I like to think of myself as someone with pretty thick skin. Not in the sense that I’m an emotionless person who’s too manly to cry and devoid of empathy. What I mean is, it’s generally really hard to hurt my feelings. But I can’t lie on the internet (it’s the law), so I’ll be completely honest with all of you. When the K-On! season 2 finale finished and the words “The End” popped up on my screen, my feelings were very hurt. This show held a place in my watch-list for several months as I worked hard to savor every episode. But part of the journey is the end, and I have finally reached it. Here are my final thoughts. Spoilers ahead.
You might have noticed that I tagged this particular post with three
fancy tags instead of the usual two. This review is meant to cover all K-On! material, which is two seasons, a bunch of extras, and a movie. I won’t go into too many plot specifics, but again, I’m not delicate enough to avoid all spoilers, so don’t read this expecting that.
If you’ve spent almost any time watching anime, the setting for this one will be very familiar. We’re at a high school. Our protagonists are students. They’re in a club together. Time to watch them experience life. This club is the “Light Music Club” (aka band music). It’s all what you would expect from a Slice of Life anime. The magic is in the characters, and these characters are utterly magical.
On the surface (and deep down under, too) this anime could almost be a mascot for the “cute girls doing cute things” genre of anime. They’re endearing with huge personalities, many of them so different I’m not even sure why it worked. Seriously, watching their personalities mix and interact is probably entertaining enough to justify watching this anime.
The large personalities aren’t simply gimmicks that are meant to add comedic effect or the illusion of diversity. They are dynamic and they grow. Throughout the entire show you can see them slowly molding and changing one another as they collide over afternoon
music practice tea and sweets. You can see the bonds of genuine friendship all strengthening between each other, giving the show the momentum it needs to sustain 40+ episodes and a movie without feeling tired or drawn out (seriously, that’s a lot of time to fill for a slice of life). It’s so subtle that you almost don’t realize that it happened until it shows it’s full array of colors in the end.
While most of this growth may be filled with comedic moments, you can see it really pay off when the show takes a more serious tone, especially towards the end of season 2. The members of the band include four people in the same class, and then (eventually) one underclassmen. By the end of the second season, the members begin to realize that this means graduation will eventually leave one of them alone while the other four move on with their lives. The show spends a lot of time showing the band members move through what is an ultimately painful process of separation. It’s surprisingly heartfelt and meaningful for a show that is typically a comedy, and I’d be lying (again, illegal on the internet) if I said I didn’t shed a single tear over it.
It feels a bit like a cliche to talk about anime and the strength of friendship (thanks, Yu-Gi-Oh), but you can see how it genuinely applies as the band-mates say goodbye to the underclassmen who now runs a Light Music Club of one.
You can’t write a review about K-On! and not talk about the comedy (well, I guess you could but it would be a glaringly incomplete review). I was amazed at the level of clever verbal and physical (not just slapstick) comedy that this show contained. It was almost overflowing with quick jokes and fun moments. Everything from grandma duo routines to some of the funniest art style swaps I’ve seen in a long time (KyoAni flexing those art muscles) are on full display, and it seems like they never run out of ideas.
Like their personalities, the humor of the characters also evolves. Even jokes based purely on the girls personalities continue to evolve and change. Instead of relying on a small set of gags to keep the lighthearted humor flowing, the characters build and play off of each other until they reach best friend levels of humor that seem almost impossible.
Like other good comedy anime, this show is backed by top talent voice acting that deliver those jokes perfectly. I can only imagine how many times they cracked themselves up in the recording studio trying to get through some of these scripts. Many people wish they could be a fly on the wall to listen in on top secret meetings and private conversations, but I’m not one of them. I just want to sit in and listen to the magic unfold for a K-On! recording session.
I think you can break voice acting down into three basic categories, and two of them make the audience notice them. The first category is bad voice acting. Bad voice acting is almost always immediately noticeable for a number of reasons, including things like they don’t seem genuinely interested in the script or the delivery doesn’t match the animation or character personality. The second is average/acceptable voice acting. This is the most likely to go unnoticed. It’s adequate and gets the job done nicely. The third is incredible voice acting, which is also almost immediately noticeable. You can feel genuine interest in the character and script delivery; it always feels extra special to find an anime with incredible voice acting, and this is where K-On! falls.
That voice acting talent extends beyond the five main club members. Childhood friends, siblings, and the club advisor/home room teacher can all stand with the rest of them. KyoAni created something wonderful with this one.
This is a special anime. By the time you’ve reached the end, it feels like you have spent a huge amount of time with these five girls, watching them grow up in a way (the show spans the beginning of their first year to graduation). It’s leaves you feeling bittersweet; I am grateful for the time I had with the show, but I do feel a genuine small emptiness now that it’s over. Of course, I can (and will) rewatch it, but there is something wonderful about experiencing an anime like this for the first time.
I strongly urge everyone to give this show a try. It obviously won’t be for everybody, but I think it’s good enough to warrant at least trying it out. If you’re a fan of comedy, slice of life, or music anime and somehow haven’t already watched it, this is definitely a must see anime for you. I can almost guarantee you won’t regret it.