K-On! – It’s On!
While in Japan, I didn’t really watch much anime outside of the odd episode of a short children’s show about ninja and a long-running show based on a popular newspaper cartoon. So, when I found out that I had a DVD to watch and review, I was glad to be watching something that was more to my taste. When I found out that it was K-On!!, I was even more pleased! I went to a fair few arcades in my time in Japan, and wandering around the impossible-to-win claw machines, you couldn’t get more than several steps past a machine before you stumbled upon K-On!! merchandise- figurines of the main characters, posters, large pillows with the characters on. This, combined with my very basic knowledge that it was about a band, piqued my interest. So I sat down to watch the first few episodes with high hopes.
While I was tempted to watch it in the original language (call me a snob, but I’m one of those people who prefers subs to dubs), I pressed play without thinking and so watched it in English. Having been exposed to Japanese television for the past four months, it was initially jarring to be watching a dub. The main character’s voice, one of those really high and cutesy ones, initially irritated me but after watching the first episode again in Japanese out of curiosity, I had to admit that the dub was very good, with the voices matching their Japanese counterparts. Anyway, without further ado, onto the actual review!
The opening is a typical cheerful affair, with the main characters’ band rocking out and singing all about their dedication to the band and energy. We are introduced to Yui, the main character, when she believes she’s overslept on the first day of high school and then arrives at school after a frantic rush to realise she’s read the clock wrong and is in fact still early. This pretty much sets the tone for the next few episodes- Yui is your typical clumsy girl who is initially a nervous wreck and has no hobbies but loves to eat sweets. Upon entering high school, Yui considers joining a club. When her more down-to-earth childhood friend Nodoka hears that she hasn’t joined one yet, she freaks out- clubs are serious business in Japanese schools and universities, often requiring dedication and meeting almost every weekday. It’s good to have such experience later in life and Yui, who is spooked enough by the threat of becoming a NEET*, decides to act on her earlier slight interest in the Light Music club, decides to apply to join.
Before Yui turns up to try and join this club, we are introduced to the other club members. We meet Ritsu, an energetic girl and her friend Mio, who is the cool type, when they try to join the Light Music club. However, with all the past members having graduated, there is nobody to run it and it is on the verge of being disbanded. When their music teacher tells them that they need four members to keep it running, they set their hearts on recruiting. After spreading the word, they wait in a clubroom after school until a potential member turns up. Tsumugi, who initially seems calm and friendly, asks to join.
With Ritsu as a drummer, Mio playing the bass and Tsumugi playing the keyboard, they are only lacking a guitarist. In the conversation between Tsumugi, Mio and Ritsu, we get to see more of Mio and Ritsu’s personalities and relationship. Their motivation for forming a band is because they watched a concert one night and were moved by it, deciding that they would form their own band and one day play the Budokan. However, Ritsu embellishes it slightly and we learn that in the pair, Mio is the “straight man” and Ritsu is the “funny man” – Ritsu will joke or mess around and Mio will often get angry and bop her on the head, trying to get back to the topic in hand. When the trio go to a fast food restaurant to discuss how to recruit a guitarist, Tsugumi confesses that she’s always wanted to go to a fast food restaurant and from this we get a sense that Tsugumi is a rich girl with a slightly sheltered life.
After applying, Yui finally turns up and it emerges that the club is searching for a guitarist. Yui, who applied because she assumed that “Light Music” meant that it would be easy to play music and because she once was praised in elementary school for playing the castanets well, immediately realises that she has to quit because she can’t play an instrument. After trying to find out who her favourite guitarist is, it emerges that she can only play the castanets. The club, who have a week left before they get disbanded, desperately try to make Yui stay, tempting her with delicious cakes and sweets. Yui tries her best to quit but they convince her to stay, saying that she can learn to play the guitar.
Various escapades follow, including the onerous task of buying a guitar, which is expensive. The band find a job to help Yui out, though the problem is solved conveniently which happens to make the effort look wasted. After obtaining the guitar, midterms loom and Yui almost fails to clear this obstacle. Then the Light Music club, with Mio spurred on by a tape of the past Light Music Club’s performance at the high school festival, take a trip to the beach to stay in a holiday house and go on a band training camp which fails to take off initially.
As someone who likes to listen to music, the whole “band” aspect of the anime had me very interested. However, the first few episodes lacked any kind of real elements of performing or practising. Allowing for the fact that this series is 26 episodes long, it’s of course understandable that a few episodes are taken to set up the scenario, characters and storyline. However, with only the first few episodes available to me, I began to get bored. If I had access to the entire series, I would keep watching just to get to the part where they finally start writing songs and playing properly.
As for the main characters, it’s very easy to recognise character archetypes. Yui is the clumsy scatterbrained type who gets into scrapes sometimes, Ritsu is the slightly aggressive, energetic type who likes to exaggerate and sometimes goes too far, Mio is the slightly high-strung cool type whose calm demeanour in fact masks considerable shyness and timidness and Tsumugi is the slightly sheltered rich girl. However, the mix of personalities mesh well together (apart from when Ritsu and Yui distract each other) and contrast each other enough to make things interesting. Also, Tsumugi isn’t completely out of touch. Rather than taking an almost zoological interest in normal people (see Ouran High School Host Club and the interest in “commoners”), she simply seems to want to spend time with her new friends and apologises when the people preparing their holiday house overdo it, making it a refreshing take on the “rich girl” stereotype- any kind of endeavour often needs money, so it’s not surprising to see a rich girl included to make any kind of plot point feasible.
Finally, with Yui starting to show signs of talent in the last episode on the DVD, this reignited my interest to see how things turn out. All in all, the lighthearted and energetic way in which the girls approach life makes the wait to see actual band action less painful.
Pros and cons of the first four episodes:
+ It’s about bands! Bands are cool
+ The characters are interesting enough
+ The dub is pretty faithful to the original and the voices are pretty spot-on
+ Lighthearted action makes for relatively easy watching
– Slightly slow start
– Ritsu and Yui spend enough time messing around that could probably be used to speed up the main attraction of the anime: the BAND!
*NEET – Not in Employment, Education or Training.