and insults misinterpreted as compliments.  Really, this show even begs to be watched in the same fashion: sitting across the whole couch while swilling a cold beer, laughing and scratching as you please.  Oh, yeah, it’s that show, so enjoy!

[Parental note: nothing, the show’s fine.  But suggested beer-swilling and random uncouth scratching should probably be closely controlled in the presence of children.]