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Upon starting to watch K-On! for the first time I knew very little about the plot or structure of the show. I knew it was a cutesy looking anime about a group of school girls who started a band together. I assumed the genre was probably light J-Rock. That was about the extend of my knowledge of K-ON! from the offset.

The mental image I had of K-ON! prior to watching was ultimately pretty accurate. It’s an easy to watch light hearted show about young girls trying to start a band. There’s a little too much non band related filler and the show cwould certainly benefit from having a bunch of content cut for pacing, there is something here to enjoy.

Season One

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Season one of K-ON! spends a rather long time getting up to speed. Initially focusing too heavily on low pace character development and heavy handed exposition, K-ON!’s early episodes fail to really capture the aspects of the show that really appealed to me.

The first five or so episodes were watchable enough. Shy cutesy girls trying to make friends and grow closer together was never unpleasant or unwatchable, but without the core of working together as a band to pull the group together, there was just not enough structure to the early narrative.

Episodes in the early part of season one were also very heavily reliant on unrelatable levels of plot convenience. The super expensive guitar is available for almost free because one of the main cast happens to own the shop. Girl joins the band with no musical knowledge but is able to instantly pick up complex skills with ease. A lot of the plot makes unnatural jumps in order to arbitrarily jump around self constructed plot holes.

However, once the show starts focusing on the group of friends as a band rather than just a loose group of friends, the narrative picks up considerably. Episodes touching on development of callouses, the nerves of live performance, over practicing before your first show to the point you destroy your voice and song written with overly simplistic lyrics all felt incredibly reminiscent of my own teen years trying to start a band with a bunch of kids who didn’t really know what they were doing.

While these moment of K-ON! are spread out far too thin, with considerable amounts of filler and fluff in between, it’s hard to deny that K-ON! is a show that at times really captures a relatable core regarding many of the intricate, imperfect aspects of being in your first band. It is a show that understands the excitement, the fumbling, the practice sessions dedicated to anything but actually playing music together and the feeling of rockstar success that comes from throwing a handful of rough song at an audience that are entirely your own creations.

I certainly enjoyed watching the first season of K-ON!, even if it wasn’t always the show I wanted it to be. It was at times meandering, at times directionless and at times filler more than plot, but those sections of the show never failed to be light hearted, well written and generally pleasent background noise.

When it was actually focusing on being a teenage band, it really did capture that mentality well. It was worth watching if just for the moments it happened to resonate with my own personal experiences.

Season Two

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K-ON!’s second season to me was a bit of a let down, mainly due to poor choices made regarding focus, pacing and length. Put simply, it was twice as long, spent considerably longer focusing on non band elements and if anything decreased its focus on a young band trying to find their feet together.

Much of K-ON!’s second season is about everyday life at school. A focus on moving on, deciding what academic path your adulthood might follow, the fear of leaving your friends behind and the necessary focus on getting good grades as you finish school.

Sure there’s still band content, and yes the content that focuses on school life is well written and enjoyable, but it’s not what I came into K-ON! hoping for, or the content that personally resonated with me. That was a shame.

Still, some of it’s moments of focusing on the band itself were incredibly strong. Probably my favourite single episode of K-ON! was a season 2 episode about the drummer getting fed up of being at the back, hidden away, onstage and in their music videos. As a drummer myself I certainly understood and appreciated the focus of the episode, and I really enjoyed watching the drummer, like myself, eventually finding solace in bands like The Who and the way their drummers were able to command focus regardless of their positioning on stage.

While K-ON! season two isn’t as strong overall as the first season, it did contain some of my favourite episodes of the entire show. It’s just a shame the content I was enjoying was spread out even more thinly.

The Movie

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K-ON!’s movie takes place on a group trip to London and probably had the best balance of band focus to other topic among the three sections of the show. Set around a misunderstanding that sees our heroes playing a show in the place of another band, it did a really great job capturing some of the risk taking and reckless fun that can be had in young bands.

Oh, and when watching the subbed version, the attempts at English were pretty damn adorable.

K-ON’s movie was a really nice book end to watching through the whole show in order. It was a send off to the cast that focused on the aspects I most enjoyed in the show, while minimising the filler content. It left me looking back on season two in particular and wishing that we could have seen a season several episodes shorter, with a much tighter focus and a shorter running time.

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Ha! I pretty much guessed you would have these gripes about how the show is structured. As a “retired anime veteran” who, once upon a time, watched quite a lot of anime, I’ll write up something of an analysis from the industry level, which hopefully will make K-ON! make a bit more sense

    K-ON! is a mass-market anime made with a blend of two of the biggest anime genres.

    The first genre is “nichijou”, which literally means “daily life”. It focuses on the micro-dramas bred from daily drivels and gives them a brighter tint, and from the way you described it, K-ON! has a lot of that. One could probably call it filler-content, except there are entire shows that were made completely out of it (Minami-ke is the first came to mind). It’s something you watch after a long-ass day, take a shower, grab a cold one (or some snack), shut down your brain and have a giggle. According to the Internet, most Japanese people, especially urban dwellers, live life in the hard mode, and nichijou content is probably aimed toward them. Something to watching in order to relax. Decompress. It’s filler-content with an agenda.

    The other genre is what I would call “high-school band/idol” genre. It’s writing on the wall that Japanese anime has a particular fondness of high-school, which I’ll just say it’s a culture thing. High-school setting provides a unique playground to develop innocent camaraderie, and LOTS of anime follow that archetype – it could have been a monster-slaying secret society set in a high-school, it could be ghost hunters, sports team (ahem Free! ahem), and of course, bands. And bands/idol group is particularly welcomed by both consumers and producers, because one, music is a low barrier-of-entry consumer good, and two, anime publishers make extra money from selling music based on these anime, live concerts, etc. There’s also this sense of development during the life of a band which is ideal to build management videogames upon (The Idolmaster). All of these guarantees that a successful high-school band story will make you a shit ton of money. Idolmaster, Love Live are both prime example of that. Lately Kyoto Animation – producer of K-ON! – themselves is trying to replicate the success by anime-fying Sound! Euphonium, which is about a high-school classical music band. I have no idea how well financially it’s doing.

    Speaking of Kyoto Animation, aka “Kyoani” for short, they’re like the equivalence of DICE in anime business, with a rather incredible backlog, who every now and then tries to innovate but always goes back to mass-market production. If you’re looking for their best stuff, allow me to introduce you to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. It came before K-ON! and really plays with the idea of why an ordinary person would imagine. Season 1 is pretty damn great, season 2 can be ignored mostly, and the movie, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, is absolutely classic. Lucky Star is another classic. If you can bare with its somewhat outdated drawing style, Lucky Star is basically a self-aware comedy that tackles and contextualizes a lot of anime tropes.

    Though I would say Kyoani’s greatest creation yet is Nichijou (and yes, “Nichijou” is its title). It takes the “nichijou” trope and completely breaks the 4th walls with it and it’s FUCKING BONKERS. It still makes me sad that it sold like 1/20 of K-ON!’s. I mean, just look at this shit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QBoFaYtjCFc

  2. I won’t leave a long reply like the other guy (and I agree with much of what he says)

    I do think you kind of missed the point of K-On! with calling much of the episodes filler. The anime is slice of life, the band elements are the seasoning to this, even the manga was never focused on the whole band aspects of this, instead it’s moe and focused on their friendships. The anime even draws attention to the fact the band elements aren’t supposed to be a big thing and is just a side story to the whole thing, that’s why they spend their time sitting around drinking tea, eating sweets and talking instead of practising.
    I would say you got stuck on the band aspect and had your idea of what this anime ‘should be’ and missed what it ‘is’ a school slice of life anime about a group of girls who are friends, it’s a lot like Lucky Star and you wouldn’t complain that there wasn’t enough focus on cheer leading in that one, except in this they just happen to form and be in a band (rather than cheerleaders)
    Amusingly the bits you disliked are probably the bits that most K-On! fans like about this anime, it’s laid back, light hearted, easy breezy.
    As for getting the guitar for almost free and you calling that plot convenience, it’s actually at the heart of Mugi’s character and one of the first times we see that with her character which is why it’s there, she’s super rich and from a super rich family who’s business consortium owns a lot of things, it’s the running joke with them getting things free or nearly free because of Mugi being so rich (or convenient co-incidence from Sawa-chan), she’s the rich girl enamoured with common things and common people and wants to be treated like common people (both the embodiment of the trope and the Pulp song)

    You may prefer Hibike Euphonium, same studio, same style but more focused on the music / band aspect. I don’t know if you should bother with Sora No Woto as that has slice of life aspects to it and takes its story slowly because of that, (and again it’s Kyoani, and does have a small music aspect to it as well as being moe, it’s like K-On! in the military in a backwater base during a period of ceasefire) but it is a really nice anime.

    Laura do you maintain a list of the anime you’ve seen, maybe even with links to your reviews?

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