Reviewby Paul Fargo,
Azumanga Daioh - The Animation
DVD 2: Festivals!
Coming off of an excellent opening volume, Azumanga Daioh continues strong with Festivals!, its second installment. Having already pulled viewers in (or driven them away) with its fun characters and off-key sense of humor, the series moves right along with four more episodes of cute, sentimental, relatively harmless comedy that's guaranteed to entertain, provided you found yourself amused by the first volume.
While much of the humor in AzuDai is characterized by the series' opening episodes, the first three episodes of Festivals! manage to raise the bar a bit in terms of overall comedic construction. Focusing on school festivals (sports and culture, specifically) and the Japanese tradition of New Year's dreams, these episodes manage to improve upon the setup, delivery, and timing of the gags, thus providing a slight (almost subconscious) feeling that you're watching something that's had a slight bit of fine-tuning work performed on it since the last volume. They aren't a revolutionary improvement over the beginning, but they're still a slight step ahead, with the First Dream Special in particular proving to be just so bizarre that fans won't be able to help but place it among their favorite parts of the series overall.
The last episode however, veers off in a different direction. Following a couple days in the life of popular character Sakaki, the episode is decidedly warmer and more subdued. While still delivering plenty of funny moments, it also brings out much of the nostalgic quality of Azumanga that is sometimes lost under the more boistrous comedy. The ending especially brings the series back to its central theme of enjoying one's youth and and friendships formed there, with an almost surreal scene of a simple stroll among the clouds. It's nothing short of an ideal conclusion for the DVD.
One of AzuDai's often overlooked strong points is the overall consistency in its production values. This is especially true with its animation, which doesn't lose a single step in this volume. Just as before, the show retains a slightly above par quality to its animation, thanks in part to the fact that a number of the show's gags don't really need elaborate, drawn-out visual flair (which allows the animators to then focus on making the scenes that do need it). While some parts come off as maybe a tad too choppy (the cloud sequence in the last episode comes to mind), it's never too severe, and doesn't really detract all that much from the overall quality. Character designs, as can be expected, remain exactly the same, with their rounded, simple characteristics reflecting the calm, innocently comedic aspect of the series as a whole.
Just like the animation, the music remains very consistent. In fact, many of the musical pieces featured here were already used quite a bit in the previous installment. While some would say this repetition could make the score stale, the music is versatile enough to complement the show almost perfectly at every turn. The sports episode, however, stands out musically due to its slight detour into the realms of classical and even barn music, of all things. Unusual, but strangely appropriate.
Fortunate to be blessed with decidedly excellent casts in both languages, AzuDai's voicework remains top-notch all around. In fact, the dub has even improved in this volume, as the actresses portraying Tomo and Chiyo have settled into their roles a bit better, and manage to put on performances that feel much more natural and a bit less grating than in the first volume. Similarly, the voice actress portraying Yomi has lost a lot of the "valley girl" feel to her delivery, bringing her portrayal much closer to one befitting Yomi's more serious personality. Something else worth noting in both languages is the speaking debut of Azumanga's yellow cat mascot, Chiyo-Father, who is given a comedically creepy voice in the third episode by both Norio Wakamoto in the Japanese version, and Jason Douglas in the English dub. Both actors play their roles superbly, adding greatly to one of the most genuinely bizarre and memorable moments of the entire disc.
One of the more unfortunate aspects of this second volume is its DVD extras. Virtually everything is exactly identical to the first volume, meaning that the only available extras on the disc itself are clean opening and ending clips, ADV trailers, and a small collection of automatically-cycling production sketches (although the sketches themselves are, of course, different). Even the DVD menu is identical, featuring a looping image from the show's intro of Sakaki trying to shake off the grey biting cat, while Chiyo-Father peeks in from the edges of the screen. The real redeeming factors, however, come in the form of the reversible cover and the booklet of translation notes. Where both items focused on Chiyo in the previous volume, the theme this time is Osaka, with her being featured on both covers (the default being of her falling against a white background, and the reverse showing the girls' music class with Osaka on the front), as well as the character design section of the booklet. The booklet also provides very extensive translation notes and staff commentary, just as the previous volume, and makes for a surprisingly enlightening read.
If you didn't like Azumanga Daioh the first time, you still won't like it here, despite the minor improvements in its comedic delivery. But those that found enjoyment in somewhat reliving their high school days through an oddball assortment of animated schoolgirls (or those of us that just like its unique sense of humor) will find even more to like in this volume. The jokes have been fine-tuned, the production values are still commendable, and the show as a whole remains a quality piece of relaxed comedy well worth your time.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A-
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B
+ The comedy is turned up a notch, and the series explores a bit of its wonderful nostalgic side.
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