The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: Sawako Yamanaka

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.

A Trip to London, England, K-On! Style! Part VI of VI- Endgame Considerations

London Bridge and River Thames
London Tower and London Eye
London! It’s London! London; I’m actually from London!

We have considered all of the logistics underlying a hypothetical trip to London in the same manner as conducted by the girls in the K-On! Movie. This hypothetical trip was remarkably amusing to assemble, as I attempted to focus on the elements present within the movie while simultaneously maximising the amount of time spent exploring London’s historical sights. I’ve done such trips for my previous German and Japanese language classes; the only differences this time are that I’m not being graded on this attempt and I had a month to do it, compared to the two weeks the courses offered.

  • This post was deliberately broken up into six parts for ease-of-access. From a web-development side of things, it means that one viewer will have to visit at least five of six parts to read everything, but pages will load faster 😉

This trip is a hypothetical one, and as such, the logistics have not been optimised. A tour of London over a period of three days would present more rush than is necessary; ideally, a tour of London to explore all of the historic elements would require at least five days. Moreover, travelling with a tour group would be decidedly more straightforward and economic, as tour organisations are able to arrange for all transportation, dining and sights en masse, allowing them to offer them for discounted prices. Going with a tour group would also reduce any concerns regarding time and transportation. Thus, any travellers to the London region would probably be more inclined to go with a tour group unless they had friends and/or family that are familiar with the London area. From a personal perspective, for travellers going to London for the first time, I would not recommend carrying out the trip I’ve described purely on economic grounds.

  • This is the culmination of the thread that was started on AnimeSuki, or could be seen as an extension of it. The only difference here is that we have successfully covered everything in great detail, far beyond the scope of any post there. Hopefully, this mini-series will re-ignite interest in London and K-On! for the forum’s visitors. 

Despite this factor, the hypothetical trip does allow our visitors to visit more or less all of the locations depicted in the movie, minus the London City area (where the girls mistakenly go while trying to get to their hotel). This is doubtlessly the intent of a so-called pilgrimage to London, but for the purposes of my discussion, practical considerations drive some of the decisions. Thus, we have also visited a 007 James Bond location, as well as one depicted in Harry Potter. The trip designed here was aimed to maximise the locations the girls visited and demonstrates that the events in the movie does fall within realistic parameters, albeit making assumptions, such as the notion that queues are perfectly timed and so on. Real world logistics would probably preclude the hypothetical trip from becoming a practical undertaking, but nonetheless, the planning process shows that such a trip is possible. My final comment is that the girls in K-On! must be stupidly rich: the entire trip can be encompassed by a cost of 4000 Canadian Dollars (some 340,771.67 JPY). Again, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief because K-On! is set in a fictional setting, and at day’s end, provides for some good entertainment.

  • I’ve always felt that the K-On! Movie gave off Christmas vibes, especially in its opening song, “Ichiban Ippai” (Full of number ones). It follows that I’m going to watch the movie again real soon. Well, this post is more or less done now.

Today, I have demonstrated that a trip bearing resemblance to the one taken by the Houkago Tea time girls can be reasonably designed within a three day period. I have introduced some additional elements to account for the fact that the girls in the movie have some of their time directed at concerts, and also lose time as they arrive at the wrong Ibis. Those wishing to recreate this ‘miscommunication’ would probably do well to set aside a fourth day to replicate the journey via the London Underground. The overall design process for this hypothetical trip was immensely amusing, illustrating how Azusa might have designed such a trip for the girls within the movie. With this in mind, this mini-series of posts will hopefully confer to readers some idea of what a K-On! style trip to London, England might entail. I certainly hope readers have found this post amusing to read, because I had a fun time writing it.

A Trip to London, England, K-On! Style! Part V of VI- Day Three Itinerary

Day three is March 29 and our final day in London. We will be set to depart at 1800 local time, meaning that ideally, we should arrive at the airport by around 1600 local time such that baggage check-in and boarding may be done without hassle. That is to say, we will not pull a Houkago Tea Time and try to check in with minus 60 minutes on the clock: that’s a little too rushed. For ease of access, the map may be accessed here.

Day Three Itinerary

This is our third and final day of the hypothetical journey. We’ll return to the Troubadour Café once more for breakfast (as before, the cost is 2.75 to 12.75 GBP, or 4.39 to 20.35 CAD). Following breakfast, we will head to the Earl’s Court underground station and take essentially the reversed route of what the Houkago Teatime girls did in the movie. From the Earl’s Court station, we take the train to the Embankment station and transfer to the Northern Line. From here, we will travel until the Camden Town station is reached. It is a kilometre walk from the station to the London Zoo. Again, the London pass will find use here: whereas admission is normally 20 GBP (31.94 CAD) per person, the pass allows us to bypass the admission fee. London Zoo is the world’s oldest scientific zoo. It was opened in London on 27 April, 1828, and was originally intended to be used as a collection for scientific study. It was eventually opened to the public in 1847. Today it houses a collection of 755 species of animals, with 16,802 individuals, making it one of the largest collections in the United Kingdom. While not particularly relevant to K-On! fans, the London Zoo was chosen as a destination because of its role in the first of the Harry Potter Films: the Burmese python scene from the 2001 film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was filmed at the Zoo’s Reptile House. In the film the inhabitant of the tank is a Burmese python, however in reality it is home to a black mamba. A plaque beside the enclosure commemorates the event, making it worthwhile to go and check this out.

  • Today, we’ll deviate a little from the K-On! schedule: I’ve deliberately chosen to omit attending any Afternoon Tea at well-respected establishments owing to the cost. The notion here is “go big or go home”, and since going to tea formally is costly, it will not be considered for this trip.

  • We have more or less done the entire K-On! Trip in reverse: whereas the girls start at the London City Ibis and travel through Camden to get to the Earl’s Court Ibis, our trip will allow our travellers to visit Camden on the last day.

A short walk from the zoo takes us to Abbey Road Crossing, a thoroughfare located in the borough of Camden and the City of Westminster in London that is best known for the Abbey Road Studios and the 1969 album, Abbey Road, by The Beatles. We will then return to the Camden Town area for lunch: located 3.9 km north-northwest of Charing Cross, it was laid out as a residential district from 1791 and was originally part of the manor of Kentish Town and the parish of St Pancras, Middlesex. We will have lunch at Haché (24 Inverness Street Camden Town, London NW1 7HJ), a burger establishment. Most burgers will be in the 16 GBP range (25.55 CAD), including the sides and drinks.

  • With a total budget of 4000 Canadian Dollars, we have accommodated for almost everything that could potentially arise. I have not discussed any souvenirs that might be purchased in London simply owing to the lack of knowledge about the whereabouts of any souvenir shops akin to the ones found on Banff Avenue in Alberta.

  • Once we leave Camden, it will become apparent that we have visited more or less every location discussed in the movie.

Camden Town became an important location during the early development of the railways and is also located on the London canal network. Its industrial economic basis has been replaced by retail, tourism and entertainment, including a number of internationally-known markets and music venues that are strongly associated with alternative culture. We can thus take advantage of this to purchase London Souvenirs for the trip. In the K-On! Movie, the girls purchased an inordinate amount of tea: how that got across customs, who knows? For our travellers’  postcards, refrigerator magnets, books and T-shirts would be far more logical to purchase. As a note of curiosity, Bob Cratchit’s family in A Christmas Carol (1843) was set here by Charles Dickens, a callback to the area he grew up in. After exploring the Camden Town area, we will make our way back to the Ibis at around 1500 and check out of the Ibis. We leave the Ibis at roughly 1540, having checked out and reserved a cab for this time. Assuming we’ve already booked a Black cab (and the cost has already been accounted for in Part II), it will take around 30 to 40 minutes to get to the Heathrow International Airport (overhead for traffic has been accounted for).

  • The last phase of my article is remarkably concise, dealing with the logistics of leaving London for home.

  • For travellers who don’t live in Toronto, Ontario, I reiterate that this article was designed as a hypothetical trip with certain assumptions. Depending on what happens, the cost of the trip may vary by up to 20 percent, but that’s hardly the point of this series of articles.

As we’ve noted in Part II, flight AC859 leaves Heathrow at 1800 local time. We are projected to arrive at the airport at 1620 or so, allowing us plenty of time to get our baggage checked out. The departure of flight AC859 will mark the conclusion of the trip.

Summary

The day’s expenses total to a maximum of 80 Canadian dollars per person, accounting for souvenirs, food and so forth. Taxi rates were excluded from this figure.

A Trip to London, England, K-On! Style! Part IV of VI- Day Two Itinerary

Day two (March 28, 2013) is intended to hit all of the destinations that the Houkago Tea Time girls hit. We will aim to match most of the locations within the movie, but for the sake of practicality, not all locations will be replicated. The locations visited on day one by the girls will, strangely enough, be visited on the last day. For ease of access, the map may be accessed here.

Day Two Itinerary

Before breakfast, we will depart the Ibis Earl’s court and head down to the World’s End Shop (Vienenne Westwood World’s End 430 Kings Road), where the girls take their photo with a massive clock on the store’s facade. The World’s End is a district of Chelsea, London, lying at the western end of the Kings Road. Taking its name from a public house, the area became a centre for the counter-culture world of the 1960s. This continued in the late ’70s and ’80s with the opening of the boutique SEX started by Vivienne Westwood in the 1970s (which is now known as Worlds End). En route to the Troubadour Café, a host of sights in the movie may be observed, as we are travelling down the Old Brompton road, a major street in the South Kensington district of The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea lined with several 5-star hotels and upmarket shops along the road.

  • In an earlier post, I noted that some Japanese fans immediately went to London to search for the Troubadour Café and presented the owners of the establishment with a poster.

  • The whole of the second day is spent recreating, to the best of my ability, the events the girls experience, but in no particular order.

Heading back northwards, breakfast today will be had at the Troubadour Café (265 Old Brompton Road London). Established in 1954, the Troubadour Café is one of the last remaining coffee houses of its era in London, with a club room in the cellar famous as one of the primary venues of the British folk revival in the late 1950s and 1960s. The cafe offers some excellent breakfast items for a considerably lower cost than the Hotel Ibis, with items ranging from 2.75 GBP to 12.75 GBP (4.39 to 20.35 CAD). In the movie, the girls likely ordered the Eggs benedict, served with the user’s choice of ham, smoked salmon or spinach for a cost of 9.95 GBP (15.88 CAD); a hot chocolate costs 2.60 GBP (4.15 CAD).

  • The ability to understand English (or lack thereof) forms the bulk of the humour for the movie, as demonstrated with the “Dog Waste Only” receptacle in Kensington Park. Staff maintaining the park are depicted to look quizzically at the girls.

  • The Rosetta Stone is an ancient Egyptian granodiorite stele inscribed with a decree issued at Memphis in 196 BC on behalf of King Ptolemy V. The decree appears in three scripts: the upper text is Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the middle portion Demotic script, and the lowest Ancient Greek. Because it presents essentially the same text in all three scripts (with some minor differences between them), it provided the key to the modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Since 2004, the original, conserved stone has been on display in a specially built case in the centre of the Egyptian Sculpture Gallery, while a replica of the Rosetta Stone as it would have appeared to early 19th-century visitors—without a case and free to touch—is now available in the King’s Library of the British Museum.

Following breakfast, we will leg it to Kensington Park, where Yui gets her hand stuck in the dog waste container. The Kensingtone name reflects its 19th century designation for a London residential district now subsumed within Notting Hill. Fortunately, for our English-speaking visitors, we will have no issues with any dog waste receptacles. Having taken a few pictures, we may proceed to the Knightsbridge station on the Piccadilly line and take the underground to Tottenham Court Road. We will arrive at the British Museum (Great Russell Street), where the girls see the Rossetta stone, which was mimicked by the Occult Club and borrowed as a substitute for the tombstone during their school play. Established in 1753, the British Museum is largely based on the collections of the physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane. The museum first opened to the public on 15 January 1759 in Montagu House in Bloomsbury, on the site of the current museum building. Its expansion over the following two and a half centuries was largely a result of an expanding British colonial footprint and has resulted in the creation of several branch institutions, the first being the British Museum (Natural History) in South Kensington in 1887. Presently one of amongst the largest and most comprehensive in existence, the museum holds exhibits that originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present. Admission is free, and owing to convenience  there are several locations that serve lunch here. The Gallery Café offers hot pies, soups, light salads and toasted sandwiches. No reservations are required, making this an excellent location to stop for lunch. While there are no quoted prices, it is reasonable to assume that 20 GBP (31.90 CAD) will more more than sufficient.

  • There are 32 sealed and air-conditioned ovoidal passenger capsules on the London Eye: they are attached to the external circumference of the wheel and rotated by electric motors. Each of the 10-tonne  capsules represents one of the London Boroughs, and holds up to 25 people, who are free to walk around inside the capsule, though seating is provided. The wheel rotates at 26 cm per second (about 0.9 km/h) so that one revolution takes about 30 minutes.

  • The view from the London Eye is nothing short of impressive. With the numbers given above, it is hardly surprising that Mio does not notice the wheel’s rotation. Understanding of Mio’s fear of anything exhibiting circular motion in the movie continues to elude me, although I’m guessing it has something to do with the baggage claim at the airport.

The British Museum is about 1700 metres from the London Eye; along the way, we may proceed down Denmark Street to find Wunjo Guitars, a shop the girls would visit in the movie. The London Pass does not cover the cost of admission for the London Eye; tickets are 18.90 GBP (30.15 CAD) if purchased on the day of visit. Lines might be a factor, so a portion of the afternoon will be set aside for this excursion. The London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel situated on the banks of the River Thames in London, England. The entire structure is 135 metres (443 ft) tall and the wheel has a diameter of 120 metres (394 ft). The London Eye was completed in 1999 and was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world, until surpassed first by the 160 m (520 ft) Star of Nanchang in 2006 and then the 165 m (541 ft) Singapore Flyer in 2008. The duration of a stay within the London eye is 30 minutes. It will be late afternoon once this component of the visit ends, so it would be prudent to visit the Jubilee Gardens, which is adjacent to the London Eye, and also the site where Houkago Tea Time perform their final London Concert.

  • Another day draws to an end. On March 28, 2013, the sun will set in London at 18:27 local time. If we eat dinner at 1830, it will likely be dark by the time we finish.

  • The girls wished to have sushi in London to compare it to the sushi found in Japan. However, miscommunication leads to them not having any dinner. With this in mind, travellers wishing to have sushi in London might find Ozu to be a pleasant surprise. It’s not a conveyor-belt sushi place, but it does offer some excellent fare.

It will be evening by this point, so we may travel down Belvedere Road, as there are numerous dining establishments here. While this deviates from the original procedure within the movie, we have selected a Japanese restuarant, Ozu (London County Hall, Riverside Building, Westminster Bridge Road), for dinner. Located inside the Riverside building, the establishment is an excellent location with a modern design. The cost is approximately 20 GBP (31.90 CAD) per person, offering a diverse array of Japanese dishes, including a Temaki, Tebasa, the Kamo steak and Salmon teriyaki, amongst others. Once dinner concludes, we will sightsee around this area before returning to the Ibis via the Westminster line.

Summary

The day’s expenses total to around 115 Canadian dollars per person.

A Trip to London, England, K-On! Style! Part III of VI- Day One Itinerary

Having arrived in London at 2030 local time, it will take roughly half an hour to reach the Hotel Ibis Earl’s Court from Heathrow Airport. Our travellers speak English, so there’s no real concern about them getting lost. Thus, they will head directly to the hotel and retire for the evening. It will be March 27, 2013 when we begin the first day of the journey. For ease of access, the map may be accessed here.

Day One Itinerary

We will replicate the more of the locations that the girls visited on the second day. For the first day, our travellers will have breakfast at the Ibis’s restaurant for 11.50 GBP (18.35 CAD) per person. Upon finishing breakfast, they will make their way to the West Brompton station and take the London Underground to the Westminster station. The major attractions in this area are the Tower of London and the Westminster Abbey. The Tower of London (also known as Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress) is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England, United Kingdom. Located within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, the Tower of London is separated from the eastern edge of the square mile of the City of London by the open space known as Tower Hill. It was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. After the Second World War, damage caused during the Blitz was repaired and the castle reopened to the public. The Tower of London is presently one of Britian’s most popular tourist attractions. Cared for by the charity Historic Royal Palaces and is protected as a World Heritage Site, the admission costs are 19.00 GBP (30.31 CAD). Westminster Abbey, (The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster) is a large, mainly Gothic church located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. Admission is 16.00 GBP (25.52 CAD), but recalling that our travellers have the London passes, they’ll be admitted free of charge.

  • Before anyone starts asking questions, I’ve deliberately chosen to send our travellers to Westminster on the first day, as the girls in the movie only really get to sightsee on their second day. The first day is dedicated to getting lost in London, and the last day is capped with a concert.

  • London has at least two  millennia of history, originating with its founding by the Romans, who named it Londinium. London’s ancient core, the City of London, largely retains its square-mile mediaeval boundaries. Since at least the 19th century, the name London has also referred to the metropolis developed around this core.

If time permits, St. Paul’s Cathedral may also be a noteworthy destination to visit; set at the top of Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London, it is the mother church of the Diocese of London. The present church (dating from the late 17th century) was built to an English Baroque design of Sir Christopher Wren, as part of a major rebuilding program which took place in the city after the Great Fire of London, and was completed within his lifetime. The cathedral is one of the most famous and most recognisable sights of London, with its dome, framed by the spires of Wren’s City churches, dominating the skyline for 300 years. At 365 feet (111 m) high, it was the tallest building in London from 1710 to 1962, and its dome is also among the highest in the world. In terms of area, St Paul’s is the second largest church building in the United Kingdom after Liverpool Cathedral, and admission is typically 15.00 GBP (23.93 CAD) per person.

  • A lot of the sights and attractions in Westminster are located within 2 kilometres of each other, a reasonably short walk. In late March and early April, the average high is 11.4°C, and the average low is 4.1°C. To us Canadians, this is warm, but I imagine it’d be quite cool for the Houkago Tea Time girls.

  • There is a surcharge for food in London: this is something that Canadians probably aren’t used to outside of the tips. The calculations in this experiment account for that, but the methodology isn’t very precise.

Lunch may be had at the Pier 1 Fish & Chips (66-68 Haymarket, London), located around 2000 metres from St Paul’s Cathedral. Their fish and chips range from 9.95 GBP to 19.95 GBP (18.81 to 31.82 CAD), and are made with an specially made in house batter, cooked in pure ground nut oil, served with chips, peas and Tartare Sauce. It would not be unreasonable to assume that lunch would therefore cost roughly 25 CAD per person; this configuration would provide an excellent experience for London Fish and Chips (something the girls did not have the opportunity to enjoy in the movie, or at least, not depicted as having done so). Fish and chips dish became popular in wider circles in London and South East England in the middle of the 19th century. The concept of a fish restaurant was introduced by Samuel Isaacs (born 1856 in Whitechapel, London; died 1939 in Brighton, Sussex), who ran a thriving wholesale and retail fish business throughout London and the South of England in the latter part of the 19th century.

  • The iconic red telephone box is a telephone kiosk for a public telephone designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, is a familiar sight on the streets of the United Kingdom. Despite a reduction in their numbers in recent years, the traditional British red telephone box can still be seen in many places throughout the UK, and in current or former British colonies around the world. The colour red was chosen to make them easy to spot.

  • Westminster Bridge is a road and foot traffic bridge over the River Thames between Westminster on the north side and Lambeth on the south side, in London. The bridge is painted predominantly green, the same colour as the leather seats in the House of Commons which is on the side of the Palace of Westminster nearest the bridge. This is in contrast to Lambeth Bridge which is red, the same colour as the seats in the House of Lords and is on the opposite side of the Houses of Parliament.

Following lunch, we’ll take a walk down Abigton Street, explore the Victoria Tower Garden and then proceed down Millbank Street, beyond Lambeth Bridge towards Vauxhall Bridge. Along this route, some London style architecture might be noted. Once Vauxhall bridge is reached, we will note that the SIS building is right across the river. Vauxhall is an inner city area of South London in the London Borough of Lambeth. It was once in the historic county of Surrey. Its name is derived from Falkes de Breauté, the head of King John’s mercenaries, who owned a large house in the area which was referred to as Faulke’s Hall, later Foxhall, and eventually Vauxhall. The area only became known by this name when the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens opened as a public attraction. Initially most visitors would have approached by river, but crowds of Londoners of all classes came to know the area after the construction of Westminster Bridge in the 1740s. The entire route will be a 2 kilometre trip and might proceed at a leisurely pace. The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens were removed in the 1850s and replaced by mainly industrial units, including a glass factory, a vinegar works and a gin distillery. By 1983, the land was purchased by Regalian Properties Plc. and architect Terry Farrell won the competition to develop a building on the site—originally an urban village. Plans shifted and the area was eventually zoned to accomodate office blocks, with the SIS Building (MI6 Building), eventually designated for the site. The SIS building was completed in 1994 and is currently theheadquarters of the British Secret Intelligence Service (otherwise known as “MI6”). As such, it has been featured in the James Bond films GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day, starring Pierce Brosnan. Filming of the exterior of the building for the 23rd James Bond film, Skyfall starring Daniel Craig.

  • I keep mentioning that it was disappointing that the girls did not see the MI6 building; the building is only two kilometres from the London Eye, so I imagine the deliberate decision to omit the building might have been to prevent K-On! fans from flocking their and disrupting the service’s function.

  • Come April and later, boat tours are conducted on the Thames River. Given that this hypothetical trip is set in March, these tours are not in operation yet.

Crossing Vauxhall bridge, we will board a train at the Vauxhall station, and transfer to the Northern Line at the Stockwell station. We will disembark at the London Bridge station, allowing us the sightsee at the Tower Bridge. The Tower Bridge was built 1886–1894 and is a combined bascule and suspension bridge in London, over the River Thames. It is close to the Tower of London, from which it takes its name. It has become an iconic symbol of London. The bridge consists of two towers tied together at the upper level by means of two horizontal walkways, designed to withstand the horizontal forces exerted by the suspended sections of the bridge on the landward sides of the towers. The vertical component of the forces in the suspended sections and the vertical reactions of the two walkways are carried by the two robust towers. The bascule pivots and operating machinery are housed in the base of each tower. The bridge’s present colour scheme dates from 1977, when it was painted red, white and blue for the Queen Elizabeth II’s silver jubilee. Originally it was painted a mid greenish-blue colour. The Tower Bridge is relatively close to the Borough Market, which will be included on the destinations to visit (it was visited by the girls in the movie). Located in Southward, the Borough Market that is currently seen today was designed in 1851, with additions in the 1860s and an entrance designed in the Art Deco style added on Southwark Street in 1932. It is one of the largest food markets in London, and sells a large variety of foods from all over the world.

  • Stallholders come to trade at the market from different parts of the UK and traditional European products are also shipped over and sold. Amongst the produce on sale are fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, meat, game and freshly baked bread and pastries. There is also a wide variety of cooked and snack food on sale for the many tourists who flock to the market, which includes the Houkago Tea Time girls, who purchase cupcakes here.

  • If memory serves, Yui wishes to have roast beef for dinner in the movie upon the day of arrival. Hence, we’ll go to a steak house at the end of day one.

Dinner will be had at Black & Blue London Bridge (1-2 Rochester Walk, Borough Market), a moderately priced steak house (entrees range from 16 to 33 GBP, or 25.53 to 52.65 CAD). Once dinner is complete, we will cross over the Tower Bridge and make for the Monument train station, which is right on the District line and thus, will take our travellers directly to Earl’s Court. Disembarking at the West Brompton station, we will leg the remaining 200 metres back to the Ibis Earl’s Court and retire for the evening.

Summary

The day’s expenses total to around 120 Canadian dollars per person.