The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: Ritsu Tainaka

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.

K-On! The Movie (Eiga Keion!): A Review, Recommendation and Revisitation after Seven Years

We’re buddies from here on out!
Pictures of us together,
Our matching keychains
Will shine on forever
And always, we thank you for your smile

—Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!

With its theatrical première seven years previously, K-On! The Movie has aged very gracefully from both a thematic and technical standpoint. The film follows Houkago Tea Time shortly following their acceptance to university. With their time in high school drawing to a close, the girls attempt to come up with a suitable farewell gift for Azusa, who had been a vital member of their light music club. Feeling it best to be a surprise, they try to keep this from Azusa. When word nearly gets out, Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi wind up fabricating that their “secret” is a graduation trip. The girls decide on London; after arranging for their flight and accommodations, the girls arrive in London and sightsee, before performing at a Japanese pop culture fair. Upon their return home, the girls perform for their classmates and finalise their song for Asuza. Simple, sincere and honest, K-On! The Movie represented a swan song for the K-On! franchise’s animated adaptation, making the extent of Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi’s gratitude towards Azusa tangible: K-On! The Movie is a journey to say “Thank You”, and as Yui and the others discover, while their moments spent together might be finite, the treasured memories resulting from these everyday moments are infinitely valuable. Ultimately, representing the sum of these feelings is done by means of a song; music is universally regarded as being able to convey emotions, thoughts and ideas across linguistic and cultural barriers, and so, it is only appropriate that the girls decide to make a song for Azusa. However, Yui and the others initially struggle to find the right words for their song. It is serendipitous that a fib, done to keep Azusa from knowing about her graduation gift, sends the girls to London. During this trip, Azusa undertakes the role of a planner. She handles the logistics to ensure that everyone can visit their destinations of choice and on top of this, fit their travels so that they can honour a commitment to perform at a festival. At the top of her game in both keeping things organised, and looking out for Yui, Azusa is exhausted at the end of their travels.

Once they agree to writing a song, Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi set about composing the lyrics for it. When they begin to draft the lyrics, they come to realise how integral Azusa has been to Houkago Tea Time, a veritable angel for the club. This is the birth of Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! (Touched by an Angel), an earnest song whose direct lyrics convey how everyone feels about Azusa. Because everyone’s spent so much time together, Azusa’s presence in Houkago Tea Time is very nearly taken for granted. It takes a trip to London for Yui and the others to discover anew what Azusa has done for everyone: from planning out the trip and fitting their itinerary to everyone’s satisfaction, to keeping an eye on the scatter-minded Yui, Azusa’s actions during the London trip act as the catalyst that reminds everyone of how her presence in the Light Music Club has helped everyone grow. Azusa is also evidently selfless, worrying about others ahead of herself: when the others notice her slowing down in the Underground, Azusa mentions that her new shoes are somewhat uncomfortable. She insists it’s fine, but Yui figures they can buy new shoes for her. Because of Houkago Tea Time’s easygoing approach to things, this detour into an adventure of sorts at Camden. However, K-On! The Movie is not an anime about travel; sightseeing is condensed into a montage, and greater emphasis is placed on the girls’ everyday moments together. Subtle, seemingly trivial moments are given more screen time than visiting the London Eye, or David Bowie’s House, reminding viewers that Houkago Tea Time is about its members, not where they go. While it is likely that any destination would have accomplished the same, visiting London, the birthplace of many famous musicians whose style have influenced the Light Music Club’s music, proved to be an appropriate choice that also sets the stage for the girls to compose their song for Azusa, showing that London had a role in inspiring Yui and the others.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • This revisitation can be seen as an exercise in nostalgia: I was primarily curious to see what a review on K-On! The Movie might look like were I to return to it again, with at least six years more of accumulated experience. I’ve previously written about K-On! The Movie and explored some of the aspects that made it worthwhile to watch; because the film was released in December, the time seemed appropriate for me to watch the film again. In particular, the opening song, Ichiban Ippai (Full of Number Ones), has a very Christmas-like quality to it.

  • On watching the film in full for the first time in a few years, I’ve come to pick up a few things that I missed earlier, and in conjunction with a keener eye for subtleties, this post is the result; my conclusion about the film’s central theme is a little more specific now, with a focus on Yui and the others crafting a memorable farewell gift for Azusa in gratitude for her participation in Houkago Tea Time. My earlier reviews focused on friendship at a much higher level, and looking back, I think that this review captures the reason for why I enjoyed the movie a shade more effectively than the earlier reviews.

  • Gratitude is the first and foremost theme in K-On! The Movie, with everything else being an ancillary aspect that augments the film’s strengths. The movie, then, succeeds in conveying the sort of scale that Naoko Yamada desired for viewers, showing the extent of everyone’s appreciation towards Azusa. This underlines Azusa’s impact on Houkago Tea Time, and so, when one returns to the televised series, all of those subtle moments suddenly become more meaningful, and more valuable.

  • The movie’s original première on December 3, 2011 is now a distant memory. I vaguely recall concluding my introductory Japanese class and finalising my term paper on the role of a protein in iron transport for bacteria. At the time, I was focused on simply surviving that semester and save my GPA, which had taken a dive after my second year, and for most of the winter term, I was similarly focused on maintaining passable grades in biochemistry and and cell and molecular biology. I exited that term on a stronger note, and with my final exams in the books, I learned that the movie would release on July 18.

  • I had decided to take the MCAT earlier that year, and this represented a major commitment from my part. From the film’s home release announcement to the day of release, time passed in the blink of an eye. K-On! The Movie was well-timed, and the day I watched it, I had spent the morning going through a full-length exam. The movie’s first forty minutes are still in Japan, and it provided plenty of time to establish the witherto’s and whyfor’s of how Houkago Tea Time end up travelling to London.

  • With its slow pacing, K-On! The Movie is very relaxing: as it turns out, Houkago Tea Time ends up overhearing classmates discuss a graduation trip and then, while focused on their own goal of gifting something special for Azusa, hide their plans by saying they’re also doing a graduation trip. This turn of events is precisely the way things Houkago Tea Time rolls, although it is notable that even while planning for the trip takes precedence, Yui’s mind never strays far from their original goal of figuring out how they can give Azusa a memorable gift.

  • Throughout the film, Yui’s determination to figure out something and efforts to maintain secrecy lead Azusa to wonder if something is amiss. If she did suspect something, things are quickly shunted aside when the girls’ plan to visit London become realised. Here, Azusa takes on the role of a tour guide, planning and coordinating itineraries for the others. The joys and drawbacks of travelling are presented in K-On! The Movie to the girls: while K-On! has long favoured gentle escapism, the movie adds an additional dimension of realism to its story through linguistic differences and challenges associated with travelling, such as the girls trying to figure out which Hotel Ibis their booking was for or when Mio’s luggage is seemingly misplaced.

  • For the most part, K-On! The Movie was very well-received, with praises being given towards the direction, sincerity and ability of the film to remain true to the atmosphere in the TV series, while at the same time, capitalising on the movie format to do something that could not have been done in a TV series. Criticisms of the film are very rare – I can count the number of the film’s detractors on one hand, and most of the gripes centered on the film’s relatively limited focus on travel, portrayal of London citizens and gripes that the film was protracted in presenting its story.

  • For the most part, my travels have never put me at a linguistic disadvantage because I can get by well enough with English, Cantonese and Mandarin in the places I visit. When I visited Laval in France for the first time for a conference, I had trouble getting around because I could not speak a word of French. Seeing Mugi and Azusa struggle with English might’ve been amusing when I first watched this, but after the humbling experience in France, I took on a newfound appreciation for all of the languages around the world. When the girls reach London City’s Hotel Ibis, it is thanks to Mio who is able to interpret things and set the girls on track for their hotel in Earls Court.

  • Skyfall was screened in November 2012, a few months after K-On! The Movie’s home release and nearly a year after its original screening in Japan. The only commonalities the two films share are that they have scenes set in London, including the Underground. While Yui and the others use the Underground to reach Earls Court, Skyfall saw James Bond pursue Raoul Silva through the Underground after he escapes MI6 custody.

  • On their first day in London, Yui and the others have a busy one as they try to make their way to their hotel. It’s misadventure after misadventure, but in spite of these inconveniences, everyone takes things in stride, going to Camden to buy Azusa new shoes, casually enjoying the Underground and, when trying to grab dinner, end up playing an impromptu performance on account of being mistaken for a band.

  • In spite of their surprise at being asked to perform, Houkago Tea Time’s showing is impressive. While it seems a little strange the girls travel with their instruments, the last several times I boarded a plane, it was with a laptop or iPad in tow, as I was either set to give a conference presentation or be involved in work. Carrying additional gear while travelling is a pain when one is alone, but with others, it’s much easier – one can simply ask their companions to look after their belongings.

  • Movies typically are scaled-up TV episodes, with superior visuals and music accompanying it; K-On! The Movie is no different, feeling distinctly like an extended episode. I particularly loved the soundtrack, which features both the motifs of the TV series and new incidental pieces that gave a bit of atmosphere to where Houkago Tea Time was while at the same time, reminding viewers that it’s still K-On!.

  • K-On! The Movie depicts London with incredible faithfulness, and perusing the official movie artbook, the precise locations of where the girls visit are given. Abbey Crossing, David Bowie’s House, West Brompton, and many other areas are on the list of places that Yui and the others visit. Their travels are set to the upbeat, energetic Unmei wa Endless! (Fate is Endless!) in a montage that highlights the girls enjoying themselves in London in their own unique manner.

  • The montage in K-On! The Movie is ideal for showing that while in London, Yui and the others have an amazing time sightseeing: the tempo would suggest that the girls’ experience is very dream like, hectic and dynamic, reminder viewers that when they are having fun, time flies. Vacations often seem to go by in a blur, and so, a montage is a very visceral way to capture this feeling. In condensing out the travel and sightseeing, the montage creates the impression that K-On! The Movie is not about London, but at the same time, it also allows the focus to remain on the girls’ aim of working out their gift for Azusa.

  • London, Japan and Hong Kong share the commonality in that they have left-hand traffic, an artefact dating back to the Roman Empire; right-hand traffic is the result of French standardisation, while Americans used right-hand traffic out of convenience for wagon operators. For Yui and the others, traffic in London would be identical to that of Japan’s, but when they encounter a “Look Right” labels on the road, they conform. These labels are also found in Hong Kong, as well: for folks like myself, they are very useful, since I instinctively look left before crossing most streets.

  • I’ve long held that the best way to truly experience a culture is to experience their food, and so, when I was in Japan, having the chance to enjoy snow crab, Kobe beef, okonomiyakiomurice and ramen was high on the highlights of my trip. In K-On! The Movie, the girls end up stopping at The Troubadour on 263–267 Old Brompton Road in Earls Court. Opened in 1954, The Troubador was a coffeehouse that has since become a café, bar and restaurant. Catching Yui’s eye early in their tour of London, the girls have breakfast here. Their Eggs Benedict is shown: it costs £9.95 (roughly 16.88 CAD with exchange rates).

  • Despite her initial reservations about all things with angular velocity, Mio is convinced to go on the London Eye. With a height of 135 metres, it is more than double the size of Hong Kong’s Observation Wheel and during K-On! The Movie, was the highest public viewing point in London. Since the movie’s release in 2011 (and the home release in 2012), The Shard opened and now offers London’s highest observation deck.

  • The girls rest here near The Royal Menagerie on the west end of the Tower of London, a major landmark that has variously been used as a mint, armoury and presently, the home of the Crown Jewels. Adjacent to the Tower of London is a modern office block and fish and chips shops. While it would be a tight schedule, the girls’ tour is possible to carry out within the course of a day. To really take in the sights and sounds, however, I would imagine that two to three full days is more appropriate.

  • Ritsu and the others run into Love Crisis following their performance at the sushi restaurant, and are invited to perform at a Japanese Culture Fair. The girls agree to the performance even though the timing will be a bit tight, and when Azusa hesitates, the others reassure her that it’ll be fine. Because they are to be performing in front of an English audience, Yui and the others feel it might be useful to translate some of their songs to English. Strictly speaking, preserving the meaning is of a lesser challenge than finding the words with the correct syllables to match the melody.

  • The Ibis at Earl’s Court, while being a bit more dated, has attentive staff and is situated in a good location, being close to public transit. By comparison, the Ibis London City is located a stone’s throw to the London city centre and the Tower of London. The choice to have the girls book lodgings at Earl’s Court, in a comparatively quieter part of London, allows the film to also show Yui and the others spending downtime together while not sightseeing. Here, they begin working on translating their songs for their performance at the Japanese culture fair.

  • The performance itself is set at the Jubilee Gardens adjacent to the River Thames and London Eye. The introduction into the culture festival features a sweeping panorama over the area, taking viewers through the spokes on the London Eye. It’s one of the more impressive visuals in K-On! The Movie and really shows that this is no mere extended episode: I’m particularly fond of movies because they provide the opportunity to use visuals not seen in TV series. Here, the girls react in surprise that Sawako has shown up.

  • During their performance, Yui is spurred on by a baby in the crowd and plays with more energy as the concert progresses, even improvising lyrics into Gohan wa Okazu. Whether or not Houkago Teatime plays for the people they know or not, this has very little bearing on the enthusiasm and energy the girls put into their song. Personal or not, each performance is spirited conveys that Houkago Tea Time’s music is universally moving, whether they are playing for a crowd of folks in London, or for Azusa as a thank you gift.

  • It turns out that as a place to have a graduation trip, there is no better option than London, England: Houkago Tea Time’s style draws inspiration from British artists, and the songs produced for K-On! have a mass appeal for their simplicity, earnest and charm found from the saccharine nature of the lyrics. After the concert draws to a close, the girls depart home for Japan, with Azusa falling asleep immediately from exhaustion. A snowfall begins in London, bringing the girls’ trip to a peaceful close.

  • Back in Japan, Ritsu and the others attempt to convince Sawako to give them permission to host a farewell concert for their classmates. To her colleagues and other students, Sawako presents herself as professional and caring, attempting to distance herself from her Death Devil days, but in front of Houkago Tea Time, she’s less motivated and occasionally partakes in actions that are of dubious legality. At the end of the day, however, Sawako does care deeply for her students, and so, decides to allow the concert.

  • One of the other teachers is opposed to the idea of a concert and on the morning things kick off, Sawako does her utmost to keep him from finding out. While unsuccessful, this instructor does not seem to mind Houkago Tea Time quite as much, suggesting that Sawako’s Death Devil band were rowdier back in the day to the point of being a nuisance.

  • Compared to the more colourful segments in K-On! The Movie, the final segments depicting the girls drafting out their song for Azusa are much more faded, almost melancholy, in nature, hinting that all things must come to an end. Kyoto Animation has long utilised colour to make the emotional tenour of a scene clear in their drama series; from CLANNAD to Violet Evergarden, time of day, saturation and the choice of palette are all used to great effect. Traditionally, comedies have seen a lesser dependence on colour and lighting, so for these effects to appear in K-On! show that the series has matured.

  • The K-On! The Movie‘s home release was only twenty four days from the day of my MCAT, and one of the dangers about this was that reviewing the movie so close to the MCAT might’ve taken my focus from the exam. In the end, watching the movie and writing about it was very cathartic, and I found myself lost in each moment: seeing Mio and the others sprint across the school rooftop with a carefree spirit was a light moment that really captured what K-On! was about. The movie helped me relax, and in conjunction with support from friends, some time management skills and the usual efforts of studying, I ended up finishing the exam strong.

  • Audiences thus come to learn how Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! came about. This is the song that got me into K-On!, and curious to know how the series reached its culmination, I stepped back and watched everything from episode one.  With this modernised talk on K-On! The Movie very nearly finished, I note that it was very enjoyable to go back and rewatch this film under different circumstances, then write about it with a new perspective and style.

  • Like a good wine, K-On! The Movie improved with age. My original score for the movie was a nine of ten, an A grade. However, revisiting the movie and seeing all of the subtleties in the film, coupled with recalling watching the film to unwind from studying for the MCAT, led me to realise that this film had a very tangible positive impact on me. Consequently, I am going to return now and give the film a perfect ten of ten, a masterpiece: for a story of pure joy that was successful in helping me regroup, and for being every bit as enjoyable as it was seven years ago, K-On! The Movie had a real impact on me.

With crisp animation, attention paid to details, a solid aural component and a gentle soundtrack, K-On! The Movie is executed masterfully to bring this story of gratitude to life for viewers. Its staying power and timeless quality comes from a story that is immediately relatable: many viewers have doubtlessly wondered how to best express thanks for those who have helped them through so much, and more often than not, found that simple gestures of appreciation can often be the most meaningful. Naoko Yamada mentioned in an interview that one of the challenges about K-On! The Movie was trying to scale it up to fit the silver screen. This challenge is mirrored in the film, where Yui wonders how to create a gift of appropriate scale to show everyone’s appreciation for Azusa; in the end, just as how the girls decide on a gift that is appropriately scaled, Yamada’s film ends up covering a very focused portrayal of Houkago Tea Time that works well with the silver screen: less is more, and by focusing on a single thing, the movie ends up being very clear and concise in conveying its theme. A major part of K-On!‘s original strength was instilling a sense of appreciation for the everyday, mundane things in life; the film’s success in scaling things up is from its ability to take something as simple as finding a gift to express thanks and then meticulously detailing how this gift matured over time into the final product viewers know as Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!. K-On! The Movie remains as relevant today as it did when it first premièred seven years ago: even for those who have never seen K-On!‘s televised series, the movie is self-contained and the themes stand independently of a priori knowledge. After all this time, I have no difficulty in recommending K-On! The Movie to interested viewers; the film is every bit as enjoyable and meaningful as it was seven years previously.

Investigating Unacceptable Academic Practises in Dani Cavallaro’s “Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography”, with a case study on the K-On! Movie

“Taking something from one man and making it worse is plagiarism.” —George A. Moore

  • This post is a little lengthy and formatted differently to ensure that the message in the paragraphs below are not lost: the take-away message is that as an academic author, one must ensure that their sources are credible and reliable. Blogs do not qualify as a reasonable resource, and so, when an author makes extensive use of them, the possibility exists that the opinion expressed by blog’s author winds up being considered to be “credible” as an academic source. Thus, this post will aim to offer insight as to why Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography should not be regarded as a serious, much less as a correct, source for K-On! analysis.

On the first lecture for my health research literacy course five years ago, the topic of what constituted as acceptable sources for academic writing was presented. The lecturers stressed the importance of using peer-reviewed primary literature, which process ensures that a source’s contents are accurate, correct and meaningful, making them useful as the grounds for future research. The message from lecture has since guided all of the research and papers that I partake in, and while this process is far from perfect in academia, it does prevent poor articles from being used as sources. Undergraduates are encouraged to stick to peer-reviewed articles, and informed that online resources, such as websites, are typically discouraged (unless they are authoritative in their field, such as the Protein Data Bank). Blogs happen to fall under this latter category, and students who cite blogs in their coursework will likely receive a failing grade for that submission. Similarly, a paper submitted to a conference or a journal may be rejected for citing blogs, given that blogs are not peer-reviewed and therefore do not follow any standards outlined by journals or conferences. However, at least one text out there appears to have quietly slipped by these standards: Dani Cavallaro’s Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography is purportedly intended as an academic reference on Kyoto Animation. While it sounds exciting, a closer inspection of the text will prove disappointing: Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography is poorly-written and convoluted, making use of archaic jargon that demands a dictionary for comprehensibility. More significantly, Cavallaro’s passage contains assessments of the K-On! Movie that are completely incorrect, and additionally, appear to be plagiarised from anime blogs and personal reviews. These are red flags in academia, signalling that the source is not going to be meaningful.

The entirity of Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography is filled with errors, but for this discussion, the focus will be on a few of the errors concerning the K-On! Movie for brevity’s sake; the list of grievances with Cavallaro’s take on the K-On! Movie is sufficiently large to comfortably fill a separate volume . It is necessary to reinforce the idea that the K-On! Movie has two main goals: to convey the story of how Tenshi ni fureta yo! came about, and to emphasise the fact that Houkago Teatime is Houkago Tea time regardless of where they are in the world. These are the factors that are driven home by the movie. However, in the lengthy passage introducing the movie, Cavallaro erroneously claims that the K-On! Movie faced two challenges pre-production. The first of these is that supposedly, Yamada and the others had to somehow “conjure a drama [that] could be deemed sufficiently engrossing to stand the test of the big screen”. This is false, given that the movie would have lost the very elements that made it appealing to begin with, had drama been the focus. Instead, the K-On! Movie is able to convey its message by means of an overarching story to show how the girls’ graduation gift for Azusa leads them on this journey, and that, true to Yui’s words, the girls retain their carefree approach even in a city like London. Thus, the challenge Yamada et al. faced was deciding on the appropriate story to tell that could make the film memorable for the viewers. Cavallaro cites the second challenge to be making the film stand out from The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi, which had been a critical and commercial success following its release in 2010. The second challenge directly contradicts the first: K-On! stands out from Haruhi precisely because of its laid-back atmosphere, which allows for each of the characters’ personalities to be developed and differentiated from one another. K-On! was already intrinsically accessible, which means that Yamada et al. would simply needed to retain these attributes if their film were to be enjoyed by both existing fans and a more general audience. Neither of the listed factors affect the artistic decisions in the film to the extent that Cavallaro is conveying: at one point, Cavallaro mentions that the artistic details in the movie were specifically adjusted to appeal to the general audience. If the film was meant for a general audience, and the art shows this, does this not already make the film unique from The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi? It is clear that Yamada et al. were aware of the film’s intended audience, so their goal could not have been (and is not) to create a film that could outshine The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi. Aside from the pair of contradictory challenges, Cavallaro also misidentifies the performances in the film, claiming that “the girls never played for a nameless crowd but[sic] always somebody important to them”. Within the film, Yui and the others put on an impromptu concert for the patrons of a newly-opened sushi bar, and later, agree to a performance at a culture festival in London. It is only the final two performances in the film that are performed for familiar faces (classmates, and Azusa, respectively). When taken together, the intent of these performances is to highlight the fact that the Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Tsumugi and Azusa retains their unique approaches to doing things that is independent of where they are; as noted earlier, this serves as the major theme to the movie that Cavallaro somehow misses.

As one might intuitively proceed, after encountering these serious errors in Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography, the first thing to do was to follow the citations, which are provided in-text. One might reasonably expect that when a paper with flawed information arises, tracing through the citations to the source of that information may find that the source was incorrect. When reading through Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography’s bibliography, a large number of personal blogs are found. Upon closer inspection, it turns out Cavallaro subsequently (and crudely) paraphrases from these, using them for her book’s passages. These behaviours toe the line for what is considered to be plagiarism and should have warranted the removal of the books from distributors. These are serious faults, meaning that what was intended as an academic reference for Kyoto Animation is in fact meaningless for any serious discussion. Aside from the obvious issue of plagiarism, Cavallaro’s extensive use of blogs for information, as observed in Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography, gives rise to several problems. The most notable of these is that blogs are not peer-reviewed and therefore, follow no set standard (as would peer-reviewed literature) that ensures the writing’s quality and value are acceptable. In the case of the anime blogs Cavallaro cites, the blog passages were written from a strictly personal perspective and offer insights into how the blog’s author viewed the K-On! Movie: they are not meant to inform the reader of what Kyoto Animation intended to do with the K-On! Movie and therefore, would be meaningless for any sort of analysis. Moreover, by citing blogs for the purposes of academic writing, Cavallaro potentially allows a single blog writer to dictate the discourse for the K-On! Movie and its interpretations within an academic setting. With this singular perspective now in a book (considered to be an acceptable resource for academic research), this means that bloggers can potentially influence how scholars ought to look at anime. After the blogger’s interpretation is published, other individuals may unknowingly accept this view as true even if it contradicts with the author’s view of the work. In this case, while a blog’s author is (and should be) free to express their opinions on the K-On! Movie, any one interpretation cannot be accepted as fact suited for academia because there is no evidence to show that they are in fact consistent with Naoko Yamada and Yoshihisa Nakayama’s view points on the movie. Through these actions, Cavallaro potentially enables bloggers to displace Naoko Yamada and Yoshihisa Nakayama’s intents for the K-On! Movie. Another problem that arises from citing blogs is that blogs are non-permanent: should the author choose to modify the post, delete the post or even the entire blog, the record disappears, and it will be as if the source never existed to begin with.

For all the damage that Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography has the potential to do towards any scholarly publication concerning Kyoto Animation, the fact remains is that such a book has been published, fraudulently taking what bloggers intend to be a personal reflection and transmuting that into a purported fact. When everything is said and done, there are two things that scholars should be mindful of. The first is that as an academic writer, one should not depend on personal blogs as reliable sources of information. The second is that Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography should not be regarded as a meaningful or serious resource for scholars looking publishing papers about Kyoto Animation (and especially not on K-On!); there is no indicator that Cavallaro possesses the academic background and qualifications to be writing about Japanese animation (from the sound of things, Cavallaro has not even seen the K-On! Movie). The validity of the book’s contents are of questionable value, merely regurgitating what bloggers are saying rather than coming up with any novel or meaningful interpretations of Kyoto Animation’s works. As it stands, one hopes that no scholar will use the book as a means of corroborating their own points and only apply it towards pointing out flaws with Cavallaro’s passages. A little bit of background reading shows Cavallaro as a reasonably well-known author who has applied similar techniques towards talking about other anime genres. Given my experience with Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography and Dani Cavallaro’s background (or lack thereof), I find that this author gives readers little reason to trust her credibility as a scholar. The claims in her books are fraudulent, and therefore are not meritorious of being used as a reliable resource for those who aim to conduct research of any kind surrounding Kyoto Animation.

  • Am I more qualified than Dani Cavallaro to talk about K-On!? I wonder if the real Dani Cavallaro will stand up to contest my assertion that the short answer is “yes”: the full answer is long and uninteresting, but I do have the advantage of having seen the movie for myself.

A Closer Look At the Spoiler-free K-On! Movie Review: Is the Film Still Relevant After Two Years?

Two years have now elapsed since the K-On! Movie was released on DVD and Blu-ray, making it accessible for the first time to viewers. When the movie was originally screened in Japan, it was December 3, 2011, and at the time, the date for a home release was completely unknown. It was not until April 29, 2012, that the DVD/BD release would be announced, finally providing a concrete release date. Prior to this announcement, three reviews were published to the internet, and at the time, curious parties who felt that spoilers were not much of a concern would read these articles to gain a rough idea of what the K-On! Movie would be like. All of these early reviews take on a slightly different approach towards discussing the film, touching upon various parts of the film that made it worthwhile for the respective authors. These reviews were the sole sources of information about the K-On! Movie for nearly eight months, until the depths of summer 2012 arrived. The K-On! Movie was finally released, allowing viewers to watch the movie for themselves. I myself produced two different reviews of the movie, noting that the movie’s core message was that “everything is special if the group of individuals one is with is special, regardless of what one is doing“. When it was released, discussions were quickly ignited by excited fans. However, discussions became increasingly infrequent as time wore on, and by Winter 2014, it seemed that K-On! has fallen from all thought and knowledge. However, the K-On! Movie illustrates that, even if two years have indeed passed since the movie’s home release, there still are things that merit further discussion.

  • It’s the two-year anniversary of the K-On! Movie‘s home release now, although strictly speaking, the movie released on December 3, 2011 in Japanese theatres. This talk will be slightly different than my previous reviews: whereas the figure captions previously dealt with the movie itself, this time, I’ll do short commentaries of some things surrounding the K-On! Movie rather than talk about specific scenes in the movie.

  • The first thing that comes to mind is how viable it would be to travel to Japan to watch an anime movie. Shortly after the K-On! Movie was released, I read about how some individuals made a trip to Japan solely to watch the movie, or even moved there to get access to movies earlier.

  • The question that is subsequently raised would be whether or not would I have visited Japan to watch the movie on its premier. The answer to that is no: December is exam and term paper season, during which I need all of my time to finish things. I was just completing my Fall term for my third year at the time, and was busy with an agent-based Na+/K+-ATPase pump simulation, an introductory Japanese course, reporting on the effects of introducing point mutations into E. coli and several exams. Some may consider my priorities to be skewed, but work comes before anime without fail.

  • I am slightly disapproving about going to Japan for the sole purpose of watching an anime movie, as it would be tantamount to shelling out for a ticket equivalent to the total cost of transportation, accommodations and food in addition to the movie ticket itself (so, a movie ticket costing between one and two thousand dollars). Conversely, if I were to be in Japan for a vacation or visit when an anime movie releases, I might take the time to watch it, provided that it does not disrupt too much from time otherwise spent sightseeing or enjoying Japanese cuisine.

  • Given the popularity of K-On!, I am surprised that cinemas in Canada did not even consider screening the movie, but as of late, they are doing screenings for more anime. As mentioned in earlier discussions, I missed all of them, but if they decide to do what is right and screen the Girls und Panzer movie, I will make every effort possible to see it, even if it means sacrificing myself!

The general lack of interest in K-On! stems from several factors: after the movie was released, Kakifly’s final installments of the manga were published and closed off the story. It was clear that K-On! had reached its conclusion, and that Houkago Tea Time’s journeys into the future, whatever they may entail, are left as an exercise for the audience. However, there is no challenging the impact that K-On!‘s animated adaptation has had on the slice-of-life genre, and anime in general. While the “cute girls do cute things” sub-genre has existed since the early 2000s, and Kyoto Animation itself adapted Lucky Star, which had a similar atmosphere, K-On! held an appeal to the audience well beyond the typical demographics associated with anime. Through its presentation of a slow-paced, carefree lifestyle for its central characters, K-On! captured the viewers who wished to simply relax and be entertained. In both seasons, the central story is loosely coordinated by Yui Hirasawa’s half-hearted desire to join her high school’s light music club, and in the process, eventually discovers her own passion for music, as well as making a group of inseparable friends. The first season aired in 2009 and was so popular that a second season aired a year later with twice the episodes. When the second season drew to a close, several OVAs were released, showcasing Houkago Tea-Time’s desire to go abroad. They go through the passport application process and think of places to go, but as OVAs, nothing more came out of it until the K-On! Movie was announced.

  • The music in  K-On! is something I previously did not choose to discuss in great depth because, while adding to the show’s light and fluffy atmosphere, it wasn’t something that I originally felt as standing out as to deserve unique mention. It’s standard fare that’s pretty upbeat and fluffy (depending on the song’s origins), but upon closer inspection, the music speaks volumes about what K-On! is.

  • The movie soundtrack and vocals are a mix of old and new, reminding viewers that even though this is a movie, it’s still a movie about Houkago Tea-time. Of course, one could take things differently: there are old songs, so this is a movie about Houkago Tea-time, but there are also new songs that remind viewers that this is a movie that’s going to do something a little bit differently than the TV series.

  • There are a grand total of four major performances in the K-On! Movie, starting with an unexpected, hastily prepared-for presentation at the Sushi bar, a performance at the London Japanese Culture Fair with Yamanaka-sensei looking on, followed by a performance for their classmates back home, and lastly, an emotionally charged song for Azusa. Every subsequent performance becomes more intimate and personal in nature.

  • In general, opening songs in K-On! are performed by Aki Toyosaki, while ending songs are performed by Youko Hisaka. The latter produces songs that are more intense and passionate, reflecting on Mio’s desire to make music, while Toyosaki’s songs are fluffy and full of life, mirroring Yui’s easy-go-lucky approach to life. I particularly love the opening song, Ichiban no Ippai!, which has a light, springy feel to it that evokes Christmas morning. The inset song, Unmei wa Endless!, is set in the middle of the movie to a montage of the girls exploring London their own way. Fast-paced, this song gives the girls’ adventures a quick, fleeting feeling to it. While they have a great deal of fun, these moments also happen very quickly.

  • Much praise was voiced about the ending song, Singing!, for how well the sequences were animated, and for the song’s lyrical composition. With Hisaka’s passionate performance and lyrics that speak volumes about the Houkago Tea-Time’s adventures, the song also mentions how this act is coming to a close, and that Houkago Tea-Time will continue to forge into the future together. Singing! is said to summarise Houkago Tea-Time’s entire story quite nicely and act as the franchise’s main theme.

A feature film presents a unique set of challenges to its writers if said writers are moving from a TV series to the movie format. In an interview with director Naoko Yamada and producer Yoshihisa Nakayama, it turns out that “[they had] to make it special for a film, and more dynamic on a bigger scale” (Yoshihisa). When it comes to K-On!, a series characterised by its languid pacing and lack of significant conflict, it seems logical that the movie would likely have a similar pacing. In the end, the movie winds up with the same feel as the TV series. Yamada must therefore answer the question of coming up with something to give the movie a special feeling to it: this answer turns out to be illustrating the emotional journey the girls take towards finding and making a suitable graduation gift for Azusa, who has shared two years’ worth of memories with the older girls. It follows that, though it may be contrary to the promotional materials, London winds up being a secondary element in the film that forms one of the stepping stones towards the end-goal to make a memorable farewell. Viewers find that, in the movie, the girls disregard convention for travel and wind up having a good time in their own way, quite differently than the images typically conjured by mention of travel. This is precisely because the trip to London was, in actuality, a fabrication made to conceal the girls’ preparations towards Azusa’s gift: even as the girls travel London, their thoughts do not stray far from the gift. When Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi actually see the trip through with Azusa, it is a reminder of the strength of their friendship, and together, planned or not, the girls have a good time, reflecting on their propensity towards ad hoc decisions and making the most of anything that happens. Azusa’s gift thus forms the movie’s entire focus, and it is this aspect that lends itself to how the movie was executed, including the pacing and artistic style.

  • I’ll now take a few moments to consider the post’s title: there is no doubting that K-On! left a large impression on anime, and in fact, after K-On!, several anime (most notably, Kokoro Connect and Tamako Market) have drawn inspiration from the character designs in K-On!. There are also a greater number of anime that now place an emphasis on the idea of “cute girls doing cute things”. K-On! has been criticised for dragging down the industry before, but while “dragging down” or even “damage and harm” might be a little excessive, the fact is that K-On! does have at least some impact and therefore, still is relevant as an anime.

  • As of late, two anime I’ve watched come to mind whenever I think of something that evokes the K-On!-esque feel to it, including GochiUsa and SoniAni, both of which can warm the heart on the right day as K-On! does, and are similar in composition, mood and pacing, lacking a centralised story and trading that off for glimpses into the character’s everyday lives.

  • Besides the “cute girls doing cute things” premise, another aspect from K-On! that have permeated other anime include a preference towards music. Following K-On!‘s success with in-show performances from the voice actors, other series began following suit and included musical performances to capitalise on what was hot. Angel Beats! is the first example that comes off the top of my head: here, the concerts act as little more than distractions to allow the SSS to conduct their missions, although strictly speaking, there are a host of other methods to allow a successful “Operation Tornado”. However, producers reason that fans sufficiently entertained by the music in the concerts are likely to buy the albums, which would improve profits, accounting for their inclusion.

  • As time wears on, while K-On!‘s role in all of this will be forgotten, the fact is that some of the trends in K-On!, whether it be the moé artistic style, plot and pacing or music, have made their way into other anime and shaped them into what they are. The reason for this is because this is the style that’s presently popular, although one cannot say that moé is “harming” the industry or “pandering” to viewers of a certain demographic.

  • Changes to an industry happen over a very long time, and whether or not moé is in the equation, the fact is that as long as there is a demand for anime of different kinds, anime of different kinds will be produced. There may come a day, far out there, when moé becomes less popular, and a lack of plot becomes a shackle, slowing down the story and reducing viewership. On such a day, I know there will be other anime willing to step up to the plate and entertain, and when that happens, I’m pretty sure that people will be entertained as long as they hold an open mind.

Besides making use of Azusa’s graduation gift as the catalyst to hold the film together and achieve the scale the producers were seeking, the K-On! Movie is also able to succeed in making the film “work as a stand-alone film, so you could enjoy it if you’ve never seen the TV series. But at the same time, it had to appeal to the fans of the series as well, so that’s the discussion that we had, and the direction we decided on” (Yoshihisa). Far from being a challenge the producers would have fought to maintain, accessibility was improved precisely because the movie’s dynamics and scale was handled by the graduation gift. This focus meant that the film could be of a much greater scope than anything from the TV series, and with a large scale achieved, the film is free to proceed as the TV series did in terms of pacing. This slower pace means that the girls’ personalities can be fleshed out, allowing newer viewers to get a feel for each of Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Mugi and Azusa’s personalities. Fans of the series, already familiar with the pacing, will be reminded of the elements that makes each character unique. In the end, one might go so far as to say that, in maintaining the pace from the TV series, the movie provides the writers with the liberty of depicting the characters going about their business. In doing so, they have allowed for enough time to be allocated towards showing off personalities for each character such that viewers get a sense of who everyone is, while simultaneously advancing the girls’ adventures in Japan and London without compromising the pacing. Consequently, the movie reinforces Yui’s notion that “Houkago Tea Time is Houkago Tea Time, regardless of where they are in the world.”

  • Admittedly it was remarkably difficult to come up with figure captions for the images in this post, as I exhausted all of my commentary in last year’s re-visitation. In the final five images that decorate this post, I’ll briefly compare and contrast the differences between watching a movie in the theatre, and watching a movie at home, as well as the merits of each.

  • I’ll begin with the theatre-going experience, which yields a significantly larger screen and better sound quality, as well as that advantage of being able to watch it without much of a wait. Moreover, with few spoiler materials floating about, any impact the movie has will be amplified, making the experience even more memorable. Lastly, from a budget consideration, the average cost of watching a movie is roughly sixteen dollars, which is half that of a DVD.

  • Watching a movie at home at 1080p confers the benefits of not requiring a trip to the local cinema. For those with a sufficiently large screen and sound system, movies can be enjoyed in a reasonably high quality, while adding additional benefits of being able to pause the movie to go get snacks. While a home release is more expensive than a movie ticket, if a movie is worth purchasing, it’s probably worth watching several times, so the cost eventually pays for itself.

  • From a personal perspective, I prefer the theatre experience because it offers a considerably greater degree of immersion. For the duration of the movie’s running time, it feels as if I’m right there to watch things go down (doubly so since the advent of 3D movies), and there is a thrill about not knowing what happens next. However, solely for anime, all of my experiences have been home releases: besides the small matter of the impracticality to fly over the Pacific to watch an anime movie, it’s also nice to be able to pause and rewind to check out some details for any reviews I plan on drafting out.

  • Thus ends yet another K-On! post, which after two years, acts as an excellent and satisfying conclusion to the K-On! franchise in addition to bringing back a lot of memories for me around summer 2012. As it stands now, although the contents in this post was fun to think about and write, and the film retains all of its charm, K-On! discussions have lost their magic. I do not imagine that I will make another talk in a year’s time, so for the present, this will be the last K-On! post for the Infinite Mirai.

At the end of the day, the K-On! Movie makes the step up to the silver screen not by doing something grand from a visual or story perspective, but instead, focuses on genuine, honest feelings as the girls prepare their gift for Azusa. By allowing the pacing to remain as it was for the TV series, the film makes itself open to new viewers and long-time fans alike. It follows that every artistic and stylistic choice in the film would not stem from the challenges the production team faced, but rather, result from building the film around the idea of a heart-felt graduation gift. Moreover, the themes of friendships, adventure and memories are timeless; as such, the K-On! Movie is a film that will age well and continue entertaining future audiences for years to come with its light-hearted, gentle moods as the franchise’s pièce de résistance, representing a masterful balance between preserving the spirit of K-On! and scaling it up to create a worthy feature presentation for the silver screen. Things like these ultimately mean that, even if the K-On! Movie is not widely discussed, it has not lost any of its relevance as the pinnacle of both the K-On! franchise and as a standalone film.

An Interview With the Director and Producer of the K-On! Movie

Back in 2012, K-On!‘s director, Naoko Yamada, and one of the producers, Yoshihisa Nakayama, attended one of the screenings of the K-On! Movie in Glasgow, Scotland to introduce the film to its audience, and subsequently, participate in an interview session with the audience. As the series’ director (for both the TV series and film), Naoko has also been involved in storyboarding and animation. Through the interview, a thirty-minute session, key decisions and moments in the movie are elaborated upon, providing a greater understanding of the movie’s conception and design. The interview follows, just below the image.

  • The questions below are an approximate reconstruction of what the original questions were. For one reason or another, I could only find the text file that held the answers that Naoko and Yoshihisa gave during the course of the question and answer session on my local drive. I suspect that I had another version of it, but failed to copy it over last year when I was migrating computers a year ago. However, the questions themselves are less relevant than the answers Naoko and Yoshihisa provide: approximate reconstructions are more than sufficient for the purposes of this discussion.

Question One

Question: Was the decision to go to London inspired by an actual discussion at Kyoto Animation?

Answer (Naoko): No, that was Houkago Tea Time; they made every decision.

Question Two

Question: Two separate trips to London were made to do research for the film. What was done during these two different sessions?

Answer (Naoko): The first time we went, we were scenario hunting. So, we went to find out what the five girls from HTT would want to see, what they want to think, and what they’d want to do in London; and the second time, we went there to find the places where they would be put.

Question: Is it reasonable to say the staff were exploring London at a casual pace, and their experiences were transcribed into what is seen in the movie?

Answer (Naoko): I think that Yoshihisa-san and myself were trying to see things through the eyes of the girls of the band, so it wasn’t so much a case of going “Yoshihisa-san, write this down”, but I think we both knew what we were looking for, and that we were on the same wavelength.

Question Three

Question: Were there any experiences that you had in London that could not be included in the movie?

Answer (Naoko): Yeah, I tried Marmite thinking it was Nutela, it was in this cute little heart shaped tub, and thought it looked delicious…

Question Four

Question: Films generally have different considerations compared to TV series. What was handled differently for the K-On! movie compared to the TV series?

Answer (Yoshihisa): So much in terms of direction and instruction, but, I said to them that TV – anyone can watch it. But, for a film you have to go to the cinema and you have to pay money, so it has to be special – you have to make it special for a film, and more dynamic on a bigger scale.

Question Five

Question: Was the K-On! Movie intended for fans of the series, or for a more general audience?

Answer (Yoshihisa): K-On! was screened in Japan in the middle of the night, so we didn’t just want those to come: we wanted other people to come as well. But we wanted it to work as a stand-alone film, so you could enjoy it if you’ve never seen the TV series. But at the same time, it had to appeal to the fans of the series as well, so that’s the discussion that we had, and the direction we decided on.

Question Six

Question:  What are the demographics for K-On!‘s audience in Japan like?

Answer (Yoshihisa): For the timeslot that K-ON screens at, for normal core audience is age 20-35 females. But we with K-ON were aiming for a broader audience so younger people – teenagers, and also 20-35 female viewers, and I think we succeeded in making it appeal to a wider audience than just the people that usually watch that time slot.

Question Seven

Question:  How reflective are the movie’s events of reality? Specifically, are graduation trips common amongst female high school students in Japan?

Answer (Yoshihisa): It’s kinda half and half. I didn’t go on a graduation trip after high school, I went to Europe for the first time when I graduated from University. So I think they’re quite confident to leave from their home.

Question Eight

Question: With the characters graduating, K-On! looks like it’s approaching a conclusion of sorts. However, it feels like there would be hints of something more in the future, Have you considered whether or not the series would be continued, or is this the end for K-On!?

Answer (Naoko): We don’t have anything in mind at the moment for K-On!; this is quite a K-On!-like ending, and this is something you might have to ask Yoshihisa-san because it’s to do with the direction. But it doesn’t tend to end in a bang, it sort-of trails off as it did with the TV series, as well.

  • This post is intended to supplement my following talk on whether or not the K-On! Movie (and franchise as a whole) is still relevant two years after the movie’s been released. The short answer is yes, given that artistic elements ranging from character appearances, to pacing and atmosphere, and even the inclusion of music have carried forward, spurred on by their success in K-On!. While K-On! cannot be said to be the sole influence behind these trends, there is no doubt that K-On! has had at least some influence in shaping the trends we see in present-day anime.

With two years having elapsed since the movie’s home release (and some twenty months since the original screening), the Glasgow interview also provides a tangible citations for those seeking to understand more about the artistic designs within the K-On! Movie: a handful of discussions that came out within weeks of the film’s premier in Japan mention minor statements from Naoko in newspapers and Newtype magazine. Accessing either of these sources represent a substantial challenge, and as such, to help with my upcoming post, I have provided a copy of the interview on-site to simplify things and allow for near-immediate access to the relevant points in the interview.