(What can I say, I’ve been finishing a lot of shows lately)
K-On! is the weird case of a show that I knew I would like right from the start, but never got around to finishing. I saw the first two episodes as they aired, and I saw those two episodes several times before I saw the third one – and then when I finally finished the show in one go with No Name, we started from the beginning again (since we had 1080p blu-rays~). For a long time, I wondered why it seemed that I couldn’t finish K-On. I thought maybe it was because of the hype, but I’m pretty good at wiping hype from my mind when I watch something. I thought maybe it was because I hadn’t gotten attached to any of the characters yet, but that doesn’t make too much sense – I wasn’t really attached to the characters in, say, Ichigo Mashimaro or Hidamari Sketch or G.A. etc. right off the bat, but it only takes a little bit of time for them to grow on me. Nevertheless, I felt this sense that there was something about K-On! that was keeping me at arms length, and I knew I was going to have to finish the blasted show if I wanted to find out. So I did. And the thing holding me off was actually my other suspicion.
It was the plot (I never thought I’d say that.) No, not the fact that the plot is about cute girls having fun in their afterschool program by drinking tea and bumming around, that part was a ton of fun. It’s the part where they are also supposed to be musicians. When this show first came out, a lot of people were whining that it ‘wasn’t like Beck’, which sounded like the stupidest comparison ever to me, but I think I know what those people really meant now.
You see, I am a man of passion. Not only do I try to express my passion at all times, but I like to see other people express their passion. I know that in order to be great at anything artistic, you must be incredibly passionate about it. Becoming a great guitarist takes practicing constantly and doing so for years on end. The same goes for any instrument. The girls in K-On (the original four, anyway) have a serious deficit in terms of passion. Yui and Ritsu would much rather sit around and eat snacks than bother with the pain in the ass of practicing. Tsumugi is great at keyboards only because her ultra-rich family had her taking piano lessons from an early age, but she isn’t that concerned about keyboarding so much as hanging out with unusual people. Mio demands practice from the others, but more out of her sense of duty than out of a real desire to become a functioning band.
I actually loved the episode where Azusa shows up because she was the opposite – she was actually very passionate about music (did anyone catch the record collection that is her family’s living room in ep 12?!) and had been playing guitar for five years. And was GOOD at it. Azusa is totally justified in looking at the Keionbu and thinking ‘wow, what a bunch of unpassionate slackers, I should go join a real band.’ But this is where my issue comes from. It doesn’t bother me so much that the girls are unpassionate slackers about music, because their real passion is in hanging out with their friends. That I can understand and respect. I think the lesson they give to Azusa about not always having to take yourself seriously is nice, and I think it’s great that she could find her way into an excellent group of friends. But here’s my hang-up:
The girls are really good at playing anyway. Yeah, we hear about how Ritsu rushes on the drums, how Yui forgets her vocals sometimes, but fuck all, have you seen what these girls accomplish? I’m even willing to accept that Yui has magically perfect pitch and can play things instantly by ear – I’ve seen people do similar. My friend Mike is a guitarist and can play things by ear, but it has nothing to do with magical pitch and more that he plays his guitar for upwards of 5 hours a day and has been playing for over 5 years (and he still has to practice to get down particularly technical riffs.) But the trouble is, look how fast Yui got her actual technique down. At the end of episode 2, she plays a little melody that is so simple that the other girls facepalm, but really? I’m kind of impressed that she can already pluck the strings correctly and manage any kind of tune when she hasn’t even picked up the guitar yet. I mean, the first melody I learned to play was the same one everyone learns – the Smoke on the Water riff because it’s easy as hell, and even that took a number of tries before I could do it right.
In only episode (6 was it?) the girls put on a live performance of the song they wrote. But songwriting is not easy. Somehow, Mio writing the lyrics seemed to automatically make the entire song written – and it’s all pretty damn well arranged, too. Nothing like a bunch of noob high schoolers’ first song. It’s also pretty difficult to even get a real idea of how far Yui in particular has progressed with her instrument. In one early episode, she hears this solo that Mio plays on the old Keion’s recording, and she instantly copies this immense solo like it’s nothing. I had a reactionface.jpg for the next couple of minutes after hearing that one. That might have been made believable by all the time skipping in the show if, one episode later, Yui hadn’t cut her finger because she hadn’t even practiced enough to callous her fingers over (my fingers on both hands were calloused in about 2 weeks trying to practice bass at less than 2 hours a day). What’s more, in the second training camp episode, Yui has Azusa help her to stick down a riff that sounds entirely less complex than that solo from about 5 episodes before.
You might say that I’m thinking too hard about all of this, and yeah, I probably am. Maybe it’s because I’ve tried to pick up bass guitar before and seen just how hard it is to progress without constant practice over a long period of time. Maybe it’s because my cousin is an excellent drummer and my friend is an insane guitarist. Maybe it’s because I have a particular passion for music in general and refuse to imagine my favorite artists sitting around all the time eating cake before being magically amazing at their instruments, but rather imagine them having an intense passion that keeps them practicing all the time.
But enough about that. Because I do really like K-On, even if I can’t help but be a little bit hung up on it.
From a writing and directing standpoint, K-On is almost perfection. I found the exchanges between characters to be nothing short of brilliant, and I was never less than both entertained and engaged in uproarious laughter. Seriously, my fucking cheeks were in pain after every episode just from smiling too damn hard. I felt like there was a lot about the series that would inspire me to rewatch it long into the future, which I always see as the mark of a truly good comedy series. If I have one complaint about the writing, it’s that some of the recurring jokes got very old – mostly the ones involving Sawa-chan-sensei who was very fun for about two episodes, but was quickly reduced to a joke character with little to offer the show. However, I also suspect that the recurring jokes were a little more annoying to me just because I was watching the series all at once rather than weekly.
Oddly, though, while I found all of the characters to be excellently written and fun, none of them really stood out to me as ‘favorite character’ material (which I usually get from at least one or two characters in shows like this). I loved Yui for being fun to watch (at times in a way that bordered on train-wreck fun) and for her attitude towards Azusa, which may have inspired the most laughs from me in the show. Ritsu is the character that I knew would be my favorite from the start of the show, and I still feel that way because I love her energy and tomboyishness, and her spat with Mio in episode 11 was one of the most stirringly well-written (fight?)s I’ve seen in anime. (It sort of brought back memories from some of the best episodes of Toradora.) Mio could be fun at times, but I mostly didn’t care much for her (I’m never big on tsukkomi-types anyway.) Tsumugi was obviously god, which was great, but she was sort of a wallflower most of the time. Azusa was a lot of fun for me, especially because of her aforementioned passion, though I don’t feel I’ve seen enough of her yet (season 2 here I come?)
Perhaps what impressed me most about all of the characters is that they weren’t always predictable. When one gets a hold of their base personalities, they may think that they can tell exactly what the characters will think in any situation, and they weren’t inconsistent (Mio is always scared by scary things, Yui is always a dumbass) but their decisions or attitudes in certain situations could be surprising. I mentioned how much I loved the interactions between Yui and Azusa, because it showed a side of Yui that we really hadn’t seen before, and it sort of humanized her further by showing us that even within her character, she wasn’t all one way.
Oh, and before I forget to mention side characters, Ui was absolute love, and Nodoka needed more god damn screen time.
This series has, collectively, some of my favorite vocal performances of all time. Toyosaki Aki as Yui was superb with Grey Poupon on rye. I don’t feel like going through my usual ANN rigmarole today, though, so just take my word – the voice acting was top-notch fucking incredible, and pretty much made the show. The jokes, the characters, all of it fringed on the acting talent, and they pulled through with a vengeance. A round of applause, please, for all that talent. (see Hashihime for more details)
And, really, that’s all I want to talk about here – anything else can have it’s own more detailed post. One thing I do feel is that it’s too early to really make a judgment about K-On. I actually find it incredibly strange to know that the series was only 13 episodes long, because it feels like there’s a lot left to do. The OVA was one of the most important episodes of the show to me, and I can’t really imagine how it could have been done without that episode. And the prospect of season 2 brings it’s own issues. Oddly enough, this is also one of the very very few anime that I do have expectations for (something I ordinarily try to avoid because of the risk of those expectations being betrayed.) I really want this series to end with the girls staying with the band. I want them to actually follow through on this dream. After all, we are given no reason to believe that there is anything they are more passionate about – if not the music, than each-other. If I find out that they all go their separate ways and the band dissolves (which is how these shows usually end, though usually after accomplishing their goals) then I will be seriously pissed. You know what would be a real gift? End season 2 on a cliffhanger where the girls decide to keep playing, and make a third season of anime-original content about the group’s rise to fame. I know the odds are slim, but fuck if I won’t make a damn fanfiction about it if they don’t!
K-On! Season 1 + OVA – Finished (8.5)
I don’t feel totally comfortable giving this score here now. This is my season 1 score, but I don’t generally like to think of shows like this as separate seasons – I think of them as a whole experience. After all, what would, say, Aria be without any of it’s seasons? Not Aria. So my score at the end of K-On season 2 will be my real score for the show, and if they make a third season, then the score will change again. Unless it sucks, then I’ll just call it ‘the season that jumped the shark’ lol.
(As an added note, maybe it was hard to finish because it didn’t feel that much that I hadn’t. After all, it’s not like I didn’t end up reading about half of the events as well as a lot of posts and more porn than you can even fathom. Seriously. K-On has way too much porn. Way too much really weird porn.)
Other great K-On posts I read even though I hadn’t finished the show:
All of Anime Kritik’s K-On! posts were amazing, some of my favorite blog posts ever.
Ghostlightning found the ‘This is our Budokan!’ line quite moving. I did too, though I hardly agree with anything else in the post lol.
8c is gunna make anime blogging awesome again, one K-On post at a time (though he has only started blogging as of s2)