Review: K-On! Season 1 & 2

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K-On!  (Kyoto Animation) – Genre: Comedy, Music, Slice-of-Life

K-On! is a series that I believe greatly hinges upon the viewer’s capacity to enjoy slife-of-life with moé characters. In fact, this series may very well be the epitome of cute girls doing cute things. Interestingly, I didn’t really enjoy the first season of K-On! all that much, and I found myself having to force myself to finish the 12 episodes. But the second time around, I was able to easily breeze through the 24 episodes, plus 3 specials. I highly doubt it was because so much changed from season 1 to season 2 (they’re essentially the same, in terms of structure). What is more likely is a new found appreciation for the genre that was cultivated during the two year break I took between seasons. In short, K-On!! is great at what it does: be entertaining, fun, and nothing serious at all.

For those of you who missed out on the first season, K-On! centers around a group of girls who go to an all-girls school that start an all-girl “light music” club. From what I can gather, “light music” is defined as creating and performing your own music and isn’t really restricted to a particular genre. So they essentially form what we would call a garage band, calling themselves Houkago Tea Time (literally means After School Tea Time). Like any good slice-of-life series, the success of K-On! is thanks to the great characters and interaction dynamics. Something that we don’t really get to see that often is a group friendship that blossoms over an entire high school career, which is really nice.

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First, we have Yui Hirasawa (CV: Aki Toyosaki) on vocals and lead guitar. She’s quite the airhead and is pretty lazy as well. Despite not ever playing guitar though, she picks up the instrument quickly thanks to her perfect pitch. Next is Mio Akiyama (CV: Youko Hikasa) on bass and backup vocals. She’s the serious member of the band, but also turns out to be quite shy and easily scared. Mio’s childhood friend is Ritsu Tainaka (CV: Satomi Satou) who plays drums and is president of the Light Music Club. She’s the outgoing tomboy of the group and is the perfect foil for Mio’s more reserved character. After that comes Tsumugi, or Mugi, Kotobuki (CV: Minako Kotobuki) on the keyboard. She’s the rich ladylike girl with big eyebrows and often provides the snacks for their supposed practice sessions. Finally, we have Azusa Nakano (CV: Ayana Taketatsu) who is actually a year younger than the four, joining the club a year after its formation. While there isn’t a whole heck of a lot of character development over both seasons per se, the interaction between the girls never seems to get old. It’s always fun seeing what kind of activities these girls are up to, from episode to episode.

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As a KyoAni work, the graphical expectations are high. However, they don’t really do anything over the top with K-On! which is fitting for the overall feel of the series. The purpose of the show is to create an easy-going atmosphere, and I think they excelled in this regard. Everything is very easy on the eyes, though I noticed that there’s always a lot of brown (though that’s probably because the events typically take place at school and a lot of the characters’ hair is brown). KyoAni really shows its stuff during the ED’s, though. They’re essentially music videos of Houkago Tea Time with each member decked out with some hip outfits and some great videography.

As a series about forming a band, the musical expectations are high as well, and K-On! definitely hits the notes in the right places. All the songs that Houkage Tea Time performs are simply a lot of fun, emphasizing the fact the every facet of the music is being created by a group of high school friends (usually indicative from the typically less than creative song titles). In fact, we get to see the trials and tribulations that go into the making the songs and performing the songs. Of course, it wouldn’t be interesting (or a proper high school experience) if everything worked out perfectly all the time, right? Classic Houkago Tea Time hits, and some of my personal favorites, include Fuwa Fuwa Time and U&I.

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I was actually surprised at how attached I got to all of the characters. Watching them all (except Azusa) graduate was pretty emotional, and it might have been more emotional than my own graduation. That’s what all good slice-of-life series should strive for, I think. It perfectly creates an environment that draws in the viewers, cordially inviting us to be a part of this fun group of friends.

An immeasurable amount of wacky and awesome scenarios span across the two seasons. To name a few, you’ll watch the girls come up with their band name, go on two “practice camps,” have their first live concert, get a pet turtle, perform Romeo and Juliet, and have their final concert. As the series neared its end, I found myself having trouble finishing series not because of disinterest but because I was sad that it was ending.

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Unfortunately, K-On! will always be one of those shows that completely divides the audience. It makes it difficult to try to persuade someone to try to get into K-On! because he himself should already know whether he likes something like this. You either love it or you hate it, and there’s very little space in between. That’s why this review was mostly an account of my experience with the series. I’m sure many fans, myself included, would die for a season 3. There was a movie released some time last year, which shows that KyoAni may not be done with K-On!. Maybe we can hope for a season, perhaps showing their escapades in college and Azusa managing the high school club?

K-On! is really the apex of moé slice-of-life and did a great job of popularizing the genre, for better and worse. It’s better for people like me who enjoy it, but terrible for people who believe this trope is stagnating the anime industry. They have a valid point, but I want to remind everyone there’s no harm in simply watching anime for fun. Any more just feels like too much work for such a happy medium some times. If you want to watch something completely carefree, with great animation and some rockin’ music, then you definitely cannot go wrong with K-On!

B.W.

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