Thoughts on K-On!!

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Note the number of exclamation points in the title of this post. These are my thoughts on the second season of the show. If you’d like to know my thoughts on the first season, I have some notes scribbled down on MyAnimeList. (Please excuse my aloof 2014 writing.)

It’s amazing to me sometimes as to how long it takes me to watch a sequel to a particular anime when it’s readily available. I watched the original K-On! in 2014, and am just now finished with its second season. I finished Natsu no Arashi! in 2014, too, and have yet to see its sequel season. I’m not sure what it is, but when a sequel season isn’t being shown as an airing anime, I tend to just forget about it. Sometimes I don’t really mind, while others like K-On!! are bereaved of the emotional value their debut season had on me when finally getting around to their closing season. At first, this showed with my waning intrigue in the series, but every so often the series would show me a flash of substance that kept me focused on continuing through, ending with a satisfyingly benign bang.

It is an anime that stands by its genre: a slice of life flick through and through. The plot is episodic and involves plotlines such as “The club sells an old guitar,” or “Mugi and Ricchan hang out alone for the first time ever!” There is nothing about this series that those looking for deeper meaning will find very engrossing, though that’s not to say that K-On!! is simplistic in its story progression. Plenty of times the anime will focus on various fantasies or mannerisms of characters that serve to foreshadow or highlight a deeper meaning to the ambitions of the characters, albeit very subtly. There’s a bit of a focus on Azusa near the middle of the series in which she tries to cope with being younger than the rest of the club and how she hopes to combat the thought that she’ll soon be the only member of the club in time. There’s a lot of “Yolo-ing” in this anime—the act of living life to the fullest in the time life is most worth living. High school is said to be the best time of most teenagers’ lives, and that is in full effect in K-On!!.

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It is these characters and their emphasis on having as much fun as possible that makes K-On!! stand out compared to others of its genre. Their interactions with one another span from politely generous to slapstick comedy duo. The dynamic between the closeness of various characters—such as Mio and Ricchan, and Yui and Azusa—is shown in a variety of different lights, rather than focusing on a one-dimensional shtick that plays out throughout, inevitably becoming repetitive. What I feel the second season does better than the first is shining the light on pairing different characters together. One of my favorite episodes was when Ricchan and Mugi spent the day together and came up with a plan to get one of the club members to hit Mugi, as she feels it is a sign of closeness. This kind of thing was rare in the first season, while the second season is more willing to experiment with working the dynamics of one couple and combining it with others more naturally shown alone. Mugi has always been a character less focused on throughout the series, so to see her not only interact with the main source of comic relief in Ricchan, but to seek Ricchan’s advice on how to further her closeness to the group is all the more heartwarming.  It’s this focus on the closeness of the group that makes the ending all the more impactful.

One of the key issues I had with the first season was Sawa-chan, the club adviser to the Light Music Club. Her entire point was to seek praise from everyone and dress up the characters in the most moe of outfits and be generally annoying. I didn’t care for her whatsoever. However, the second season does a much better job of showing her in a more mature and realistic tone, though this may be her feigning professionalism as the new homeroom teacher for the girls’ class. The series does give her a little more focus through old classmates of hers and the emphasis she has on the club and how much she cares for the girls, which only adds to a previously stale character. I feel she still isn’t entirely well-rounded, but she’s far better than she was in the first season.

K-On!! has twice as many episodes in its second season than its first season, going from a one-cour to a two-cour series. A two-cour slice of life series seems daunting for those not fond of the genre and I can empathize with those people, as K-On!! isn’t always the most entertaining watch. Some episodes I thought were cute, thought were sweet, thought were insightful and worth watching. Then there were episodes where it was hard to pay attention to the trivial monotony of normal life playing out in front of me. The characters not falling suit to a thick coat of comedy pays dividends for the realism of the show and the emphasis on normal life, but it also makes it susceptible to being boring. The range with which I found the anime boring was probably a third of every four episodes or so, but others may be more willing to disregard the show for its feeble attempts at trying to stimulate the audience.

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Most of the segments of K-On!! I found less than thrilling to view were scenes/episodes focusing more on characters outside the main group of girls, such as Azusa, Yui’s sister, or otherwise. Nodoka has charm based on her seriousness, but doesn’t have much else going for her other than being “Yui’s childhood friend.” Yui’s sister has very little time to showcase any personality other than Yui’s caretaker (despite being the younger sister). Everyone else is essentially just there. I liked the absence of the main group on occasion to stimulate the separation anxiety Azusa develops throughout the series, but when they’re not in the picture, the show becomes far easier to ignore than otherwise. The main group and their hijinks are what carries the show, especially when the first season spent so much time exploring them and no one else.

There was a time when watching anime where I didn’t care at all about sound. I’m still not too fond of exploring the audio intricacies of every title ever, but K-On!! has a higher degree of focus on music, which promotes me to listen to the quality of their sound. Even with two cours, the band doesn’t really perform (or practice) very often. The most I recall throughout is when they perform at their school festival or when Sawa took the stage to sing with her old band. I don’t recall much from Sawa’s performance, but I thought After School Tea Time’s songs were catchy enough. I felt it may have sounded a little too professional for a high school band, but it had a nice rhythm to it and I don’t see that as too much of a problem. Otherwise, I have no comment about the performances of the seiyuus or anything like that. Usually, that’s a good thing.

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For 2010, K-On!!‘s visuals are pretty minimalist in nature. They aren’t nearly as sparkly or glowing as other titles from KyoAni’s library, such as Haruhi or Chuunibyou. The faces of the characters are pretty flat and colored in similar colors. I would’ve pegged the series as being animated in 2006-2007, but it’s a lot more recent than the style appears. However, it may be just that: style. It doesn’t particularly look flashy, but the focus of the show isn’t to be flashy, just to be realistically ordinary. Ordinarily plain would be a better title for the design of K-On!! and its characters, seeing as most characters’ faces look very, very similar to one another. Only difference being eye and hair color/style. The characters are easily distinguishable despite this (probably because they have little indicators like large eyebrows or a headband in their hair). The animation (especially during performances) can be choppy every so often. It’s not so smooth all the time, but does a good enough job to get the job done right. There was a particular episode where the girls are running a marathon and a particular scene showed the group of girls from the side running forward with background characters running past them. The way this scene is animated is… off. It feels like there were some shortcuts taken in making it happen. I think this may be the most noticeable example of odd animation, but I’d have to remember all of the series to be sure.

I hear a lot about the popularity of K-On!! around the anime community, dubbing the series one of the best slice of life titles in the last ten years or so. I would be inclined to agree, as the anime has a lot of heart to it despite its shortcomings. It did enough to give an insightful slice of high school life portraying characters that aren’t entirely great on their own, but wonderful altogether. The closeness of the group and their misadventures in everyday life are charming to view whenever the anime gives them time to bounce off each other. It won’t be satisfying to everyone, especially those who don’t care for the genre, but a lot of good can be found from a series like K-On!!; so much so that 39 episodes and a movie still wouldn’t feel like enough to get the full potential of these silly, moe blob characters.

One thought on “Thoughts on K-On!!

  1. Assuming it’s not something I’m watching as it airs, I tend to watch shows with multiple seasons in one long binge and so I have a hard time separating different seasons from one another once they blur together. So while I can’t really weigh in on the strengths of the second season over the first, I really enjoy the show and what you say about the second season focusing more on character pairings and interactions feels right. I’d agree that it definitely sets itself apart from other slice of life shows and mostly by means of the characterization of its central characters.

    It’s not just that their personalities make them feel kind of real but that they have such individualistic and distinct personalities that you come to kind of ‘know’ them better than you typically would a character. You generally understand how they will act, what they will think, etc. The show’s continued exploration of them kind of accentuates this fact and the characters I think exhibit a really great sense of growth as the series unrolls. I think the only marked difference between our perceptions of the show is that I might enjoy the characters individually a bit more. To me, the show is as much about their unification and their group dynamic as it is about the characters as they are and I think it’s successful on both fronts. Glad you enjoyed the second season and thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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