From the back cover:
Miss Yukari is not your typical teacher; in fact, she acts more like an air-headed student! But this works well in keeping up with the odd group of girls that attend her class such as Chiyo, the precocious 10-year-old high-school girl; Sakaki, the tall and admirable (who also has an unusual problem with animals); Tomo, the ultimate spaz; Osaka, the girl from outer-space (actually from Osaka); and Yomi, the sensible bookworm. Add in a teacher with an honest and upfront addiction to high-school girls and a rival P.E. teacher and you have yourself some Azumanga!
There’s no real depth here. Each character is a type, helpfully itemized on the back cover blurb, and doesn’t deviate much from established parameters. The vast majority of the volume is written in 4-panel strips that progress chronologically from April through Christmas of the girls’ first year of high school. There’s a punchline of sorts at the end of each of these, and this sort of segmented storytelling doesn’t really lend itself to a whole lot of character development.
What there is is a bunch of cute stuff and a lot of nonverbal storytelling (which I really like). My favorite character right off the bat was Sakaki, initially because her cool and stoic exterior hides someone who’s sweet and shy, so already my favorite strips tended to feature her. Then she started having wordless encounters with super cute animals and that was about all it took for me to declare this series a keeper, whatever else I might not like about it.
Said whatever else turns out to be some of the other characters. Energetic Tomo never fails to annoy me and Yukari-sensei is positively crap for a teacher, though she pales in comparison to the pervy Kimura-sensei. Sometimes the art looks a bit weird, too. There are plenty of cute expressions, but every so often someone’s proportions go a bit wonky and they end up looking like bad fanart.
I enjoyed this first volume of Azumanga Daioh. It offered a pleasant respite from action and angst and I plan on reading the rest of the series.