A feature of high school education is the availability of a variety of clubs that students can take part in. This fills the social and activity schedule of students aside from their studies. Ritsu and Mio decided to prevent the pop music club from being disbanded, and turn it into a band. Along the way Tsumugi and Yui joins, or as Mio yells at Ritsu to not push people into joining. Ritsu as the club president plays the drums, Mio on the bass, Tsumugi on the keyboard and Yui, the guitarist.
The story focuses on a slice of life way of telling, as these girls perform music, form friendships, have plenty of tea time, and enjoy life to the nth degree. There are four books that feature each club member on the cover. Reading the manga is a way to enjoy the series, since fans of this show may have already loved the anime series. This is one of Yen Press's releases outside of other titles that Anime.com has reviewed. It is a contrast and a treat to see pages of color shots.
This is the only known English title that Kakifly has published in the United States. He has published doujinshi before that has become out of print. Kakifly is a pseudonym for a Japanese male artist. This means in Japanese fried oysters, so it can be seen as a joke. He has currently closed his website due to an identification situation over on Twitter.
K-on as a title doesn't refer to the name of the band, since the band has always refer to themselves as the Pop Music Club, but K-on in Japanese is shorthand for "kei ongagu" the style of music produced is light and not heavy sounding. Quite acoustic in tone, and with the song lyrics Mio sings during a show, definitely a bubblegum pop variety. Other titles that may be similar and worth as a read alike in terms of slice of life and talking a female cast is Azamanga Daioh, and for the forming band aspect, Solanin. On the flip side and polar opposite of this title that got referred is Detroit Metal City. Negishi, the main character there wishes he can be popular for the same time that the K-on girls play.
Reviewed by Linda Yau, July 2012
We were going to review K-On! for you, but we decided to have some tea first. Oh, and tea goes better with some delicious snacks, like this fresh-baked strawberry tart. There's nothing quite like whiling away a hot afternoon by chatting with friends... wait, weren't we going to do something? Oh, never mind, we'll get to it—and how delicious is this tea? So delicious!
For something so incredibly popular, K-ON!, the story of five girls who form a high school band, is amazingly languid and meandering. There is progression, in the sense that we watch the girls grow as musicians and as friends throughout their high school careers, but the anime shows virtually zero urgency getting to any of it. Throughout both seasons, the girls often stop for drinks and snacks in their music room when they're supposed to be practicing, and that gives you a good feel for what the anime is like in general; heck, they even name their band Afternoon Tea Time.
With all the down time, it's kind of amazing that the girls are prepared for any of their concerts. We're assuming a lot of the practicing must have gone on off-camera.
However, it's hard to argue the fact that K-ON! is a high-quality show. The characters are distinct and memorable, the animation is nigh-flawless, and while the music can be a mixed bag, we're still humming the first season ending, "Don't Say Lazy." We still don't know what was going on with that second season opening theme, "Go! Go! Maniac," but we figured that was like the band's sophomore album where they got all artistic on us and no one understood it.
The story centers on Yui, an extremely ditzy high-school student who discovers that she has an almost savant-like talent for playing guitar. Together with Mio, a talented but shy bassist and singer, Tsumugi (usually called Mugi) on keyboards, and Ritsu, perhaps the craziest drummer since Animal from the Muppets, they join their school's Light Music Club to keep it from being abolished. Later a fifth girl, the driven Azusa, joins the club and yells at everyone to actually practice, for which we are eternally grateful to her.
Yui can be a frustrating protagonist. Her ditzy nature can easily cross the line to stupidity, and her passionate love for her electric guitar, which she calls "Giitah," reaches downright pathological levels by the second season. However, some viewers will find her adorable, which is where a lot of the show's appeal lies.
The 600-pound gorilla in the room when talking about K-On! is the "moe" craze, or the recent trend in anime towards using adorable female characters to charm the hearts and wallets of otaku while the story suffers for it. K-On! is hardly the originator of this trend, but it's one of the most prominent examples. Furthermore, the series' great popularity has led to a slew of imitators with the theme of "cute girls doing cute things," which are charming pieces of fluff at best, dreadfully lazy and boring at worst.
However, unlike many of its clones, we thought the characters in K-On! were interesting enough to stand on their own, even if their faces weren't quite as cute. Yui may be completely out of her mind, but Mio is charmingly neurotic, Mugi is a sly troublemaker behind her innocent smile, and Ritsu is frequently hysterical to watch. Minor characters, like Nodoka, the student council representative who helps the girls out in a pinch, and a prim and proper teacher who once helmed the hardcore metal band "Death Devil" back in her own high school days, each have their moments.
The first season contains thirteen episodes while the second is 26. While the show maintains a similar tone throughout, the strain definitely begins to show by the second season. Some second-season episodes feel like filler (even by this show's standards), and the character personalities are exaggerated in a way we often didn't like: Yui was ditzy enough to begin with, thanks.
Still, we can't write off the second season, since it gave Death Devil the screentime the band so richly deserved. Furthermore, once you're invested in the characters, you almost can't help but enjoy watching them blunder through the challenges of high school. If you enjoy the first season of K-On! you'll probably find a lot to like in the second, but if the first season tries your patience, you can stop with a clear conscience that it doesn't change dramatically.
Finally, the show does a good job of capturing the feeling of excitement of forming a band: that jolt of excitement when Yui hooks her guitar up to an amp for the first time and hears her first cord resonate through the room; the pre-show buzz at a concert where the girls get their first backstage passes. People who have fond memories of playing music with friends may be willing to forgive Yui any amount of silliness for rekindling such great memories.
K-On! is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Bandai Entertainment; guitar pics, drumsticks and deluxe tea sets are also available for those who really want to get into the K-On! spirit, but you're on your own for that.
Reviewed by Karen Gellender, February 2012
Below: Scenes from K-On!.