A Review of “K-ON!” There’s No Better Combination then Music and Tea

“Not joining a club means you become a NEET?!” -Hirasawa Yui

So, March is Music Month. The moment I heard that uttered from the Samurai, I flatly told him I was doing this. He hadn’t seen it after all, he just knows I am a huge fan, but why? What is this series that took Japan by storm? Would you all like it? Well I’m gonna take a shot and convince you all in the Samurai’s style. It should be noted I’m totally biased towards the affirmative but I’ll try to be fair. Perfect scores don’t mean much right? I’m Andrain and this is my Full review of K-on!

Warnings and Notable Objectionable Content – It’s rated PG-13 by the Dubbers but that’s more of a safety thing. The worst we get is a single panty shot that will haunt one of our characters for the rest of her life. Ok fine, one of them is a Yuri Fangirl too… Overall this is an extremely clean show. It just has cute girls doing cute things and playing music on occasion.

Series Availability – “K-on!” was recently, and some say fatally licensed by Bandai (their last pick before going under) so the DVDs should be mixed around all over the place. At the time of writing, Season 2 entitled “K-on!!” is currently being prepared by Sentai Filmworks. Still the First season will be enough to work with for now and there should be plenty of them hanging around at your favorite stores.

Story Breakdown – “K-on!” goes for 13 episodes as a first season and tells the tale of a light music club. Light music in this context is pretty much a group of people getting together and jamming out while ignoring the rigors of a specific genre. Though, obviously, the choice of instruments will tend to guide a club towards a given destination. The Light Music Club in this fashion is certainly a Rock group. This series was brought together out of a 4-koma type manga and it completely defies expectations of Anime of this type. Normally in such Anime, you can almost feel like you’re reading the 4-koma at some points. The First few episodes of “Lucky Star!” are an example of this. “K-on!” feels a lot more smooth and while it is a random slice of life, it doesn’t have as many hard breaks as 4-koma would imply. The idea is extremely odd, Cute Girls doing Cute Things. That would have to get boring or on someone’s nerves awful quickly, because it seems the last thing this club does is practice music. Though they keep things entertaining somehow, bouncing in and out of school, and keeping events going quickly. The first season also takes up the first two years of the root cast’s school experience so they go through a lot of time quickly (Remember in Japan, High School goes for Three years). Honestly, the whole premise is hit or miss and wouldn’t hold up without everything else that came with this Anime. You are not watching this series for the never-ending Slice of Life that doesn’t go anywhere for the story. It’s everything else that comes with it. (23/25)

Characters –  Root Cast

Hirasawa Yui is an incoming freshman looking for a club. Yui is your general energetic clumsy girl. She goes by stretching this general archetype to the max. She isn’t good at sports, and she’s not so much into most of the Art Clubs. She joins the Light Music club expecting to play the Castanets. Yui is a selective Genius. She’s capable of impressive growth at any one course of study but quickly becoming more of an idiot in every other. Due to this bothersome talent, she takes relatively quickly to the guitar. She is the last member to join the club initially.

Akiyama Mio is the Band’s bassist. She takes the role as a mother figure to the group. Shy and reserved out in public, Mio’s somewhat stern personality only shines through when she’s with her good friends. Of course, Mio is also easy to embarrass and so she is usually the first target of any cosplay attempts which she resists to the utmost of her abilities. Otherwise, she tends to go with the flow a lot having intended to join the Lit club she was dragged into the K-on by her childhood friend. Also, she’s very proud of her left handiness Mio is Club member number 2.

Tainaka Ritsu is the Band’s Drummer. She’s what I call the ‘Osaka’ girl, ignoring the legendary Azumanga Daioh character, the Osaka type are the wild ones who… ugh…  marches to the beat of a different drum… *Shivers from the cold snap* Sorry Sorry. Anyway, Ritsu is the president who loves the Drums and has a go-for-it personality. Mio is her natural foil and the two compliment each other extremely well. Ristu is once again the President and first member, though she doesn’t take anything except the drums and tea time seriously.

Kotobuki Tsumugi is the band’s keyboarder. This is our Ojou-sama type or rich girl. Initially, she wanted to join the choir club but the antics of Mio and Ritsu were too interesting for her to resist. Mugi is a girl who knows only the rich life, so something as common as fast food is infinity interesting to her. She does her best to not let her money influence her interactions with the group, but the never-ending teas and pasties, as well as the sites for all their training camps are provided by her. Mugi also tends to put on Yuri goggles. She was the Third member.

Nakano Azusa is the Band’s Second Guitarist. Azusa joins the series halfway through while the other four are in their second year. Azusa begins initially as a serious guitarist who is appalled by her new club’s lack of desire to do much of anything. A few cat ears later and some guidance from her idol Mio causes her to join the fold. Otherwise, Azusa is the young serious type who wants to keep everyone going forward. If she could just keep Yui off of her.

Supporting Cast

Yamanaka Sawako, the club’s adviser and the girls’ home room teacher. Her past with the Light Music club is great, but I won’t spoil anything. I’ll just say she is more than she initially seems.

Manabe Nadoka is Yui’s Childhood friend. Nodaka always helped Yui get by with her crazy personality and continues to remain a good friend to the girl, but without the constant babysitting Nodaka is allowed to move forward and join the Student Council.

 Hirasawa Ui is Yui’s YOUNGER sister. It’s strange to think of though. Everything Yui seems to be lacking Ui actually has. The two of them look extremely alike with their hair down but Ui has a great gift for almost anything. She is the Band’s and her sister’s biggest fan. Some say a little to much of a fan of her sister.

The characters of this series are all very well-built. They’re given colorful and vibrant personalities that flow into all sorts of random hijinks. The characters are a really important part of what makes this series. If they weren’t spot on perfect, none of the other elements would flow quite right. (25/25)

Animation – The Animation is fine as are the character designs, the problem is it’s clear the staff were working on a tight budget since this whole thing was a pretty risky shot. There isn’t anything blatantly wrong though, the video seems kinda on the pale side in most cases. I can’t talk about the second season right now which got a nearly infinite budget for obvious reasons, but the animation is fluid and passable. No wasted frames and you do feel the characters come alive wonderfully. (10/12.5)

Music – This is what sets K-on apart from all other anime, Beck included. All of the music for this anime was produced with the girls in mind and sung by the girls. The Voice actors here have gone above and beyond EVERY expectation which I’ll cover more in-depth in the next section.  The first opening “Cagayake! Girls!”  really sets the stage and introduces to the band. Sung by Yui, it comes in two flavors, the original version and the 5-kon version for when Azusa joins the band. It’s a warm, fast paced song about girls living it up after school and getting that pent-up energy out. The ending, “Don’t Say Lazy”  in contrast, is a much heavier song sung by Mio. The animators really had some fun making this one and it’s an ending you just can’t skip no matter how many times you watch it. The other song of note is the song sung ‘live,’ “Fuwa Fuwa Time” (Or “Light and Fluffy Time”). They give this song a pretty awesome music video too making the music the true highlight of the series. “Fuwa Fuwa Time” was designed for Yui, but plot complications had Mio singing it and wow does it wow! I don’t want to undermine the system by giving 50 bonus points for the music alone but I cannot stress what Ho-kago Teatime (HTT or in English, Afterschool Teatime, the band name) can do musically. HTT is a band with a huge range in style with Yui and Mio providing vocals at the opposite ends of the spectrum, Yui going for cuter more upbeat songs, while Mio can pull mature passion into a… Better stop before Aika comes around… (12.5/12.5).

[Cajun Samurai – I would be in dereliction of duty if I did not do this…ahem…”SAPPY COMMENTS ARE PROHIBITED!!!!!”]

Performances and Production – This series was produced by Kyoto Studios and was directed by Naoko Yamada. Yamada-sensei has had her hand in some very very important projects before taking this one including Lucky Star, Haruhi, and Full Metal Panic. her experience is quite clear even if this is the first time she took the head of things. Stateside Bandai gave the Project to Tony Oliver who has an extremely impressive resume in the Dubbing community (Director of Please Teacher too). Now here’s where things split off, you all should know I watch the originals and often for good reason though that’s declining these days, however, I’m gonna be slightly critical of the English Staff for a reason most Otaku would shoot me for. To understand what I’m getting at, let’s talk about what Japan did and why this Anime is popular over there first.

To put it simply, the Music, Toyosaki Aki, Hikasa Yoko, Kotobuki Minako, Sato Satomi, and Taketasu Ayana (The V/As for Yui, Mio, Mugi, Ritsu, and Azusa respectively) are unbelievable performers of song. They’re Idol level in just music EASY! In fact, both Toyosaki-san and Hikasa-san were highly regarded artists before taking on K-on. Here’s Toyosaki-san’s “Kimi ni Arigato”  and Hikasa-san’s “Rhythm Dimension”

Like I said before all of 5 of these Voice actors made this work, They’re brilliant performers who were able to wear their characters’ personas live on stage. The fact that they given this chance, was a brilliant stroke by the staff.  The songs were written and the characters got to play them, Opening, ending, inside the series, I think this is what sets this Anime apart from Beck. I totally respect The Beat Crusaders, but I got to K-on first and, my thought was, Why wasn’t Beck doing the Music? That’s kinda lame.

Now on the American end Stephanie Sheh, Cristina Vee, Shelby Lindley, Cassandra Morris, and Christine Marie Cabanos played their parts extremely well. I’ll admit it, they weren’t bad. They captured the spirit of the girls really really well. That said, and sit down everyone, please let’s not draw targets on me because I’m only going to say this once, and I will probably never say it again. I was disappointed they took the Japanese Music and kept it. They Got Christie Vee there. If you guys didn’t know, Miss Vee knows how to Amercianize Anime Music. She does it and does it well! I wish with every ounce of my soul, that they stripped out every bit of the Japanese music and rerecorded it. That would have remained true to the Spirit of what made K-on!, K-on!. I know I’m probably in the minority of that opinion, but I firmly believe it would have been a better product that way. (Original 25/25, Dub 23/25)

Scoring Summary:

Story Breakdown – 23/25
Characters – 25/25
Animation – 10/12.5
Music – 12.5/12.5
Performance and Production – 25/25, 23/25

Final Score – 95.5/100 93.5 – A Squared

Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra):

Both, The OP AND ED are Certified PLATINUM Singles by the Recording Industry Association of Japan.

Mugi and her Japanese Voice actor share the same last name, but I bet you already caught that.

Both Mio and Mugi’s V/As have moved on with two other V/As to form the Group ‘Sphere’ which will have an Anime in Spring 2012 (I’ll be there!)

(Gezz I’m not as good at this as the Samurai  Please Comment and I’ll update!)

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