Text version and links:
Part one is here: https://myswordisunbelievablydull.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/k-on-a-loving-thesis-part-1/
In spite of being twice the length of the first season, K-On season 2 has a much more cohesive sense of theme, and takes place over a much smaller amount of time. Said theme, and the overall tone of the season, are introduced to us in the first episode. Once again, the production values have made a considerable leap, and in this season the visuals seem more grounded and realistic than before. Many more shots contain atmospheric lighting on the characters’ faces, and there are far fewer super-deformed segments, with an emphasis on dry humor over the spastic moments that were more frequent in season one.
Two very important facts are what drive the majority of this season’s narrative: firstly, that the four original club members are now seniors, meaning that this is their last year in the light music club; and secondly, that when they all graduate, Azusa is going to be left alone. For now, the girls aren’t too concerned about either fact, as they’re excited to be seniors, as well as content to keep the club the way that it is; but we can already feel the weight of these two facts adding a little bit of pressure to the entire season. When Yui tells Sawa-chan-sensei that they still have 365 days together, it almost feels like a countdown.
Azunyan reaffirms the lesson which she and Mio had both learned in the first season, that the point of Houkago Tea Time is to be a band with these members–but the context has shifted a little. Before, it was more of an empowering message used to psych her up about joining the group; but now it’s a way for the characters to come to terms with the fact that the club doesn’t necessarily need to survive to serve its purpose. We’ll comment on this more later on, but for now we see the girls content to keep their group at five members.
Episode two is mostly about throwing the girls into different situations and seeing how each will react, which leads to by far some of the funniest moments in the show up to this point. We’ve finally gotten to where all of the characters and their interactions are solidly defined enough to make them entertaining in just about any scenario, and the spot-on comedic timing of the directing and editing pushes it to the next level.
Two things which have become increasingly apparent about this season are that the characters are starting to grow up bit by bit, and also that they’re starting to become more passionate about music. This season started off with Yui playing guitar by herself, and as the girls talk about effects pedals and musicianship, we get the impression that they’re actually developing the mentality of a real band. It helps that they continue to be put into situations which revolve around music, thereby strengthening the theme of musicianship within the show itself.
Likewise, episode three is all about Ritsu coming to terms with her self-identity as a drummer. Ritsu isn’t capable of putting her attachment to the drums in any certain terms, but Mio is able to do so for her attachment to the bass. Just like Mio, every time I’ve heard a bass player talk about their instrument, they talk about how the bass lays the foundation of the song and holds all the parts together; and as such I’ve always equated the straight-man character in any comedy series to being the bass guitar of the group. Mio qualifies in every regard.
Towards the episode’s end, we see the girls become increasingly self-aware of the importance of performing together and playing the instruments that they do. Ritsu actually says that when they play together, it feels like they’re operating as one entity, which is something I once wrote about my favorite band, Agalloch, in a review of what was once my favorite album, Ashes Against the Grain. The conversation this show is having about the nature of good music is similar to the way that I feel good music when I listen to it, which makes it resonate that much more strongly.
Up until this point, I’ve mostly been analyzing K-On at the technical level, trying to illustrate what exactly the series is; but it’s here that I’m going to break away from that format to talk about why episode four of season two is where K-On starts to engage me more on the personal level. I’ve mostly kept my personal tastes to myself up until now in the interest of making sure that the largest possible number of viewers can appreciate my points–but from here we’ll be diving more into my subjective experience of the show which not everyone shares. I don’t know that K-On could be one of my favorite shows without appealing to me on this level, but by now I should’ve laid enough groundwork to prove that these subjective experiences are far from being the only reasons that I love this series.
If you’ve been checking out my content for a while, then you probably know that I like a lot of shows about the power and importance of friendship; and that’s because I hold friendship in high regard in my own life as well. Both online and offline, I have very tightly knit groups of friends who more or less do everything together, similarly to what you might see in a show like K-On; so that portrayal of friendship resonates strongly with me. I’m the type who likes to watch a show and think about how it connects to myself and the people around me, so naturally when I watch something like K-On, it makes me think about my own friends and the bonds that we share.
I go on a lot of trips with my friends; from the epic hiking trips that we’ve taken over the last two years, to of all the times they’ve ve come with me to Otakon; and those experiences have always been something which we deeply cherished and remembered as special memories. The trip which most reminds me of this K-On episode though, is when I met up and shared a room with some of my closest online friends at this year’s Bronycon.
Along with each of my brothers, I shared a hotel room with Drowning in Footwear as well as the Two Best Brothers who Bitch About Ponies. All of us had gotten to be close friends through chatting on skype all the time, and we stuck together for the majority of the convention–to the point that we actually didn’t really attend any panels or see any guests because we were just using the con as an excuse to hang out. I daresay that we hit Baltimore in a fashion very similar to how the light music club hit Kyoto in episode four.
But the moment which resonates best, and which reminded me of K-On even while it was happening, was after the first night of the con when we were all trying to get to sleep in the hotel room. Everyone just kept cracking jokes and laughing their asses off for hours on end, and just the fact that we were all trying to sleep made pretty much any stupid thing we said into the funniest shit ever. It reminded me of everyone dying every time Ritsu said “sharekoube” or “lycopene;” and just like in K-On, a lot of the things that we came up with became inside jokes among our group of friends. I can basically say that I legitimately experienced this exact scene from K-On with my own friends, and knowing that makes the show feel that much more real and relatable to me in turn.
But it doesn’t end there! The Horseshoe Crew also has a youngest member, who happens to be great at guitar and come from a family of musicians, who didn’t get to come to Bronycon because he was busy helping out other people! When I was rewatching K-On recently, the moment Azunyan appeared on screen for the first time, I suddenly remembered that she didn’t get to go on the field trip with the other girls; and, relating this to Gibbontake, I immediately burst into tears. I even got him to watch the show and told him that he was Azunyan, and since he went into it with that mindset, he ended up connecting with her instantly, and kept connecting with her throughout the show.
Gibbontake frequently worries that he might be left behind by the rest of the group, and said that his experience watching episode five of season two was just like what he’d felt while he was at home during Bronycon. He had fun with his dad and enjoyed what he was doing a lot, but still wished all along that he could’ve been hanging out with his close friends on one of the few chances he’d likely get to any time soon. The connection between Gibbontake and Azunyan is what solidified this whole parallel as something deeply moving for me, which only served to enhance the incredible love that I had for the series already. It’s worth mentioning though that while Gibbontake is the Azunyan of the Horseshoe crew, and Footwear is more likely the Yui, leaving me somewhere in the Tsumugi range, the relationship between me and my brother Shade is exactly like that of Yui and Azunyan, if Azunyan was Ritsu.
I don’t have anything special to say about episode six, so I’ll take this opportunity to comment on how cool it is that this season has consistent background classmates. It seems that the team knew they’d be setting a lot more scenes in the classroom this season, so they made sure that all of the students had unique character designs, and would be seated in the same places in every shot; which is a very cool touch that not a lot of shows bother with. Some of these background characters have even developed their own miniature fandoms.
Episode seven is an interesting one, because it doesn’t really progress the narrative or character development, but feels like a kind of bizarre side-story. It’s a blatant parody of hardcore fans, i.e. otaku, and the relationship that those fans have with things like K-On. I wrote a longer post about this episode at the time that it came out, diving into the specifics of why and how the episode parodies fandom, which I’ll link in the description below. It’s definitely a strange episode, especially in the way that it seems to play up this fan meeting as a touching moment even though Mio is being comically victimized the whole time, as if the joke itself is how everyone but Mio is gratified by the whole thing, and Nodoka completely misses the point.
Episode eight has the girls reminiscing about the past while being concerned about the future, and we get some ideas about what each of them plans to do after high school. Once again, this reinforces the feelings that the light music club only has so much time together, since they’ll all be taking different paths in the future. This leaves Yui in a particularly precarious position since this club is the only place she’s ever been able to do anything with herself, and by the end of the episode, she still has no idea what the future might bring. If there’s one thing we know about Yui, it’s that she’s always been able to hold up miraculously along the way, but this episode leaves us with an almost uneasy feeling about how she’s going to make it on her own.
Episode nine feels like it’s meant to be some kind of strange one-shot episode that you could watch entirely on its own. Seriously, what’s up with the weird ass Kyoto Animation logo segment at the start?!
Episode ten appears to be about Sawa-chan-sensei, but I think the purpose is more to give us an idea of what kind of things may lie in the future for the main girls. Sawako’s old bandmates are trying to get her to perform with them at one of members’ wedding, but being the image-obsessed crazy person that she is, she wants nothing to do with it. In the end, the girls trick her into getting on-stage by performing badly, and reawaken the musician that lies inside of her. But the real point of the episode is shared more in the images that flash through Sawako’s mind while she’s on stage, and which litter her photo albums back in the club room. Images of a light music club from eight years ago, who were the best of friends back then, and seem to stay in communication to this day, getting together for celebrations such as this.
A wedding is a weird ass place for the reunion of a speed metal band performing songs they wrote in high school. Yui remarks that “adults are amazing” while she’s practicing their music, and wonders if she’ll be an adult when she grows up. What she’s admiring is something implacable about Sawako and her friend Nori. It’s something Yui felt when she saw Nori noodling away at Giitah; something in the way Nori schemes to bring the band back together, and in the way that one of the old bandmates is getting married.
My favorite writing about this episode comes from ghostlightning, who talks about the days when he carried a guitar around back in high school. At first, when one of his upperclassmen would play his guitar, he wouldn’t touch it after they handed it back to him. However, as he got more confident and passionate, he would play his own licks after getting the guitar back, just as Yui does in this scene. The way she starts playing immediately after getting the guitar back makes it feel like she’s trying to practice as fast as possible in the hopes of reaching Nori’s level. More than ever, Yui seems ready to strive for that ephemeral sense of adulthood.
Episode eleven is about it being too damn hot. It’s so damn hot I can’t even think.
Episode twelve features an incredibly cool portrayal of a Summer Music Festival, and once again, as someone who goes to a lot of concerts, I appreciated this a ton. Seriously, it was so exciting just to see an event like this presented with such accuracy in an animated series that I got totally hype just based on the concept alone. It was great to watch the girls getting legitimately excited about music, especially Mio who always seems to be the most passionate about her musicianship in general.
The last scene with the girls all laying in the grass, listening to music wafting from the distance was particularly resonant. A lot of the most memorable moments I’ve had at big events like festivals and conventions, are the moments I spent away from the action, breathing in the atmosphere of the scenario and hanging out with friends. There really is something about hearing music from a distance that can make it every bit as magical in its transience as actually seeing the performance in front of you.
Yui’s declaration that Houkago Tea Time is better than the other bands is at first baffling, but each of the girls quickly comes to agree with her. No one ever explains what Yui means by this, giving it the air of an unquantifiable feeling which only those who have experienced it can share. Maybe Yui means that performing as a group is more fun than watching others perform, or maybe she really feels that their group puts on better shows. It’s left open to interpretation, because the bottom line is that we as viewers can’t understand what these five girls are feeling. I don’t even know if the writers could tell us what Yui really meant, and maybe different staff members would have their own interpretations. At this point, these girls have a life of their own, as they have feelings which only they themselves can fully understand, independent of the creators or the audience. And that, I think, is god damn brilliant.
Episode thirteen is once again hot. It’s also sleepy. I’m too tired to think.
This is the point where the opening and ending songs change, so I’d like to make some notes about each. I love Go! Go! Maniac! and Listen!, especially the incredibly creative video for the latter, but the second-cour OP and ED are easily my favorites in the series. No, Thank You! is by far my favorite song to come from the franchise, with a great video to boot; but the video for Utaoyu! Miracle is truly something special to me because it’s like a microcosm of everything that makes the series great. I will now break it down shot by shot.
It opens with Ritsu turning on a camera, most likely so the girls can film some silly video either for posterity, or to use as a music video. Being herself, she of course makes pretty eyes at the camera while Yui does something silly, and Azunyan is fixing her hair in the background.
After a wonderful transition, we see the girls performing a live show on top of a bunch of desks inside of a classroom, which is a totally awesome concept for a music video. But while the other girls are playing real instruments, Yui doesn’t have her guitar, and is singing into what looks like a pencil case in lieu of a microphone, which gives this whole scene a playful thematic feel, as well as oddly divorcing it from reality. Take note of this little twirl Yui does.
After some great technically accurate playing, we see the girls doing all kinds of random stuff that, when shown in sequence, flows together almost like a dance. Next, each of them introduces themselves and plays a bit of their instrument; except Yui, who’s showing us her guitar as if it were itself a member of the group, and Mio, who’s too shy to hold up her own name card. Next, we see Yui describing to the other girls a move she wants to do where they kick out and pull back their leg, while standing in a row. After a shot of the girls singing, we see them attempting Yui’s move. First Mio messes up, then Yui, and then, with a dramatic reveal, it turns out Mio messed up again, and they all laugh about it.
We get more shots of the band performing, running around, and praying to the statue in front of the school. Up next there’s a sequence in which Mugi, Mio, and Ritsu all put a curse on a slice of cake, so that when Yui gets ready to eat it, the strawberry falls off of her fork.
After this stunningly animated shot of Ritsu hitting her symbols in sequence, we see the girls finally nail the leg thing, and then we cut to the performance again. Once again Yui performs her move in which she points at the audience in two different directions and then twirls, only this time the crowd has caught on, and all of them do the twirl with her. And wouldn’t you know it, those are actually the background classmates that we see in each episode! Yui looks elated that everyone played along.
After some more shots of the girls having fun, we get into the last stretch of the song, where Yui sings “daisuki,” meaning “I love you,” three times. The first time we see the girls glomping Sawa-chan-sensei, then Nodoka-chan, and then, after an interesting game of rock paper scissors, Ui and Jun. The lyrics then declare that Yui will sing for you, and we see the girls all singing at the camera before a few more images bring it to a close.
So why did I break that down so much? Partly because it happens so fast that a lot of it went over my head until I’d watched the video a ton of times–but also because I think this once again speaks to the density and creativity of this series. This opening theme delivers moment after moment of heartwarming, intimate and funny scenes in the span of seconds, all without any dialog or explanation. It reminds me of the way the character Eiji Nizuma from Bakuman would always say that a good character needs to be able to “move.” The girls of K-On can move around so much and feel so alive in even the smallest moments that we can understand their relationship and the power behind it in mere seconds. This opening is practically an entire episode of the show squeezed into a minute and a half, and that’s why I find myself revisiting it again and again when I want a quick hit of the K-On feels.
Episode fourteen is another one that I don’t have much to say about, but before I breeze past it, I want to ensure that I don’t come off as glib or dismissal of these episodes in passing. Not every episode of K-On moves the characters and plot forward in dramatic ways, but as I said at the beginning of part one, the narrative of K-On is really about the relationship that the viewer forms with the series along the way. Episodes like this which show us more of the characters and their interactions are just as important to that relationship as any other. This was actually one of my favorite episodes of the season so far because it focused on the rare pairing of Ritsu and Mugi and got a lot of great fish-out-of-water comedy out of it–but I don’t think that there’s anything I need to explain about it.
Now, let’s talk about a perfect K-On scene. Halfway through episode fifteen, there’s a scene in which the four older girls are running up an inclined slope as part of a mini-marathon. Yui is about ready to give up, claiming that this kind of activity is impossible for a liberal arts club. Mio then suggests that they do this “the Keionbu way” and try running to a rhythm; so they attempt to do so while singing various Houkago Tea Time songs. The comedy comes out of the different ways that they end up failing. It’s a very short scene, and wouldn’t stand out that much, except that it’s a scene that is perfectly K-On.
What I mean is that this scene could only happen this way with these characters and in this scenario at this particular point in the show. The scene works because the girls are singing their own songs, which we as an audience are familiar with because we’ve heard them perform those songs at various points throughout the show. It makes sense for all four girls to know these songs and their rhythms because they’re the ones who wrote them. Other shows would probably handle this joke by having the girls either run to some random song made up for the scene, or to the opening theme (which anime characters are always strangely privy to). But in this show, the fact that the tempo of Fuwa Fuwa time is too fast is funny because we already know the song; and immersive because we know why the characters know the song.
It’s also yet another scene wherein the girls do something that makes sense for all of them to do as a group, yet the humor comes from their individuality. Yui’s inability to keep up, or Mugi’s inability to sing and run at the same time, or Ritsu telling Yui to replace forgotten lyrics with “lululu” are all things which uniquely affect those characters, even though the scenario involves all four of them. This scene not only shows us how this show can get comedy out of the small differences between characters who are experiencing something in a very similar way, but also couldn’t have been as funny if it happened at an earlier point in the show, when the viewer was less familiar with Houkago Tea Time’s music. I broke down this scene so much because, while I’ve been talking a lot about the broad strokes of K-On’s story progression, I also wanted to make note of how even the small comedy scenes are affected by the narrative progress of the show, and therefore contribute to that overall sense of progression.
Similarly, episode sixteen opens up with Azunyan realizing how much the mannerisms of the other girls have rubbed off on her, which is another thing that we better understand through our familiarization with those mannerisms. This is also another big way in which this show perfectly conveys the nature of friendship, at least from my perspective as someone who is very easily influenced by both my friends, and by people whom I admire in general. To illustrate this, let’s look at some lines from part one of this very thesis:
“I’d now like to go into full hipster journalist mode and make up a bunch of phrases in order to define the different kinds of fanservice as I see them.” This sentence was inspired by the style of one of my favorite video game analysts on youtube, Mr. Btongue, who frequently will refer to the things he’s about to say as pretentious, hyperbolic, or hipstery, in order to show self-awareness of how people might perceive certain parts of his videos. It’s a defense mechanism that allows you to do things like make up a bunch of academic-sounding words to describe something without having people think that you’re a stuck-up jackass. That’s more of a stylistic trope though, so here’s a line directly influenced by a close friend.
“It’s easy to buy into the keyfabe of K-On.” For those who don’t know this word, keyfabe is a term used in the fandom of professional wrestling to describe the illusion of reality that the storyline adheres to. It’s similar to a phrase like “in-character” or “in-universe,” referring to the fictional reality that wrestling is supposed to take place in. I didn’t know this phrase, nor anything at all about professional wrestling, until a few months ago, when my good friend and video producer Drowning and Footwear started making vlogs about the history of pro wrestling. Since then, he’s always sending me his favorite wrestling promos and educating me on the lore of the medium, which has for the first time gotten me interested in it. This terminology would not be appearing in my videos if I were not friends with him.
Throughout episode sixteen, Azunyan is confronted with the ways in which she’s changed to fit into the rhythm of the light music club, and she starts to worry that she’s losing her sense of self. This all culminates into what is secretly an existentialist conversation between Azusa and Yui–and I say secretly, because neither character is capable of understanding existentialism to the point that they could have a conversation on academic terms, yet what they are attempting to communicate is unmistakably an existentialist idea.
Yui basically tries to tell Azunyan that what defines her is not an abstract sense of self, but her actual being–who she is in the moment. It’s impossible for Azunyan to not be herself, because what “herself” is, is exactly what she is. She is not defined by the ephemeral image of herself in her mind, but by a series of objective actions which she is subjectively interpreting. That is to say, that while we can make up an idea of who we think we are, that idea is not who we actually are; we are actually an objectively existent thing. None of this is to say that the sense of self is unimportant, as it can definitely affect our actions a lot; but Yui is essentially telling Azunyan that she should accept the thing that she is for what it is, instead of trying to force herself to conform to a rigidly defined sense of being.
Now I’m not saying that this is what the show is trying to communicate, nor that this is what every viewer should get out of this exchange. What I’m really doing is diving into the logic behind the more loosely understood feelings that Yui is trying to convey. I think most people vaguely understand the idea that at the end of the day, things are the way they are regardless of how others perceive them, given the commonality of the phrase “it is what it is;” but just because a character like Yui can’t express the deeper existential meaning of that phrase doesn’t mean that said meaning is nonexistent. It, uh… it is what it is.
Episode seventeen starts preparing us for the final stretch of the show, as the countdown to the last cultural festival performance begins. We also get our first taste of a series of forthcoming emotionally poignant moments, with Yui writing the song U & I about her sister Ui when she’s sick. Even the other characters tear up just reading the lyrics, and you bet I did too! The fact that the lyrical theme of this song is not realizing the importance of something until it’s gone only adds to the bitter sensation of knowing that the light music club only has so much time together.
Episode eighteen then sets up a scenario in which Mio has to play Romeo, and Ritsu has to play Juliet in a class play during the upcoming cultural festival. This scenario has come up in anime enough times that it could be considered a light trope, with a great episode of Ranma ½ and the entire second half of Hourou Musuko springing to mind immediately. I love the idea that the entire class is basically shipping Mio and Ritsu, and that it pretty much works out since they end up deciding to play the characters by essentially impersonating one-another. Worth noting is that in this arc, the background characters all get more lines and a lot of them are even named. Also, while K-On could be said to have the light framework of an arc structure, this is the first time that one individual storyline is broken across two episodes.
Episode nineteen mostly serves to deliver on an awesome Romeo and Juliet performance, and then begin the segue into the second day of the cultural festival, leading up to the band’s last performance. Here we get yet another familiar friendly bonding experience in the form of an all-nighter in a unique location, which to me is like basically the founding building block of friendship itself. At the end, even Sawa-chan manages to make a costume the girls are actually happy with for once, and with that, we move on to The Big One.
This is quite possibly my favorite episode of anime, period. There’s an almost transcendental feeling to it, similar to the ending of Speed Racer, or some of the last scenes from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Each long, uninterrupted scene draws the viewer in, as we experience the live performance almost in real time, putting us right there in the scene with the audience and the characters. Sound design and direction are masterfully used to create a sensation not unlike what I’ve felt at some of the best live shows I’ve been to, or the feeling of actually living out a moment like this with my own friends.
Episode twenty of K-On season two is the culmination of all of the emotions and events and people which have brought us to this place. It is not a realization of how far the characters have come, the way the other shows were–the characters are all well aware of how far they’ve come. This, my friends, is a celebration. It is five girls taking one last opportunity to thank everyone and everything that has made them who they are, and to show off the fruits of that labor. This is the girls giving back to the society that raised them, metaphorically speaking.
The episode begins laying into the emotions of the characters and the viewer early on, with the reveal that Sawa-chan-sensei has made Houkago Tea Time t-shirts for pretty much the entire student body. I am not exaggerating that when I watched this episode in order to write this video, I started crying at this moment, and did not stop crying for the entire episode. This moment when the girls truly realize how much everyone loves and supports them, and how they might be able to inspire and give something back to the crowd, sets the tone for the entire episode to be one long celebration, not only for every character in the show, but for the audience as well. We get the ultimate treat of getting to watch these characters perform some of their best material yet, at their most unified and technically proficient, with the most emotions propelling them.
Rice is a Dish might be the most genius use of music in the entire show, as the lyrics are legitimately hilarious, utilizing the brand of humor that is common to the show, yet it works perfectly as a hype-ass concert piece. Yui’s interactions with the audience throughout this song are brilliant, and sold me on the entire idea of this concert and its presentation.
Yui’s extended MC monologues are very simple-minded and repetitive, but the point of them is not to remind the audience of anything, but for reaffirmation. The best way I can explain this is to crib some lines from my favorite poem, “More Often Than Sometimes,” by Shane Koyczan.
“Regardless, there’s something beautiful about stating the obvious. All of us do it. In the moments when we can’t believe it we have to say it. It’s like pinching yourself to make sure you’re awake. Take, for example, something as simple as touching someone. We so often say, “You’re so soft.” And the last person to touch them may have said it for the twenty-eighth time but today, I’m number twenty-nine and I’m not saying it for her benefit, I’m saying it for mine. Because there’s almost 7 billion people in the world, half of which are men, and when the number of them is 3.5 billion it’s pretty fuckin’ cool that I was number twenty-nine.”
This beauty in stating the obvious is what drives all of Yui’s dialog in this episode, and the audience completely understands where she’s coming from. Even though she’s silly and makes no sense sometimes, everyone understands that she’s trying to communicate a deeper feeling–the experience of realizing that there is more to her than herself. That all these people, places, and things have shaped the person that she is today and allowed her to take this place on stage and sing these words to this crowd. You could say that insofar as K-On is the story of Yui’s life, everything in her life has led up to this moment, exploding here as an image of completion. Yui’s speeches are her own loving thesis on the nature of K-On.
Their performance ends with U & I, a song about not wanting to lose the precious thing that you’ve found, and it’s from there that we fade away into one of the most heartbreaking sequences ever put to animation. As the girls sit together, basking in the afterglow of a feeling that none of them has the words to qualify, the seniors finally lose their shit. They don’t want this to be the end. How could they? How could you sit down and realize that you’ve just had the best experience of your life, and that you will never have that exact experience again? Talk to anyone who’s met their friends at a convention about “post-con depression” and they’ll probably tell you about a scene similar to this. These girls are coming face to face with transience and finality, and to accept something like this is akin to accepting death. This scene speaks directly to the human experience–to the nature of living and passing on to new stages of life.
It’s harsh. It’s real. It’s intimate. The first time I saw this scene, the moment that Ritsu said “lycopene,” I completely and utterly lost my shit. That this line, this inside joke, spawned randomly late one night on a school field trip, would now be here in this most emotional moment, where these characters are at once at their lowest and highest point, blows my fucking mind. This is the definition of friendship. This one scene about the implacable duality of transient experiences, as expressed in the tears of five high school girls at the moment that they realized their childhood was over, is among the most resonant things I have witnessed in art.
Episode twenty-one pushes us into the twilight days of the light music club. It occurs to me that in part one of this video, I used poor phrasing when I said that K-On was the story of Houkago Tea Time the people, rather than the band. What seems obvious now that I think about it is that this is the story of the light music club as an entity. It begins with the club’s formation, and will eventually end with its dissolution; but what’s interesting about this last stretch of episodes is that it’s almost like this is the club post-Houkago Tea Time. Not to say that they stop playing or caring about music, or that they stop being a band together, but the arc of their musicianship and what it brought into their lives is essentially complete. As of their last performance, they’ve become the best that they’ll ever be as a band. Now we’re essentially moving on to focus on how they may still change as people while being members of this club.
This episode is deliberately slow and not highly consequential in contrast with the previous one. Its most important moment comes at the end, when Mio decides that she wants to try and go to the same university as the other girls, which gives us the first hints that this group of friends will indeed survive the death of their club, even if things change from here on out. I do wonder about whether or not Mio is wise to deliberately hamstring her potential college choices by following Ritsu and Yui, though you could make the case that in terms of her overall growth as a person, these friends are every bit as important as any qualifications she might get from school. Mio has never been happier, more fulfilled, or more robust as a person than she is with these friends, so maybe this will result in the best possible version of Mio.
Also during this arc, we begin to focus more on Azusa’s feelings as she watches the others prepare to leave her behind. Episode twenty-two is when it finally sinks in that the girls are going to graduate, and watching Azusa’s reaction fills me with a sense of helplessness. Graduation has been used time and again in anime to mark the passage of youth into adulthood, because it’s a nearly universal experience that everyone has in realizing that a part of their life is over. That whatever the future may hold, there is no going back to the past–and like I said before, accepting that finality is akin to accepting death. Azusa must live out these next few weeks knowing that this is the last of the time she has in the light music club with these members, meaning that this feeling is going to end.
As an aside, I’d like to break down the first and most prominently used song that the light music club wrote, Fuwa Fuwa Time. See, the Japanese language, (or at least the language as presented by anime), has a funny tendency to describe sensations and emotions by utilizing sound effects. There are commonly used verbal sound effects for just about anything you can think of in Japanese, and these have a tendency to get used a lot in a metaphorical context. For instance, the sound effect for a heartbeat, which is “doki doki,” is commonly used to describe feelings of love, or adrenaline, or pretty much anything that would make your heartbeat quicken, even if only metaphorically.
“Fuwa fuwa” is an interesting sound effect because it’s basically the sound of fluffiness. It’s also the sound of yawning and floating, and what all of these things have in common is that it’s weird to even assign a sound to them. Fuwa fuwa is really more describing a feeling that you get from certain things more than it is an actual sound that those things make. Fluffiness and floatiness don’t actually make noises, but in trying to describe the sound that those might make if they did, you convey the kind of feeling that those sensations have.
Fuwa Fuwa Time is usually translated as “light and fluffy time” which I think is a great translation; but when you think about it, what exactly is a light and fluffy time? Or, if we incorporated the meaning of, “floating,” in there, a fluffy, floating time? To me, it speaks of transience, and of an implacable feeling. The meaning of the time these girls spend together isn’t something that can be easily defined in words, but is better expressed in sensation. When I think of the sensation of floating, I think of something dreamlike, ethereal, and ultimately temporary. To me a Fuwa Fuwa Time is a time that’s important, but you’re not sure why–a time that feels nice, but passes by before you even realize it’s happening–a thing you can never get back, and which you never fully understood to begin with.
The chord progression of the song is incredibly nostalgic sounding, and puts me in a reminiscent state of mind whenever I hear it. It reminds me of how Idea Channel once compared nostalgia to the sensation of ambivalence, or the feeling of being happy and sad at the same time. That’s what this last stretch of K-On is; It’s an ambivalent charge towards a future where the only certainty is that things are going to change–and in that sense, it is a Fuwa Fuwa Time.
At the start of episode twenty-three, Shiraishi Minoru’s voice is totally coming out of Yui’s TV. Lucky Star fans should appreciate why I love this. Also, something about this line, when Yui is drawing a game board, and Ritsu asks, “where’s the goal?,” and Yui says, “there’s no room to draw one,” and Ritsu says, “then it’s unplayable!,” reminded me of like, Waiting for Godot or something. I’m pretty sure that was not intentional though.
This episode screws the nostalgia in deeper, as the seniors spend all day dicking around at school since they don’t technically have to be there. It was pretty cool first watching this show in 2010, a year after I graduated high school, because it reminded me of my own last few weeks as a senior. My school wasn’t nearly so loose about letting kids wander around, but we did have things like senior privileges where if your lunch period was scheduled last, you could just leave. During the end of the year exams, I’d only show up for the tests, and for the last month or so most teachers barely bothered assigning anything. I remember feeling like I was already done with school, and was just hanging around the building to tie up a few loose ends before I went on my way, not unlike what the girls do here.
Later in the episode, the girls decide to record a cassette of all their music to leave in the club room, and while we don’t see any of the performances, we do get to hear some of the funny things that end up on the tape in-between. It so happens that one of the K-On CDs has a bonus disk which contains the entire tape recorded in this episode, including all the in-between stuff seen in the episode, as well as a bunch of extras. It’s even recorded to sound like it’s playing from a cassette, and includes all of the band’s known songs. If you ever want to step on a fucking land mine of feels, I highly recommend hunting down and listening to this album.
Episode twenty-four is the finale and, chronologically, the end of the series, though there are still two more extra episodes, an OVA, and a movie ahead. The seniors finally graduate, but not without giving their big sendoff to the important people they’ll be leaving behind–namely, Sawa-chan-sensei and Azunyan.
Watching Sawa-chan throughout this season has been kind of interesting, because she seems to play a much smaller role than she did in season one, yet develops a lot more as a character in the background. Sawa-chan’s arc is seen in the way that running her class slowly humbles her. We watch her become more honest with her students and, as her defenses are broken down thanks to the light music club bringing out her other sides and the other students learning about them, she eventually recognizes that her students will love her even more if she’s true to herself, and she lets the facade slip more often. She also becomes less selfish as the series goes, measuring her success more in her ability to make her students happy and praise her, than in getting her way with them. In the last stretch of episodes, Sawa-chan makes lots of good decisions for her students, from the Houkago Tea Time t-shirts, to not waking them up for gratification after the show–and she is paid back by the kindness of her first graduating class in a big way during the finale.
Meanwhile, Azunyan tries to put on a brave face and send the seniors off with a smile, but she finally breaks down and begs them not to go. The girls do the best thing they could to keep that smile in-tact by performing a song they wrote for her, very literally about how they’ll always love her, and how graduation is not the end of their friendship. Try not to tear up during this song, I dare you. It’s even more powerful if you’ve seen the K-On movie, too, which largely deals with the characters trying to write this very song.
Episode twenty-five takes place after episode twenty-one, and is a silly story of the girls trying to put together a recruitment video for the next year’s light music club. I imagine that this and the next episode were structured this way so that episodes twenty through twenty-four could have one consistent tone and theme of the girls graduating without breaking up the feelings to much with silly side-stories, which I think was a great decision. I kind of wonder if the idea of a recruitment video is what inspired the video for Utauyo Miracle as well.
Episode twenty-six is set after episode twenty-three, and mostly serves as another silly side story, but this time with an emotional final scene. We get our first hints at what the future of the light music club itself might be, as the seniors find out that Azunyan, Jun, and Ui are planning to perform at the freshman welcoming ceremony next year. Watching the girls run through the school to the sound of the juniors’ music offers not only a sense of finality for the seniors’ place in the club, but also a sign that for the underclassmen, a brand new Fuwa Fuwa Time is just beginning. Thus, the circle of life is complete for the light music club.
The K-On Keikaku! OVA takes us back to the summer time, shortly after episode thirteen, and provides the setup for the girls to take a trip to England in the film. I think this OVA mostly existed so that the film wouldn’t have to do as much setup at the beginning, and so that they could flesh out the entertaining prospect of the girls trying to get passports.
K-On! the Movie could almost be considered a condensed version of season two, in terms of the story beats that it hits and overall feeling it conveys. I wonder if the idea was exactly that–to provide a hit of the same feels that the show delivers, but in a cinematic package, with all the crazy production values and more condensed runtime that that implies. This film really encapsulates all the best things about the series, from the fun tea times, to the even more fun group trips, to the emotionally resonant live performances, and the ultimate finality of the girls graduating and leaving Azusa behind.
The main plot of the film is about the seniors trying to create something for Azunyan, and eventually composing the song that they played for her in episode twenty-four, which is duplicated again in the film. The scene is more resonant this time thanks to receiving so much focus, and coming at the end of a film that so easily shows off all the best things about the show while feeling like a cohesive story.
It’s obvious even if you’ve never been that the staff of this film spent some time in London to recreate it with accuracy, and my aforementioned friend Gibbontake said that he was excited to see places that he passes by every day as someone who lives there. This film really takes the attention to detail, overall visual and sound design, and quality of humor to the next level, making it in many ways the most dense package of what K-On is capable of.
Back in part one of this post, I continuously reiterated the idea that K-On is a show that gets better the more of it you watch, and that the narrative itself is the relationship which the viewer develops with the series. While the last arc of season two is more emotionally resonant than anything that came before, I think that a lot of what made this season great was in all of those episodes that I didn’t have much to say about. The first season of K-On more consistently progressed the storyline, but it was so condensed that the characters never really got a chance to breathe and to grow on me as people; which is why when I first watched that season I thought it was a good show that I didn’t care much about. It was only through getting a sense of the lives of these characters and all of the things they experienced together that I came to truly care about them; which not only made those last scenes so resonant to begin with, but also enhanced my feelings for the first season in turn.
Rewatching season one is in many ways a treat. It’s almost shocking to start up the first episode and realize that the characters were almost completely different people back then. Their change had been so gradual that only in looking back is its severity truly apparent, and it’s also much easier to become invested in those early episodes when I already know why I love these characters and who they are. I can feel this in the film as well–how it sort of serves to reiterate the best things about season two, but is only so resonant because I’ve already seen season two. Watching the movie is like getting a killer bonus version. The more deeply you care about these characters, the more you’ll end up cherishing every moment you have with them, which is why the series gets better the more of it you watch.
And that about wraps up my feelings on K-On as a whole. It’s worth mentioning that the manga actually continued for a little while after the point where the anime ended, but was split into two different series running in different magazines, each lasting one volume. One shows the older girls entering college and joining the light music club there, while the other shows the younger girls, now seniors, continuing the club in high school and bringing on new members. While it’s nice to know a little about where the characters went after the series ended, I personally find the manga pretty difficult to read, as it contains little of what made the anime great. To put into perspective just how different the anime and manga are, the first episode of the anime was adapted from just the first ten pages of the manga, and the second episode from just the next nine. The manga doesn’t have nearly the level of characterization, feels, or attention to detail that the show does, and much more gives the impression of being the kind of moe-driven, lightly fanservicey series that people at first accused the anime of being.
Also worth mentioning is the insane amount of musical releases to come from this series. You can easily download several gigabytes of just K-On music, from themed albums, like the one recreating the tape that I mentioned before, to singles of the opening and ending themes and others performed by the voice actresses, to soundtracks, to live concerts of the show’s music, etc. For fans of the show and it’s music, I definitely recommend looking into some of this stuff, as there’s a ton of worthwhile finds. I loved hearing the full versions of Death Devil’s songs, for instance, or the hyper-energetic live shows.
That’s all I have to say, and I hope you enjoyed watching these videos even a fraction as much as I enjoyed writing them. Be sure and hang around my channel for more content like this in the pipeline, and if you want to make sure I can keep making these kinds of videos, consider supporting me via patreon or paypal by following the links below. See ya in the next one!