Manga-ka: Kiyohiko Azuma
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: December 2009
Synopsis: “This four-panel comedy chronicles the everyday lives of six very quirky high school girls. Meet the child prodigy Chiyo, the animal-loving Sakaki, the spacey out-of-towner Osaka, the straight-laced Yomi and her best friend Tomo, and the sports-loving Kagura throughout their high school lives.”
Azumanga Daioh’s anime is a rare case where the original pales in comparison to the adaptation. While the manga is cute and funny, it’s hard to recommend it knowing that the funnier anime version exists. However, the manga is still charming in its own right. Having the whole series collected in one big volume is dangerous, as the stripes get more and more addicting as the book goes on.
The story follows a group of high school girls from the start of their high school career to graduation. For the most part they are normal teenagers with the major exception of Chiyo-chan, a ten-year-old genius who skipped middle school because of her above-average intelligence. Aside from being really smart, Chiyo-chan is also really, really cute. In fact, cuteness is a major theme in the manga, from the girls running a stuffed animal cafe to one character’s obsession with cats and other cute things. Luckily the manga doesn’t try to coast by on cuteness alone (though Chiyo is so cute that it could).
The humour in Azumanga Daioh is really all over the place, from slapstick gags, observational humour, bizarre musings, weird dream sequences, and just funny scenes from the girls’ lives. The one thing they all have in common is that everything has a very light, innocent tone to it. How much you enjoy the manga will depend on whether you like the characters and want to spend time watching them goof off. While they characters aren’t that deep they reminded me eerily of people I know in real life, making the jokes that much funnier.
Yen Press is the second company to release Azumanga Daioh in English, the first company being ADV Manga. There are some definite improvements with this new release. I like how they translated Osaka’s accent. Osaka is a character who transfers to the school from Osaka (hence the nickname) and has a very distinct accent. The Yen Press adaption gives her an accent that fits Osaka’s character while not being in your face. It certainly works better than ADV’s attempt to give her a New York accent.
However, there were some things that Yen Press did that took me out of the manga, such as giving Chiyo a different font from the other characters. I know it was probably meant to show that Chiyo-chan talks differently from everyone else, but the font looks too formal and fancy to be ‘cute.’ Plus, when four different characters are talking and only one of them has a different font, it tends to stick out like a sore thumb.
Yen Press’ translation of the dialogue seems more faithful to the original Japanese than the ADV edition was, but I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. There were a few times where the ADV changed a joke in order for North American audiences to get it, i.e. removing an obscure Japanese reference and replacing it with a more well-known English one. Personally I preferred the slight changes the ADV made, as even when they changed the reference the spirit of the joke stayed the same and the humour remained intact. Also, there are some parts where the dialogue in the Yen Press edition just seems a little stiff. For example, there’s a strip where Yuakari, the girls’ homeroom teacher, is musing over the fact that her three stupidest students have all been accepted to university. In the ADV edition, her reaction is to laugh, and then say ‘Weird.’ In the Yen Press edition she laughs and then says ‘Is so odd.’ It just throws off the timing of the joke, ruining the pacing with its odd phrasing.
Still, even with these nitpicks the Yen Press release is still a beautiful book, with lots of color pages, notes, and even an index to help you find your favourite strips. The format makes it hard to put the book down. Each four panel strip is like a potato chip: you keep telling yourself that this will be the last one, but you can’t help but have another. The manga is cute and sweet and while not every joke hits its mark, most do. However, the anime version takes the basic ideas presented in the manga and fleshes them out, giving the characters a manic energy that they lack in the comic. I usually always prefer manga to anime, so it’s rare for me to recommend the anime over the original. But, if you were going to check out just one version of Azumanga Daioh, I’d go with the animated version. But there’s no rule that says you can’t do both, and the omnibus is a great way to read the manga in one sitting (though make sure you have food and water handy).