The Japanese are known for their love of all things cute, or Moe. This is maybe why we see a lot of maids, school girls, and magical girls’ themed anime in the streets of Akihabara. But there was one anime that aired during the Spring season in 2009 (2010 for Animax Asia subscribers) that not only took Japan by storm but also the internet at large. That anime is K-ON!
Now K-On! ( keion, light music club) started out as a yonkoma (4 panel manga) in manga magazines’ Manga Time Kirara and a bi-monthly serialization in Manga Time Kirara Carat. It wasn’t until 2008 when K-On! was released in four tankobon (manga book) volumes. K-On! fever didn’t reach its high pitch until April 2009 when Kyoto Animation started to produce the first 13-episodes. The rest was history, as K-On! quickly became the favorite anime of the season, with its cast of moe girls jamming out after school and drinking tea. After seeing the popularity in Japan and the reach it was gaining overseas, Bandai Entertainment announced at Anime Expo 2010 that they would be bring the phenomenon known as K-On! to North America. Which brings us to today’s review of volume one of K-On!, episodes 1 - 4.
Story/Plot- K-On!’s story revolves around four main girls: Yui Hirasawa, Ritsu Tainaka, Mio Akiyama, and Tsumugi Kotobuki. These four make up the school’s light music club. And that’s about it. Volume one of the first season doesn’t have much in terms of plot, but introduces us to the girls and show the audience how they came to join the light music club. In short, it’s a slice of life anime, no plot to move the story forward, just a day in the lives of four friends who love music and sweets. What K-On! lacks in plot, I think they make up for character interaction.
Characters/Voice Actors- Since this is a moe influence anime, each of the four main girls are the personification of each moe archetype. Yui is the clumsy carefree member of the group, always doing things at her own pace. Even though she may be clumsy and not that bright, Yui cares deeply for her friends and for the light music club. Her english voice actress is Stephanie Sheh. Stephanie tends to play one of three roles; the tsundere, the clumsy, and shy/quiet. She’s been in the industry for a long time and is no slouch. Casting her as Yui was a really good choice, although I don’t like the character personally. At times Yui can get annoying and being cute and dizzy can only get you so far.
Ritsu is the tomboy of the group, with an upbeat personality, likes to joke around and serves as the club’s self-elected president. Like Yui she can be clumsy at time and tends to forget important paper work and remembering announcements. Her voice actress is Cassandra Lee. There isn’t much I know about Cassandra. Her portrayal of Ritsu when comparing her to the Japanese voice actress is pretty good. Her voice gives off that tomboy feel that Ritsu is characterized as. But like Yui, she can get annoying and that tomboy attitude will get old.
Mio is the quiet mature one of the group, always getting excellent grades, but is a bit shy when it comes to public performances. She is often the target of Ritsu teasing and jokes, and is afraid of anything that is horrific. Her voice actress is Cristina Valenzuela. Everyone should know of or at least heard of Cristina Valenzuela, also known as Cristina Vee. She a prime example that a fan can be discovered and work in anime. Many will know Cristina from her You Tube covers of various anime theme songs, while others will know her from her work on BlazeBlue as Noel Vermillion. Her previous work shows she can play the serious but shy character that Mio is. Mio by far is best character in the anime as proven by numerous polls taken in Japan, with Mio being number one numerous times and being in the top 10 and top 5. She’s the type of character that you just want to hold and protect, and as her english voice actress Cristina does a great job.
Tsumugi (or Mugi to the group) is the naive, but sweet rich girl. She’s comes from a very rich family but enjoys doing "normal" activities that usually she doesn’t do in her daily home life. Though she may seem sweet and well-behaved, she tends to get rebellious from time to time and tends to really surprise the others. Her voice actress is Shelby Lindley. Again she is another voice actress that I know nothing about and is pretty new to me. But her English voice does match her look, which she gives off a princess vibe.
Art/Visuals- Since K-On! is a slice of life/moe anime, the art of the world the girls live in is bright and colorful. One thing that some who are not familiar with moe will notice, is that the girls faces and eyes almost look identical to each other. It’s a small and minor complaint, but doesn’t detract each girl’s individual personality. Another detail that I noticed as was that all the instruments are not just modeled after their real world counter parts and renamed to avoid a copy write suit, but in fact use the real world names and logos. Gibson, KORG, Yamaha, and Fender lend their names and likenesses to make the look of K-On! more authentic.
OP/ED music- Since this is anime about music, you would expect the OP and the ED to be good. Well they are. Like with most anime coming out the seiy? (voice actresses) sing both the OP and the ED. For the first four episodes of the first season of K-On! the OP is "Cagayake! Girls" and is sung by the Japanese voice actresses, with Yui’s seiy?, Aki Toyosaki, on lead vocals. It’s an pretty upbeat song about how the girls are having fun, dealing with school and playing in their band. Since it has a really light hearted feel it was a good choice for Toyosaki to sing. Personally it’s not one of my favorite songs in the anime, but it’s a pretty good song none the less.
The ED on the other hand is one of my favorites from the anime, "Don’t Say Lazy". Taking lead vocals on this song is Mio’s seiy?, Yoko Hikasa. Since Mio is the mature one of the group the song is a bit more mature sounding, with lines as "You can't love others if you don't love yourself first" and "You need to keep being proud of what you can do, that's important You can't accept others if you don't accept yourself first" in the song. It’s a really catchy song talking about how the girls are just following their instincts and dealing with problems as they come.
Neither songs are sung in English, which is a shame since Vee is a pretty decent singer and has done covers to anime Ops and EDs on her You Tube account and Sheh is a good singer herself. Maybe their saving it for when the girls do their first performance in the second volume.
K-On! is one of those shows that, even though its marketed to a female demographic, guys and girls will find themselves enjoying the show, tapping their feet to the OP and ED, and just wanting to comfort Mio when she gets picked on. It’s one of those shows you just can’t stop just at one episode. Those are the symptoms of K-On! fever. The first volume is set to release next week, both in DVD and Blue-Ray formats. If you can spare the extra $5, pick up the Blue-Ray version.