Sep 072010

K-on! was a show last year that I had decidedly mixed feelings about . For a show revolving around a music club, there was more focus on cake and tea than power chords and riffs. The second season, hasn’t really done anything to silence those criticisms, but it has done a better job at clarifying what K-on is.

Straight up, let’s be clear, my problems with K-on! are still there with K-on!! Primarily that the show is not about music. Now there are people who don’t mind this, who say, in their own roundabout way, that the show is really about the group, not their activity. This is what the second season has done a more effective job of than the first. In part because they got away from the terrible gag of “We’ve got to rehearse now, ooo sweets, oh noes we never rehearsed!” Instead the focus is more on the characters doing things, interacting, growing older, moving on, and occasionally making music.

It’s that “growing older, moving on aspect” that provides the melancholic feel to the second season that sets it apart from its predecessor. To put it over-dramatically, life as they know it is coming to an end, and that looming constant takes an edge off the overpowering sweet of the show. One of my favorite moments in the entire run is in the Death Devil reunion episode. More specifically the reunion itself at the wedding.* After we get a chance to appreciate the power of Sawako’s rock (and it is strong, she took out the power to the stage.) they cut away to a montage of Death Devil in its prime, and it’s a fantastic little ode to a bunch of teenagers in a high school band. In a way it’s the most keion thing in the entire series, and it’s not even about the main characters.** But that moment perfectly encapsulated what KyoAni is doing with this second season by focusing on that wistful aspect to senior years.

*The most underrated aspect of this sequence? Beyond the groom’s reaction? The fact that the band is so loud the HTT girls can’t even hear themselves talk, I love that bit.
**I’ve mentioned this before, but I would dearly love to see KyoAni tackle a Death Devil series, either as a prequel, or a spin-off done as an Anvil! style documentary featuring a reformed Death Devil.

Now having said that, the show really rakes when it is about the music. The episode where they went to Bonnaroo Summer Fest was just tremendous, as was the aforementioned Death Devil, and the most recent concert performance. It’s not that I want to see a complete performance animated, because honestly most concert films are pretty boring — though that would make for a neat DVD.* What made the most recent concert episode work so well was that it told the story of putting on a concert, and that is what this show is here to do, tell stories. As someone who has taken part in performances, it rang true in a way that 24 minutes of music would not. So while the travails of the girls getting into college is moe and all, I still wish there had been a bit more focus on telling stories about the music.

*Assuming the credit songs, Don’t Say lazy, Listen!!, and NO, Thank You are all non-canon, what would a full HTT set look like? I’m guessing something like:

More broadly speaking, the reason why K-on!! resonates better is because it’s more universal. Everyone knows what it feels like to graduate high school, how it’s both exciting, and terrifying. Or that rush of adrenaline right before you take the stage, where you’re only going to get one chance to do it right. There’s nothing relate-able to eating cake, other than it being delicious. There are just a handful of episodes left in the run, and I’m sure the wistfulness will continue to ramp up as the show winds down.

It’s not all tea and cake though, while K-on!! ameliorated some of the problems of the first season, it does raise one important question. Namely, who in the world plotted this show out? The first season covered two full years over the course of thirteen episodes, which is rather overstuffed if you ask me. The second season is taking about twice as many to cover half as much time. Now obviously time passes as quickly as you want it to with television, depending on the story you’re telling you can fit any amount of story time into an allotted amount of air time, but given that the K-on franchise looks to be locked into around 39 episodes you’d think the geniuses at KyoAni and Kodansha would dedicate a season’s worth of episodes to each year of high school. Then again they probably didn’t realize the show would be as popular as it was. Still, it feels like an opportunity lost, a common refrain for this moe-roller.

Final note, this is awesome:

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