Azumanga Daioh seems oh too influential an anime nowadays. It seems like a main reference whenever a new slice-of-life comedy anime comes along. And then whenever that anime doesn’t live up to expectations, labels of “Azumanga Daioh ripoff” are placed. Many slice-of-life comedy animes have come and go since then, and only a few stand out not to be another anime’s ripoff. One of them is Ichigo Mashimaro.
With the original manga currently running in the moe~filled magazine called Dengeki Daioh (where Azumanga Daioh also ran), Ichigo Mashimaro is a
story non-story of four cute young girls and a slightly older female teenager… Period. That’s it folks… bye!
Basically there is no main plot to talk about. Ichigo Mashimaro is about five girls doing the usual stuff in life. What stands out here though is in the basis of characterization. The five girls all have their own unique traits that make them cute not only physically. Nobue, the eldest of the five, acts as the nee-san of the group… but smokes cigars and has a penchant for anything cute (like cosplay, and also the four girls themselves). Chika, Nobue’s sister, seemingly has nothing special, but she acts as the sarcastic girl whenever everyone does something weird. Ana, the foreigner, has more Japanese speech and cultural knowledge than even her Japanese friends, but her English is surprisingly poor. Matsuri, the meganekko, is a soft-spoken girl who is slow in so many things but actually speaks better English than Ana. And Miu, the main troublemaker of the group, is… Miu. Nobody can completely describe Miu and the inner workings of her mind, but at least enjoy her punchlines here.
As you can see, their characteristics look bland on paper, but you have to see the anime to appreciate it. When they are mixed up, seemingly simple stories and events in life will be interesting, and very, very hilarious! Nobue usually commands the order of things, but sometimes gives in whenever it is rather “cute”. Chika acts almost the same except that she focuses on stopping her best friend Miu on doing crazy antics, because she’s the only one who can. Ana, being an extremely unique foreigner, gets center of attention especially when she talks about specific Japanese stuff even most Japanese don’t know. Matsuri always falls victim to the clutches of Nobue’s fancy for kawaii and Miu’s round of weirdness. And Miu is the center of all things weird in this anime series.
It’s 12 episodes of pure fun. The character design is of a unique style that actually succeeds in being cute (and loli). Animation is constant all throughout. The pacing of this anime, while intricately slice-of-life, never gets boring even when it goes slow. A unique thing about this anime is that there are only a select few parts where background music is played. Most of the time, it’s completely silent, which allows a viewer to focus more on the visuals and dialogue exchange of the characters. It’s very effective in bringing out that original flavor from the manga. And when the background music kicks in, it is quite memorable too.
For a character-based anime like Ichigo Mashimaro, it is important to have excellent voices to flesh out the characters. The anime succeeds by a longshot. This is for me one of the best voice work in any anime series of 2005! It is not just because all these five seiyuu are big superstars in the anime industry, but their voice fits the character with extreme precision. I was one who initially thought Ana’s was miscast but it turned out more than fine afterwards. They were able to portray each character in ways that one could not think of any other alternative.
Kawasumi Ayako (Matsuri)
Orikasa Fumiko (Miu)
Nabatame Hitomi (Nobue)
Noto Mamiko (Ana)
Chiba Saeko (Chika)
As it now stands, Ichigo Mashimaro is one great treat. Fun and funny on so many levels, not to mention loli-cute. Ichigo Mashimaro should be laid into the same pedestal along with Azumanga Daioh, as an anime that redefines the slice-of-life comedy genre.