I lied... I was able to finish Azumanga Daioh through this morning. I will likely have spoilers in the next few paragraphs, to outline what I thought were some of the good points and the bad points of the series, but I will keep in general in the first two paragraphs.
I think the main reason that I enjoyed the ending of the series is that I was able to really get to know and enjoy the characters. As mentioned before, in order to keep attention while introducing characters, the show falls back on humor that at least wears on me after a bit. On top of that, there are three characters that will also be off-putting to begin with, and they end up keeping you off-balance for the majority of the series. (Far later, one of the main characters actually shows signs of growing up and being more mature, which ends up making you just as off-balance as seeing her to begin with.)
I had a hard time continuing after watching the first few episodes. After about the fourth or fifth episode, I thought that it would be more entertaining to finish my last play-through of Dragon Age, and even trotted out my five-year-old copy of Rise of Nations to play afterward.
However, I gave Azumanga a couple more chances, and I feel that I was definitely rewarded for the effort. I enjoyed watching this show quite a bit, enjoyed engaging with the characters, and definitely feel as if I wanted to see more of it after having completed it.
(Spoilers will start here)
While The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was in some respects a "start over" show, where the status quo will be preserved even if it takes a couple episodes, Azumanga Daioh has a strong current of change to it. The characters themselves are shown through the course of all three years of Japanese high-school. The last couple episodes tie up loose ends to show that the characters have survived and thrived in high school and that they will be entering the uncertain world of post-high-school, but that they will try to stay together as best as possible.
The characters do grow to some extent through this time. As mentioned above, Tomo in particular learns toward the end of the series to be more considerate of her friends and to not do things "just because", which is off-putting to the others considering her actions through the first twenty-three episodes. Sakaki overcomes her issues with cats. Chiyo is able to come to terms with the fact that she's not an elementary-school student.
I think that one of the most endearing parts of this show is the fact that the characters grow rather than stagnate. I know that I felt more emotionally invested in watching the show because of this aspect, and I can certainly understand where all of the fanfiction for Azumanga is generated from, because of the wide range of personalities and the care given to the fictional characters. The show's high-school setting is very poignant to this growth because high school is where one really starts to become an adult rather than a child, and having to navigate that rocky terrain can be difficult yet rewarding at times.
I'm not sure the show would have worked past high-school... if it attempted, it would have had to change just like the characters did. I can only imagine the cast if they tried, because it truly seemed that the only main characters that would remain together are Yukari and Minamo at the high school. The other characters graduated and will be scattering to the four winds, but not before one last blow-out trip to the amusement park for celebration.
Celebration is a good word for the show in general. Azumanga Daioh really is a celebration of growing up, of friends and a slice of life. Not only am I happier for having seen the show, but this is one that I will gladly show my eight-year-old daughter. It will not only entertain her, but show her that life is your own story. Life is not an episode of anime-- you can knock all twenty-six Azumanga episodes out comfortably in a week or two, compared to the three-year time period it covers (you've probably noted this from the last four blog posts)-- it's something that you write as you go along. Life can be hard, it can be pleasant, and you meet the strangest people... but knowing that it's a journey to try to enjoy is a good message.
The ultimate example of this, I suppose, are my family's weekend plans. We are driving separately, as we bought the new car and our old car is being sold to my brother-in-law. At the same time, on Saturday, we will be celebrating my wife's ten-year anniversary of being in remission from cancer (non-Hodgkins lymphoma). At the same time though, my wife is currently estranged from her father, who was her primary care-giver and the person most responsible for her recovery. He will not be to the party that he in part helped to make happen. Life can be a bittersweet collection of events, and while we close two chapters (car, cancer recovery) we will still be living through others (the estrangement, my job search, going to school, children in school, baby, etc.)
Now, especially considering most of the posts I place on this blog, not everything in life can be celebrated especially while you're still living in the moment. On the other hand, I suppose that since my final episode hasn't happened yet, there's always a plot twist to come. Toward the end of the series, Yomi was unable to pass exams for her backup college choices, and her stress was shown as the others passed into college one-by-one. In the moment, all she can see is the task ahead. Past the moment, she's able to reflect on the task. There are future challenges for her, with college and moving away, but those can be treated as they come rather than life-and-death issues. It's hard to stand back in the middle of problems and appreciate what's going on, but there's always time and opportunity to do so.
I suppose one of the greatest parts yet hardest lessons of life is to appreciate the plot twists and the changes of seasons... and to remember the happy parts of plot twists and seasons already experienced. Like all good art should, I'm touched by the creativity and the message. My biggest hope is to find more shows like Azumanga Daioh as I watch anime. I can say that I'm happier having watched it than not, and extremely happy that I afforded it the chance.
As with all my reviews, your mileage may vary. I'm sure that by now, whatever readers are hanging out know my tendencies and my likes/dislikes. Suffice it to say that though I'm the jaded sort, I liked this one more than a bit. I've got action queued up next, in the form of Fate/Stay Night. I think I will take a bit of a break through the next couple days before starting it, probably to accomplish some writing and to try to get into a different mindset, work has been extremely stressful lately and troublesome and leaving it behind has been more difficult.
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