Yui Hirasawa is just beginning her first year at Sakuragaoka High School. She feels the need to join one of the many clubs the school has to offer but can’t decide which one. That is, until she comes across the Light Music Club which just so happens to be in dire straits and is in desperate need of a fourth member in order to prevent their club from being disbanded! Members of the Light Music Club include bass guitarist Mio Akiyama, drummer Ritsu Tainaka, and keyboardist Tsumugi Kotobuki. Yui is hesitant to join because she doesn’t know how to play the guitar much less any instrument besides the castanets, but is quickly lured in by their delicious cake and sweets and ends up joining the club even without any musicality. From that point on the majority of the show revolves around their time practicing, hanging out and performing at the school.
K-ON! is more of a domestic phenomenon than an international one. That’s not to say there isn’t an audience for this kind of show in the western world, it’s just smaller. It’s known to many as the epitome of moe or the holy grail of all moe shows for lack of a better term. K-ON! originated as a 4-Panel manga serialized in the magazine Manga Time Kirara, but has found success in other media such as a two season TV series, a rhythm video game and a theatrical movie in Japan.
One of the biggest problems that K-ON! has is that its plot is often unclear and seemingly bipolar -- one minute they’re getting ready to practice only for them to sit and drink some tea. This happens so often that you really don’t get a firm grasp of what the show is actually about. Is it about a group of girls in a school club playing music? Sort of. Is it more about the character interactions and their relationships? Kind of. It ends up as more of a mishmash combination of the two, while the pacing is so relaxed that it can really test your patience depending on your expectations.
Where the plot and pacing may falter, it’s the unexpectedly intriguing characters relationships that effectively pull us through even though the characters themselves aren’t all that deep. It’s more than just another show with an agenda and a checklist of moe archetypes. All the main characters have their own unique characteristics such as Yui finding out that she has absolute pitch. Sure she’s an airhead and is forgetful, but once she sets her mind on something she achieves her goal. This is only limited to one thing at a time however (and is at the expense of deteriorating her other skills). Throughout the show you really sense the girl’s relationships getting stronger and stronger, from their time spent in the clubroom practicing to their exploits during their “band camp.” This aspect of the show is what I personally think is one of K-ON!’s greatest strengths.
The studio who does the animation for the show is Kyoto Animation or KyoAni for short. Some other shows they’ve done include Air, Full Metal Panic!, Lucky Star and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. I have to say for a slice of life comedy the animation is beautiful and fluid with excellent attention to detail. The animation is at its best when the girls are playing their instruments, and while I’m no expert at identifying them, the two that I recognized immediately were the Gibson Les Paul guitar and the Fender Jazz Bass played by Yui and Mio respectively. As for the character designs, they might take a while to get used to with the most noticeable thing being the characters’ noses, which are basically just a small dot. Other than that it’s the typical moe style with a huge emphasis on cuteness that one’s come to expect from this type of show.
I have to admit that my favorite dubbing studio is Bang Zoom! Entertainment, so I was quite excited when I saw they had taken on the dubbing role for K-ON!. In my opinion, they have proven time and time again that English dubs are competent and can complement the subs well for a completely different experience. Cristina Valenzuela as Mio Akiyama gives a noteworthy performance and is a great alternative for her Japanese counterpart Yōko Hikasa. Valenzuela’s performance remains faithful to the character and dub fans can rest easy knowing Mio still gives off that mature for her age but still endearingly shy vibe. Overall the entire main cast gives solid performances for their characters.
The same can be said for the Japanese seiyū who deliver stellar performances as well. Aki Toyosaki and Yoko Hikasa are the standouts, each giving a unique charm to their characters. Toyosaki gives main character Yui the perfect blend of cute and ditzy-ness in her presentation. Hikasa plays Mio like a pro and delivers the definitive Mio performance. Whichever language you decided to choose you shouldn’t be disappointed.
K-ON! should be taken for what it really is and not for what it could have been. If you were expecting something along the lines of Beck, then I would look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for a silly and light-hearted show with endearing characters, then I would give this one a try because, in the end, this show is more about the characters hanging out and having fun while all the other aspects take a back seat. Even though the characters and story may not be deep or complex, it manages to emphasize their camaraderie very well. K-ON! may not win anyone over with its story or character development, but it’s still one I’d recommend to any open-minded or moe fan out there who hasn’t seen it. It’s a show that has to be experienced to understand what it’s really like.