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Category Archives: Masterpiece Anime Showcase

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, The Implications of Choice and Messages of Appreciation for the Decade’s Final Christmas

“Of course it was fun, and I loved every minute of it! Don’t go asking me stupid questions that are so obvious! You’d have to be crazy to think it wasn’t fun! Only the biggest idiot in the world would say it wasn’t fun if they were asked! They’d be thirty times more dense than Haruhi! Aliens, time travellers, and ESP? One’s enough, but I got to hang out with all three! Then there’s Haruhi, who’s got the craziest power of them all! And then there’s all these other mysterious powers sprinkled all over the place! How could I not find all this stuff fun? Ask me as many times as you want and my answer won’t change! Of course I do…I guess that’s it. The other way is definitely better. Having a world like this just doesn’t feel right.” –Kyon

In week leading up to Christmas, Haruhi plans a hot pot party for the SOS Brigade. However, when Kyon wakes up on December 18, he finds that his reality has been altered: besides Haruhi and Itsuki’s noticeable absence, Ryōko’s reappearance and Mikuru failing to recognise him, there is no SOS Brigade in this world. Yuki is an ordinary girl who is in the literature club, and besides Kyon, no one appears to know anything about the sudden, unexpected transition. While weighing his options in the former SOS Brigade club room and spending time with the alternate Yuki, Kyon finds a clue in the form of a bookmark, which informs him that he is to gather keys, critical personnel to unlock a special program. During this time, Kyon comes to know the alternate Yuki better; she’s rather happy Kyon’s joined the literature club. When Taniguchi informs Kyon that Haruhi attends the prestigious high school, Kyon sets off to find her. The alternate Haruhi is less-than-pleased to see him, but he reveals that he is “John Smith”. Haruhi’s anger and confusion turns to excitement, and Itsuki postulates that Kyon’s timeline must have diverged on December 18. Haruhi, now convinced by Kyon’s explanation, decides to gather up the former members of the SOS Bridage, and with everyone present, Kyon executes the program Yuki had left him. Upon running this program, Kyon returns to the Tanabata three years previously, where he meets the older Mikuru and past Yuki, who informs him that he must find the individual who triggered the change in the world and inject them with a special program. Returning to the present, Kyon realises that the culprit is none other than Yuki herself: having grown to love Kyon in her own way, she used Haruhi’s abilities to create an alternate reality and give Kyon a fair choice: an ordinary world where he would spend his future with her, or a disruptive but interesting world with Haruhi. Kyon chooses his original world, feeling that the adventure and excitement far outweighs his annoyance with Haruhi and her boundless energy. He prepares to hit Yuki with the program, but ends up stabbed by Ryōko. Kyon is ultimately rescued by his future self, Yuki and Mikuru: his world fades to black, and he awakens in a hospital. Itsuki is present and states that he’d fallen down the steps at school. Later that evening, he meets Yuki on the hospital’s veranda, and reassures her that if the Data Integration Thought Entity should seek to punish her, he can influence Haruhi to blink them out of existence. Kyon is discharged from hospital, and despite knowing he will now have to return back in time to save himself, he will first enjoy and make the most of Haruhi’s hot pot party with her and the others.

The theatrical adaptation of the fourth volume of the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya light novels ended up being a veritable masterpiece, an order of magnitude more engaging and meaningful than was present within the first two seasons. The reason for this is because The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s main narrative, contrasting the experimental, unorthodox execution of the regular series that emphasised fun and adventure over a central theme, possessed a clear and unexpectedly moving challenge for Kyon. Throughout the TV series, Kyon is presented as being exasperated, impatient with Haruhi and her antics, wishing nothing more than to live an ordinary life. However, when his world is suddenly wrested from him, the colourlessness of this new world forces him to re-evaluate what Haruhi means to him. By seeing a world without Haruhi, Kyon now has seen both sides of the coin, and with it, is able to make a choice: he ultimately chooses the bookmark (representing his old world) over the club application form (representing a world where he’d never met Haruhi early on), and in doing so, shows to viewers that in spite of all his complaints and gripes about being roped into some random adventure or misadventure with Haruhi, he’s also come to enjoy the attendant experiences that he spends with everyone. The decision, as Kyon puts it, is obvious: a world with Haruhi and the SOS Brigade is much more exciting to live in, and while the downs hit harder, the ups are more exhilarating and more rewarding, as well. The film therefore suggest that one’s choices are their own, to be made only when one is sufficiently informed of the different outcomes of a given decision, and in having Kyon electing to continue his adventures with Haruhi and the SOS Brigade, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya subtly suggests that it is preferable to live a life of excitement and seek adventure even if suffering or pain may accompany it, since the resultant experience leaves one all the stronger for it.

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya could have been set any time of the year, but instead, the week leading up to Christmas is selected for the story’s timeframe. Christmas is traditionally a time of celebration and togetherness: a time when people would put the brakes on their everyday routines and gear up to spend time with those important to them. In Japan, Christmas is also celebrated similarly to Valentine’s Day. By dropping Kyon into an alternate reality close to Christmas, Kyon is now doubly stressed from his experiences: in a time where people begin to wind down, Kyon frantically searches for a solution to his predicament. By prompting Kyon to figure out his situation prior to Christmas and Haruhi’s hot pot party increases the urgency in the film, captivating audiences to follow Kyon. Besides compelling viewers to keep up, setting the film close to Christmas also has one other critical effect on its message. Kyon’s search for the answers, even as he spends time in this parallel universe, leads him to appreciate his old life. The contrast between the new world where Haruhi’s presence is diminished, versus the world where Haruhi dominates, makes evident the idea that individuals may not always appreciate what they have until it is gone. This is the theme in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya; despite the simplicity of the message, the film elegantly captures it into a very vivid portrayal that transforms into a story of self-discovery and appreciation of what one has. The choice to set this during Christmas, then, drives the notion that Christmas is also a time of gratitude, and of counting one’s blessings. Although Kyon may be reluctant to openly admit it, he very much enjoys Haruhi and the SOS Brigade’s company in spite of the wild adventures they’ve pushed him through. There are subtle parallels between The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in that both Scrooge and Kyon, through a series of supernatural encounters, are given a new perspective on life and thus, come out more appreciative and grateful for what they have.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya released, I was just finishing up my second year of my undergraduate program and had gone through the likes of K-On! and Lucky Star, having had my curiosity piqued by Kyoto Animation’s work, I decided to give The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi a go despite my initial reservations: I normally don’t watch a series on the basis of community reception alone, but a classmate of mine had a keen interest in K-On!Lucky Star and The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, so I decided to check it out and see what all of the commotion was about.

  • The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya opens with Haruhi planning the SOS Brigade’s Christmas party, which immediately re-establishes the tone: while Kyon is typically exasperated by Haruhi’s grandiose (and often unfeasible) plans, he does his best to accommodate a scaled-down version that satisfies Haruhi’s wishes while at once being somewhat plausible to put together. This dynamic between Kyon and Haruhi was the driving force throughout much of the TV series, and seeing it return in the film’s opening serves to remind viewers of what Kyon thinks of Haruhi and her antics on a typical day.

  • Thus, having made my way through the TV series, I finally reached the movie. At this point in the summer, I was a few weeks into building an agent-based flow model with the in-house game engine and had settled into my work, so in the late afternoons, after my hours had ended, I would watch anime on an iPad before heading home. This was back when the second generation iPad had released, and while said iPad would become my workhorse throughout my undergraduate programme, it started its journey as a tablet for anime.

  • I admit that I was not a fan of Haruhi when the series came out. Over ten years after The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi was released to the world, the countless internet memes remain stale and jejune, but Haruhi’s high-energy and bossy personality has grown on me quite a bit – she brings joy into the mundane, and while she may not always be aware of it, is the cause of many of the TV series’ supernatural phenomenon.

  • When Kyon returns to school the next day, he finds his would completely changed: the shock of it causes Kyon to act irrationally, in a panic. His reaction is quite understandable considering how dramatic the changes are, and his reaction is actually far more reserved than would be expected of someone who was dropped into an alternate dimension. Although Kyon is initially disoriented, his rational mind soon kicks in, and he decides to see if there are any constants in this new world that carried over from his old world. This decision sets in motion the events of Kyon’s return to his old world.

  • The highlight in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is the human Yuki: unlike the incarnation of Yuki we’d seen so far, Yuki in the alternate world is simply a shy girl who loves books, and initially is rather overwhelmed by Kyon’s forcefulness. Once the initial shock of Kyon bursting into the club room wears off, she attempts to recruit him for the literature club. Kyon’s only intention is to search for any clues in the room about his current situation, and he eventually manages to find a bookmark that provides him with instructions on how to restore his old world.

  • The human Yuki ends up forming the basis for The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, a spin-off manga that supposes that this world was the world than Kyon desired. While not well-received by numerous fans of the Haruhi franchise, I personally found great value and enjoyment in The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, as it shows Kyon as he would have been prior to meeting Haruhi. This story similarly sees Yuki try to keep the literature club alive, and with the combined efforts from Kyon and Ryōko, the club does end up doing quite well.

  • I would imagine that a part of the cold reception towards The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan was a consequence of die-hard fans wanting a continuation of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and instead of the long-anticipated continuation, fans instead got a low-profile spin-off that did not add to the original series. Thus, these individuals were willing to overlook that Yuki and Kyon’s relationship developed in an entirely natural manner, and both individuals mature greatly as the manga progressed: the manga itself is excellent and is one of the few series I’ve bought in full. I normally don’t buy manga series unless they are exceptionally enjoyable, speaking to The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan‘s high quality.

  • In this alternate world, the lighting is subdued, with a grey-scale palette dominating all of the scenes while Kyon is at school. Far more than any other studio, Kyoto Animation masterfully makes use of colours and lighting to paint an incredibly vivid and detailed view of the characters’ emotions in a scene. Their technical excellence cannot be understated, and in an industry that is so demanding that corners are sometimes cut, Kyoto Animation’s commitment to excellence makes them stand out as a superior studio. The arson incident at Kyoto Animation earlier this year was a devastating one, an unfortunate event resulting from an individual whose mind was filled with malice and hate when he perpetuated his actions.

  • It’s been five months since the fire at their studios, and the losses are still being felt at present. However, the studio’s president has also resolved on recovery. I naturally will continue to support their works. Back in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, Mikuru does not recognise Kyon, and Tsuruya, ordinarily friendly to Kyon, is openly hostile to him. This drives home the fact that Kyon’s world has changed considerably, and with the days counting down, Kyon must work to figure out what the original Yuki’s puzzle meant.

  • While determining what the “keys” that Yuki refer to are (they have nothing to do with unique identifiers that are used to quickly and efficiently retrieve data from storage), Kyon spends more time with the new Yuki, quickly discovering that she has a keen interest in books and therefore had a legitimate reason for being in the literature club. The literature club room stands in the exact same spot as the SOS Brigade’s club room, and is conveniently equipped with a computer that, while old, is still operational.

  • Yuki is pitifully shy in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, although with Kyon’s appearance, she does begin taking the initiative and brings him over to her apartment. Kyon is initially reluctant to stay, and this reluctance turns into a desire to leave when Ryōko shows up. In The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, Ryōko is Yuki’s best friend and very protective of her; these traits carry over into The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, where Ryōko acts as a guardian of sorts for Yuki. This spin-off manga definitely had its own merits and while starting its journey carrying the same sense of gentle longing that The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya had, the story ends up having Yuki become more confident and independent as she begins to get closer to and eventually, go out with Kyon.

  • Kyon makes to decline Ryōko’s invitation to dinner, but is surprised when Yuki pulls on his sleeve, signalling her want for him to stay over for dinner. I personally felt that The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan adds more value to The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, as it gives insight into what sorts of things that Yuki herself would have wanted to experience with Kyon. By knowing the path that Yuki ended up taking, it makes the thought process that the Yuki seen here took towards creating a new world to give herself and Haruhi an even shot even more poignant, showing the extent of Yuki’s feelings for Kyon and the lengths she would go to seek an answer for herself.

  • While Nagato tugging on Kyon’s sleeve might’ve been the boldest she’s been all movie so far, viewers are further treated to a moment as rare as a blue moon: after dinner, Kyon asks Yuki to see if it’s alright for him to swing by the clubroom again the next day, and Yuki’s resulting smile is positively dazzling. This marks the first time that Yuki’s smiled at all anywhere in either The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya: I’m told that from fan reactions, this single moment alone made the movie worth watching. Such moments do not make or break movies for me, but I do admit that Yuki’s smile is pleasant and the movie’s setup allows us to see other sides of Yuki’s character.

  • When Kyon learns that Haruhi exists, he rushes off to the Kōyōen School, an elite academy that this Haruhi is attending. She is shocked and disgusted that Kyon appears to know so much about her and proceeds to give him a physical beating, but Kyon stops the melee by revealing his identity as the “John Smith” of several years previously. Haruhi is surprised that anyone could’ve known about the incident, and immediately faints.

  • In a world where Kyon and Haruhi had not met, Haruhi is a much more austere person, although her bold and forceful tendencies remain. The incidental piece that plays when Kyon rushes off to Kōyōen School, Suzumiya Haruhi no Tegakari (“A Sign of Haruhi Suzumiya”) begins playing. This piece remains one of my favourite songs on the soundtrack: with its use of woodwinds, the song greatly resembles Sim City 4‘s Wheels of Progress. The choice of instruments signifies that progress is happening, and for the first time in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, Kyon feels as though he’s got the faintest hint of what he needs to do. There are many incidental pieces in the film that would not sound out of place in Sim City 4: Kodoku Sekai no Hirogari (“Spread of a lonely world”) opens similarly with Sim City 4‘s Morning Commute.

  • When Haruhi comes to, she immediately takes interest in Kyon’s situation, listening attentively as Itsuki explains what may have happened with Kyon. Even in this alternative universe, where Itsuki has feelings for Haruhi, the fact that she’s immediately drawn into helping Kyon suggests to him that Haruhi has feelings for Kyon (regardless of how much the two try to deny it when asked). With the situation explained, Kyon begins to realise that his keys back to his old world were to gather the people who were in the SOS Brigade, and so, the group heads back to North High, so that Mikuru and Yuki can be assembled.

  • That Itsuki is quick to conclude that Haruhi loves Kyon shows that there doesn’t appear to be a timeline or reality that could keep them apart, further reinforcing the idea that Haruhi and Kyon complement one another extremely well. This was my favourite aspect about their dynamic: even though the two never enter a relationship in the animated adaptions, Haruhi’s boldness and energy pushes Kyon out of his comfort zone into experiences that he retrospectively enjoys, while Kyon’s down-to-earth, pragmatic approaches means that he’s always trying to reign back Haruhi’s outrageous plans, and in doing so, creates a slightly-scaled back but still-enjoyable experience for Haruhi.

  • After arriving at North High, Kyon lends Haruhi and Itsuki his gym clothes so the two blend in with the other North High students. Haruhi complies with Kyon’s request to wear a ponytail, and I admit that like Kyon, I’m fond of ponytails, as well. Haruhi’s aura changes noticeably, and she takes on many of the traits of her other self; within moments, she manages to find Mikuru and brings her to the literature club room.

  • Halo Reach released roughly seven months after The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya aired in theatres, and in a curious turn of fate, I experienced both the game and the film close to one another. There is definitely a nostalgia factor at play when I stop to contemplate things: on the day of the LAN party, after I’d arrived and wrapped up The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, one of my friends had arrived, and we now had enough people to play Halo Reach‘s co-op. Having spent most of the term attempting to survive organic chemistry and data structures, I didn’t pay attention to Halo Reach‘s campaign.

  • My friend, however, had known of the different missions and immediately requested that we play Long Night of Solace on co-op, which has Noble Team storm through Covenant forces attacking a Sabre facility and then help the UNSC fleet repel Covenant forces in orbit over Reach, before boarding a Covenant super-carrier. We made it on board the carrier before the remainder of my friends arrived, after which we threw burgers on a grill and then spent the rest of the evening blasting one another in MLG Team Slayer on Reflection. Halo Reach has now made it to PC, and my journey began on Chinese Winter Solstice.

  • Back in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, with all of the keys in one place, the old computer powers up, and the old Nagato Yuki’s program begins running, asking if Kyon is ready to go back. Without hesitation, Kyon hits enter to execute the program; he only stops briefly to apologise to this world’s Yuki for not being able to join the literature club with her. Nothing immediately happens, but in a few moments, Kyon’s world fades to black, and when he comes to, he finds himself in a hot, humid room.

  • It turns out that Kyon was sent back to the night of the Tanabata three years previously, which was in July. Unlike the washed-out, faded world without Haruhi, this hot summer night is portrayed using saturated shades of blue and other hues. This particular event is of great significance in The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, and in Japan, the festival is characterised by the writing of wishes on small pieces of paper and affixing them to a bamboo tree. The festival was presumably chosen to frame a time period where people make wishes, and so, when Kyon helps a younger Haruhi with her wishes, he inadvertently creates a future where he would meet her, and fulfill her desire for excitement.

  • Shortly after his arrival, Kyon encounters the older Mikuru, who knows of Kyon’s actions and sends him to Yuki’s apartment. With Yuki’s program, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s story shares similarities with Seishun Buta Yarō wa Yumemiru Shōjo no Yume o Minai, which similarly used time travel as a part of its core story: both films are highly enjoyable extensions of a light novel story that have a much greater emotional impact than even their anime, and both use a causal loop to prevent the development of any paradoxes. In addition, both films force their male lead to make a difficult decision.

  • As such, it is not entirely unfounded when I say that both movies feel quite similar in their atmosphere and execution – that both Seishun Buta Yarō wa Yumemiru Shōjo no Yume o Minai and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya manage to be so compelling is a testament to the strength in both movies’ narratives. Of course, both worlds also have their unique points: the former encapsulates the difficulties of youth with fanciful metaphors, while the latter is really about the joys of having fun and colourful people in one’s life.

  • Upon arriving in Nagato’s sparsely-furnished apartment, Kyon and the older Mikuru are given nanites to help them survive the next step of their operation. Yuki also provides Kyon with a dart gun that will immediately patch away the irregularities that will appear in her future self. These abnormalities, as Yuki considers them, are what would be known as emotions: these instinctive reactions to stimuli are a fundamental aspect of humanity, and while they can impediments, are also critically important towards the ability for people to work together

  • That Yuki’s begun developing this emergent property of having emotions, while humanising her character and making her more mature, also begins to affect her duties, hence her contingencies for this eventuality. When Kyon and the older Mikuru arrive in the world three years later, it is moments before Yuki changes the world. It’s a cold winter’s night, and Mikuru is completely unprepared for the brisk weather, so Kyon lends her his coat.

  • The sight of Yuki standing in the middle of the street on her own evokes a very melancholy, lonely feel that speaks volumes as to just how advanced her emotional intelligence had come since when Kyon first met her. Kyon readies his dart gun and chambers the round, but before he takes the shot, he considers the reasoning behind Yuki’s actions, as well as the justification for his own choices. Kyon quickly deduces that Yuki, having been exposed to the constantly exciting and fun environment that Haruhi and the SOS Brigade bring, as well as the changes that Kyon himself had wrought in Haruhi, began wondering what it would be like if she had gotten closer to him instead.

  • By providing viewers with a confirmation of their thoughts (or helping them to realign with what’s happening), Kyon’s monologues in the movie are immensely helpful. Whereas The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya had Kyon’s narration fill viewers in on what’s happening (similar to the TV series), Seishun Buta Yarō would delegate this particular task to Rio Futaba. In both cases, the narration starts out unreliable, but soon becomes more important as their respective stories advance. The attendant imagery in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya speaks volumes to just how extensive and intense Yuki’s emotions had become.

  • The golden glow flooding the empty clubroom creates a sense of wistfulness: a similar light illuminated the world the day that I had arrived at my friend’s place for the LAN party and busied myself with finishing The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya after being informed that the others were a good half-hour away. For better or worse, the last light to afternoon of a late spring day is now something that irrevocably brings to mind the sort of loneliness and yearning that Yuki had: having been on her own this whole time, it was only natural that she began to entertain thoughts of getting closer to Kyon, who had been kind and understanding towards her despite discovering that she’d been of extraterrestrial origin.

  • For Kyon, the choice between his old world (the bookmark) and the alternative world (the club application) becomes tangibly represented towards the end of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. While the movie represents it as being a tough choice, Kyon’s actions throughout the film, and the fact that he immediately executes Yuki’s program without hesitation already foreshadows the choice that he would take.

  • The use of turnstiles in a train station shows that once Kyon’s made his decision, whatever that might be, his decision is to be final, and that Yuki would accept his choice (along with the ensuing consequences). Besides the use of colour and lighting, Kyoto Animation also excelled with strong use of symbolism within their anime films. Hibike! Euphonium similarly made extensive use of symbols, as do CLANNADKanon and other of their works. However, while some might take symbolism to mean that a film (or series) is necessarily intellectual, Kyoto Animation’s actual intent with symbols is to make tangible an idea that had only previously implied: in a Kyoto Animation work, once a symbol appears, an idea becomes explicitly clear.

  • The final hurdle Kyon faces internally lies within his own doubts: as much as he disliked Haruhi for forcing him into things he did not wish to participate in earlier on, her actions have also allowed him to make friends of everyone at the SOS Brigade. Thus, while he does indeed still think a peaceful life is something to enjoy, the more exciting world with Haruhi in it is the one he prefers, having seen what is possible when she’s around. The answer, then, is evident for Kyon, and he moves forwards without any hesitation. He readies his tool and remarks that he preferred Yuki without glasses, clearly indicating beyond any doubt that the other reality had no chance.

  • While the original world may have been a lot more exciting, one cannot help but feel bad for Yuki, whose feelings will be irrevocably denied. Nowhere in the soundtrack is this more evident than the piece Nagato Yuki no Kokoro ni Aru mono (“What’s In Yuki Nagato’s Heart”), an incredibly touching song whose use of strings captures the sense of yearning Yuki had for another life despite understanding that this was a path she could never take. If there was one song that could capture the entire essence of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya from Yuki’s perspective, this would be it.

  • Before Kyon can fire on Yuki, a serrated blade cuts into his side: the original Ryōko had been a rogue agent who was not above cutting the Gordian Knot to get results faster. The Ryōko in the alternate reality (and in The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan) only retains the original’s ability to be intimidating, but otherwise lacks the same disregard for life: in the manga, Ryōko is seen to intimidate with a glance, and primarily does this to keep Yuki in line, but otherwise never even considers violence as an option.

  • Even as Kyon begins to bleed out, familiar figures appear and manage to complete his original objective of neutralising Yuki and preventing the world from being changed. From here, the timeline converges: Haruhi, Itsuki and the others saw Kyon to have fallen from a flight of steps after being pushed by an unknown entity. That everyone else believes Kyon to have fallen into a coma from falling from a stairwell makes The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya feel similar to Futurama‘s “The Sting”, where Leela fell into a coma after being stung by a space bee and believed Fry to be dead. While this same setup might have been a plausible explanation for things, the conversation that Kyon shares with Yuki indicates this is quite untrue.

  • Itsuki remarks that Haruhi never left his side, similar to how Fry remained by Leela until she’d reawakened. It’s a touching moment that further cements that Haruhi has feelings for Kyon in spite of herself, and Itsuki describes his thoughts on this devotion as being akin to jealousy. When Haruhi wakes up from her sleep, she immediately berates Kyon for having lost three days, although this is really just her way of expressing relief that Kyon is alright.

  • Ultimately, from Yuki’s perspective, the events of The Disappearance of Haruhi is a story of unrequited love: while Yuki may characterise it differently, her actions throughout the movie have been prompted by the most powerful and poorly-characterised human emotion of all. I have a separate post on the matter, but the presence of a meaningful secondary theme meant that this film had several layers of complexity which underlie just how well-crafted the characters and the story is.

  • The colour has returned to Kyon’s world, and he anticipates enjoying Haruhi’s cooking at the film’s end. I will note that it is an incredibly impressive feat for The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi, that even after eight years of additional life experience, my conclusions about the movie and its theme have remained largely unchanged. The film’s messages remain as solid and meaningful as they were when I first watched it, speaking to the narrative’s excellence, and even now, the film is something I can easily recommend. With this, I’d like to wish all of my readers a Merry Christmas: now that this post is in the books, it’s time for me to head off and take a quiet day off to go through my games backlog, read and perhaps take a walk under the winter sun.

Between its moving plot and technical excellence (typical of Kyoto Animation’s best works), The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is an excellent movie that masterfully brought the original light novel’s narrative to life. Through a combination of stunning visuals and a soundtrack composed of orchestral pieces that create an elegant feeling, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is a film without peer. However, what elevates The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya to masterpiece status lies how the film’s message found relevance when I’d watched it: the film’s home release was a mere five months earlier, and upon hearing about the overwhelmingly positive reception, my curiosity was piqued. After hammering my way through the first two seasons, I ended up watching the film during the summer, spending those long summer afternoons, after research had ended, watching the movie. I finished the same day the local anime convention started, having chosen not to attend on account of a LAN party, and while the film was something I enjoyed deeply, thoughts of Yuki and the emergence of emotions in her character fell to the back of my mind. When one of my classmates posted a video of his convention experiences and made mention of Yuki, likening her sense of longing to his own post-convention blues, I’d realised that The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s message was much more profound than I’d initially thought; having spent the movie focused on Kyon, I never really considered Yuki’s perspectives: as she spent more time with Kyon and the SOS Brigade, she begins to imbibe on decidedly human characteristics and wonders what it would be like if she could get closer to him. This silent sense of longing held a beautiful sort of melancholy, and also helped me to understand my classmate’s thoughts on anime conventions a little better, as well as make tangible my own understanding of what unrequited love entailed. While I would stare down and write the MCAT a year later, the year after, I had the time to attend the local anime convention for myself, and at last, I fully comprehended what my classmate meant when detailing the aftermath of an anime convention. For having eventually motivated me to visit and support the local anime convention, as well as providing a vivid and poignant story of what unrequited love can do, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya had a non-trivial impact on my life, which is why it is designated as a masterpiece. Personal reasons aside, the film is of a remarkable quality, and par the course for Kyoto Animation’s productions, has aged very gracefully. I have no qualms recommending this movie (and note that the TV series is essential to the experience), but because I imagine most would have seen The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya already, I imagine that suggesting folks to re-watch it is also appropriate.

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Kanon, An Introit on Recollections and Healing On A Winter’s Solstice

“In that case, my first wish is…please don’t forget about me, even just a ‘I met a weird girl in the snow’. Even that would be okay, as long as you remember me” –Ayu Tsukimiya

High school student Yuichi Aizawa returns to a city he’d visited seven years ago, is preordained to lodge with his cousin, Nayuki Minase, and transfers to the local high school. Having limited recollections of the city, Yuichi finds himself quite detached from the area and its inhabitants. However, he runs into Ayu Tsukimiya in the shopping district, and also becomes friends with Shiori Misaka and Mai Kawasumi. While in the shopping district one day, Yuichi encounters Makoto Sawatari, who’d returned to settle a long-standing grudge with him. Nayuki’s mother, Akiko, decides to let Makoto stay with them, and while Yuichi desires nothing more to be rid of Makoto and her propensity for pranks, he comes to realise that Makoto is actually the spirit of a fox he’d once befriended given human form – so intense was her desire to spend time with him that she was granted a wish to become human and reunite with Yuichi, but as he recalls this, Makoto’s strength begins fading, and she vanishes after Yuichi helps her fulfil an old promise. Later, Yuichi decides to help Mai with her image problem: she is perceived as being a troublemaker and is accused of damaging school property. After a terrifying incident at the school dance and a freak accident that sees Mai’s best friend, Sayuri Kurata, injured. Mai possesses an innate talent for magic, and when Yuichi was set to leave town seven years previously, her desire to see him stay led her to craft a story about dæmons, which began manifesting in reality. Yuichi helps Mai to accept her abilities in the present, and begins to remember the time they’d spent together seven years previously. Having explored town with Shiori, who suffers from an unknown illness, Yuichi learns that Shiori was given permission to attend school, but her sister, Kaori, acts distant towards her, fearing that Shiori might not survive her illness. Yuichi decides to go on a date with Shiori and help her make the most of her time. After a track meet, Yuichi and Ayu begin searching for something of great value to her, and as the two grow closer, Nayuki begins feeling left out. Ayu eventually takes Yuichi to her school, which ends up being an open field, and upon arriving, Ayu vanishes. Yuichi continues to search for the article that Ayu was looking for and Nayuki begins making snow rabbits, which help him remember what this item is. Akiko is hit by a vehicle and sent into the ICU, causing Nayuki to fall into depression. Unable to help Nayuki, Yuichi decides to sleep and experiences a dream that fills in the remainder of his memories: seven years ago, he’d made a promise with Ayu, who said she could grant him three wishes. However, coldly brushed off Nayuki after learning that Ayu had fallen from a tree and fell into a coma. He heads out into the blizzard in search of Ayu’s missing item, but falls unconscious. The original Makoto Sawatari saves him, and Yuichi recovers strength enough to return to the promised spot from seven years previously, making one final wish to Ayu. Mai, Shiori and Sayuri become healed from their injuries, returning to class, and Akiko is allowed to return home. Akiko explains to Yuichi what happened to Ayu, and he decides to visit her in the hospital. One spring day, she awakens from her coma, and Yuichi takes her for a walk under the spring cherry blossoms, while a familiar-looking fox looks on.

According to Jun Maeda, memories are at the core of Kanon‘s theme – the motif of events seven years previously permeate the entire story, and Yuichi is constantly struggling to remember what precisely happened seven years ago. In this sense, he is given a new start, a do-over of sorts. As Yuichi spends more time with Nayuki, Makoto, Mai, Shiori and Ayu, he comes to learn of his presence in their lives. The blank slate becomes critical for Yuichi: quite unaware of what happened the last time in town, Yuichi brings into each story a unique sense of humour and sense of compassion that leads him to help everyone to the best of his ability. Through it all, Yuichi creates new, positive memories with everyone: with Makoto, he learns of her past and helps her reach a resolution. He fulfils his promise to return to Mai and helps her come to terms with her magical powers. With Shiori, Yuichi’s encouragement and support allow her to return to school. After Nayuki’s mother ends up in a vehicle accident and Nayuki falls into a depression, Yuichi must confront his own past and finally remembers that he had coldly dismissed her the last time he was in town. Realising his fault, Yuichi manages to reconcile with Nayuki and help her find the strength to continue. The sum of these events lead Yuichi to finally remember what had happened to Ayu: she’d fallen from a tree on his last day in town and was hospitalised. Had Yuichi entered Kanon with the pain of these memories, he would not have been able to approach each of Makoto, Mai, Nayuki and Ayu’s problems with his kindness, and fear of failing would have paralysed him. Kanon thus supposes that why forgetting painful and difficult moments enable one to start fresh with those around them, it is preferable to actively understand one’s mistakes and face them directly, as Yuichi comes to do with Kanon‘s major characters. For his troubles, Yuichi is successful in improving the situation of those around him, helping them to find their own futures.

Kanon presents the importance of memories and their impact on one’s personal growth in conjunction with a supernatural flair; like CLANNAD and Air, Jun Maeda’s belief that the things that make us human (specifically, complex emotions, memories and the resulting behaviours) are complex to the point where our understanding of them are limited, and as such, applies the supernatural piece to motivate a better understanding of these ideas. The end result is that Kanon has a very romantic approach towards memories, showing both the positives and negatives. While Yuichi might have forgotten many of the events from the past, his inherently kind and gentle nature allows him to form new memories with Nayuki, Ayu, Makoto, Shiori and Mai. In time, he comes to learn that everyone has their own unique points, with each girl’s favourite food being chief amongst them. Knowing everyone’s favourite foods (Nayuki and strawberries, Ayu and takoyaki, Makoto and pork buns, Shiori and ice cream, Mai and gyūdon) gives each character a life-like feel to them, and as he spends time with each individual, their favourite foods serve to remind viewers that Yuichi, in taking the time to learn everyone’s favourite food, is genuinely committed to helping everyone out. By reinforcing the idea that Yuichi is a kind individual by default, his actions from seven year previously are to be taken as understandable, brought on by circumstance rather than ignorance or malice. When Yuichi’s past is shown, it also suggests to users that the present-day Yuichi is here to make things right. It gives his experiences credibility, and consequently, gives viewers reason to follow his story and support his efforts in helping each of Nayuki, Ayu, Makoto, Shiori and Mai to sort out the challenges that each of them face.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Kanon opens with Yuichi riding a train into an unnamed town in Hokkaido amidst a fresh snowfall. Upon arrival, he is made to wait for two hours, since Nayuki, who was supposed to pick him up, is late. The entire opening scene is set to yume no ato, a song whose chimes create a sense of nostalgic and melancholy. One of Kanon‘s strongest points lie in its incidental music, and yume no ato plays, my memories of my own past experiences with romance are recalled in vivid detail.

  • The winter cold of Kanon evokes memories of the September that I entered my fourth undergraduate year. I had just spent the summer staring down the MCAT and had watched CLANNAD, which had been so moving that I was seeking more series similar to it. Kanon seemed to fit the bill, and as I prepared to define a topic for my undergraduate honours thesis, I set foot into the world of Kanon, watching a few episodes each week. I ended up reaching the end of Kanon as term ended, finishing a few days before the mid-year progress report.

  • After settling in to the Minase residence, Nayuki takes Yuichi on a tour of the city, a generic city located in Hokkaido that is only referred to as the City of Snow (yuki no machi), rather similar to how the city in CLANNAD was called the “hills of light”. While possessing Hokkaido’s climate, many of the areas seen in the anime are similarly based off Osaka’s cityscape. The train station Yuichi arrives at is actually modelled after Osaka’s Moriguchishi Station. However, the fictionalised setting of Kanon serves to enhance the series’ aura of mystery, and here, Nayuki shares a conversation with Yuichi while on a hill overlooking the city.

  • Ayu is the first of the heroines that Yuichi runs into while exploring the shopping district; she collides with him head-on while trying to escape from a taiyaki vendor, and Yuichi hauls her off to apologise to the vendor before paying for the taiyaki. In the first episode alone, Yuichi’s character is firmly established; while sardonic and fond of poking fun at those around him, he’s genuinely kind-hearted and cares greatly for those he encounters.

  • Her diminutive stature and winged backpack gives Ayu a very child-like appearance. Indeed, Ayu’s mannerisms are eccentric, and she’s fond of replying to any sort of challenge, adversity or retort with the nonsensical uguu, rather similar to how Misuzu of Air would say gao in response to anything that upset her. However, beyond this, Ayu is also friendly and warm. Ayu’s voice is provided by the legendary Yui Horie (Naru Narusegawa of Love Hina, Belfast of Azur Lane and Satomi of Dumbell wa nan kilo motteru, to name a few).

  • Kanon‘s initial episodes are about introducing the characters, and as such, the series progresses very slowly as Yuichi explores the town. HIs misadventures lead him to run into Shiori, a girl who he often sees hanging outside on the school grounds. She’s got an illness that prevents her from coming to school, but shows up on the grounds anyways. When they meet for the first time, Ayu’s attempting to escape from the taiyaki vendor and collides with her, spilling Shiori’s personal items onto the ground.

  • Makoto is introduced as a mischievous girl who only remembers that Yuichi’s wronged her in some way previously, and while Yuichi is put off by her troublemaking, Akiko and Nayuki consent to take her in. In contrast with Yuichi’s dislike for her, Akiko and Nayuki sense something about her and regard her with kindness. In exchange, Makoto only seems to trouble Yuichi with her pranks, although Yuichi is able to see through them for the most part, creating comedic moments early in Kanon.

  • Shiori’s illness is never specified, but it is severe enough as to be considered life-threatening. Because of the stresses this illness has on her and her family, her sister, Kaori, refuses to acknowledge that Shiori is her sister. The reasoning for this is that Kaori fears losing Shiori more than anything, and feels that the closer she is with Shiori, the more it will hurt when Shiori’s time runs out. Of the characters, Shiori is the only person Yuichi had not met in the past, but in spite of this, he still regards her with kindness.

  • Besides a favourite food, the different characters all have their own unique leitmotifs, as well: Ayu’s theme is titled Hidamari no Machi, or “Sunny Town”, a happy, easygoing piece that captures her energetic, cheerful character. Staff have commented that this is their favourite theme for the characters. Nayuki’s theme is Girl in the snow, Makoto’s is The Fox and the Grapes, Mai’s is The Maiden’s Cage and Shiori’s is Beyond the Smile. Each of the girls’ themes speak to their personalities and situation.

  • Ayu often describes a remote school in the area, but seems to have no apparent home. Her enigmatic origins leave viewers with many questions, but Akiko appears to be able to understand something unique about Ayu that Yuichi is not able to pick up on. She invites Ayu over, and over time, Ayu becomes an increasingly frequent guest of the Minases. Unlike Makoto, Yuichi has considerably fewer objections with Ayu being around.

  • Makoto’s pranks go one step too far one evening, when she lights a firecracker and tosses it into Yuichi’s room. He responds by removing the firecracker and returning it to its sender, sending Makoto into hysterics. Yuichi ultimately decides to send Makoto job-hunting, reasoning that doing something will help her learn some responsibility and also fund her own pork buns and manga, two things that Makoto are particularly fond of.

  • Yuichi’s expression here speaks volumes about what he thinks of Makoto; even after what could’ve been a rather deadly prank, Akiko and Nayuki don’t seem too concerned. Initially, audiences will tend to side with Yuichi – Makoto’s mischievous nature means that despite her unknown origins, she comes across as being little more than a nuisance.

  • When Makoto finds a small kitten, she’s thrilled to look after it, as the kitten seems quite drawn to her. She accidentally drops it off a footbridge, but the kitten ends up quite unharmed. The incident causes Yuichi to lose his patience with her, and Makoto runs off into the night, looking for the kitten. Yuichi later finds her and brings her back home.

  • Mishio Amano, one of Yuichi’s classmates, gives him the truth about Makoto’s origins and introduces viewers to the idea that there a supernatural play in Kanon. The winter landscapes and lighting in Kanon, similar to Air and CLANNAD, are deliberately and smartly used to set the mood. By framing Mishio and Yuichi’s conversation against the landscape, it shows the vastness of what supernatural forces they are dealing with: Mishio warns that Makoto’s presence is going to be limited as a result of her diminishing power and that she will begin forgetting over time.

  • Upon learning about this, Yuichi’s attitude and treatment of Makoto takes a complete turn: he begins to spend much more time with her, fulfilling his old promise to never leave her side. As a child, Yuichi had befriended a fox, who by a miracle, took human form. Because Yuichi had to leave town seven years ago, he technically broke his promise to Makoto, which accounts for why she seeks revenge. However, Makoto’s time is limited, and her memories do indeed begin to fade as she and Yuichi make amends.

  • Makoto’s story marked a turning point for me: having already seen CLANNAD, I found Makoto’s story to be surprisingly similar to Fuuko’s story. Both Fuuko and Makoto share a poignant background that is cleverly weaved into their arc, and in both cases, Tomoya and Yuichi both regard the other as being inconsequential, only to learn of their stories later and then begin doing their utmost to help the other out.

  • One touch about Kanon that I particularly liked was the design of the Minase residence: the large windows by the hallway allow natural light to flood into the house, giving it a very inviting feel that maximises the amount of illumination even in a place where it’s cold and snowy for a better half of the year. If I had to guess, I’d say that Kanon is probably set in Asahikawa, albeit a highly fictionalised version.

  • Makoto’s arc ends on a very tender and heartwarming note: her wish fulfilled in full, Makoto loses her human form and vanishes. The importance of Makoto’s story is two-fold: it shows how the supernatural have relevance in the events around Kanon, and also shows the process that Yuichi goes through in order to get to know someone better. With these two elements established, Kanon can begin pushing into the main storyline itself.

  • Mai is the next heroine that Yuichi helps out. Her stoic demeanour and eccentric mannerisms have landed her in trouble more than once, and she faces suspension from school on the suspicions that she’s responsible for damaging school property. However, her personality stands in contrast with her personality, and the earnest, sincere Mai never denies these allegations. Yuichi decides to help Mai become more popular amongst the other students and stave off her negative reputation.

  • During Mai’s arc, Yuichi spends numerous lunch breaks with Mai and Sayuri, the latter of which had been a quiet and unsmiling individual until she’d met Mai. She’d come from a difficult family situation and lost her brother to an illness, eventually losing her sense of self. By the events of Kanon proper, she’s become a warmer character who worries for Mai’s wellbeing and supports Yuichi’s attempts to help her out. When news of a school dance reaches Yuichi’s ears, he decides to take her to the dance.

  • Mai’s favourite retort to Yuichi’s remarks is to admonish him with a light chop to the head to express her displeasure. Sayuri, on the other hand, tends to append ahaha~ to the end of her laughter. In Kanon, Sayuri is a secondary character, but in the game, it is possible to explore the outcomes of spending more time with her, culminating with Yuichi asking her out. The visual novels typically provide a much richer and detailed account of each story, although I’ve found that anime adaptations can really bring some scenes to life, with the school ball being one of them.

  • The school dance starts smoothly enough, with Mai and Yuichi’s dancing being impressive enough to turn heads, but when a dæmon appears and wrecks havoc, the student council president attempts to have Mai expelled. Yuichi manages to prevent this from happening and decides to help Mai fight the so-called dæmons. However, when Sayuri attempts to give Mai a gift on her birthday, and becomes injured in the process, Mai loses her cool and attempts to kill herself.

  • Mai’s story serves to further accentuate the presence of the supernatural: it turns out that her ability to control abilities some consider unnatural did indeed lead her to leave her old home, and she found it difficult to make any friends until she’d met Yuichi. By spending time with her, Mai eventually comes to accept her powers, and is hospitalised to treat her injuries, which had resulted from her killing off pieces of herself.

  • With Mai’s situation resolved, Shiori’s story comes next. While Kaori refuses to acknowledge Shiori as her sister, Yuichi decides to help her in the way he can, taking her to some of her favourite places around town and giving her a chance to sit in a desk at school. Kaori later explains that Shiori was never expected to survive past her birthday, but in spite of this, Yuichi decides to help her celebrate anyways. As the day comes to an end, Yuichi gives Shiori a birthday gift by a brilliantly-lit fountain.

  • Yuichi’s kindness is one of the reasons that Kanon was so easy to follow and somewhat formulaic in nature: aside from a sardonic manner and his love for playing jokes on those around him, Yuichi is genuine to everyone he meets. CLANNAD‘s Tomoya was similar in this regard but had more noticeable flaws which made his journey more meaningful. This was almost certainly one of the learnings that CLANNAD would take from Kanon, and the end results are very pronounced. This isn’t to say that Yuichi is a flawless character: his own shortcomings and mistakes are brought to light in Nayuki’s arc.

  • Nayuki is probably my favourite of the heroines in Kanon: her story is a gentle but sad one that is set concurrently with Ayu’s arc within the anime. After finding a red bead, Nayuki reminisces on how she used to make yuki usagi (“snow rabbits”). These are the equivalent of Western snowmen, and are usually crafted from the leaves (ears) and berries (eyes) of the Nandina domestica, a flowering plant. These sculptures are made by women and children, and there’s over two hundred years of history surrounding these sculptures.

  • By having Ayu and Nayuki’s story run side-by-side, Kanon means to tell viewers that Yuichi must make a choice between Nayuki, who’d loved him since they were children, and Ayu, whose origins and presence still remains a mystery, but of great significance. Yuichi ends up choosing to spent time with Ayu, helping her to search for something precious that she’d lost years previously. This brings the two closer together, but comes at Nayuki’s expense.

  • Owing to Kanon‘s more condensed structuring, Ayu and Yuichi’s relationship advances far more quickly than that of CLANNAD‘s, which portrays Nagisa and Tomoya as holding hands for the first time some months into their relationship, versus the few days for Ayu and Yuichi. While Kanon‘s anime adaptation might be quite short relative to how much content there was in the original visual novel, the anime itself never feels forced or rushed; things are adequately explained to viewers so that it’s easy to follow what’s going on.

  • The dramatic lighting, of vivid reds and deep purples, that accompany Ayu and Yuichi when she finally shows him her “school” hint at the unease and doubt that follows. Here at this spot in the woods, Ayu vanishes before Yuichi’s eyes. Yuichi is devastated and pushes forwards in his search, and Nayuki does her best to help keep his spirits up despite his troubles. Ayu’s disappearance hints at her origins, and I am reminded again of CLANNAD‘s Fuuko, who was hospitalised but managed to maintain a presence anyways, interacting with the principal actors to keep the story going.

  • In this revisitation, I’ve briefly mentioned that I began watching Kanon a short ways into my final undergraduate year, after my MCAT and during a time when I was supposed to be picking out a topic for my undergraduate thesis. I was enrolled in an honours programme that yielded a Bachelor of Health Sciences degree for my first degree, and in the final year, students must take a special projects course that sees them conduct research and write a thesis of sorts on their findings: in many ways, this course was similar to a miniature graduate degree. As I pushed through Kanon, my project materialised into a multi-scale renal model.

  • My fourth year of university was marked by a dramatic resurgence in my spirit, and I had found my old spirits again: having taken the MCAT, my studying for exams became much more effective. Striking a fine balance between working on my project, and the decidedly less exciting coursework, I managed to do very well in my final year, returning to the Dean’s List and bringing my GPA back up to a point where I could earn an honours degree. I would watch Kanon every three or so days during this time, and it took me a few months to go through the entire series.

  • That’s enough reminiscing about my undergraduate program’s final year; back in the present, we’re now closing in on the Christmas break very rapidly now, and this past week, I’ve attended a second Christmas party, which was a quiet get-together with the office. After a traditional dinner of turkey and Italian-sausage-stuffing, with maple-bacon topped vegetables and mashed potatoes, we settled in to conversation and watched Die Hard. On the day of the party, it had actually rained, and those around me remarked on the curiosity of this phenomenon: here in my city, precipitation takes the form of snow from November until around April.

  • When Akiko is involved in an accident and hospitalised, Nayuki falls into a depression. The combination of Yuichi’s rejection and her mother’s injury leaves the normally-cheerful and optimistic Nayuki inconsolable, refusing Yuichi’s efforts to talk to her. Yuichi decides to rest and reattempt, but while sleeping, the remainder of his memories return to him: seven years previously, on his last day in town, Yuichi and Ayu had been playing together near a large tree on the hill, but Ayu fell out of a tree and fell into a coma. In a panic, he ran off, and then rebuked Nayuki’s confession of love to him.

  • The dream gives Yuichi the last piece of the puzzle he needed, helping him to understand Nayuki’s feelings and also remember where he and Ayu had buried the angel amulet that Ayu had stated could grant three wishes. He heads off into a blizzard to locate the amulet, and while he manages to find it, succumbs to the elements. When Yuichi comes to, he finds himself in a warm bed: it turns out that the original Makoto Sawatari had found him.

  • The clean, white design of Makoto’s apartment is intended to create a very minimalist, clean environment that represents a rebirth of sorts, rather similar to how Gandalf awoke in a white void after his rebirth following his battle with the Balrog of Moria. This “reborn” Yuichi retains his kind personality but now gains his old memories back, allowing him to put two and two together and properly address those unanswered questions from his past.

  • Returning to the promised spot, Yuichi finds that Ayu has re-manifested, and makes her final wish to Yuichi: to forget about her. Yuichi refuses, and Ayu decides to make a different wish, disappearing shortly thereafter. While the precise nature of this wish is not specified, one can surmise what it was easily enough. Having taken on new memories from spending time with Yuichi and the others, Ayu makes a much more selfless wish, channeling what is Kanon‘s equivalent of the Infinity Gems to heal all those who have been hurting in the past seven years.

  • Nayuki has also recovered, and she heads out to the same spot where Yuichi had rejected her years previously. Yuichi takes his chance to properly apologise to her, and the two reconcile in full under a gentle snowfall, giving a romantic, if wistful feeling. At this point, Nayuki has not heard back from the hospital on Akiko’s condition, but the fact that Nayuki and Yuichi are able to be open about what they feel is a subtle sign of what Ayu had wished for.

  • As winter gives way to spring, Mai and return to school, preparing for their graduation, while Shiori is cured of her illness and accompanies everyone to class. Akiko, fully recovered, fills Yuichi in on the final pieces of what had happened to Ayu: after she fell out of the tree, she was brought to a hospital. Yuichi visits her frequently and holds the hope that Ayu would awaken. However, Yuichi’s friends soon move on with their futures, leaving Yuichi her only visitor. Another year passes, and Yuichi manages to figure out the last piece of the puzzle: the Ayu who had appeared to him was never seen without her red headband. Yuichi realises that this is the gift he had intended to give to her on the last day he had been in town years previously.

  • Locating the headband is the solution, and Ayu regains consciousness soon after, bringing Kanon to an end. Because I watched Kanon after I did CLANNADKanon did initially come across as a bit emptier and lonelier than CLANNAD. My impressions, however, remained quite positive, as I found the story to be about coming to terms with the past and facing one’s mistakes to rectify them. I praised the series for being very forward and clear with its mechanics, as well. In time, Kanon has come to stand out on its own merits apart from CLANNAD, and is definitely worth the journey.

As Jun Maeda’s first work with Key, Kanon represents an essay in the craft; Maeda would later come to use the learnings from Kanon to build the masterpiece that is CLANNAD. Numerous elements from Kanon were successfully applied to CLANNAD and honed; notions of family, the mother-daughter relationship, human emotions as having a near-supernatural presence, and numerous other features are shared between both series. CLANNAD‘s scenarios are more poignant, and written in greater detail, taking lessons from Kanon to craft an even more emotionally-powerful story. However, despite being the predecessor to CLANNAD, Kanon stands strongly on its own merits: the story itself is focused, establishes Yuichi’s story along with those of each heroine well, compelling viewers to stick around and follow the story as Yuichi learns more about everyone and himself. Coupled with Kyoto Animation’s top-tier animation, superior sound and superb voice acting, Kanon, like CLANNAD, looks timeless and aged exceptionally gracefully. The arc-based story is easy to follow, and despite the presence of the supernatural, Kanon succeeds in keeping the narrative and its messages clean and simple. The end result is that Kanon, like CLANNAD, withstands the test of time and is well worth watching. I have no trouble recommending this to folks who enjoy stories similar to CLANNAD, and those seeking a moving story about self-discovery will find Kanon a worthwhile series to watch. There is one final aspect to Kanon that I’ve not yet mentioned, and the main reason why the series ultimately is one I regard as a masterpiece: being set in winter, a season associated with death, suffering and stillness, Kanon creates the seeds of new hope amidst the snow and cold. Yuichi’s warmth and patience throughout the winter, then, is met with reward by the time spring comes: Mai’s graduated, Shiori’s formally enrolled as a student, and Ayu awakens from her coma, spending a warm day with Yuichi under the cherry blossoms. By enduring and working hard for those around him, Yuichi earns his happy ending as spring arrives, when life and colour is restored to the world. After watching Kanon a second, and a third time, my intense revelry for winter began dissipating, and in time, I came to accept winter as a season to not be endured, but one with its own merits and things to enjoy, having seen Kanon‘s presentation of winter as being a beautiful season in its own right.

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.

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Your Lie in April, A Journey in Vanquishing Past Dæmons and Discovering the Colour of Love

“Maybe there’s only a dark road ahead. But you still have to believe and keep going. Believe that the stars will light your path, even a little bit. Come on, let’s go on a journey!” –Kaori Miyazono

After his mother died, child pianist Kōsei Arima withdrew from competition and consigned himself to an ordinary life with his best friends, Tsubaki Sawabe and Ryōta Watari. However, when he encounters Kaori Miyazono and her wild, free-spirited violin performance, his world is flipped outside down: despite claiming to have developed a crush on Ryōta, Kaori hauls Kōsei to be her accompanist. Kōsei’s skill at the piano had decayed, and he suffers from an inability to hear his playing, causing his performance to suffer, but the won’t-take-no Kaori continues to push and encourage him, even forcibly signing Kōsei up for a competition. Spurred by her boundless energy, Kōsei gradually realises that irrespective of what had happened in the past with his mother, her spirit endures within him, and that for all of the bad moments, there were an equivalent number of treasured moments, as well. Kōsei’s return to piano also inspires Takeshi Aiza and Emi Igawa to step their game up: after seeing Kōsei’s phenomenal performances years previously, both sought to surpass him and reach the standard that they believed Kōsei had set. While Kōsei continues to suffer, constant support from Kaori and Hiroko Seto (a renowned pianist and friend of Kōsei’s mother) allows Kōsei to rediscover his style and express his gratitude through his music. While he does not progress in the competition, Takeshi and Emi realise the extent that he’s matured. Kōsei later agrees to be Kaori’s accompanist again, but she falls ill, leaving Kōsei to perform on his own. Through an emotional performance, Kōsei comes to terms with his mother’s decisions and is able to cast off the spectre haunting him. However, Kaori’s illness begins taking its toll on her, and Kōsei struggles with his growing feelings for Kaori and fear for her well-being, while at once agreeing to mentor Takeshi’s younger sister in piano. Meanwhile, Tsubaki is forced to deal with her own feelings for Kōsei: she dates a senior to take her mind off things, but her mind never strays far from Kōsei. An ailing Kaori decides to accept a highly experimental surgical procedure, gambling her life with the hope of playing alongside Kōsei one last time, but the operation is unsuccessful. She dies on the same day that Kōsei is set to compete, and midway through the competition, Kaori’s spirit provides Kōsei with encouragement. He puts his fullest effort and feeling into this song as a farewell of sorts for Kaori, and in the aftermath, Kaori’s parents leave Kōsei with a letter that reflected on her heartfelt enjoyment of their time together, as well as how she had been in love after all this time. Tsubaki catches up to Kōsei and reminds him that he’s not alone, promising to be with him from here on out. This is Your Lie in April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, or Kimiuso for brevity), which was adapted from Naoshi Arakawa’s manga as an anime that ran from October 2014 to March 2015, and over the course of its twenty-two episode run, viewers found a series that was profoundly moving and meaningful.

Using music and Kōsei’s initial inability to perform with a piano, Your Lie in April integrates multiple themes into its story. There are two central elements that stand out: Your Lie in April‘s first half deals with the idea that the dæmons one faces are largely self-created. Moreover, these spectres can only be solved by oneself, but encouragement and support from others is absolutely critical in starting this particular journey. Time and time again, Your Lie in April presents Saki, Kōsei’s mother, as a cold and unforgiving parent determined to craft Kōsei into a flawless pianist in her own image, fulfilling her own wish of becoming a pianist where she suffered illness and being so focused on this objective that she is willing to physically punish Kōsei for any mistake. Kōsei subsequently grew to resent this and wished Saki to die; when Saki’s illness finally overtook her, Kōsei was devastated and held himself accountable, feeling that his ill-will ultimately cost Saki her life. The resulting trauma manifests as Kōsei’s inability to hear himself play. When Kaori appears and begins forcing Kōsei out of his comfort zone, Kōsei is made to confront his past dæmons. Your Lie in April portrays this as a gradual journey, one that is filled with pain: Kōsei initially succumbs to his guilt when playing the piano and loses his composure, but undeterred, Kaori pushes him forwards anyways. As he begins to appreciate Kaori’s actions and willingness to stay with him, Kōsei begins to play the piano with more conviction and resolve, putting his feelings for her into each keystroke. By taking up piano once more and rediscovering what music meant to him, Kōsei also comes to see his mother from a different perspective. It turns out that Saki was not as cold and unfeeling as viewers are originally led to believe: between learning more about “Love’s Sorrow” and speaking with Hiroko, Kōsei discovers that Saki had always intended for him to grow into being a pianist, demanding the best from him so his fundamentals were strong enough for him to develop his own style. Kōsei recalls that there were cherished memories, as well, and ultimately, is able to come to terms with both the good and bad. With his past no longer haunting him as a result of Kaori’s inspiration and his own decision to do something for her sake, Kōsei is able to overcome his dæmons and return as a pianist.

Entering Your Lie in April‘s second half, the leading theme switches over to how contrasting personalities play an integral role in changing one’s world views, to the extent that one cannot help but fall in love with the agent that catalyses this change. When Kōsei starts his journey to rediscover piano, his world is devoid of colour and joy. Kōsei is content to live life out without taking charge, but a fateful meeting with Kaori throws his world into disarray. The juxtapositions between Kōsei and Kaori’s manner are apparent: whereas he is quiet and low key, Kaori is brash and expressive. The fantastic energy that Kaori brings to the table, manifesting from her desire to live life as fully as possible, is infectious, and a reluctant Kōsei slowly comes to enjoy the joy she brings into his life, even when Kaori will happily thrash Kōsei for any slights, imagined or otherwise. Not a day goes by without some sort of excitement, and Kōsei begins realising that there are things in the world to live for and work towards. His improvement is mirrored in his ability as a pianist: the more time he spends with Kaori, the more he experiences happiness, which translates to playing the piano with more emotion and intensity. The right individual and the right level of persistence ultimately is what breaks Kōsei out of his rut, and ultimately causes Kōsei to fall in love with her. While most stories are content to end here, with the idea that opposites in personality are able to offer one with a different perspective and help them grow, Your Lie in April cruelly cuts things short with Kaori’s illness. This additional factor suggests that nothing is to be taken for granted: the time Kōsei spent with Kaori is priceless beyond measure. Despite being so fleeting, its impacts were very tangible and genuine, showing that true love can exist in all forms and durations. During the short time they spend together, Kaori is glad to have had met Kōsei, who similarly is grateful that someone with such wild abandon could remain in his company and help him into the next, more colourful chapter of his life.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When Your Lie in April was airing, I was busy with graduate studies and therefore did not have time to watch the series. While I’d heard nothing but praise for the series, a full schedule precluded any chance to watch it while it was airing. However, after I finished watching Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka??‘s second season, I noticed that many familiar names (Risa Taneda, Ayane Sakura, Inori Minase, Saori Hayami and Ai Kayano) were present in the cast. Between the positive reception and half of GochiUsa‘s cast, I entered Your Lie in April intending to enjoy seeing the characters in a different role than the happy-go-lucky world that is GochiUsa.

  • What happened next should not come as a surprise: I went through Your Lie in April, enjoyed it thoroughly and found that Kōsei’s experiences were superbly written, challenging my views on love and pushing me towards introspection. Your Lie in April is as much of a journey of self-discovery as it is about falling in love, and openly gives the impression that both events are interconnected, dependent on the other. In other words, Kōsei falls in love with Kaori because she helps him accept his past, and his return to piano leads him to fall in love with Kaori.

  • Kaori is voiced by Risa Taneda (Rize Tedeza of GochiUsa and Aya Komichi of Kiniro Mosaic, to name a few). Here, Taneda presents Kaori as being superbly energetic, bold and rowdy, contrasting the shy, reserved manner of Rize and Aya. Kōsei is voiced by Natsuki Hanae, whom I know best for his roles in Nagi no Asukara as Hikari Sakishima and Aldnoah.Zero‘s very own Inaho Kaizuka. An all-star voice cast convinced me to check out Your Lie in April, but even just a few episodes in, it became apparent that Your Lie in April‘s cast was but one of its many strengths.

  • While I’ve opted to focus on Kōsei and Kaori for my own reflections, the supporting characters play a much greater role in giving weight to Kōsei and Kaori’s stories, far more than I’ve gone into detail in this post. Even early in the game, Kaori’s insistence on hanging with Kōsei suggests that she’s been longing to spend time with him, and while they get off to a rough start (with Kaori making her best effort to paste him into the ground with naught more than a recorder), Kaori’s positive energy means that Kōsei has little choice but to go along with her.

  • The artwork of Your Lie in April is of an exceptional quality: the anime was done by A-1 Pictures, who are known for their incredible series. Colours in Your Lie in April are especially vivid and like series before it, they often serve to tell the true story of how the characters are feeling in a given moment even when their dialogue is unclear or in contradiction with their feelings. Having been in the anime game for a shade over a decade now, I’ve come to count on visual metaphors in helping me read a moment – colour and lighting usually speaks volumes about things, being a typically reliable way of ascertaining how everyone is feeling in a given scene.

  • Particular detail is paid to concerts, with every key and cable of the piano animated as Kōsei performs on stage. His early performances are marred by a sense that he’s drowning in an ocean, and occasionally, the spectre of Saki appears to haunt him. Saki comes to represent Kōsei’s own guilt and regret: while Your Lie in April is no horror series, these manifestations are nonetheless terrifying in their own right and convey to viewers the horror and desolation that Kōsei experiences.

  • Kaori’s diving off a bridge into the river below is perhaps the most vivid demonstration of her free-spirited manner. I was originally intending to write about Your Lie in April during April, but a busy schedule precluded that. I’ve encountered considerable difficulty in putting a proper discussion of Your Lie in April together because this series had a very strong emotional impact and it was challenging to coherently explain what appeals make Your Lie in April a masterpiece.

  • While Kaori is ostensibly in love with Ryōta, Kōsei ends up spending a great deal of time with her as the two gear up for concerts and competitions. Kaori’s approach borders on the insane, and one of her most outrageous acts was to scatter sheet music in impossible quantities throughout locations that Kōsei frequents. However, in spite of all the fighting the two engage in, they also share quieter moments together, such as when they return to the school by night.

  • I’ve not featured too many moments in this reflection, but one of the aspects in Your Lie in April that stood out was the over-the-top degradation of facial features and animation at certain moments. These are deliberately utilised to convey a particular emotion, whether it be shock, frustration or even joy in a comedic context: of note is whenever Kaori believes Kōsei to be acting inappropriately, as seen in their first meeting. Like CLANNAD, the juxtaposition between comedy and tragedy is used to great effect in Your Lie in April, bringing the characters to life.

  • Takeshi and Emi are two accomplished pianists whose remarkable skill and devotion to piano can be traced back to being inspired by Kōsei’s playing. Both view Kōsei as a role model, and are also absolutely determined to best him, having failed time and time again previously, but when they encounter him and learn that he’s in no shape to compete, find themselves disappointed. As Your Lie in April progresses, their view of Kōsei shifts: he goes from being an unbeatable competitor to a fellow human being.

  • At his best, Kōsei is a masterful pianist known for his precision. Despite still being plagued by an inability to play all the way through, Kōsei’s recovery is marked by his resolve to continue performing, even if it means starting again from the beginning of a piece. I am no pianist, and my musical ability is nonexistent despite my having played the trumpet and clarinet back in middle school. As a result, I’ve opted not to discuss any of the technical elements behind the music in Your Lie in April: besides the area being outside the realm of my knowledge, the main messages in Your Lie in April are thankfully not dependent on musical theory.

  • The changes in Kōsei, and the resulting shift in the interactions he has with Takeshi and Emi are one of my favourite secondary stories in Your Lie in April, as they reinforce sense that Kōsei is maturing because of his time spent with Kaori. I recently watched the live-action adaptation of Your Lie in April and found it an equally enjoyable experience. With only the core narrative present, the live-action film is much more focused and concise, succeeding in delivering its emotional impact. I count the film to be a conference publication: short and succinct, while the anime is a thesis paper, with the time and space to explore more.

  • Where I live, there are no fireflies, but their symbolism is evident enough, representing illumination and gentle support in most cultures. In Japan, fireflies also signify love. After a competition, while Kōsei did not make the cut for stopping play, he spends time with Kaori and remarks that she was why he was able to regroup and continue in spite of himself. It’s a tender moment that indicates Kōsei’s feelings for Kaori.

  • Love’s Sorrow (Liebesleid) is the second part of Alt Wiener Tanzweisen, a series of three pieces written by Fritz Kreisler for violin and piano. While the exact date that Kreisler wrote them is not known, they were published in 1905. Saki enjoys Love’s Sorrow most of the three parts because of its transition from the minor to major key: I previously noted that I am no expert in music theory, but I do know enough to say that songs written in the minor key sound sad, while passages in the major key are happier. Thus, Love’s Sorrow can be seen as sorrow giving way to happiness.

  • Shown as an eyeless spectre up until now, it turns out that Saki had wanted the best for Kōsei and her resorting to physical punishment whenever Kōsei failed to play flawlessly stemmed from a desperation to see him realise the dreams that she could not. As time goes on, Saki’s illness worsens, and with it, comes the desire to see Kōsei play piano where she was unable to. However, when she was well, Saki genuinely loved Kōsei and the two have as many happy moments together as they did the more painful memories that Kōsei vividly recalls.

  • Understanding that he is drawn to Kaori, Kōsei agrees to be her accompanist for a performance. Even when Kaori falls ill, Kōsei takes to the stage and plays with his heart, delivering a moving performance that shows his acceptance of his past. His playing is sufficiently moving that he is asked to perform an encore despite the performance being centred around violins. With his past no longer an issue, the second half of Your Lie in April moves towards Kōsei and his growing feelings for Kaori, which are tempered by his fear of getting closer to her.

  • This fear comes from the fact that Kaori suffers from a terminal illness of unknown nature: she was unable to make the performance earlier because she’d collapsed, and the illness is likely fatal. Hence, Kōsei worries that if he allows himself to fall in love with her, the inevitability of Kaori’s death would leave him hurt. Kōsei thus occasionally fails to visit Kaori unless otherwise hauled in, drowning himself in piano once more.

  • Tsubaki is a central character in Your Lie in April, and while I’ve not mentioned her much, she is Kōsei’s neighbour and has known him since their childhood. Tsubaki is constantly feeling conflicted: Kōsei rediscovering his love for piano also means his falling in love with Kaori. While Tsubaki wants Kōsei to be happy, she’s been in love with him for a long time, and fears that he may forget about her in the process. Ayane Sakura voices Tsubaki, with the inevitable result that Tsubaki sounds identical to GochiUsa‘s Cocoa and VividRed Operation‘s Akane.

  • Nagi, Takeshi’s younger sister, also comes into focus during Your Lie in April‘s second half: after a chance encounter with Kōsei, she reveals some skill with the piano and attempts to get Hiroko to become her instructor so that she might keep an eye on Kōsei. Hiroko instead assigns Kōsei to instruct Nagi, wherein he begins picking apart her playing, and while Nagi is initially resentful towards Kōsei, she comes to see him as a proper mentor and develops a crush on him in time, as well.

  • Your Lie in April‘s use of colour is exceptional, but nowhere is the choice of palette more apparent than with Kaori’s hair – ever since her hospitalisation, her normally golden hair takes on a faded shade of yellow, indicating that she’s unwell. It’s a very visceral reminder that Kaori’s time is limited, but in spite of this, her spirits remain: she surprises him with a visit to their school. While Kōsei seems to be headed down the route of the oblivious protagonist, the carefully-tuned writing in Your Lie in April makes it clear that Kōsei’s heart lies only with Kaori, and ultimately, budding feelings elsewhere never take away from the central story in the series.

  • As it turns out, Nagi picked up the piano to impress Takeshi, and it is here that Kōsei openly admits that he is in love with Kaori. The progression of love in Your Lie in April is rather different than that seen in CLANNADAngel Beats! and Tora Dora!, series that I’ve found myself thoroughly impressed with for their genuine portrayal of how people come to fall in love. They’re a rather different beast than romantic comedies, which chronicle the mishaps and chaos that surround falling in love. Of course, I am open to both approaches, but the more natural-feeling love stories invariably have a much greater emotional payoff when I watch them.

  • The realisation that Kōsei is actually quite similar to her leads Nagi to develop nascent feelings for him, as well. This particular aspect was absent from the film, and I imagine that it’s meant to show audiences that Kōsei has a great deal of impact on those around him. Truthfully, Your Lie in April has enough moving parts so that writing about this series in an episodic manner would be warranted, as there’s a great deal going on; because of the complexity in Your Lie in April, this post has not covered every noteworthy matter that is relevant to the anime. Similarly, forty screenshots is actually an inadequate amount of space to cover every scene or moment that holds a high emotional impact.

  • While Kōsei is instructing Nagi and asks to perform with her in a school festival, Tsubaki struggles with her feelings for Kōsei. Having done her utmost to stem them, these feelings have only strengthened. The fellow she was dating notices this and decides to break up, feeling it unfair to himself, Tsubaki and Kōsei to continue what was essentially a sham. Tsubaki’s best friend, Nao, has been looking after her during this time and offers advice. While seemingly knowledgeable in the realm of relationships, like myself, Nao’s understanding of relationships is entirely theoretical.

  • The song that Nagi and Kōsei perform is Sergei Rachmaninoff’s piano arrange of the Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty, a four-handed piece that requires two players simultaneously. During their performance, Nagi senses the emotional intensity of Kōsei’s playing and attempts to match his performance, resulting in a thoroughly impressed audience. Takeshi is moved, as well, and demands to face off against him one day in competition.

  • Towards the end of Your Lie in April, the buildup that resulted from the earlier arcs and episodes create a sense of connection between viewers and the characters: having taken the time to develop everyone’s stories gives every individual a raison d’être that gives audience members reason to root for and care about them. The moments of comedy and friendship come together to create individuals that are lifelike. Thus, entering Your Lie in April‘s endgame means that viewers must now confront the harsh reality that Kaori is not going to recover.

  • In spite of this, Kaori is in sufficient condition to compliment Kōsei’s playing and remarks that his actions have inspired her to take up music again. She reveals that she’s agreed to a highly experimental operation that may extend her life expectancy long enough for her to play alongside Kōsei once more. The framing provides a subtle hint as to how things will turn out: Kōsei and Kaori are in the distance, foreshadowing the reduced probability of a successful operation. The odds notwithstanding, Kaori feels that a chance of hope is better than no hope, and she elects to go forward with it.

  • It is not difficult to imagine that under different circumstances, Kōsei could have ended up friends with Emi and Takeshi much earlier: as he plays piano increasingly for those around him rather than purely for the sake of playing, his heart opens up, and both Emi and Takeshi would’ve seen a human being behind the stoic and seemingly-distant pianist. While late in the making, the three get along as friendly rivals and fellow pianists would late in Your Lie in April.

  • Throughout Your Lie in April, Hiroko’s child, Koharu, can be seen accompanying her. Voiced by Inori Minase (GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu), Koharu deeply enjoys Kōsei’s piano performances and is often seen clinging to Hiroko, being quite bewildered and amused by the events around her. Small children are rendered in a very distinct manner in Your Lie in April, and as CLANNAD had done so vividly with Ushio, Your Lie in April similarly captures the innocence and wonder that children have of the world. Minase does a spectacular job of playing Koharu, adding to her impressive repertoire as a voice actress.

  • Kaori is such a memorable and distinct character that when I saw the initial trailers for Violet Evergarden, I identified Violet as Kaori to one of my friends by mistake. Because Your Lie in April carries the distinction of creating such noteworthy characters and giving viewers reason to root for them, as well as for covering themes of love, recovery and discovery with a masterful balance of breadth and depth. Because of this, the series was able to appeal to a very wide range of audiences, and the only real criticism I have to level at Your Lie in April is that the first half proceeds a bit more slowly, before things accelerate wildly towards the end. This is a very minor complaint, as it does not diminish the impact that the series ultimately has.

  • As the day of the competition nears, Kōsei fears that with Kaori’s imminent operation, playing the piano will be bound to the loss of two people he greatly cared for and loses the will to play. Kaori insists that he proceed, and when Kōsei is set to compete, he wonders if he can continue. Hearing Tsubaki sneeze in the crowd, Kōsei is reminded that for his losses, there will always be people in his corner, and regrouping, Kōsei begins to perform. His world fades away, and he becomes enveloped in his music, deciding to give this performance everything he’s got for the girl who’d given him so much.

  • At the same time as Kaori’s performance, Kaori’s operation is unsuccessful, and she dies. However, her spirit endures for a few moments: she plays alongside Kōsei and is able to appreciate his music one last time. The visual impact of the final performance is beyond words, creating a feeling of longing, hope and finality that brings Kōsei’s music to life, as well as making tangible his feelings for Kaori that would otherwise have been remarkably difficult to put into words.

  • As a series that utilises music to drive its characters forward, the soundtrack in Your Lie in April is unsurprisingly of a solid quality. From highly emotional vocal inset songs, to a varied collection of incidental pieces that capture the light-hearted and emotional moments in the series, each song in Your Lie in April serves a purpose. Of note are are the main themes and original songs that project a melancholy sense of longing.

  • Besides the soundtrack and vocal pieces, Your Lie in April also makes extensive use of classical pieces. From Beethoven, to Chopin, Kreisler and Tchaikovsky, classical piano music is also provided in a dedicated album. Folks with a background in classical music and musical theory will doubtlessly be able to tie the meaning of each song and draw on symbolism inherent in the music itself to appreciate what Kōsei is experiencing at a given time. For me, while I appreciate classical music, my background is not extensive, and therefore, I’m not able to make these connections quite so readily.

  • After Kaori dies, her parents give Kōsei the letter Kaori’s written for him. Even at its dénouement, Your Lie in April manages to hit viewers with another poignant moment. Viewers are already aware that Kaori had been in love with Kōsei, but hearing the contents of the letter was particularly rending. While mere words on paper, each character carries a weight to it that really emphasises the extent that Kaori had reciprocated Kōsei’s feelings. I was forcibly reminded of the letters I’ve received over the years and recall with a striking clarity forgotten promises of old. This is why it was so tricky for me to write for Your Lie in April: I did not wish to impose upon readers irrelevant recollections as I explored what made Your Lie in April work.

  • I’m not sure if this post can be considered to be hopelessly sentimental to the point of foolishness, but I do hope that I’ve been able to capture what made Your Lie in April so enjoyable for me, and also what aspects led it to change my world views on love, namely, that falling in love can compel individuals to rise above their problems in a spectacular fashion. It was through Your Lie in April that I appreciated why falling in love was akin to jumping into a colourful world from one that was previously monochrome, and also reminded me that for everything else I’ve done so far, my world is still very much monochrome.

  • As a child, Kaori had been so moved by Kōsei’s performance that she immediately wanted to drop piano and take up violin with the sole objective of being able to play alongside him. This scene was adorable, and A-1 Pictures flawlessly captures the excitement of a small child whose world was unequivocally moved. For all of the sorrow in Your Lie in April, there is also great joy, and it makes it very plain that Kōsei has done many things for those around him, even if he does not know it.

  • Kaori was thus overjoyed when she learnt that she was going to the same middle school as Kōsei, but wondered how to best approach him. She decided to re-imagine herself and then make a single lie with the goal of getting closer to Kōsei. I Want To Eat Your Pancreas is often compared to Your Lie in April, with the former being a streamlined version that does away with music in favour of purely focusing on the relationship between the two central characters. This is true to an extent, as the series even share a central theme, but Your Lie in April is much more comprehensive and utilises its secondary characters in a much greater capacity, as well as music itself to tell its story. At the end of the day, both series are enjoyable, and my verdict is that if an individual finds one enjoyable, the other will also be worthwhile.

  • The image of Kaori walking into the distance is a striking one: her remarks on life being a journey and that one should trust to hope is an uplifting way to approach the world. The gentle optimism of her words remind me of CLANNAD‘s Nagisa Furukawa, and while Kaori is rather more animated than Nagisa, the two ultimately share a great deal of similarities in being able to motivate a brooding male lead and help them come to terms with who they are, as well as embrace their respective futures.

  • It may seem cruel to say so, but Tsubaki’s unwavering feelings for Kōsei also indicate that, while there is indeed loss in life, there will always be people willing to provide support. Tsubaki had been present throughout Your Lie in April to support Kōsei in her own way, even when it meant risking losing him to Kaori. As it turns out, Tsubaki does make another attempt to make her feelings known to Kōsei, and his original desire to learn the piano was actually to cheer up Tsubaki when her grandmother died. It can therefore be reasoned that Kōsei and Tsubaki could find happiness together.

  • The photograph here shows that Tsubaki and Kaori had known one another for a long time, and Kōsei’s decision to frame this picture shows that he is able appreciate everything Kaori and Tsubaki have done for him. This brings my talk on Your Lie in April to a close, and I hope that this talk was of a satisfactory standard. This Your Lie in April is now in the books, marking the first time I’ve written with a dual-monitor setup. With a pair of monitors, I’ve cut the time it takes to make a post down by a third, and with this, I am shifting my attention next to Metro Exodus and HBO’s Chernobyl. It is not often I write about live actions, but the themes and subjects explored in Chernobyl hit very close to home and merit consideration.

Your Lie in April has many moving parts beyond Kōsei and Kaori; his exceptional skills as a pianist means that Kōsei’s acted as inspiration for Takeshi, Emi and Nagi. His gentle nature and longtime friendship with Tsubaki means that she also loves him dearly. The complexities of each character in Your Lie in April shows that for what Kōsei sees his world as, he ultimately is in a place where there are many people who care for and respect him. Being able to accept Kaori’s friendship means Kōsei is able to mature and open his eyes to the world that he previously ignored, allowing him to rediscover joy anew. These elements together transform Your Lie in April into a masterpiece that touches viewers. Giving Your Lie in April this particular honour was a relatively easy call, but what was not easy was summoning up the resolve to write this post: I finished Your Lie in April three years earlier, but the series touched upon matters of the heart, and long have I lacked the maturity and strength to write about this series without my thoughts straying back to my own inexperience. I admit that even now, writing this post was a challenge, but for thoroughly exploring the role that each of the secondary characters play without compromising the focus on Kōsei and Kaori, breathing life into their world through stunning visual metaphors (such as Kōsei’s feeling of drowning in an ocean of silence when he attempts to play the piano earlier on), the exceptional audio engineering that went into the series, heartfelt voice performances from the cast and a top-tier, emotional soundtrack, Your Lie in April represents a milestone series that illustrates how love can manifest and what miracles might occur as a result, a series that is definitely worth sharing. Watching Your Lie in April was a very emotionally-charged experience, and with the series covering such a wide range of ideas, well beyond what’s been discussed here, it is evident that there is something in this series for everyone, whether it be love, persistence, perspectives or even just the complexity of animation that went into the performances. With this in mind, I can confidently recommend Your Lie in April for all viewers irrespective of their backgrounds.

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: K-On!, A Portrayal of Discovery Through Exploration and a Ten-Year Anniversary Reflection

“To the me back then, you don’t need to worry. You’ll soon find something you can do, something you can set your heart on.” –Yui Hirasawa

When she enters high school, Yui Hirasawa struggles to decide on which club she ought to join. Meanwhile, Ritsu Tainaka and Mio Akiyama strive to find members to save Sakuragaoka High School’s light music club from being disbanded. Managing to recruit keyboard player Tsumugi Kotobuki, the club also convinces Yui to join. From picking up a guitar for the first time to learning chords, Yui settles into life with the light music club, which becomes known as Houkago Tea Time after Ritsu extorts instructor Sawako Yamanaka into acting as the club’s advisors. From training camps at Mugi’s summer home to performing for Sakuragaoka High School’s cultural festival, Yui finds joy in spending her time practising and drinking tea with Mio, Ritsu and Mugi. A year later, Houkago Tea Time performs at the welcome celebrations, capturing the heart of a young freshman named Azusa Nakano. She decides to join the Light Music Club, but disappointed at how lax the girls are, considers quitting until she confides in Mio about how she feels. Mio says that while it’s true the girls are slackers who’d rather drink tea than practise, being with them is fun, and this is the feeling they convey whenever they perform. Convinced to stay, Azusa practises with the others for another school festival. While Yui falls ill and is forced to stay home, she manages to recover before the concert. Despite forgetting her guitar, she recovers it and makes it to school just in time to perform the band’s second song: their concert is a success, and the girls are asked to do an encore, as well. Originating from Kakifly’s manga, Kyoto Animation’s adaptation of K-On! began airing in the spring of 2009 and left a considerable mark on the industry, with proponents praising the series’ sincerity and genuine portrayal of what having fun entails. K-On!‘s animated adaptation propelled the manga to fame, received a sequel and a movie, and also resulted in a collection of albums that performed strongly, as well. Musicians have cited K-On! as inspiration for their own careers, and even ten years after its initial airing, anime continue to be inspired by elements from K-On!.

Covering the first two manga volumes, K-On!‘s first season is a casual romp in the world of music: the first half focuses on Yui’s gradual progression as a guitar player, and the second half introduces Azusa into the narrative to present the idea that what makes something worth doing isn’t the technical strength, but rather, the members’ synergy in one another’s presence. Immediately upon hearing their music for the first time, Azusa is deeply moved and inspired to join the light music club, but is surprised to learn that the talented musicians on stage are ultimately a raggedy-ass bunch. Being the most mature and focused of the bunch, Mio relates to Azusa and ultimately puts into words for her what makes Houkago Tea Time special: it’s the fact that the girls are boundlessly carefree and manage to find fun in what they do. As such, the sum of their experiences together, and all of the treasured memories they make, feed into each of the songs that they perform. K-On! chooses to highlight these moments rather than portray the girls practising, and while this creates the impression that no one ever practises, the reality is that the girls practise off screen, giving both the manga and anime more time to focus on exploring the moments that the girls come to treasure. Even with practise, Houkago Tea Time are not professionals, but while the girls may be technically inferior as musicians, playing out of sync or committing mistakes, the rawness of their music creates a sense of genuineness that creates emotional impact in each of their songs. The outcome of taking this approach in K-On! creates a very simple, but powerful theme: that in the company of the right people, if one genuinely loves what they do, the inclination to improve and push the envelope for what is possible will follow. One’s companions will drive them along to new heights; as Yui and Azusa find, one will always have the support and encouragement they need to have a good time and excel among the light music club.

The message in K-On! is concealed up underneath a layer of fluffiness that arises from the girls’ adorable mannerisms. Much comedy is derived from watching Yui, Mio, Ritsu, Mugi and Azusa bounce off one another: Yui is air-headed, Ritsu is energetic, Mio attempts to act mature but invariably fails, and Mugi simply goes along with things, while Azusa is doing her best to keep up with the eccentricities of each. Such a diverse and varied group results in hilarious moments of chaos, as well as equally heartwarming and endearing ones where the situation calls for it. Because their interactions drive the events (and misfortunes) that audiences see in K-On!, it is very easy for thematic elements to be lost as viewers laugh at, and with each of Yui, Mio, Ritsu, Mugi and Azusa as they experience various events as members of the light music club. The total absence of a significant conflict, and the fact that goals are very loosely defined (Ritsu and Mio endeavour to perform at Budokan, a famous venue for martial arts that has also seen rock performances historically, but this goal quickly fades away over time) gives the impression that K-On! has not a clear direction. While this is true, it is not to K-On!‘s detriment; a focus on life in Houkago Tea Time reminds viewers that ordinary, mundane moments are worth enjoying, especially considering the rigid structure in one’s life. High school students study and focus on getting into their post-secondary institutions of choice, leaving very little time to smell the roses, and so, moments such as those that Yui spends with Mio, Ritsu, Mugi and Asuza are incredibly valuable: viewers may take for granted the smaller things in life, and by placing a great deal of emphasis on things that may seem unremarkable, K-On! creates the sense that even the simplest things can be very enjoyable, and meaningful, to experience.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • K-On!‘s protagonist is Yui Hirasawa, a first-year high school student who initially has no idea as to what she wants out of high school. Despite her careless mannerisms, she is very capable when the moment calls for it, although she remains very prone to being lazy. Aki Toyosaki provides Yui’s voice, which has a very soft, fluffy character to it. Mio and Ritsu are the light music club’s initial members: Ritsu strong-arms Mio into joining, and after recruiting Mugi, the three perform for Yui, who decides to join after seeing what light music is about.

  • Light music (軽音楽, keiongaku) refers to the North American equivalent of pop music, and is ultimately what gives K-On! its name. While Yui is moved by the initial performance, she has no experience with music beyond the castanets. However, this isn’t really a problem – K-On! is about the journey, after all, and watching Yui learn enough to put on enjoyable performances despite her lazy attitudes made the series fun. Ritsu is voiced by Satomi Satō (GochiUsa’s Chiya Ujimatsu, Kiniro Mosaic‘s Sakura Karasuma and Eru Chitanda of Hyouka), while Yōko Hikasa (Infinite Stratos‘ Houki Shinonono, Yama no Susume‘s Kaede Saitō and Kō Yagami of New Game!), plays Mio.

  • The light music club is best known for its elaborate afternoon tea setups. With Mugi (Minako Kotobuki, Hibike! Euphonium‘s Asuka Tanaka and Chihiro Miyoshi from Tamayura: Hitotose) providing a range of sweets and tea, there is rarely a dull moment for this fledgling club: Mugi comes from a wealthy family and has access to tremendous resources, but despite this, longs for nothing more than an experience of everyday life. Both Mio and Ritsu have experience with music: Mio is a bassist, and Ritsu is a drummer. The two have known one another since grade school, and despite a turbulent and even violent dynamic, the two are close.

  • While it is a foregone conclusion that I greatly enjoyed K-On!, the story of how this came to be is something I don’t think I’ve ever fully shared. During the winter term in second year of my undergrad, an uncommonly difficult course-load had my GPA drop below the minimum needed to remain in satisfactory standing in my faculty. Between organic chemistry II and data structures II, I was unable to keep up – attempting to understand Diels-Alder reactions and how balancing a B-tree works was too much. Most of my peers only needed to focus on one or the other, and those who were in my stream ended up dropping data structures II, which I felt to be the wiser decision in retrospect.

  • I foolishly resolved to remain behind, and pushed forward. By March, my performance had dropped, and I finally had to withdraw from an option, having neglected this course to keep my program requirements in satisfactory condition. I had also been involved in a freak accident during an organic chemistry computer-based quiz, and the department of chemistry had intended on disciplining me despite clear indications that things resulted from a happenstance series of bad luck. The tumultuous situation was getting the better of me, and so, I decided to give K-On! a spin, having been curious to watch it ever since seeing various parodies of its music and becoming intrigued by the vocal pieces.

  • As I pushed through the first season, term began ending: the lighthearted comedy of K-On!, in conjunction with support from my friends and peers, allowed me to figure out a way. I ended up helping organise a study session for data structures II and spent as much time as I could asking the TA for help: in data structures II, I ended up with a B on the final and pulled my C+ to a B-. Similarly, in organic chemistry II, studying with my friends allowed me to earn a B+ on the final. The other incident was eventually sent over to my home faculty, who dismissed it on the basis that there was insufficient evidence to ever have suggested that this incident was anything other than an accident. One at a time, these problems were resolved.

  • I attribute watching K-On! to helping me relax, keep a cool head and systematically address each of my problems, one at a time. I ended up barely meeting the requirements for satisfactory standing and then entered the summer with a scholarship for research, which ended up being one of the best in memory – the work I did ended up acting as the basis for my undergraduate thesis. Back in K-On! itself, Yui has finally acquired a guitar: she ends up with a Heritage Cherry Sunburst Gibson Les Paul Standard electric guitar, which goes for north of 4500 CAD. Having chosen it purely for its aesthetic, Yui decides to take up part time work to fund it, and in the end, having fallen slightly short of the mark, Mugi pulls a few strings in order to allow Yui to buy it.

  • K-On! also had one unintended side effect: it led me to watch Sora no Woto, as well. I had been looking for series similar to K-On! and chanced upon Sora no Woto, which had been held to be similar. While Yui and Kanata outwardly resemble one another, and each character in Sora no Woto has a functional equivalent in K-On!, the themes are dramatically different. Here, Yui presents her test results to the light music club: she’s done so poorly that she’s prohibited from club activities unless she can pass her exams on a second attempt.

  • All of Yui’s friends, including Nodoka, show up to help her out: Nodoka’s known Yui the longest of everyone except for Ui, being someone that Yui came to depend upon. With their aid, Yui manages to pull through and gets excellent scores on each make-up exam, although this comes at the expense of her guitar-playing. As K-On! progresses, however, this aspect of Yui’s character fades away: K-On! does not recycle jokes to show that the characters subtly mature over time.

  • Summer training camps are an integral part of K-On!‘s first season, and while ostensibly for the girls to get away from distractions so they can practise, all training camps devolve into the girls having fun on the beach. These seemingly extraneous side trips actually serve an important purpose in K-On!, showing how the girls always move at their own pace regardless of wherever they are, and admittedly, also provides a bit of an opportunity to show off Mio in swimwear: of everyone, Mio has the best figure.

  • It was to my pleasure that the K-On! manga was sold at my local bookstore: I ended up buying all six volumes in the series, although the second volume was one I had considerable difficulty in finding. After picking up volumes one, three and four, plus the two volumes that were sent following K-On!!, I decided that for the sake of completion, I would order it online. Reading through the manga, I found that the anime to be a superbly faithful adaptation: some anime series take creative liberties with the source material, but K-On! successfully uses the space provided by the anime format to augment the story.

  • The summer camp episodes also show that, for their propensity to slack off, the girls put their heart into practise when they are properly motivated. Enough instances of the girls practising are shown to indicate that they don’t just enter a concert blind, but because the technical aspects of music are not the focus of K-On!, audiences are not treated to the same level of insight as series that are more focused on music. One common criticism of K-On! was that the emphasis on music was insufficient, but this criticism only arises when one ignores the fact that K-On! is not about music. Instead, music acts as the catalyst that drives the formation and maturation of a deep friendship amongst the light music club.

  • It was moments such as these that made Mio such an agreeable character for me: while she is mature, hard-working and focused, Mio can also be prone to moments of childishness, and in particular, is frightened by anything macabre. She recoils in fright whenever things like blood or ghosts are mentioned, and her over-the-top, yet adorable, reactions became widely known amongst the anime community. While amusing when sparingly seen, incessant reference to these moments at various forums and image boards may have also contributed to the dislike of K-On!.

  • While the light music club may get along well, the club still lacks an advisor. Instructor Sawako Yamanaka is eventually strong-armed into taking on this role: Sawako was once a member of Death Devil, the predecessor band that was known for its death metal-like lyrics over-the-top style. Sawako retains most of her skills from her high school days, and after she berate the girls, Ritsu decides to extort Sawako: it turns out that Sawako most desires to maintain the image of a professional and approachable instructor, but fears that her students might lose respect for her should word of her past get out.

  • Because Mio is intrinsically shy, she prefers playing the bass because it is more of a support role (mirroring one of my characteristics). If the circumstance calls for it, however, Mio will step up to the plate against her own reservations. While trying to prepare Yui to perform the vocals for their first-ever performance in front of their school, Yui becomes exhausted and loses her voice in the process, forcing Mio to take on the role.

  • Mio does an admirable job with the performance, and delivers Fuwa Fuwa Time with a mature, sexy voice. Yui’s version is cuter by comparison. The school festival sets the stage for one of K-On!‘s most infamous moments – post performance, she trips on a power cable and moons the entire audience. The manga is very clear as to what happened, showing everything in what is one of the most overt pantsu moments ever to make it into a Manga Time Kirara series, whereas the TV series is more implicit. In a hilarious coincidence, I happen to have a striped rice bowl of the exact design seen in K-On!, except that the stripes are yellow rather than blue.

  • Ui is Yui’s younger sister, and despite sharing Yui’s gentle and friendly manner, is the polar opposite to Yui: she is dependable, reliable and focused, being an excellent cook, good all-around student and capable of picking up almost anything without much difficulty. The two siblings are as close as siblings get, and while Ui is always looking out for Yui, Yui always does her best to find ways to make Ui happy, as well.

  • Going back ten years and watching K-On! again has shown just how much the anime’s aged. Despite being a Kyoto Animation production, the artwork is somewhat inconsistent in places and minimalistic, while the animation is not smooth in some places. The first season was probably produced with the aim of being a 12-episode series aimed to promote the manga, and while overall, was of a passable quality from a visual perspective, its execution and delivery was strong enough so that reception to the series was overwhelmingly positive.

  • The K-On! Christmas party sees shenanigans of an unexpected variety when Sawako shows up at Yui’s place unexpectedly. When I began watching K-On!, I was closer in age to Yui and the others than I was to Sawako. At the time of writing, that has irreversibly and unequivocally changed – I’m now older than Sawako, and found that K-On!‘s portrayal of Sawako as being only somewhat more mature than Yui and the others plausible. At the Christmas party, all sorts of crazy stuff happens, and while Mio is again, made to bear the brunt of the humiliation, everyone ends up having a good time.

  • During the New Year’s, only Mio dons a kimono. The girls share with one another what they did over the winter break, and it turns out Yui spent the entire time under the kotatsu. As a high school student, I spent most of my winter breaks studying for exams: in university, I ended up spending time with friends (notably, I went skiing one winter break) and generally relaxing more, since my exams would have been done. Besides catching up, the girls also pray for the success of their light music club in the new year.

  • K-On!‘s first half was about introducing Yui and the others to viewers. The second act brings Azusa “Azu-nyan” Nakano to the party: as Yui and the others enter their second year, Azusa begins her journey into high school. Armed with prior experience in playing the guitar, she initially has the same trouble as Yui did and cannot decide on what club to join. The art style in the second half begins taking on a more consistent form, and animation begins improving slightly compared to the first half.

  • Yui attempts to recruit Ui and her friend, Jun, into the light music club, but Jun prefers to join the jazz club, being inspired by a senior. Ui does not join any clubs that I can remember. With the challenge posed by recruiting new members, the light music club decides to continue onwards anyways towards the welcoming reception for the first year students. When Yui and the others graduate, both Ui and Jun join the Light Music Club to keep Azusa company.

  • Besides Fuwa Fuwa Time, the light music club also prepares a pair of new songs for the reception performance: Curry Nochi Rice and My Love is a Stapler are part of the line-up. I’m very fond of the music in K-On!, and even a decade later, the pieces Yui and the others perform are as fresh and enjoyable as they were when I first watched K-On!: the lyrics to Mio’s songs are spectacularly sappy, but the musical composition of each song is wonderfully done.

  • The welcome performance moves Azusa to tears, and she decides to join the light music club, adding a second guitarist to their ranks. Unlike the others, Azusa has had previous experience with the guitar, and she comes in with the expectation that the light music club consists of dedicated members who can help her improve in music. The reality comes as a bit of a shock to Azusa when she learns that the club is about as frivolous as it gets, favouring cakes and cosplay over practise.

  • Armed with upwards of seven more years of life experience since I last watched K-On!, I find that Azusa’s experience is like joining an top-notch software team, only to learn that during work hours, they crack bad software jokes and spend more time talking about Philz Coffee than coordinating on builds. Azusa feels short-changed when she spends a day with everyone and begins to wonder why someone like Mio hasn’t peaced out already for another band. However, the reality that keeps Azusa going with the light music club is equivalent to the idea that, despite this gap, the team gets along with one another and when the chips are down, are responsible, active developers who take pride in their work and follow best practises.

  • The manga did not cover this aspect, but Azusa’s doubts about the viability of the light music club leads her to dissolve in tears one day when even Mio has trouble motivating Yui and Ritsu to practise. Mio ends up answering the question on Azusa’s mind: the light music club’s strength comes from a bond amongst the team members, and while it may not look it, this fun-loving team can definitely pull their weight and then some when the moment calls for it. It is probably naïve for me to say so, but this is actually what I value in a team – members who are easygoing and authentic people, but who are competent, determined and focused so that they can always rise to the occasion when things get serious.

  • It suddenly strikes me that many of my own experiences, both during university and after, parallel those of K-On!. This is likely a consequence of the fact that that of everyone, I most resemble Mio – ironically, I also have Mio’s fear of the macabre despite my love for things like DOOM, and refuse to watch horror or slasher movies. Every team and group I’ve worked with, I tend to be the quiet and focused one, although once I warm up to a group, I’m known for creating a sense of reliability and an endless supply of bad jokes.

  • Mugi’s family is always looking for ways to keep her happy, but they sometimes go overboard – during the light music club’s second training camp, they stock the summer house with expensive welcome gifts and have even prepared a yacht. Mugi immediately requests that they stand down here, so the girls can enjoy things as normally as possible. The girls subsequently enjoy another beautiful day together on the beaches, under skies of deepest blue. The finale to K-On! aired ten years previously, two days before the start of summer, and up here in Wildrose Country, the weather of late has been excellent, and the lengthening days are well suited for enjoying fresh home-made burgers under sunshine.

  • Having two summer camps in the space of twelve episodes does seem a bit excessive, and prima facie appears to be little more than a flimsy excuse to showcase Mio’s excellent figure in a swimsuit. The manga, after all, spaced the summer camps over two volumes. However, the summer camps also act as an opportunity for the characters to bond with one another. Seeing how someone is outside of a professional or organised setting offers insight into their character and traits, so by seeing Yui, Ritsu, Mugi and even Mio without their instruments, Azusa can gain a better sense of what the atmosphere of the light music club is like.

  • After preparing dinner in a most amusing way, the girls set about practising, and make it in a short ways before burning out and setting up a classic “test of courage”. They run into a disheveled Sawako, who resembles an onryō, and later soak in the onsen. K-On!‘s immense popularity drew the ire of narrow-minded viewers who adamantly refused to see any merits in the series. In particular, the folks of Behind The Nihon Review would write numerous posts arguing that K-On! was, amongst other perceived slights, “mediocrity at its quintessence”.

  • Only mediocre reviewers use the word mediocrity seriously – Behind The Nihon Review’s writers operated under a perpetual belief that K-On! was “harmful” to the industry because even though the show does not advance the medium in any way, it was successful. These thoughts stem from a very limited understanding of what K-On! was about. K-On!‘s success does not come from its sense of humour, nor does it come from watching the characters bounce off one another. The meaningful message the series shows is that having heart makes a major difference, and is why Houkago Tea Time is able to perform at the level that it does despite the technical shortcomings amongst each members.

  • The light music club ultimately takes its name “Houkago Tea Time” (“After School Teatime”) after an irate Sawako runs out of patience as the girls struggle to come up with a band name during registration of their club. Mio prefers something a lot sweeter-sounding, but Sawako’s choice is both appropriate and iconic, perfectly describing what the girls’ band is about. With Azusa now a full-on member of Houkago Tea Time, a few other side adventures, such as Yui learning to look after her guitar properly, are presented. It turns out that everyone’s named their guitars: Yui calls her guitar “Guitah”, while Mio calls her bass “Elizabeth”, and Azusa names her Mustang “Muttan”.

  • Yui has never done any sort of maintenance on her guitar, and invariably, its performance starts degrading. After taking it in to get it serviced, the shopkeeper, who is familiar with the Kotobuki family, offers it free of charge to Mugi’s friends. Yui’s inexperience with everything is meant to indicate that being a musician has numerous nuances that one must be mindful of, and even though any musician will likely find Yui’s attitudes towards music to be blasé, K-On! is intended for the average viewer who may not be familiar with music.

  • Jealous that Mio is becoming more friendly with Nodoka, Ritsu becomes more distant from the others. Azusa attempts to mediate things and even puts on the cat ears that she’s normally too embarrassed to wear, showing just how far Azusa has come with Houkago Tea Time. However, even this is ineffective, and it takes Mio visiting Ritsu when the latter develops a cold for the two to reconcile.

  • For the school festival, Sawako wonders what to best outfit Houkago Tea Time in, and decides to use Mugi as the model. Even Mio participates in the selection process, and ultimately, the girls decide to go with a short yukata that Azusa takes a liking to. The others agree, feeling that it has a nice aesthetic but unlike more elaborate costumes, would not restrict their movement as to interfere with their playing.

  • While I count K-On! to be a remarkable series for its execution and messages, ironically, for a series whose focus is on music, the incidental music to the TV series is ordinary in every respect. It does convey a light and fluffy mood, but beyond this, does not elevate the K-On! experience: when K-On! first began airing, the technical aspects were strictly average, improving in season two and by the time of the movie, both incidental music, artwork and animation reach a very high standard. Coming back from the K-On! The Movie really makes the first season feel primitive by comparison.

  • Yui eventually falls ill after catching a cold, and is made to stay home so she can recover. Ui decides to stand in for Yui and swiftly masters the guitar, but is busted when she addresses Azusa as Azusa-san rather than Azu-nyan. Yui recovers just in time for the concert, but forgets her guitar at home and rushes off to retrieve it. K-On!‘s finale shows that while Yui’s come a long way since joining Houkago Tea Time, she’s still her. This aspect is revisited during the second season and movie.

  • While K-On!‘s incidental music might be unremarkable, the vocal pieces are solid. For their final performance, the girls bring Fude pen, Boru pen to the table. The curiosity in the music of K-On! is what drew me to the series, and I was particularly drawn to the song Tenshi ni Fureta yo!. It’s not often that music can bring me into a series, but ultimately, I am glad to have followed my curiosity. I finished the first season just as winter term ended, and began the second season shortly after exams ended.

  • Because of the impact K-On! had on me personally, in helping me regroup and survive a difficult university term, I’ve since come to regard well-done slice-of-life series as a tonic of sorts for life, acting as a source of stress relief. This is why criticisms of K-On! end up being something I do not expend effort giving any consideration to: the series does something very well, and stays true to its form. Watching characters grow and learn in a slice-of-life is something that I look for, and how favourably I regard a particular slice-of-life (or whether I choose to watch it at all) is driven by whether or not this component is present.

  • Ten years later, while the original K-On! might not have aged quite so gracefully, the sum of its themes and what the series resulted in remain as powerful as they had back in 2009. Whether or not critics admit so, the reality is that K-On! left a tremendous impact on anime. I will be returning at some point to write about K-On!!, the second season, and remark that I’ve written about the movie on enough occasions so that another review is quite unnecessary. With this one in the books, I’ve done all of the larger posts for this month, and in the remaining days of June, I plan on covering Yama no Susume: Omoide Present, as well as the final thoughts I have for Valkyria Chronicles 4 and my experiences in Battlefield V now that a new map has been out.

The sum of a minimalistic, yet effective theme, fun characters and the presence of good music contributed to K-On!‘s runaway success during its initial airing in 2009, and even a decade later, the aspects that make K-On! particularly enjoyable remain effective, being seen in other series such as GochiUsa, Kiniro Mosaic and numerous others, speaking to the strengths of K-On!. Coming right after the likes of CLANNAD, K-On! does not hold a candle to its predecessor in emotional impact, animation and art quality: the technical aspects have not aged gracefully, and the first season looks very dated. However, the series did ultimately come to make its own presence felt in a very distinct and enjoyable fashion, capturing audiences with its endearing characters and excellent music. Even if K-On! has not aged well, it sets the stage for future developments that propel the series down a path where it is able to explore the more subtle and intimate aspects of friendship. K-On! will continue to present a genuine and heartfelt story surrounding how a group of people ultimately are brought together by music, become friends through their shared experiences and ultimately use music to convey how they feel about one another, and so, the first season’s contributions are that it sets the stage for the events that have yet to come, bringing Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Mugi and Azusa together to start a journey that results in the creation of treasured memories that are irreplaceable. Hence, even if K-On! had been polarising during and after its run, indicating that it is not suitable for everyone, I find that K-On! is something I would recommend without hesitation because it marks the beginning of a remarkable adventure that is heartwarming, relaxing and amusing, irrespective of what critics may make of the franchise.