Always After-School: K-ON! Review

So after watching Toradora, a very melodramatic romantic comedy, it only seems fitting that I would follow it up with the exact opposite. Also fun fact in between watching K-ON! I decided to watch Synecdoche, New York which is a film about existential dread (safe to say emotionally I’ve been all over the place with these). K-ON! is a Kyoto Animation anime directed by Naoko Yamada and is based on a manga by Kakifly. I was able to watch it on Yahoo View of all places which has free Hulu content that is bizarrely like 50% Anime and then 50% American sitcom but it’s something maybe worth checking out.

So apparently not like it would effect my opinion or anything but this show is highly adored…. and hated? So apparently this show is “Moe” which is often described as the sell being cute girls doing cute things and in pandering to that cuteness appeal the show is vapid and uninspired. For K-ON! this is very much the case IF you want to look at it from a very reductive lens. With the same broad strokes every Shonen or Marvel property is Muscular Guy A wants to show Muscular Guy B his BIG PUNCH. While I’m not here to convince you that K-ON! has the most original, elaborate, or fulfilling story I’m here to tell you that for all it tries to be and the story it tries to tell, K-ON! is masterfully executed and the praise it has earned is well deserved.

Slice of Life, Neo-Realism

K-On! (2009)

Shine on you crazy diamond.
You were caught on the crossfire of childhood and stardom

Shine On You Crazy Diamond – Pink Floyd

Outside of reputation, what is the biggest hurdle that stops people from enjoying it is the plot or lack thereof. I would consider K-ON! unapologetically Neo-realism that despite some hyperbole and some fiction the overall presentation and design of the show is very authentic to reality. K-ON! is a show that benefits a watch now that with streaming or full season boxes being the main means of watching it. The idea of watching this show at your own pace is a huge impact as episodes often introduced plot points without necessarily resolving them in that episode and often contain scenes of mundane occurrences tied together by some event or gimmick rather than traditional plot structure. It’s a story that works better as the sum of its parts were I can see each individual episode could be a let down if one where to wait for an episode premiere.

The construction of each episode is rather refreshing as it never feels like a contrived plot summoned from out of character moments, moral lessons, or innate character flaw. You can point the finger at a couple episodes of being culprits to this but generally it seems the action is derived from putting these characters into a scenario and figuring out how they would each act accordingly.

Neo-realism isn’t for everyone but this show uses it to have a remarkable ability to sort of transport you back into your time in high school or approaching some sense of finale or growth moment in life. The sound design is often quite and uses footsteps and chair dragging to give weight to the environments. Lighting designs and animated movements (outside of comedic effect) are very naturalistic and these all are working towards the goal to achieve genuine characters and emotions. K-ON! uses the innocence of a friendship stemming from a high school club and taps into that bittersweet nostalgia of what we the audience have lost yet will always have.

DUB VS SUB

So gather up your jackets, and move it to the exits I hope you have found a Friend…
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Closing Time – Semisonic

To Some degree I don’t think there is a wrong answer, but while it hurts, I want to recommend you to the subbed version. First watch whatever version you’re comfortably with, and it pains me to say this because the English cast is so talented especially Stephanie Sheh, Cristina (Vee) Valenzuela, and Cassandra Lee Morris. However, my argument is that there comes across a subtle change in direction that I preferred the original voice actors. With the english dub, the voices are noticeably more cartoonish, the actors are performing “a voice” while personally I found the original voices exaggerated but not necessarily animated. The English cast sounds very much like the Powerpuff Girls in that while maybe not eccentric, the emotional output is always heightened to a degree. Compare K-ON! to Kaguya-Sama: Love is War you can tell a difference in philosophy that K-ON! can emote/exaggerate but doesn’t lose it’s reality where Kaguya-Sama will go to some extent to emphasize the ridiculousness of certain scenarios. I don’t know, sometimes with the K-ON! dub it just feels like voice actors reading lines while the sub upholds the illusion which is important to the neo-realism of the show. It’s also weird that the english voices sing in Japanese, especially since Mio’s voice actress is a pretty good singer.

Music

K-On! (2009)

The exodus is here
The happy ones are near
Let’s get together, before we get much older
Teenage wasteland

Baba O’Riley – The Who

Music matters. First I want to bring up the show’s score/soundtrack which apparently Kyoto animation has been pretty reputable with these and with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya I can attest they can definitely be rather endearing. K-ON! has good little mood amplifying jingles but with over 30 background tracks the effectiveness of their incorporation can be hit or miss. Anime in general, I’ve really enjoyed the background music especially in the conditioning of them that each track through each call back can carry a meaning through the collective use of the individual track. K-ON! can be pretty weak in this, unfortunately some of the tracks reincorporation can feel forced into scenes that don’t fit or don’t necessarily need it. There’s an endearing quality to the show’s music, and I appreciate Kyoto Animations for going for that much tracks but it’s not the best OST out there.

As for the songs from the band, I love the amateur quality of them. Again presenting authenticity, the HTT or Afterschool Tea Time band produces some delightful earworms but nothing that feels beyond the level of a passionate high schoolers. The music is clever in showing the bands growth as they progress from “Fuwa Fuwa Time” into more meaningful and reflective lyrics such as “U&I”. The show never pretends to be about the music more so that the band could be any other club. They dedicate enough talking about the equipment, inspirations, certain jargon but for those wondering why it’s not a song-per-episode show than that’s why. For a band show for which can us Americans just admit have been pretty bad. I tried to think of the best American show that came out around this time that’s about a rock band and I’d certainly say K-ON! is a superior show to Class of 3000? If you want to argue vapid lyrics then surely you haven’t listened to Banana Zoo. K-ON! overall creates some very vibrant and fun jams and by switching vocal responsibilities between Mio and Yui create some pretty diverse music.

OP and ED

Image result for k-on don't say lazy

and it really didn’t have to stop
it just kept on going
and so castles made of sand
slips into the sea eventually

Castles Made of Sand – Jimi Hendrix

These rank in this definitive order and if you disagree then you’re wrong.

  1. Utauyo Miracle!
  2. Go! Go! MANIAC
  3. Listen!!
  4. No, Thank You!
  5. Cagayake!Girls
  6. Don’t say “lazy”

I’m lying about how definitive my personal taste is but the OP and ED have a lot of creativity behind them they’re definitely worth giving some thought to them. I always found the juxtaposition between the OP and the ED intriguing as the fact that all the OP’s are Yui’s vocals and the ED’s use Mio’s vocals that there is some point to them. My interpretation was that the OP always represented the “now” and the ED the “after” or the fantasy of what’s to come. The openings always represent the show well having high energy and showing the thrill of just being able to jam with your friends. The endings on the other hand is present this wild fantasy of stardom and heavily produced musical productions. It truly is a fantasy, unfortunately I’d love for these wonderful girls to be the next big thing in the music world (ironic how the voice actors have succeeded at this) but it seems throughout the point is not about becoming professional or being a sensation but enjoying these little fantasies, ambitions. or simply what brings us together. It’s interesting to see how the “fantasy” progresses from Don’t say lazy being almost a glam rock with bright colors and music video edits to the more grudge rock that seems more grounded and in tune with the characters introspective nature that occurs at that point in the series.

Quick explanations of my ordering. Don’t say “lazy” is a fun, odd departure from the show but it is a departure from the show and just doesn’t identify with K-ON!. Cagayake! Girls is high energy and is a nice introduction to the show, but while it serves the first season well it sort of falls into the conceit of the show putting this false emphasis on the band. No, Thank You! is phenomenally fitting for the end, it really brings in to that conclusion but its Avril Lavigne grudge rock doesn’t fit the band and seems departed from the rest of the songs. Listen!! My favorite ED because it engulfs the girls in that weird music world but falls completely in line with their identity. The top two are just bangers that give little moments that really sells the appreciation for all the people and the little fun moments that we cherish meeting and making.

Best Girl?

Image result for K-ON

I look to the sea reflections in the waves spark my memory
Some happy some sad
I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had
We live happily forever so the story goes
But somehow we missed out on that pot of gold
But we’ll try best that we can to carry on

Sail Away – Styx

I say this every time but I didn’t want to make this decision and this time I won’t. I found all the characters to be wonderful, if I ever have a daughter and they act like any character in this show I’d be one proud parent. I judge these characters by their conceptual creation and honestly I feel for what the writers wanted these characters to be, they knocked it out of the park.

I want to discredit this show for having to rely on basic traits to all encompass their personality. But to say that Ritsu is just a tom boy with no work ethic or Mio as a bashful scaredy-cat feels accurate but at the same time discrediting to how much depth is actually given to them. I almost gave it to Mugi-Senpai as I heard one argument that she’s a subversion of the rich blonde girl and yeah I’m on board with that but I just can’t commit to that as I see Mugi as the sweet introvert of the group who also just so happens to be rich. Through their interactions and relationships do we see more sides to them and a lot of it seems shown instead of told. No character undergoes a dramatic change but Yui definitely seems more sure of herself by the conclusion and Azusa might have the most growth by coming to terms that she hasn’t joined the perfect band but cherishing a bond of friendship that is perfect. I don’t want to highlight one girl in particular as like the show itself, HTT is better as the sum of its parts. That goes for side characters who bring underappreciated dynamics to the show, each character carries an unbridled lust for life and their positivity and attitude towards confronting their issues is inspiring.

The End?

Related image

This world has only one
Sweet moment set aside for us.
Who wants to live forever?
Who wants to live forever?
And we can have forever
And we can love forever
Forever is our today

Who Wants to Live Forever – Queen

So K-ON! is over and I being the king of cliches can say that I won’t cry because it’s over but will smile because it happened. Maybe K-ON! is responsible for popularizing trivial shows and maybe for some it holds too simplistic, not enough ambition behind it’s concept. But I think K-ON! will be something that puts a smile on my face. Because it’s funny, yeah. Because it’s cute, sure. But I think mostly because it’s a wonderful reminder to reminisce about the little things that used to matter and for at least the length of a episode forget about worries of now and tomorrow that seem to darken our thoughts. K-ON! faces our fear that all good things must come to an end, and that’s unavoidable yet we can all be assured that nothing truly ends if we hold it somewhere in our hearts.

sotsugyou wa owari ja nai そつぎょう わ おわり じゃ ない


Thanks for reading, leave your opinion in the comments and be sure to follow the blog here or on twitter and to like the post so my self-esteem feels real good. That’s all for now but as always I will see you at the movies.

images are from K-ON! and K-ON!! [Credit: Kyoto Animation] Go watch the show if you haven’t already.

Now I think I might go back to finding some movies to avoid my name becoming misleading but the Anime train has been very good to me so I’m definitely thinking of jumping into another one. Below are some names that made an impression on me through this odd Yahoo View please help me decide my next Anime??? Let me know if any of these are worth a watch and feel free to come up with your own recommendation and maybe I will follow through.

  • Classroom of the Elite
  • Beyond the Boundary
  • Engaged to the Unidentified
  • Clannad
  • Himouto! Umaru-chan

Join the Conversation

8 Comments

  1. Revisiting K-on! with my mom and I can only say it gets better on the rewatch. It’s also an incredible example of adaptation, take a look at the manga sometime and you’ll be shocked at the difference!

    Enjoying your stuff. Would reply with more depth but I’m on mobile for the next day or so. Always a pain >.<

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I saw that K-On! is on Netflix now, so it looks like I have an excuse to watch it at some point. That name has certainly been thrown around a ton for years especially since I got into the whole reviewing thing let alone getting back into anime a few years ago. You might be the first person I’ve seen to use the term Neo-realism in an anime review. I find that extremely fascinating. You make K-On! sound like something Jafar Panahi would direct. Hahaha! Okay, I’m only joking. As a film buff, I find the connection to that film and storytelling aesthetic intriguing on so many levels.

    P. S. Funny you mention Baba O’ Reily in this review because one of my last reviews before my hiatus on Iridium Eye was Road Back to Malice which is a documentary about a Welsh wrestler named Flash Morgan Webster who has a finishing move called the Baba O’ Reily Buster since most of his moves are references to music in the UK.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know I’m actually kind of excited to watch the movie that was added to Netflix as well! I know it probably is an oxymoronic to refer to an anime as “neo-realism” and I was a little taken a back to remember that I said that.. but I stand by what I said.

      It might seem absurd to use such a scholarly term to describe a show which is ultimately “if the flavor of bubblegum was a TV show” but it captured something truly authentic. It’s a narrative that is less moved by character arcs and concocting interesting plot threads but pushed forward by time itself. There’s a raw sincerity to its characters, to its setting, and to its message that I think it’s more than the cute/moe pander that the show’s detractors say even if I see where that impression comes from.

      I thought I was ahead of your obscure cinema reference for once, but I was thinking of Asghar Farhadi who has advocated for Jafar Panahi so I have heard but not seen Panahi’s films. Really interesting story, certainly should consider giving them a look.

      The Baba O’Reily connection is kind of fun though, things always connect where you least expect it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I saw it was on there, too! That is a bit of an oxymoronic term in that context, but I have no qualms with you making such a claim. If this were done as a live-action show, would it be plausible for the neo-realism effect to work?

        That is interesting, but I’m more intrigued if there is a sense of authenticity. Even though I’m not big into the moe aspect, I could forgive it if there’s good characters or stories involved.

        Looks like I’m the opposite of you because I’ve seen and reviewed multiple Panahi films, but I haven’t seen anything from Farhadi yet. Panahi is a great filmmaker. My first experience of his work was the docudrama This Is Not A Film which was mind-blowing. If it wasn’t for the fact that the movie was smuggled in a USB drive inside a cake mailed to the Cannes Film Festival (I can’t make this up), then it would’ve never seen the light of day.

        Very much so. I do like making certain connections especially if they involve hilarious in hindsight moments.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Honestly, that would be interesting because if K-On! was live action the Japanese aesthetic is very cosplay, very recreation of the the details and style of animation. I think because it is very pure “slice of life” you could strip it down and easily make it a neo-realistic. I mean the voice actresses went on later to perform the music from the show, so I think people found substance in the music, and characters outside of the really admirable KyoAni design.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. That does sound very fascinating putting it that way. It certainly doesn’t look like something you’d need CGI, special effects, or stunt doubles for a live-action remake if that were to happen That’s sweet about the voice actresses making music in real life.

        Liked by 1 person

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