- Titles: K-ON! and K-ON! 2
- Genre: School, Slice of Life, CGDCT
- Episodes: 13 and 26
- Studio: Kyoto Animation
Like many high school girls before and after her, Yui doesn’t really know what she wants to do with her life. Heck, she doesn’t even know what she wants to do with her free time right now. It’s just that everything is a bit of a hassle and it’s way more fun to just lounge around and have some snacks with friends. But one’s high school career isn’t complete without at least joining a club. You wouldn’t want to wake up one day and see that your youth has passed you by without anything to show for it. And Yiu’s determined not to let that happen. Now she just needs to find a club that’s not too demanding and where she could have some fun. Something suited to her unique personality and skill set. It doesn’t have to be popular or anything, just relaxed. And preferable filled with tasty treats. Who would have guessed that the light music club was just what Yui was looking for?
I watched the first season of K-ON! a while ago. I can’t remember exactly when but I remember the characters and I remember liking it well enough. But I also forgot the details pretty quickly. When I later found out that it was such a seminal anime and that a favourite of a lot of my fellow bloggers, some even calling it a perfect anime, I was a bit surprised. I always figured that I should revisit the show to see what I had missed and maybe watch the second season.
K-ON! is a relatively early KyoAni work. And you can see it. The character models aren’t quite as detailed, the light work isn’t as impressive and there’s a bit of inconsistency in the line work here and there. But the animation itself is solid. In spite of the slight flaws in the visuals, or maybe because of them, the movement throughout the series simply shines.
And the girls really look like they are playing instruments! I have watched a lot of anime centred around musicians now, and I noticed that animating instrument playing seems super difficult. At least that’s what I assume since it’s often so awkward looking. But K-On! made it look fluid and even realistic. I hadn’t picked up on that at the time, however, I now appreciate it for the achievement that it is.
Sound design is a little lacklustre and the score is surprisingly tame for a show all about music. Although it’s not really all about music, we’ll get to that soon. The voice acting is nice though.
Story & Characters
K-ON! is one of the quintessential Cute Girls Doing Cute Things show. Heck, it might be one of the series that helped coin the moniker. For better or for worse, it really exemplifies the tropes and stereotypes associated with the genre. I watched both seasons in a row and the special. I could have watched more. I also only wrote down one note the entire time. It was that the animation was good. It’s that sort of show.
OK, let me elaborate a bit. K-ON! is a show where nothing emotionally or intellectually taxing happens. Heck, you could argue nothing much happens at all. Yeah, the girls have their club and club activities, but most of them don’t really care that much about it. It’s just a fun thing they do with their friends. No one is pouring their heart and soul into it or into anything really.
And that’s by design. For one, K-ON! is just a light carefree anime that allows the audience to vicariously have a light and completely carefree experience. It’s relaxing and undemanding. You’re not likely to be debating the themes or staying up at night parsing the deep philosophical issues that come up in the show. I suppose you could, you can do that with absolutely every show. It’s just that at its core, K-ON! delivers an experience that is free of conflict and complication. And that’s extremely appealing in a way.
Second, K-ON! is a primarily character-driven show. Unlike a lot of people, I do not believe that Slice of Life anime is always character-driven. In fact, I would argue that it often isn’t. Those little unrelated random events are what the show is about. They are what makes it cathartic to watch. But not in K-ON!. What actually happens is almost entirely irrelevant in my opinion.
The light music club could be replaced with any other club with little to no impact on the story. But if any of the characters are replaced by another cute high school girl, it will change the nature of the show. So your enjoyment of the series is going to be dictated by your appreciation of the characters. At least, that’s what my experience was.
So how are the characters?
I remember reading years ago in an anime publication (it could have been Jump) that the year K-ON! was released and for years after that, Yui was voted number 1 waifu by the readers. And in fact, Yui had been the most popular female character in pretty much any anime according to most anime publications of the time, in Japan.
This was a bit surprising to me given how, let’s call it modest, Yui’s character design was. She wasn’t my favourite female character in anime. She wasn’t even my favourite in K-ON! Actually, I’m sorry guys, but Yui is the girl I like the least in the show. Not that I dislike her or anything but she’s not the archetype or design I usually enjoy.
It turns out that Yui’s popularity is more or less by design. It seems the author specifically picked a bunch of traits that had been considered most desirable in female characters by shonen readers (through a bunch of polls) and put them together. In fact, most of the cast was created with that in mind. This is actually pretty impressive because all of the characters in K-ON! work. They have cohesive personalities with layers and are consistent through 2 seasons. That’s better than a lot of casts that come to mind. But when you know, you sort of see the archetypes peak through as well.
In my opinion, characters designed to appeal to an audience are a good thing. In fact, they’re a great way to create character-driven stories. But if your tastes diverge a lot from those of the general public, you might have a bit of a harder time with K-ON!
For me, it was sort of neutral. At the end of the day, I liked all of the girls, including the supporting cast but I didn’t love any of them. They were pleasant and fun but sort of blended in with all the other cute girls I have seen throughout the years. Part of that is that K-ON!’s success inspired a lot of anime after it and really these girls are the original. But it doesn’t change the fact that they didn’t stand out to me.
On the other hand, they also never annoyed me or rubbed me the wrong way. Well except the teacher. The trope of teachers sexually harassing students played for laughs always creeps me out. I don’t like that trope. Otherwise, I found their adventures sweet and pleasant to follow along even if I wasn’t all that engaged with them. At the end of the day, there’s a reason K-ON! is such a classic in the genre, it earned it.
You might like this anime if:
You want a very easy watch.
My favourite character:
Ui, I thought she was really cute.
- Every time we see Momoka – take a sip
- Every time the girls have snacksin the club room – get snacks too
- Every time Mio gets shy – awww
- Every time Yui spazzes out – take a sip
- Every time Yui and Ritsu mess around – take a sip
- Every time Mio gets teary eyed – awwwww
- Every time Yui learns a new guitar trick – cheers
- Every time Ritsu and Mio bicker – take a sip
- Every time Tsugumi’s priviledge shows – take a sip
- Every time Sawako goes wild – raise your glass
- Every time the girls perform – listen
- Every time Ritsu getsa bump on her head – take a sip
- Every time Yui’s broke – take a sip
- Every time Sawako makes new outfits – gasp!
- Every time Yui talks to Getta – worry
- Every time youthink Sawako should probably get fires – take a sip
- Every time the girls actually practice – just gape in awe
- Every time Ritsu insists on things being Japanese – switch to sake
I save all my screencaps on my Pinterest and you can find more there if you are interested. But I still like to show you a few in the post. If you’re like me, screencaps are something that really helps you decide to watch an anime or not.