K-On!, which originally debuted as a manga in 2007, was a series that has made quite the impact on the anime world. When it was adapted into an anime by Kyoto Animation, the music in the show was credited to Ho-Kago Tea Time, the fictional band at the heart of the story. Ho-Kago Tea Time would go on to have the first anime image song to top Japan’s Oricon singles chart. Now creator kakifly has returned with a spin-off to their original creation.
While the original series focused on the antics of a band at Sakuragaoka High School, K-On! Shuffle begins with two girls from another school visiting Sakuragaoka during a school festival: Yukari Sakuma, whose older sister Kurumi is a Sakuragaoka student, and Yukari’s friend Kaede Shimizu. They both stumble upon a performance by Ho-Kago Tea Time, which inspires them to form their own band back at their school.
Yukari and Kaede thus visit the school’s pop music society, along with their classmate Maho Sawabe. However, it turns out the society only has one member: Riko Satou, a girl who knows lots about pop music but does not play any instruments herself. She is alone in the club due to the other members concentrating on exams, moving away, or just dropping out. Thus, the club is in danger of being closed down, but the new trio all decide to join – despite the fact that none of them have much musical experience, and Maho is already in the school’s basketball club.
The series then follows the society as they learn how to play: Yukari takes up the drums, Kaede the bass, and Maho the guitar, while Riko helps to educate the trio about music. Later on in this first volume, they are joined by another member: Shinano Iwasaki, a girl who decided to study abroad so she could learn more about her favourite styles of music in the country they originated from, who has since moved back to Japan.
In terms of style, Shuffle is very similar to the original K-On!, with its pleasing artwork and presented in the four-panel yonkoma comic strip style. This style does mean that the comic takes some time to read despite it being shorter than most collections: 118 pages, plus translation notes (there is also a considerable amount of advertising for other Yen Press titles in the back). Regarding production of the manga, some readers might take issue with Stephen Paul’s translation, due to the decision to dispense with certain accented letters. For example, in the original Japanese Riko Satou’s surname is written as “Satō”, but Paul instead goes for the more phonetic translation. This may annoy some purists, but personally speaking I have no major objection to it.
For fans of the original series, there are cameo appearances of several K-On! characters in Shuffle. This mainly occurs in one storyline where Yukari dresses in her sister’s Sakuragaoka school uniform to get into the school to find out more info on Ho-Kago Tea Time. Perhaps the best joke in the manga is when she finally finds the band, but as normal with them they are spending their time having tea instead of playing, and Yukari shuts the door to the room disappointed, thinking she has instead stumbled on a culinary club.
This is perhaps the biggest problem with Shuffle: being a spin-off, it is always going to be in the shadow of the original. The fact that the cameo of the original characters feels like the best moment in this first volume is a worrying sign. However, once the manga is able to find its own feet, it may well develop into something more unique. The fact that Shuffle does follow primarily an entirely new set of characters means it can be enjoyed in its own right without having to read the original K-On!, but it will take time to see how good it will be in comparison to the original.
Our review copy from Yen Press was supplied by Diamond Book Distributors UK.