Osaka Azumanga Daioh Isn't Human: A Hypnabiological Investigation
by Natalie Terezi Rei Watts and the YONQ Esoterica Research Society (YONQERS)
Osaka Azumanga Daioh isn't human.
While I could always begin this with a spiel on what the fuck that means or some metaphysical pretext for the profane knowledge that lies ahead, it'd be best to quote @kisekisymphony, a twitter user who's findings led me to launch this investigation in the first place:
going to make a list on the azumanga daioh wiki of osaka's various biological anomalies
- incredibly inflexible
- unable to take carbonated drinks or spicy foods
- can't hold her breath or float in water
- has a short tongue according to tomo
- the sparkle in her eyes defies the laws of physics
osaka may in fact not be entirely human
This makes far more sense than it should.
As anyone who has watched Azumanga Daioh or read its manga (reprint or original) can tell you, Ayumu "Osaka" Kasuga is an unrepentant weirdo. She spends all of her time dissociating or meandering through the streets and halls in a trance-like fugue, which, while outwardly resembling nothing more than bog-standard airheadedness, turns far more surreal when her behavior is taken into account, quizzing friends on nonsensical topics and associating concepts together into dangling, inchoate chains that elude a rational point and plunge into abyssal linguistic webs like the filaments of a siphonophore. Half of her time is spent sleeping and the other half in a dreaming wakefulness, wading through an ontic morass humans call "reality." She manages to be the most perspicacious of all the characters, spotting details no one else does and somehow solving other people's riddles down to a T, all the while being the type to mix up a knife for a frying pan and trying to detach Chiyo's twintails expecting them to be propellers. In a cast of eccentrics she's an aberrant.
Sometimes Osaka doesn't even feel like a character meant for the story, like she was displaced from another narrative into the slice-of-life we know now. Sure, there's other oddities in the cast, chiefly Chiyo's dad, who seems to have an exoneiric presence that pierces the boundaries separating dreams, physical ontology, and, possibly, cosmic fate, if Sakaki's adamance of him being able to save Chiyo from every imaginable danger proves true (he certainly feels like the most powerful of the cast, surpassing even the mere fictional substrate Azumanga Daioh rests within), but in comparison Osaka is so much more subtle, so much more morbid, that she stupefies the story's archetypes. She feels as though she belongs somewhere farther off, somewhere deeper into the distance.
Of course this could be easily answered by saying that she's an aforementioned stock airhead that, by TV Tropes taxonomy, reigns as paragon for the "cloudcuckoolander" clade of characters and derivatives thereof. TV Tropes, however, is a site that devours media and excretes meaningless factoid listicles devoid of interpretation or analysis as an easily-consumable easily-commercializable alternative to actual literary comprehension, and as such must be destroyed when the revolution comes. But I digress. Regardless of what out-of-text answers could be given, the truth is that, no matter what, fiction influences reality, whether it's the War of the Worlds hysteria, Jaws converting sharks into tartarean hellbeasts viewed as lesser than the damned, or people simply naming themselves after fictional characters like a bunch of nutcases. Fiction with a strong enough impact imparts a hyperstition on reality — an idea that makes itself real through the sheer nature of its spread, a pan-informational conjuring that loops itself around people's beliefs until it transcends from belief into Fact. Any number of ideas can count as hyperstition (among the myriad memetic packets flowing through our perception at any given time — reality is nothing but the sum of what we see, think, feel) but fiction is unique in that it offers one of the most engaging, directed informational vectors to spread an idea to us. In order to truly understand Osaka Azumanga Daioh we must exit the constraints of mere narrative interpretation — whether she is non-human by author-canon or reader analysis, non-human by factoids or stock tropes — and observe the exofictional consequences, the occult consequences, of her being.
The critical step is to first recognize her role in the cultural sphere, as this defines the existing contours of her memetic spread, and, in turn, the role she can take on as an aphysical entity of symbolic-anomalistic transcendence. At the time of this writing she's nonexistent. With Hatsune Miku and Vriska Serket dominating as two of the most widespread controversial, inescapable fictional characters in history Osaka Azumanga Daioh drifts in a bubble limbo of discarded fin de siѐcle media, only remembered by devotee anime fans, the nostalgic, and everyone who wishes they were a moeblob anime girl. The manga arrived at the tail end of the 90s and the anime in the natal years of the 2000s, and swiftly it was overtaken by the riptide of torrents and fansubs that shredded through the antediluvian internet before streaming sites germinated and copyright takedowns blossomed. Azumanga Daioh is flotsam of the past, and even the style reflects this, recycling animation cells and rendering motion in a simplified veering crude fashion that would become archetypal of turn-of-the-century anime. None of that is a criticism of the show's content (which often makes clever use of its limitations for slow-burn buildup and offbeat delivery), but at the same time its nature as a dated series has left it to the undercurrents of the media leviathan swimming overhead. Osaka is a remnant of a dead era.
None of this is a deterrent from power. As any occultist knows the dead often hold more weight than the living, and as any historical materialist can tell you we are haunted by the past in all its forms. The gashes of yesterday persist to the scars of tomorrow and the traumas of today will last until we take a screwdriver to the brainstem or heal from them by destroying everything that created them (and then hoping they actually leave). For forgotten media this takes on a dual role, in that they exist simultaneously as the dead and as the lurking peripheral presence in our eyes, a force that hasn't taken control but was never extinguished completely. Look no further than every way creepypasta tries to dissect the joys of our past into crawling night terrors we never recognized or maggot-ridden carcasses who's horrors continue to stare from beyond the hypodermis — the hauntological persistence of culture in the present day carries the flotsam in mangled waves to the shore, and we pick apart the wrecks for the resonance they hold, loved or otherwise. Dead media is an atemporal lich.
Enter hypnabiology: an attempt to understand the life taken on by cultural globsters as they wash ashore and linger by our sides in hypnagogic, timeless trance. Now we can finally interpret what Osaka is as a creature. Returning to the narrative stratum from which she incubates, we can already see a symbolic connection to the dreamlike behavior she exhibits and the type of glossolalic knowledge held by the most atavistic and tenebral of beings espoused by her, like a modern-age Somnus or Melinoë. But she doesn't control dreams — if anything she seems more guided by them, swallowed by them, following their currents to their every destination and letting the world set a parasomnic path for her to drift down. It isn't with an idle hand water imagery is used either — she's bound by it, from floating corpselike when attempting to swim and being fascinated by the water's primordial invertebrates, bringing sea slugs to Chiyo and, when out of the murky blue, yearning to see Tokyo's earthworms and wondering if veterinarians care for Hercules beetles. Aside from invertebrates being associated to dirt, rot, decay, filth, and "lesser" life, the water binding implicates a further connection to the sea and all its deep abominable depths, the eldritch antecedents of the chthonopelagic, abyssal knowledge, darkness as birthplace for new existence, and, above all else, the ocean as the mother womb from which all life came. This paradox of unfathomability and genesis is best expressed with Foucault's link between the sea and a site of madness, an assemblage so mired in the disasters of ocean navigation and the impermanence of the waves that it cycles in a spiralling cacophony with every other symbol bridging water to the unknown truth. And Osaka fears being taken from it: the image of a fish hook dragging her away in Episode 23 is among the most truly horrifying potentials for her. Her existence is one guided by the flows of esoteric knowledge and the madness of a sprawling deep, and from it she is carried between vistas no sane man could ever hope to imagine. The world labels her a lunatic, while she is amid genesis incarnate, the rawest unfiltered creation. What is a dream if not the mind letting its shackles loose? Recessing from the limitations of sanity?
We can't spend all our time in the territory of the water, of course. As joyous as it would be to remain with the bottom feeders we have an investigation to conduct, and the Old Ones have yet to reclaim the Earth from their cosmic wardens. Osaka is more than just an emissary to the abyss, and to focus on only one subset of her being would be to constrict our view to complete myopia. We would be committing the same sin as taxonomists, who believe there is only one way to view reality and one way alone — with unrelenting stringency we lose our grasp of the true reality around us, in all its incomprehensible, paradoxical beauty.
With focus returned to Osaka's non-metaphysical outward "shell" of humanity we can recognize that, despite her stature as a Moeneroi, her ability to disrupt events independent of dream flow refutes a purely hypnapompic role. No matter how much she wanders or daydreams she exerts a presence on the narrative stratum everyone else is present in, one that seems drifting and unfocused to the outside but clearly follows an internal will and an internal desire. If she didn't she likely wouldn't even exist in the story, because guideless flow is for the background characters, not the actors imbued with stardom and artificial agency by the author. Listing every action Osaka takes in the series would be a pointless endeavor but key points of flow-breaking decision (following flows developed by her self/BwO as opposed to those developed by the cosmic desiring machinery assemblages propelling the eldritch mantles) are her "attempt" at pranking Chiyo with a fire crackler, a process that, through injecting surprise as a disrupting agent, is intended to remove flow from Chiyo, destroying the blissful trance, and her choice to wake Sakaki through her own dream while bestowing the oneiromantic imagery of a lucky new year, blessing with a synthetic divination. She even implies her own nature to Chiyo during Episode 17, proposing that Rudolf couldn't be a Reindeer in a dialogue only conceivable as a covert, knowing wink to the audience. An empty vessel of the dreamscape would never act of its own free will, let alone vie to decohere the dream trances of others. The horror movie parody of the knife mixup was, of course, an attempt to wake her teacher up.
Together with the aforementioned perspicacity it is clear that Osaka lies external yet internal to the realm of the sleeping. Most likely she is — rather than a hypnic vessel or a Morpheus or Phobetor — a sort of oneiric dimension crawler, shifting between the realms while being flung by unexpected turbulence to farther areas and stranger depths. It'd align with her floaty nature too, suddenly gaining insights she loses the next as a vision of one world is replaced by the hull of another, Chiyo-Chan Country replaced by Chiyo's Father, local physicality intruded upon by the "summer service day" viral memetophage. Her focus is strained between the dizzying kaleidoscopes of a vision thousandfold. In a way it returns to the relatable neurodivergence of her life, a brain so overwhelmed by imagination and beauty that keeping track of what goes on outside of it is impossible. It's the cosmic rungs of dissociation, rising like a spike above the ontic morass of dirt and skin and seeing the clouds and waves and shadows and light for the first time.
The occult consequences arrive in empyrean trumpet call. As above so below — from the fictional substrate of Azumanga Daioh she dissociates into waking life. We already stagger through the dream world of late capitalism turning neofeudalism. We are left weary with Spectacle, bleary with the sights of a billowing news hour and an internet firestorm who's smoke leaves us asphyxiating on immolated scraps, the charred dead wood forming individual mazes for those stuck within them. We go to work to pay off our debts and long for the futures we couldn't have and pretend we aren't losing more with each tick of the antiproduction clock. Fisher and Debord recognized that the world is one plunged into delirium, and while the bonds between production lines grow tighter and the work hours effulgent in the face of the light-polluted empty cosmos, we are drawn apart from one another and into the reified Capital interstitium. Organs without a body. To be neurodivergent is to be dreaming at the edge of a dream, imagining a better world as the one behind you rushes in with guns and leucotome lobotomizers. Because that's what Osaka always was since the beginning, wasn't she? Someone dissociative, someone floaty and psychotic, wandering through a city that never cares for her and never offers the understanding and warmth someone treading the psychosphere needs. The cloudcuckoolander trope is a TV Tropes answer to a DSM 5 diagnosis. By being weirdos at the margin we become something less than real, and with that we enter the surreal border of hypnagogic debris with the rest. We'll wash ashore as corpses in an asylum or mad scribblings on a wall pronouncing universal truth that have been left to erode. We're cast off; flotsam.
Hyperstition as a word is an etymological rewiring of superstition: instead of denoting a belief bound to one or a scattered few it turns so ascendant that it's oft compared to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once a hyperstition is created it births itself, and once it is born it always has been. Genesis loops around the clock. The past is reconfigured and the present entered into a new set of variables, the future encoded by a different probability array.
Osaka isn't timeless. But she can embody something timeless. She can transform into something timeless. The consensus reality so often treated as a bedrock by capitalists and the rationalists is the memetic reality warp extended past individual selves and into all the interaction and connections we create with the life we know, and if Osaka ever spread through the ranks on a wave of eldritch possibility — everything we can't imagine and can only dream of becoming — then the world order would be toppled under a psychosis sea. The Monad in gnosticism bore the name Bythos ("Depth") and the Pleroma a mysticism of endless potential unchained by physics we suffocate in. If we are to combat capitalism and the world order that has scarred us then we must combat reality incarnate. Of course, Osaka cannot exert such control, but already she's a focal point of neurodivergent relatability, a symbol of our existence that's wonderous rather than battered and vilified, a way to be proud of who we are and find joy in the fictional medium that communicates to us. We must all leave narrative eventually but even as we walk to new horizons the pages and recycled animation cells continue to give us guidance. Osaka remains with us schizoids as a rallying cry — and, for those of us who go to flock to different media and information, her role is occupied by adjacent icons.
Osaka Azumanga Daioh isn't human. Osaka Azumanga Daioh is beyond the scope of taxonomy.
May our summonings go spectacularly.