May 28, 2010

Azumanga Daioh, by Kiyohiko Azuma

Well, that was an unexpectedly long break between updates! But, what better way to kick off MPL's summer reading than with a manga about school?

(No, really, hang with me here. It's very good.)

Azumanga Daioh is a another slice-of-life comedy written by Kiyohiko Azuma; like Yotsuba&!, it's set in a smaller, though still urban, town in Japan; and the majority of the story revolves around school life, though there's plenty of summertime jokes as well. It's the story of a group of five friends who are all in the same class at school. (This is significant because in Japanese schools, students are assigned to one classroom and then stay in it throughout the day; it's the teachers who travel from one class to another to teach their subjects. So in Japan, the classroom you're assigned to is the one you stay in for the whole school year--just imagine what that would be like if you didn't like one of your classmates.) The story focuses on these five girls, but there are lots of other characters, some of them students and some teachers, who get plenty of face-time too.

I mentioned when talking about Yotsuba&! Azumanga Daioh is not drawn in a standard manga page format; it was originally published as a four-panel comic strip, but while in America comic strips are printed and read from left-to-right, in Japan the panels are stacked on top of each other and read up-to-down--in addition to right-to left! It's not as confusing as it sounds, though; after a few comics you'll fall into the swing of it. And it isn't all comics; each book has one or two 'specials,' where Azuma draws the story in a more familiar manga format.

Azumanga Daioh was published by ADV Manga in the middle of their switch to doing more literal translations, so in the last two of the series's four volumes there are a few notes on jokes or customs and untranslated Japanese words. The most occur in the fourth and final volume, during the students' class trip to Okinawa, a southern island of Japan that has a heavily aborigine-influenced culture (it's kind of similar to how Hawaii is a part of the US but still has its own people and customs). The majority of the jokes and the story are translated as accessibly as possible, though, so it's a great and funny read!


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