Azumanga Daioh: The Omnibus (ADV Manga)

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azudai-header.jpgFollow the hilarious misadventures of six Japanese high school girls in this massive brick collecting nearly 700 pages worth of the four-panel gag strip in one gargantuan volume.

688 pgs. black & white; $24.99

(W / A: Kiyohiko Azuma)

 

What do you remember from high school? The gritty details of Watergate? How to find the volume of a cylinder? Not likely. The new friendships, the good teachers and the bad - especially the bad - the summer jobs, and the sleepovers are what really shaped our teenage lives. Kiyohiko Azuma's Azumanga Daioh details the high school years of six girls, inseparable from their first-year homeroom to their graduation. This omnibus edition collects the entire series--originally serialized from 1999 to 2002 in the pages of the Japanese young men's magazine Dengeki Daioh and first translated into English in four smaller volumes by ADV Manga beginning in 2003--into one over-sized volume. Azumanga Daioh is presented almost entirely in the form of four-panel comic strips, so there is no real plot. Rather, the comics highlight the everyday interactions between friends, and give you a peek at their adventures, while leaving the heavy subject matter out.

 

Sakaki, Yomi, Tomo, Chiyo, Osaka, and Kagura of Azumanga Daioh (clockwise from top). Click for a larger image.You'll get to know the girls through snippets of conversation, practical jokes and a couple of surreal dream sequences. Tomo, a loud girl with an inflated sense of self-confidence and bad judgment, will turn anything into a competition. Her childhood friend (and biggest critic) Yomi is more mature and serious, though she has a short temper. Kagura is athletic, the pride and joy of her class when it's time for the sports festival. The tall, stoic Sakaki is known throughout the school for being "cool," but she secretly just wants to be cute. Though she is an enthusiastic lover of animals, she has a number of nasty run-ins with neighborhood cats. "Osaka" earns her nickname for having the audacity to not live up to her hometown's rough-and-tumble stereotypes. She is a daydreamer, and is responsible for most of the bizarre images and silly catchphrases in the strips. Chiyo-chan is a ten-year-old pig-tailed wunderkind that holds the group together. Though she is adorable and irritatingly perfect at everything she does, her naïve charm is irresistible to her friends - and the reader. A couple of eccentric teachers finish up the cast of characters, including homeroom teacher Miss Yukari, a moody and impulsive woman who is whinier and more childish than her students, and Mr. Kimura, one of the few males in the book and a creepy, lecherous man who campaigns for skimpier uniforms and likes to pop up in the pool during the girls' swim lessons. The diverse personalities in this school cause some serious sparks; this book is full of hilarious outbursts and the some of the finest enraged facial expressions you will ever see.

 

Since the focus is on the characters, Azuma (creator of Yotsuba&!, also published in English by ADV) keeps the drawings simple, with no backgrounds to distract from the faces and the body language of the girls. In fact, the more emotional the characters get, the simpler the drawings become. When the girls get really good and angry, their faces turn into nothing but rough, muddled shapes. Nervous or frightened people lose their shape altogether, until they become a blur of their former selves. It's an interesting technique, but it gets the point across. In fact, the "silent" strips are just as successful as the wordy ones.

 

There is little in the way of "action" in this volume, save a couple of school races and one memorable sea cucumber fight, but you won't miss it. The real joy is in the snarky comments and non-sequiturs in the girls' conversations. The writing is sharp and witty throughout, though some of the translations are a bit awkward. The translators, in an effort to avoid explaining some of the more "foreign" concepts, replaced them with more American dialogue, but it is a little disconcerting to come across talk of Old Navy and Target in a Tokyo high school! Luckily, expansive translation notes have been included to help explain some of the more untranslatable Japanese punchlines.

 

All things considered, there is little to criticize in this collection. Manga fan or not, anyone with a sense of humor and a little bit of nostalgia for the good old days of high school can find something to appreciate in this collection. At nearly seven hundred pages, this is a long book, but there is no need to barrel straight through, as the short stories within will stand on their own (and in fact, you can buy smaller volumes separately). Whatever way you decide to enjoy it, Azumanga provides hours of entertainment, and is well worth adding to your collection. | Terri Gudowicz

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