The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

K-On! as Healing Anime: An Alternative Outlook

I was hoping to at least persuade Sorrow-kun to ask his reviewers to provide a second opinion of K-On! If they were not willing to raise its score up to a 6 of 10, at the very least, I believe that the reviews should be re-written to be more consistent with a 5 of 10 anime.

I’ve come across a non-trivial number blogs criticising K-On! for being an anime that is lacking in their eyes for a range of reasons. These blogs are perhaps the more well known ones, such as Behind the Nihon Review and Anime History; with a wider viewership, their opinions are (however invalid or poorly explained) much more likely to be heard than those of bloggers that are less well-known (such as myself), and as such, have the potential to negatively influence community opinion of anime that are respectable in their own right. I submit that K-On! carries a set of characteristics that allows it to be classified decisively as a “Healing Anime”, a sub-genre of slice-of-life. These anime are characterised by their depiction of life as a series of seemingly-unrelated events that may or may not reach a conclusion. These anime tend to focus on subtleties in the character’s environment, progressing at a very slow rate and depicting friendship dynamics in a manner as to invoke feelings of warmth, nostalgia and even melancholy. Thus, these anime can be seen as portraying elements in life that are oftentimes overlooked owing to our own mindset, and reminds us that sometimes, it is worthwhile to stop and smell the roses. The end result of watching such anime is analogous to aromatherapy in that the viewer exits feeling calmed. Definitions on what constitutes as a true healing anime vary: a open-minded viewer will consider an anime to be a healing one if it can evoke feelings of warmth and relaxation, while more stringent definitions will only allow these anime to be set in worlds considerably more different compared to our own. In general, healing anime are highly satisfying to watch during times of stress and trouble, but may come across as disappointing, underwhelming and insubstantial during times of peace and happiness (in the same individual!).

  • The original posts I refer to were written way back in June 2009. I come to the party about three-and-a-half years too late.

  • It’s business as usual, then, with images and captions that barely have any relevance to the text simply to liven up what would otherwise be an all-text article.

I do not intend to analyse the origins of the definition in this particular discussion, given that attempting to analyse anime and its related matters from a pseudo-academic perspective is counterproductive. At least one discussion out there has tried to define healing anime specifically by comparing it to the Greek term catharsis, but because anime is a current trend rather than something set in a particular, well-defined social context, the discussion is forced to make assumptions that are not necessarily true. Granted, their considerations about the Greek approach is correct because it is well-established, but these considerations cannot be contrasted with anime with seemingly similar effects. Another discussion attempts to strongly define the anime using literary contexts (specifically, plot and atmosphere). This proves inadequate for similar reasons: the examples they attempt to analyse are modern elements, and therefore, lack a third-party perspective, again, forcing the definition to be built upon assumptions. We will thus leave the definition for the present, and use the notion that “healing anime are ultimately successful at calming a viewer for depicting friendship and subtleties in life that are overlooked in reality” as our working definition.

  • My main reason in providing counterexamples to what well-known bloggers are citing as K-On!’s weaknesses is that I am looking to contest the claim that “popularity makes right” in the anime community. That is to say, just because a blogger is well-established does not give his opinion any more worth than those of a freshman.

  • My website is nearing its 5-year mark and is similar in age to more popular anime blogs. Unfortunately, it has not had anywhere near the same traffic or reach because of my provider’s limited bandwidth.

K-On! possesses all of the necessary traits to be considered a healing anime. The slow pacing and emphasis on the character interactions and their friendship, strongly establish that K-On! is not intended to be musically focussed. Tamayura ~Hitotose~ is an anime that definitively falls under the definition of a healing anime, and while the promotional material suggested that it was an anime about photography, the anime itself integrated photography with aspects of everyday life to drive character dynamics, much like how music is the underlying motivator for the girls in K-On! Tamayura ~Hitotose~ (and its predecessor OVAs) were well-received for being successful at doing so and will get a second season come Summer 2013. However, despite being designed in a similar manner, K-On! has been more widely criticised for its shortcomings. This is equivalent to hating Tamayura simply because the technical details of photography are absent; this would be an absurd reason. Both anime depict subtle elements in life, whether it be food, sunsets, weather or random occurrences, as well as how the characters respond to them and how their relationships grow as a result of these seemingly trivial events. Critics of K-On! claim that character growth (a vital aspect of the entire slice-of-life genre) is lacking. While the character growth of the individual is unchanged (and this is probably what the critics are noting), I contend that individual growth is not the sole determinant of slice-of-life. Instead, the character interactions as a group must be considered, specifically, how the group as a whole matures and how their relationships become reaffirmed as they pass through their experiences. In this regard, we see a rag-tag band experience festivals, school trips, days without air-conditioning or a club room to practise in, equipment-buying and performances together, becoming more familiar and close with one another as time progresses. Azusa herself notes that the group of characters possess flaws in their musical technique, but together, sound excellent anyhow. This mirrors their relationship, where individually, they are probably lacking, but as a group, synthesise interactions that make their music so heartfelt and parallels the importance of friendship, a critical aspect of healing anime.

  • Being late to the party sucks, although truthfully, I was not a K-On! fan back when the original articles and reviews were written and thus, disregarded them. My concerns are probably unfounded: at the very least, there appear to be plenty of K-On! fans out there.

  • I know what you’re thinking: great. Here’s another guy who thinks he can look Sorrow-kun and the other anime reviewers intellectually in the eye. Well, guess what? Anime cannot be assessed from an academic perspective.

Thus, in response to critics, I am probably offering one of the more well-defined counter-examples for why K-On! is allowed to be executed in the manner that it was. Fans of the series quickly pointed out the classic “it is what it is” arguments and maintained that K-On! was never intended to be ambitious to begin with. This is true in a sense; K-On! carries traits that allow it to be considered as a healing anime, rather than a classic moé comedy. I never felt comedy to be a vital or deliberate aspect in K-On!; the moments that induced a smile were motivated by a sense of endearment rather than through outrageousness. Ergo, K-On! critics will feel that K-On! is lacking because they are comparing it with anime from a different classification altogether. K-On! cannot distinguish itself from the moé-comedy genre because it does not fall into such a category. Similarly, people who went into K-On! expecting a drama of sorts would be disappointed for similar reasons: imagine a customer who is accidentally given a New York Cheesecake when they ordered a filet mignon. Those who walked in looking for over-the-top comedy are likely to be disappointed because the girls in K-On! do not go out of their way to make amusing things happen: rather, they react to changes in their environment and it is through these reactions that the heartwarming and occasional amusing moment emerges. This is, again, a prominent aspect of healing anime. Summarily, K-On! cannot be something more ambitious because simply, it is something else entirely. That is to say, it doesn’t need to be more funny per se because it does its job as a healing anime sufficiently well.

  • In truth, I believe that people who vehemently object to K-On! can simply choose not to watch it. Despite being an obvious solution, I have a feeling that those who do hate on it watch it precisely looking for things to hate. On that note, there is no such thing as ‘well-justified hate’ from an academic standpoint.

  • Spoiler alert: Kaioshin-sama was banned from AnimeSuki for his hard-line stance against KyoAni, as far as I can tell. While I might agree with his aim of making amends, I cannot sympathise with his plight, as he simply refuses to understand any of the merits found in K-On!

I began watching K-On! in the second academic term of my second year in University, a time period where my resolve and conviction as a honours student was tested to their limits. At the time, I was enrolled in organic chemistry II and data structures II, both of which are immensely time consuming courses. It was nearing the end of my semester, and I was not in satisfactory standing in either course at that point owing to the workload. Up until then, I was making a near-unreasonable time commitment to both courses to ensured that I had at least maintained a passing grade, at the expense of my other courses, and up until that point, I was faring poorly in my other courses as a result. As exams were approaching, I realised that I needed at least a little time off to relax, and picked up K-On! out of vain curiosity. I would watch these episodes at night after I had completed by work for that day, and I found myself loosening up a little after successive episodes. I began to perform as I once had and had finished the series as the finals began. I would end up raising my term mark back above satisfactory standing (in an honours program, that’s a 3.3, not a 2.4) once everything was said and done, and would proceed to watch the second season of K-On! after exams had ended. The relaxing, endearing moments in K-On! provided me with the calming I had required and allowed me to survive a difficult semester. Just this last summer, I watched the K-On! Movie on the day before I was scheduled to take the MCAT. I had already completed several practise full-length exams, but I was nonetheless concerned about the exam itself. Watching the girls run across the roof of their high school near the end was surprisingly calming, and I would walk into the exam room the next day with a slightly less anxious mindset.

  • In the post I refer to, the AnimeSuki moderator that banned Kaioshin-sama stated that the latter was insisting that the former was unable to grasp how people can claim something is excellent even where Kaioshin-sama himself did not see any merits. The entire post simply sums up to “the show sucks, and everyone who disagrees with me sucks”.

A moé-comedy certainly would not have directly influenced my mindset quite to the same extent as a healing anime. Other individuals have attributed watching K-On! to partially help them in getting through difficult times during their lives, as well, reinforcing that K-On! can full well be classified as a healing anime. People find K-On! enjoyable because it delivers the everyday happenings in the Houkago Tea Time in a simple manner, while the critics appear to have missed the point entirely in their attempts to analyse the anime from the assumption that K-On! could be a different genre. Thus, when I see well-known bloggers like Sorrow-kun and Kaioshin-sama write their own reflections on their series, I see a perspective that is guided by the assumption that K-On! is a moé-comedy. The series does not work for them because they are looking at it from a different angle. Consider the analogy of aromatherapy that was mentioned earlier: a stressed individual would doubtlessly find the scents to be soothing, whereas that same individual may be indifferent to or even be slightly irritated if they were to be calm and presently happy. Similarly, I find that K-On! falls under a similar pattern. Immensely enjoyable to those who are stressed, the show is a little difficult to stomach when one is already happy.

  • I have thus presented a similarly civilised approach towards providing a more detailed explanation of why the “it is what it is” and “ambition is irrelevant to K-On!” arguments are perfectly valid if elaborated upon as I’ve done here.

  • If I’m real lucky, Kevo, Fuu and AC will update their articles to better reflect the scores they gave. I also hope to have convinced the well-known anime bloggers that there is merit in K-On! from a particular perspective, and that hating it for the moé elements alone aren’t really justified regardless of the vocabulary one tries to use to defend their position.

Unfortunately, my assessment comes to the party a little too late: Sorrow-kun announced his leave of absence from Nihon review not more than two days ago given the completion of his PhD, and Kaioshin-sama was permanently banned from AnimeSuki for sabre-rattling. I was hoping to at least persuade the former to ask his reviewers to provide a second opinion of K-On! If they were not willing to raise its score up to a 6 of 10, at the very least, I believe that the reviews should be re-written to be more consistent with a 5 of 10 anime. Why do I defend K-On! as an anime? The answer is clear: it has helped people, myself included, pass through periods of trial and stress, it would be unfair to turn prospective viewers away simply because it seemingly doesn’t do its job from an alternate perspective. Of course, K-On! probably doesn’t need any backing: its sales figures indicate that it is an enjoyable anime for most people 🙂

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