The Infinite Zenith

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

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: K-On!!, Appreciating Everyday Life at After School Teatime and The Road to Graduation At the Nine Year Anniversary

I would like to give you every ounce of my gratitude
And send it to you through this song
This is a feeling I will never, ever forget

–U & I

With third year in full swing for Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi, the light music club focus on getting new members so Asuza won’t be alone when they graduate. Their efforts come to naught, and the girls’ days in high school continue as they clean out the clubroom, go on a class trip while Azusa remains behind with Ui and Jun, struggle to deal with the rainy season and perform for the Mio Fan Club, which Nodoka had inherited when Megumi Sokabe graduated. Besides keeping up with their practise, the girls also must find time to study for their exams and decide on their career paths for the future. Yui is able to pass her exams and decides to become a teacher, being inspired by Sawako. Summer soon arrives, and the girls spend time together at a summer music festival with Sawako. While the girls turn their attention towards studying for their entrance exams, Azusa worries about the light music club’s future. The school’s cultural festival draws near: Mio and Ritsu manage to master their leading roles in the school play, Romeo and Juliet, and later put on a spectacular concert for their classmates. The concert also brings to light the fact that this is everyone’s last year together, and as graduation draws near for Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi, the girls work to bring Azusa a farewell gift in between their own preparations for graduation. On the day of graduation, after the ceremony ends, the girls perform one final time for Azusa with Tenshi no Fureta Yo!, a special song dedicated to her being with them throughout their time as members of After School Teatime. K-On!‘s second season, K-On!! comprises of twenty-four episodes that detail Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi’s final year of high school and their appreciation for Azusa’s membership with a much finer granularity than the first season: while both the first and second seasons cover two manga volumes, the extended runtime of K-On!! provides a much greater insight as to how close Azusa and Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi have become during their time together. During its run, K-On!! deals with two overlapping themes. The series’ length means that everyday moments are shown in great detail to denote an appreciation for the everyday, and this time creates memories that ultimately can make it difficult to part ways: as K-On!! continues, Azusa’s desire to spend one more year with Yui and the others becomes increasingly evident.

More so than even the first season, K-On!! accentuates the importance of everyday moments. Whereas the original manga had created humour from the brevity of its moments, the anime extends these moments, depicting every subtle detail and placing focus on elements that would otherwise be ignored. Ordinary things like drying off after the rain, or working to get a working air conditioning unit in the clubroom are presented as an integral part of K-On!!, no different than watching the girls discuss their future plans and concerts over cake and tea, or performing on stage. While some feel that the focus on the mundane detracts from K-On!!, especially in the form that the second season takes, the protracted and frequent focus on everyday life serves a critical purpose for the series – K-On!‘s first season saw Mio compose most of the music that After School Teatime performs, and so, most of the lyrics were sappy, sentimental. By K-On!!, Yui is also involved in writing some of the songs. While Mio’s songs are composed from her feelings, which are decidedly more abstract, Yui is more straightforwards, and so, K-On!! can be said to be giving viewers insight into the sorts of things that Yui and the others experience, which feed into the energy and optimism of their performances. Despite their songs speaking to ordinary things, whether it be the joys of curry rice, strawberry parfaits or how rice can be a main course on its own, After School Teatime presents their music with a carefree, happy-go-lucky approach that perfectly reflects their lives. This is an indicator that the music of K-On!! doesn’t come out of nowhere, and that almost anything, with the right mindset and composition, can be turned into music: After School Teatime’s music is definitely a testament to Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Mugi and Asuza’s love for simple but treasured moments spent with one another, and in a chaotic, hectic world, there is most certainly meaning in stopping to smell the roses.

The culmination of these simple but heartwarming memories during their time as high school students creates a sense of belonging, of happy days spent together. However, nothing is truly infinite, and like all things, high school draws to a close; Azusa, being the junior member of After School Teatime, has grown very much accustomed to the eccentricities and antics that Yui and the others participate in, and while she may put on a tough, serious front to focus on music, the reality is that she’s come to greatly appreciate everything the others have done for her. As K-On!! wears on, Azusa begins to wonder about the hand-off in the light music club: once Yui and the seniors graduate, she’ll need to take over and run the club. Besides searching for new members and becoming familiar with the responsibilities of being the president, Azusa also will miss her friends greatly. This worry for the future slowly creeps into K-On!! – as she spends more time with each of Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi, Azusa realises that she doesn’t want any of them to leave. Following the culture festival, the entire band sheds tears as they realise this. For Azusa, these feelings come out in full during the finale: having long masked her doubts, Azusa finally comes into the open with respect to how she feels about Yui and the others, begging them to stay. While Azusa has definitely been grateful for seniors who looked after her, it turns out that Yui and the others feel precisely the same way, counting it a great blessing to have had Azusa accompany them on their journey. While it is goodbye for present, graduation is not really the end; each of Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi capture this in a song they perform for Azusa, and in its lyrics, they thank her from the bottom of their hearts. Just because they are due to separate for the present doesn’t mean that the memories will be lost, and so, K-On!! shows that the ending of one journey simply is the beginning of another one: while moments are transient and fleeting, memories have a much stronger endurance and will remain with one unto eternity. The second season definitely takes its time in presenting these messages, but the extended run-time really allows K-On!! to vividly portray the strength of friendship and then capture this anew in the form of music, showing how there is magic in the mundane.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Compared to K-On!K-On!! (differentiated with a second exclamation point) has twice the runtime and therefore, progresses at an even slower pace than its predecessor. This works to the series’ advantage: K-On!! is about an appreciation of things in life that we often take for granted, and showing seemingly unrelated events that Yui and the others experience encourages viewers to slow down and live in the moment, enjoying moments spent with people important in one’s life.

  • K-On!! also sports upgraded artwork and animation compared to that of K-On! – lighting is much more detailed, and the settings have more depth to them compared to the flatter, simpler designs of the first season. Character movement is also more fluid, and consistently animated. The techniques and style used in K-On!! would eventually be applied to Tamako Market and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon-Maid, giving their respective characters a beautiful world to interact in and explore.

  • While K-On! had been about Azusa’s entry into the light music club, K-On!! also begins to entertain the idea that with Yui and the others about to graduate, there also is a need for a successor. Azusa is well-suited for the role, and in the manga, she does eventually accept the mantle of responsibility that being the light music club’s president requires. To hint at this, Azusa is shown spending more time with Ui and Jun: such moments establish that outside of Mio, Mugi, Yui and Ritsu, Azusa does have friends with whom she is close to.

  • In a given day, After School Teatime lives up to their name and is rarely seen without tea and some sort of cake or pastry close at hand. The kind of tea the girls are seen drinking is never specified, since K-On!! isn’t about the tea, but I would guess that Mugi typically brings in an Earl Gray or even Rooibos: the former is paired with the deserts nicely, and Rooibos tea is a very healthy option, as well. I personally prefer Chamomile or peppermint tea in the midday, and Rooibos in the late afternoon.

  • Moments such as Mugi helping Yui dry off during the rainy season might add nothing of note to the overall story in K-On!!, but it shows that the series is very much committed to bringing the manga to life and bringing out the joy in each moment. The manga is actually a lot more concise than the anime: the first season adopted the first two volumes, and the second season is an adaptation of the second two volumes. The final two volumes of K-On! never received adaptations.

  • Animating Yui, Mio and Azusa playing their instruments was no easy feat, and lessons learnt from bringing bass and guitar to life in K-On! would feed into the techniques used in Hibike! EuphoniumK-On! might be seen as a lesser essay in the craft, a warm up act, since Hibike! Euphonium‘s instruments are animated and presented with an even greater level of detail. Their latest movie is set to release in November, and I’ve been able to keep my distance from the spoilers surprisingly well.

  • During the course of K-On!!, the light music club finds itself in a memorable trip to Kyoto, deals with cleaning up the clutter in the club room and even performing for the Mio Fan Club, which spawned as a result of Mio’s accident during their first-ever performance. Mio reluctantly participates, being prone to embarrassment whenever recalling the incident, but warms up to the Fan Club, who dedicate to Mio a slideshow of her best moments with After School Tea Time.

  • A part of K-On!! is the lingering and impending doom that is examinations. Exams in Japan are of a much greater importance than the exams I sat in Canada, as they determine which institutes one can apply for, and then one must also pass the entrance examinations to attain admittance into their school of choice. Conversely, my experiences were that I wrote standardised exams during my final year of high school and spanked those, scoring near-perfect scores on everything and then was admitted to the university’s Health Sciences honours programme.

  • I still remember the days I spent studying for those exams, and in university, found that my old approach of studying for exams alone began to feel ineffectual. When I watched K-On!!, I was going through the toughest term I’d experienced in my undergraduate programme, and ultimately overcame this particular hurdle by studying with others. Watching K-On!! helped me to accept my peers’ requests to study with them: here, Mio and the others prepare for an exam. It is actually quite fortunate that I found K-On! when I did: I had came across the series by pure chance when looking up parodies of Gundam 00, and then took a liking to the music in K-On!.

  • After hearing Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!, I knew I would need to complete the whole journey of K-On! to get a better context for what made the song so stand-out. Here, Azusa and Yui spend some time together in preparation for a talent show that an elderly lady suggests that Yui participate in. A few of the episodes in K-On!! are spent showing how Yui prepares for this show while simultaneously studying for her exams.

  • In the end, Yui passes her exams with a strong performance, and then proceeds to perform in the talent show. Although she and Azusa do not win, Yui offers their consolation prize to the elderly lady as thanks for always looking after her. Such gestures are what makes K-On! a strong series, and while Yui might not possess the characteristics of a focused, purposeful protagonist, her kindness more than offsets any shortcomings she may have.

  • When the girls overhear Sawako on the phone planning meeting an unknown individual, they imagine Sawako’s managed to find a significant other. Deciding to tail her with field-craft that would make John Clark proud, it turns out that Sawako was meeting with Norimi, an old friend from Sawako’s time as a student. It turns out that Norimi was asked to perform at a friend’s wedding but was unable to convince Sawako to play alongside them, so Yui is asked to step in. Watching Yui’s performance prompts Sawako to step back in.

  • The last summer for everyone soon arrives, and the club’s attention turns towards securing a new air conditioning unit when it turns out their club room actually lacked one. Once this is done, Sawako invites everyone to a music festival in the mountains. K-On!! made use of a diverse colour palette during its run: the choice of saturation, hues and lighting are far more sophisticated than those of the first season, giving backgrounds much more depth and life. However, the improved visuals do not detract from the characters themselves, and the visual aspects of K-On!! would continue to improve, culminating in the movie.

  • Despite a rough start to the summer music festival thanks to the crowds and heat, the girls manage to enjoy things nonetheless. They promise to perform together at the next summer festival in a touching moment; viewers will know that such a moment will never materialise since, besides Azusa, everyone is entering the endgame for their high school career. Subtle reminders such as these gently remind viewers that all things must come to an end. This year’s summer is similarly approaching its end, and yesterday was the Mid Autumn Festival, which I celebrated alone with homemade fried pork chops and moon cakes. Today, I went out into the badlands of Alberta to explore a ghost town and also took a short walk amongst the cliffs of the Red Deer River Valley.

  • The evening ended at the Last Chance Saloon in a semi-ghost town of Wayne, where I sat down to their Evolution Burger, a six-ounce prime rib burger with cheddar cheese, bacon, onion rings, lettuce, tomato, dill pickle, and their special house sauce on toasted bun with a massive side of fries. This burger was well worth the hour-and-a-half drive it took to get to Wayne, being tender, juicy and flavourful: the inclusion of onion rings added a crunchy and rich flavour to the burger. I’d actually been interested in visiting the Last Chance Saloon since January, and it was only now that a weekend opened itself for this short excursion out into the badlands of Alberta, making an enjoyable end to this year’s summer. Back in K-On!!, a whole episode is dedicated towards Azusa spending time with Jun and Ui in a mixture of events and dream sequences to accentuate their friendship.

  • Focus on the girls who would later become Wakaba Girl (literally “fresh leaf girl”, after the leaf stickers given to newly-minted drivers in Japan) sets up the notion that after After School Teatime, the light music club is in excellent hands: Azusa is a skillful player, Jun has jazz background and Ui is able to excel in almost everything she puts her mind to. Even without an adaptation or knowledge of the manga, K-On!! did an excellent job of showing how the torch was passed on.

  • Unlike K-On!‘s first season, which was met with polarised reception, K-On!!‘s second season was not subjected towards the same treatment: no dissertations arguing the series’ perceived flaws from the internet’s more vocal critics were found, and it appeared that the original criticism pieces were (thankfully) not regarded as having any degree of value. My counterarguments remain simple enough: K-On!! was never meant to be about the music, but rather, a journey of discovery, appreciation of people one becomes close to and what farewell means. Claims that K-On!! was “wasted potential” or similar is akin to wondering why one cannot carry large volumes of cargo in an aircraft or ship designed for passengers.

  • As most second seasons are wont, K-On!! explores alternate dynamics amongst group members when other characters are absent. One episode has Ritsu spending time with Mugi, and Mugi becoming more intent on learning about the friendship that Ritsu shares with Mio. It’s rare that the characters are seen hanging out alone when they have been presented as being rather inseparable, and this particular pattern gives more insight into each of the characters, as well as provides for moments that would otherwise not occur when everyone is together. The approach is applied in series where few new characters are introduced as time wears on.

  • Another episode had Azusa spend time individually with each of Mugi, Ritsu, Mio and Yui: while she starts out with the goal of pushing everyone to practise harder, various circumstances preclude this, and so, Azusa is able to learn about her seniors in a much less turbulent setting. She ends up teaching Mugi the basics of guitar, learns that Ritsu has a younger brother and helps Yui read the sheet music to Mugi’s new song after cleaning Ton-chan, the soft-shell turtle’s, tank. Ton-chan was purchased using surplus funds from the club with the aim of keeping Azusa company after everyone had graduated.

  • When the club room is closed for maintenance work, the light music club finds themselves without a place to practise. They spend an afternoon attempting to secure a new location, before renting out a studio and slacking off during their slot. The lyrics for Mugi’s new composition remains unfinished, and it typifies how After School Teatime always seems to struggle with completing a task when time is sufficient to do so because of their tendency to wander and live in the moment. In exchange for scrambling towards a deadline, the girls’ are able to really feed their experiences into whatever they do, whether it be composing lyrics or putting on performances for their classmates.

  • I’ve mentioned that I credit K-On! with helping me weather a difficult term during my second year of university, and was part-way into the second season when exams finished. When I finished K-On!! fully, the summer was already well under way. I had been offered a scholarship for summer research, and I was a month into my new project, to build an agent-based model of fluid flow in convoluted passageways. As I learnt more about the Bullet Physics engine and built increasingly powerful agents that could navigate any closed mesh, I also enjoyed lunches at the then-new Korean BBQ joint on campus, attended several LAN parties and travelled into the mountains, all while listening to the vocal songs and incidental pieces in the series: one of my favourite memories of that summer was visiting my supervisor in Canmore and having lunch at the Crazyweed Kitchen with the lab, having driven in while listening to Mio’s Seishun Vibration and Mugi’s Diary Wa Fortissimo!.

  • Thanks to all of the commotion about their club room, Yui makes very little progress in crafting the lyrics for their latest song and turns to Ui for help. While near-infallible, Ui ends up catching a cold, prompting Yui to look after her in a reversal of roles. Throughout K-On! and K-On!!, Ui has been shown to be a dependable younger sister who dotes on Yui in every way. It turns out that Yui is well aware of this and having seen just how much she’s come to rely on Ui, Yui crafts the lyrics into what would be known as U & I, one of my favourite songs from the series for its honest and heartfelt lyrics. It forms the page quote, since the lyrics also apply to a general sense of gratitude that the second season conveys.

  • When Mio and Ritsu are assigned the leading roles in the school play, they initially find themselves ill-suited to perform their parts until during one practise, they begin to mock one another in frustration, only to learn that they can indeed embrace their roles. Mio and Ritsu subsequently put their fullest efforts into making the play a success, while Mugi and Yui continue to help support the play in their own capacity. The play is a success, and even when Juliet’s tombstone goes missing prior to the play’s climax, the girls improvise by borrowing a replica Rosetta Stone from the occult club.

  • K-On!!‘s moments are numerous, but each of them remain highly memorable, showing how After School Teatime operates outside of their club activities. While they prima facie appear disorganised, unfocused and undisciplined, this raggedy-ass bunch has plenty of heart and sincerity. The girls’ greatest strengths are being able to make the most of a moment and putting their best into something when it matters, resulting in something that’s genuine. Here, they gear up for the school concert, spending a night at school and taking in the unusual atmosphere that accompanies a culture festival. For their performance, Sawako’s managed to make custom T-shirts that work well for the club, as well as giving one to each of the students in a surprise move.

  • The culture festival is also a great success: like its predecessor, K-On!! dedicates an entire episode towards the musical performance. These shows never drag on, and with Yui emceeing the concert, it feels very organic and very much alive. I immediately fell in love with the songs that After School Teatime performed, and also greatly enjoyed the character songs: I am not alone in this assessment, and while bumptious music reviewers turn their noses up at the acoustical properties of K-On!!‘s music, the songs themselves are excellent from a technical standpoint and further to this, have an honesty in their lyrics that almost all modern pop music lack.

  • In the aftermath of the culture festival concert, everyone is exhausted from putting their hearts into performing. During the course of the performance, the girls also realise that this is the last time they’ll be performing together and dissolve into tears. It was here, at the sunset of a journey, that I realised K-On!! was much more than an ordinary slice-of-life anime: the emotions associated with the thought of having to part ways, that the days of enjoying tea and performing together are drawing to a close were superbly captured. The decision to set this moment at the end of a day accentuates this: things inevitably come to an end.

  • By the time Nodoka and Sawako reach the club room to congratulate Yui and the others on a successful concert, everyone’s fallen asleep from exhaustion. While K-On!! is often thought of as a pure moé series, the animated adaptation adds a considerable emotional piece to the story: the girls clearly are saddened by the prospect of having to part ways. In the original manga, the girls simply share a conversation and fall asleep. With Naoko Yamada directing K-On!!, the series presents a very relatable, very human story that extends the humour seen in Kakifly’s original manga. These were the aspects that all critics missed in their assessments.

  • With the concerts over, Yui and the others turn their fullest attention towards studying for their entrance exams. The remainder of K-On!! switches between Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi’s preparations for exams, and Azusa’s day-to-day experiences with Ui and Jun. Even though such moments are subtle, it is quite clear that a passing of the baton is occurring, and that even though Yui and the others are on the verge of graduation, Azusa still has great companionship in Ui and Jun.

  • The second season ultimately is very faithful to the original manga, differing chiefly in how it chooses to present different moments: what took only a few pages in the manga are covered over several episodes in K-On!!, examinations and the endgame, which took up three quarters of the last manga volume, make up a comparatively meagre four of the twenty-four episodes in season two. Another clever touch to K-On!! is gradually giving Ui and Jun more screentime: Jun and Ui both make more appearances to show Azusa’s friendships outside of the light music club. Indeed, Ui does end up joining the light music club once Yui graduates, and Jun, after being jealous of hearing about Azusa’s adventures, also decides to participate.

  • Towards the end of K-On!!, the warmer colours and more saturated scenes are displaced by cooler, more faded out colours, giving a sense of melancholy as the end of one journey approaches. While it has been nine years since K-On!!‘s original airing, seven years since I finished the series and three years since I last took an exam of any sort, the sense of unease prior to an exam remains a highly vivid experience for me. On the day of their exams, Yui worries about forgetting a critical fact or detail: while I stuck with a brute-force approach in high school and my early undergraduate career towards studying, after the MCAT, I took on a new method that saw unqualified success: I had not gotten any grade lower than a B+ since the MCAT.

  • While it’s a tense moment, there was never any doubt that Mio, Ritsu, Mugi and Yui would get into their school of choice: everyone applies for the same women’s university that Mugi had initially chosen, and all are accepted. I personally don’t recommend applying for a university purely because one’s friends are doing so, since everyone ultimately has their own career paths and life choices, but ultimately, this decision is up to the individual, and I wouldn’t hold it against anyone who goes to a particular institution for this end.

  • Azusa has come to worry greatly for her friends: Mio and Mugi have always been reasonably hard-working students whose grades are solid, but Ritsu and Yui are more scatter-brained. Thus, when everyone is accepted, Azusa is elated. The ending of K-On!! captures a certain melancholy and bitter-sweetness that accompanies the closing of one journey, and it speaks volumes to the execution that such emotions can be presented so tactfully: this feeling is ever-present, but never displaces the everyday cheer that Yui and the others bring. With their exams over, the girls get their yearbook photos taken and spend their days in idle happiness while awaiting graduation.

  • Looking back, there’s a sort of nostalgia I get from watching K-On!!: besides helping me relax during a difficult term, after I finished, I decided to give The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi a whirl out of a curiosity in checking out the remainder of Kyoto Animation’s works. This series is a predecessor of sorts to the light novel style adaptations that we’ve come to see in the present (convoluted universes and rules, cynical but sharp-witted male leads), and while the anime was a moderately enjoyable experience, the film proved itself a worthy masterpiece that I watched as my summer research progressed.

  • With K-On!! being similar to its first season in style and execution, there is nothing particularly noteworthy about the incidental music in the second season. However, the vocal inset pieces are of an excellent standard: the second season introduces Gohan wa Okazu and Pure Pure Heart, which are representative of the two different styles that After School Teatime perform. Most of their songs are either sappy love songs with lyrics by Mio, or Yui’s down to earth and direct songs about food and life experiences. While the TV series only showcases a number of songs, some of the songs that would be featured on the inset albums would later be used in the movie (e.g. Samidare 20 Love and Curry Nochi Rice).

  • With their exams over, Yui and the others set about crafting a more enduring legacy of their time as members of After School Teatime by compiling a mix tape of their best hits. These songs would later be included in the Houkago Teatime album, which features both the sharper, more polished studio recordings of the girls’ performances and a special “cassette” edition that mimics the rougher, grittier quality of a cassette recording. The cassette recordings act as an extension of the girls’ experiences and add depth to their dynamics, even though many of the songs in that album (e.g. Honey Sweet Time, Tokimeki Sugar and Ichigo Parfait ga Tomara nai) were never performed at the girls’ concerts. The album therefore becomes an indispensable and highly enjoyable listen for any fan of K-On!.

  • On the day of graduation, it’s a bittersweet one as the girls look forwards to their future, while at the same time, wishing that the days of high school could last just a little longer. Looking back on my time as a high school student, I enjoyed the relatively straightforward flow that each day offered: go to school, learn things, chat with friends about various things, go back home, finish whatever assignments I had and the spend the rest of the evening in Ragnarok Online or World of Warcraft. I wouldn’t say that I necessarily miss high school, but I do concede that things were fun back then.

  • Yui decides to give Sawako a card signed by everyone in their class as a thank you gift, and spends much of the ceremony trying to conceal it so it’s a surprised. Sawako is worried about Yui, but is later happy to receive this gift from the class. When I watched K-On!! for the first time, I was quite a few years younger than Sawako and closer in age to Yui and the others. Now, I’m actually older than Sawako, and having served as a teaching assistant at the university during my graduate studies, I can say with confidence that as a teacher, I tend to remember the high-performing students and the rowdy students the best. As such, there is some weight to my supposition that Sawako will remember Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi for some time after they’ve graduated.

  • When the ceremonies conclude, and farewells are bade, Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi turn their attention towards saying the most important goodbye of all: Azusa’s been holding back tears all day, and now that the moment has come to part ways, she finds herself unable to do so, tearfully begging the others to stay. Yui offers Azusa a flower and gives her a special thank you card and prepare to play a special song they’d written just for her. Titled Tenshi ni Fureta yo! (“Touched by an angel!”), this song represents the sum of everyone’s gratitude and appreciation for Azusa’s joining the club and for having made such a major contribution to their activities, whether it be through her technical skill with a guitar or for encouraging everyone to practise.

  • Easily the most emotional and personal song in all of K-On!!, it is no surprise that this is my favourite of all the songs that After School Teatime performs. The song comes out of the blue, and K-On!! suggests that it was hastily written with each of Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi’s thanks feeding into the lyrics, but the truth is even more heartwarming: the melody and lyrics were actually composed while the girls were in London, having agreed to do a graduation trip to cover the fact that they were working on something for Azusa. Knowing this gives the song even more weight: in K-On! The Movie, London ended up being secondary to the film’s centrepiece about giving Azusa a suitable gift.

  • While nine years have passed since K-On!!‘s finale aired, the series itself is timeless and remains every bit as relevant and enjoyable now as it did nearly a decade previously. The second season may drag in places, but every second of the anime is carefully crafted to feed towards the series’ thematic elements, bringing the manga to life. The success of K-On! as a whole is very well deserved, given that the series excelled in delivering the idea that people gain much by cherishing the moment and making the most of the present, and for the folks who’ve not seen the series yet, it is definitely worth taking a look.

Like its predecessor, K-On!! aired to mixed reception surrounding its narrative and near-universal acclaim for its technical all-around excellence – perspectives vary from the series being very humourous, to being a protracted, derivative version of the first season. I’ve long held that K-On!! is successful in subtly showing character growth over time, and the second season’s length serves to fully build out Azusa’s relationship with Yui and the others. Over time, viewers appreciate the sorts of things that make the After School Teatime club so memorable, and viewers will similarly feel the sorrow of departure when graduation approaches. The immensely relaxing atmosphere of K-On!! is interspersed with moments of humour, and overall, serves to act as a reminder that for the hectic chaos in the world, it is worthwhile to take a step back and really stop to smell the roses. This is where K-On!! truly excels, and I’ve long held that detractors simply approached the series with a mindset that wasn’t what K-On!! was intended to be about: Yui, Mio, Ritsu, Mugi and Azusa’s experiences are about the joys of spending time together and appreciating everyday miracles, rather than purely setting up situations to elicit a laugh or provide insight on music. Those who remark that “nothing happened” did not look for events in the right places. The gentle outlook on life that K-On!! takes is cathartic, and for me, acted as a tonic that ultimately helped me get through a difficult time during my undergraduate programme. Together, K-On! and K-On!! changed my outlook on the world, and this is why the series as a whole merits being considered as a masterpiece. I have no trouble recommending the second season to anyone: the only real prerequisite for enjoying K-On!! is that one has already seen the first season, which establishes how the light music club came to be. Beyond this, with animation and artwork that stands up even today, plus a host of upbeat and fun songs, K-On!! remains as enjoyable as it did nine years ago. While a third season was never produced, folks looking to continue the K-On!! story further can look to the manga, which retain all of the spirit and charm as Azusa takes over as president of the light music club while Yui and the others acclimatise to life in university, as well as the film, which stands as a masterpiece amongst masterpieces for giving emotional weight behind Tenshi no Fureta Yo! and how this song came into being.

14 responses to “Masterpiece Anime Showcase: K-On!!, Appreciating Everyday Life at After School Teatime and The Road to Graduation At the Nine Year Anniversary

  1. Fred (Au Natural) September 15, 2019 at 11:12

    All things, both wonderful and terrible, come to an end. This too shall pass away.


  2. Tpaul Homdrom September 15, 2019 at 16:13

    What a wonderful show! I watched it on a whim, I still don’t remember what drew me to the first season. It was shortly after I started really getting into anime (after casually watching “Japanese cartoons” like DBZ, Pokemon, Sailor Moon, Gundam Wing, etc. on Toonami in high school, and then not really watching anything through most of college), and it popped up on some list, though I forget what the list was of. “Top Ten…” something, but anyway, I dove in without any knowledge of the tropes of anime, the anime community, the criticisms towards “moe-blob shows” (I wouldn’t have even known what that meant when I watched K-ON), etc. And I loved it, went straight into the second season and then the movie and almost immediately after watching the film went straight back and watched it all again. I love these girls, their high school days, their music, and all the heart that went into this show. It shows so much of the potential that slice-of-life anime has, and is a type of story that Japan almost has cornered the market on, with Western media being decidedly more dramatic or humorous and much more fast-paced almost in its entirety.

    Just reading this post about the second season, not even watching the season but just reading about it with some wonderful screenshots to accompany it, got me super misty-eyed multiple times. This show holds such a special place in my heart, and I’m so glad to see others love it, too. Your post was such a wonderful look at everything that makes K-ON such a masterpiece.


    • infinitezenith September 20, 2019 at 17:16

      I think you’ve entered K-On! in the best way possible: not being impacted by the most vocal proponents and detractors of any given series allows you to really just experience every moment fresh, in their full glory. I cannot fault you for immediately pushing through to the second season and movie – the series as a whole is very compelling, and very genuine. Japan in particular has nailed down this genre to a science, and in fact, I would hold that a Western work with a similar aesthetic and style may not work so well.

      My post on K-On!! only represents one very specific experience of the series – my overwhelmingly positive appraisal of the anime and manga is a consequence of the series helping me through some rough times, and I admit that I do have a bit of a rose-coloured perspective on the anime. Everyone will experience the series differently, and I’m curious to know what made the series work for others. If you’d like, you can definitely share your story 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tpaul Homdrom September 21, 2019 at 07:00

        I think the main thing for me was that I experienced K-ON coming off of, until that point, only knowing anime and most fiction as being intense, action-heavy, dramatic, story-driven stuff, and I quite enjoy that. Still do! But K-ON came in with its fluffy, comforting cuteness and relaxed sensibilities and showed me a whole new world of anime and fiction in general. That still means a lot to me, and I don’t think I would have explored the slice-of-life genre if I’d heard about it beforehand. Why would I want to watch something about ordinary people doing ordinary stuff? BORING. Or so I would have thought. K-ON was basically just “oh, hey, high schoolers in a band? Could be cool” and even though I expected it to be focused on the band aspect and them working towards being the best or whatever, some kind of music-themed underdog story, when it was completely different from that, I was okay with it. I loved it! The characters from episode 1 were so much fun, and it wasn’t until after the movie and about halfway through a second watch of it all that I sat back and thought about it and realized that I never would have tried it if I’d known more about it in advance.

        It’s like comfort food in a way, I can sit down and watch it any time (I’ve watched through both seasons and the film… four times now? Five?). And it also served as a wonderful gateway into a whole slew of anime I never would have even considered before, and I’ve discovered so many wonderful favorites because of it. Sweetness and Lightning, Barakamon, Long Riders (despite its horrendous production, delays, and all kinds of issues, I really loved the final product), and plenty of others… just a lot of stuff that doesn’t have a fantastical setting or dramatic, mysterious premise to grab attention. It also introduced me to Kyoto Animation, and while I don’t love all of their works (but then, it’s rare for all of a studio’s works, especially the larger their library is, to be a hit for everyone), it got me checking out another long list of shows, and I’m always paying attention to everything new KyoAni puts out, and leaves me hoping for the best in the wake of their recent horrible tragedy, because I don’t think anyone else makes the kind of anime they do, and certainly not in the way they do, being such a positive presence in an industry that is full of overworked, underpaid animators.

        So K-ON is wonderful on its own, and it’s easily one of my favorites. But it also served as a wonderful gateway into a whole other world of anime I at first didn’t know existed, and one that I don’t think I would have given a chance if not for accidentally stumbling into the genre through an excellent example like K-ON.


        • infinitezenith September 23, 2019 at 19:31

          Stories like yours are exactly what I love to hear about what anime like K-On! can do for people. Series that deal with everyday life are gems because they force us to slow down and appreciate the common, mundane of life. It’s like watching a show about cooking and then appreciating every detail that goes into preparing a dish. This is the reward, and especially in a world that’s so high-paced, it is such a wonderful joy to be able to slow things back down and stop to smell the roses, as it were.

          When I finished K-On!, I was rather disappointed to learn that the series had been as polarising as it was. Some of anime’s most well-known bloggers out there (Ahnime History, Baka-Raptor and Behind The Nihon Review are a handful I’ll make examples of) immediately set about writing impassioned critiques about how the series represented a new low in anime, how things like K-On! were “killing the industry” or representing “missed potential” because they never aspired “to be more”. I get that K-On! isn’t for everyone, but to claim that such series are “harmful” is to be a rather disingenious and round-about way of saying “I’m worried that shows following the style I like will be fewer”. K-On! did indeed lead to an increased number of slice-of-life adaptations following a similar style, but it has in no way taken away from the diversity of shows that come out season after season. This is why the claims from nearly ten years previously can be safely discarded, and why I’m always going to tell folk to enjoy what they like. The recent surge of isekai series is a more recent example: I don’t particularly watch those shows, but I won’t claim they’re causing any harm out there.

          Again, I appreciate your taking the time to share your story! Since K-On! worked well for you, I’m a little curious now to know of what other slice-of-life series you’ve seen 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          • Tpaul Homdrom September 28, 2019 at 19:44

            Yeah it’s frustrating to me to see how many people go from “I don’t like this” to “I need to tear this apart and make sure no one else likes it.” Like… it’s okay to not like the things that other people like. And it’s okay to like what others don’t. Don’t be a jerk about it, just move on to something you like. That’s one thing I really appreciate about your positive approach to reviewing anime!

            Slice of life series I’ve seen… it’s such a broad genre and sometimes mixed in with others, so if I name some that aren’t technically slice of life I apologize. But Barakamon, Sweetness and Lightning, and Shirobako are ones that stick out to me the most and are some of my absolute favorites along with K-ON. Natsu-iro Kiseki was a really fun one. Sakura Quest was really nice but I stopped about halfway, other shows grabbed my attention more at the time but I’ve been meaning to get back to it and finish it because I really like the characters and the different sort of setting and premise. Hyouka is another KyoAni show that’s sort of episodic mystery, sort of slice of life and I loved that blend and its very slow, thoughtful pacing. Kobato might not count as slice of life, but it definitely feels like one for most of its run and it’s so sweet and heartwarming, with a wonderful main character. New Game’s first and second seasons were both so funny and delightful, and another example of me expecting one thing (a Shirobako-esque look at video game development, more serious and dramatic with some humor) and getting exactly not that, very much like K-ON and while I was kind of put off at first, I warmed to it after a while and by the end of the second season I loved it. Violet Evergarden has some slice of life elements at times, maybe…? It’s a masterpiece either way. Yama no Susume was just delightful and I’d really like to see a fourth season. Tsurune was an interesting sort of blend of sports anime with slice of life, the sports competition side wasn’t as focused on as most sports anime and we got more character work and a slower pace. Yuru Camp was adorable and I’d love to see a second season! Rin is one of my favorite new characters. And while it’s so not slice of life, Yuki Yuna Is a Hero has this interesting bouncing between slice of life episodes and mahou shoujo action episodes, and I loved that mixture, it really got me hooked on the characters and made that my favorite magical girl show.

            So, uh… that’s a lot, but at the same time there’s SO MUCH slice of life anime that I know there’s more I want to watch. I’m currently watching Sora no Woto and it’s really wonderful, I’m glad I came across it.

            Thanks for all your blogging! You keep helping me add new shows to my list of things to watch, and you go so in-depth and clearly put so much work and thought into it all, keep it up! I know YouTube is like, the big thing when it comes to reviews and discourse and stuff, but it’s really nice to see good, thoughtful blogs and being able to read someone’s thoughts with screenshots along the way.


            • infinitezenith September 30, 2019 at 18:43

              I think that the age of “academic-sounding hacks ruining anime for others” blogging is long over, so that particular part of the internet, which presumes to judge others, is at least much less noticeable now.

              It sounds like you’re an expert when it comes to slice-of-life series, as well. I’m glad you’ve found enjoyment in such a range of shows. I’ve also seen Hyouka, both seasons of New Game, Yama no Susume, Yuru Camp △ and Yuki Yuna Is a Hero in full. The others, I’ll check out as time permits: being somewhat infamous as a procrastinator, I tend to miss out on many series when they air and then come back to them as time allows, often much later. As for Sakura Quest and Sora no Woto, I’ve finished those and have written about them extensively, as well. As you’re still watching them, steer clear of those categories until you’re done to avoid spoilers!

              I’m glad you’ve found my content useful and hope you continue to find the series you enjoy! On blogging, I prefer this as my medium for the reason that I’m rather less proficient as a speaker compared to writing. I’d also prefer to keep some degree of privacy about me, and YouTubing also requires dedicated equipment, plus video editing skills, to make work. Different approaches work for different people, but I can assure you that if I were to step into the YouTube space, I would make certain to keep my current style towards things; there are far too many who are negative or controversial for more views and ad revenue.

              Liked by 1 person

  3. Fred (Au Natural) October 6, 2019 at 17:58

    Those are incredibly good screenshots.

    Liked by 1 person

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  5. jelabarre August 16, 2020 at 17:26

    I happened upon K-On by way of one series I was watching making a confusing and what seemed at the time illogical jump in story and scenario, as well as mistaking what show a video clip was from (hey, it’s a video of an all-girl band performing at some high school event, must be from here…). I might have explained it here before.

    When I got to the third season of Shakugan no Shana, the series made such a shift in it’s storyline, it irritated me and I felt the need to watch something simplistic and unimportant for a change of pace (later I found the flaw in SnS was because the first two seasons failed to include the foreshadowing and hints to what would happen in SnS3). As for the video clip I presumed must be from this other show I started watching? It was a song called “God Knows” (and you know where that’s from).

    But slice-of-life HS comedies? Definitely not my type of show, not hard-edged enough. But boy did it change my mind about that! The interactions, the characters growing as the story went on, it became on of my top shows.

    As for the sarcastic commentators, it was probably also my introduction to Gigguk’s reviews. As much as he was picking on one of my favorite shows, the review was SO funny I started following his other work. I don’t think he was so much hating on the show as much as having a laugh at it’s quirks. And some of the criticisms he had would have only applied to season one. Yes, I occasionally re-watch his “Ani-meh Review” for a laugh (his bit on the “Fate” series kind of fits too).

    And I’ve enjoyed K-On so much that I know one of the places I’d HAVE to visit if I ever get to Japan is the former Toyosato primary school.


    • infinitezenith August 20, 2020 at 16:40

      Thanks for sharing your story of how you came into the likes of K-On!. Compared to something like Shakugan no Shana, K-On! is such a dramatic departure. I don’t begrudge folks for not giving K-On! a chance when they’re coming from series with a more substantial fantasy or supernatural piece.

      I yield that at the height of its popularity, K-On! memes probably were at least as prevalent as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya memes, endlessly parroted everywhere on the internet of its time, and this lead to the considerable hatred the series received. Of course, saying that one is sick of memes usually invites sarcastic, nonconstructive remarks from those who are so absorbed in memes they cannot communicate in other ways, so a lot of the series detractors took to criticising K-On! in a different manner. K-On! is a series that improves with time, and the first season was, in a way, setting things up. It is an excellent series, with numerous pleasant surprises, for those who experience it with an open mind, and I’m glad to hear you’ve enjoyed it. Hopefully, you’ll have a chance to check out Toyosato Elementary 🙂


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