K-On! Volume 1

“I laugh at your conversational skills, or lack of” Idlewild – When I Argue I See Shapes

As a person who has constantly listened to new music for eleven years and considers BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad one of his favourite anime series to ever come out of Japan, I thought that K-ON! would be best suited for me: four girls setting up a music club at the start of high school and forming a band that works hard to create some great tunes – at least that’s what I thought.

The new project from studio Kyoto Animation that gave us the hugely popular The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya series and Lucky Star, K-ON! has also had great success and created a huge following in Japan.

We begin on a normal morning with one of main characters Yui Hirasawa rushing to her first day at high school and wondering if she should join a club. It is then that she finds an advertisement on the board for the light music club, which interests her, so she decides to sign up and meets the other three members: Mio Akiyama the bassist – who is shy but smart, Ritsu Tainaka the drummer (the one who reformed the club) – who is full of energy but can be childish, and Tsumugi Kotobuki the keyboardist – who is quiet but kind. Yui herself is a bit of a ditz but tries to have fun, no matter what. All four make their goal to rock the school and someday play at Budokan (this might be because it was the first place The Beatles made their Japanese tour debut).

So if you’re looking for a serious take on music-making like BECK, then this is hard to recommend. K-ON! is very light-hearted with its characters and setting; it attempts to balance the Slice of Life and Music genres (not all the time, sadly), all the characters interactions put a smile on your face and deliver some great moments (like the firework scene at the end of the box-set.) Guitars like the Gibson Les Paul are accurately identified and there are nods to music legends Jimi Hendrix and Ozzy Osbourne which are truly appreciated, so it feels as if the creators are familiar with some big name musicians.

The animation is flawless as well, the high school setting is absolutely convincing, and the backgrounds are truly beautiful at times. K-ON! is also the contender for the most “Moe” show of the year so far – for the most part it gives the characters more emotion and character, even parodying the concept. The dub does a good job, with all the voice actors fitting their characters’ personalties, although Stephanie Sheh voicing Yui can be too high-pitched at times.

Unfortunately, I do have some gripes which have prevented me from making a whole-hearted recommendation. There were times when I got really frustrated with the laziness of the band members; there are plenty of scenes showing the girls having tea and cake (which provide some humour) but rarely do you see all four members actually practising together. Hopefully in later episodes this issue will be cleared up. Plus Yui’s lack of concentration, while right for her character, can become annoying. K-ON! is very moe and cute, so if you don’t like that kind of thing, then it’s best to avoid the series.

The OP called “Cagayake! Girls” is a very bright and cheerful song that fits the show perfectly; the animation shows the group having fun and performing the song almost too well. You will either find it catchy or too cheesy. And if you thought that was out of place, the ED “Don’t Say Lazy” looks as if the group has already signed a record deal and are making videos on a regular basis; both aren’t bad but, for me, easily skippable.

The only extra provides an interview with English voice actor Stephanie Sheh – it’s a discussion on how she got the part of voicing Yui, the popularity of the series, and a message to all K-ON! fans.

In Summary

K-ON! is most definitely a love or hate anime; with only four episodes on the first disc, I’d recommend anyone to at least give it a shot, and to think of this as a chance to decide if you like it or not. I’d describe it as a good Slice of Life show with some great moments – but at this stage I’m unsure if I like it as a music series.

7 / 10