I like slice-of-life shows. I like music. So let’s review a slice-of-life show about people who play music: K-on. Oh, I also like tea and cake… which is just as well, because there’s at least as much of that in K-on as there is music.
So let’s start at the start. Hirasawa Yui is a girl who just entered high school, and is looking for a club to join. She has no particularly notable skills or interests (or at least, none that translate well to club activities). She winds up deciding to check out the Light Music Club (which is where the show gets its name from; keiongakubu → keionbu → k-on), which is being resurrected by three other first year students who just need a fourth A) to make up the numbers so they’re an official club, and B) to play guitar for them. Naturally, Yui has no experience with musical instruments more meaningful or recent than playing a castanet in kindergarten. She tries to back out of it, realising that they want more from her than that, but they basically bribe her with food to stay. She’s very easily swayed that way.
Of course, then there’s the problem that she needs a guitar. The show gets a bit of mileage from them working to save up for it and going to buy it. And the keyboardist Kotobuki Tsumugi, whose parents own the music shop they go to (amongst many other things) convincing them to give Yui a discount…
So once they’ve got that sorted out, they can knuckle down and start practicing. Well, almost. They’ve then got to deal with other things such as the club president, the drummer Tainaka Ritsu, forgetting to file their paperwork. And the fact that they all wind up sitting around chatting, eating cake and drinking tea all the time and only occasionally remembering to get around to practicing.
But the most serious member, bassist Akiyama Mio, somehow manages to get their act together in time to pull off a decent performance at the school’s cultural festival. And another one at the start of their second year at the welcoming ceremony for the new first year students. It’s here that they manage to impress another guitarist, Nakano Azusa, enough to get her to join.
Now in many ways, Azusa is like a mini-Mio. Similar character design with the long dark hair. Plays a stringed instrument. Is the one who tries to take things seriously. In fact, that last she does more so than Mio, who’s gradually gotten drawn into the rest’s tea drinking, cake eating, mucking around ways. For a while anyway; Azusa likes the tea and cake as much as the rest of them.
Many people have criticised K-on for not being seriously enough about music and the forming of a band, but I feel that these people are missing the point in a pretty big way. It’s a slice-of-life comedy, and never pretends to be anything else, it’s just that it uses a group of people who (occasionally) play musical instruments together as the setting. A show that’s seriously about forming a band and playing music would be entertaining enough in its own right (and Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad is there if you want it), but just not as much fun.
And K-on is a lot of fun. Less so in the second season, but still plenty of fun. If I have to mention any downsides to it, it’s that for a show centred around music, most of the music isn’t actually that good. None of the opening themes are any good, the background music is so-so, and about half the songs they play during the show reach the dizzying heights of “okay”. It does have good ending themes though; when the show was first airing I set the ending theme as my mobile phone’s ringtone, and have kept it ever since – even through getting a new phone.
What makes a show like this is the characters, and it’s a good group we’ve got here. And not just the light music club members but the supporting cast too, their teacher Yamanaka Sawako especially.
Worth a look for anyone who likes things that are just plain fun.