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K-On! Forever Young

Tuesday 23rd August 2011

Helen McCarthy grabs the mic for K-On!


We grew up with them: Garth, Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbes. The comic strip has a long history. Four-panel strips have been around in Japan since at least the early 1900s. Classic comics like Sazae-san and modern hits like Axis Powers Hetalia all started as four-panel strips, and K-On! grew out of the same tradition.

K-On! derives its title from kei-ongaku, the Japanese word for light music. Four teenagers join a high school club at risk of being disbanded, and the clueless rookie turns into a star, leading them to success.

Central character and lead vocalist Yui Hirasawa is one of a long line of clumsy, hapless anime and manga heroines.  Dopey enough to need mothering by her kid sister, she is only average in class and can’t play an instrument or read music, but when properly coached and motivated she displays astonishing innate ability. Her main gift is to communicate a sense of optimism, fun and joy to which audiences never fail to respond. Despite this, she still forgets lyrics mid-song.

Her band mates fall into familiar anime stereotypes – rough girl, shy girl, rich girl, needy outsider – with teachers, siblings and friends to broaden the potential audience appeal. Carrying on the wish-fulfilment motif, the girls all play top-notch instruments, from Yui’s Heritage Cherry Sunburst Gibson Les Paul guitar (the 2005 re-release, not the 1958 original) to drummer Ritsu’s Rick Marotta Signature Yamaha Hipgig skins.

Creator Kakifly, a male Japanese artist born in Kyoto, has contributed short works and illustrations to a handful of professional and fan anthologies, but K-On! is his only known original work, starting in Manga Time Kirara magazine, it ran until September 2010.

It was successful enough to be collected into four volumes, the first of which sold over 25,000 copies in its first week in May 2009. Sales were boosted by the debut of the first 13-part anime adaptation from Kyoto Animation on TBS. They built steadily: collected volume 3 sold 120,000 copies in its first week in December. Another 26 episodes and a standalone short followed, with a movie planned for December 2011, all directed by Naoko Yamada.

Secrets, unsuspected talents and the hard-won loyalty of a peer group tie K-On! to classic high school tales like Kimagure Orange Road and Slow Step, but its total focus on girls and their world, combined with its guitar geekery, signal its true genre: “moe” – anime’s ever-present pandering to the male gaze. This is a show about girls, not for them. The target audience doesn’t want them to grow up and away. Even when they go to college in the manga, it’s the same local college. They are cute, endearing and frozen in time: like the music of our teenage years, forever young.

K-On! is out on 29th August 2011 on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.


K-on! The Movie

was £19.99
A London Adventure Awaits!
Graduation time is finally here, but the girls of the Sakuragaoka Girl's High Light Music Club aren't going to let the end of high school be the end of all they've built together. First though, they have to keep a promise to take a trip together, and like everything else they do, they're not doing it halfway. So it's time to hop on the bus - the double-decker bus that is - and go around the world as the band heads for the birthplace of the British Invasion: the United Kingdom!
On the way they're going to have to solve that one last big puzzle that's been vexing them: what to get for their underclassman rhythm guitarist Azusa, who will be taking over the club once they don their caps and gowns and leave Sakuragaoka for the last time. Get ready for a Magical Musical Tour as the whole gang takes in the sights and sounds of London and prepares for one last amazing encore!
Deluxe 2-disc edition includes bonus Oyster Card Holder exclusive to the UK and a bonus features disc that contains:
Interviews, K-On's Anniversary, 1-2-3 K-ON! Live Event, K-On in London, Trailer and Teaser collection



Nichijo anime and K-on!

Rayna Denison on K-on! and the rise of the nichijo anime
The best thing about K-on! is undeniably the music, from the (cloyingly?) cute opening credits to the gothic-lolita inspired visuals of the closing sequence, whenever the Sakuragaoka Light Music Club performs, there is fun to be had in this series. Moreover, the show’s burgeoning obsession with dressing its female leads in costumes that shade from schoolgirl uniforms into maid costumes, provides a variety of copy-able cosplay get-ups likely to feature soon at a convention near you (if you haven’t seen them there already). By these various means, K-on! carefully walks the line between exploitation and a rather sweet self-empowerment-through-music storyline.

K-On! The Movie holidays abroad

Daniel Robson travels the Japanese way
Clearly the team at Kyoto Animation had a nice long holiday to Britain in preparation for K-On! The Movie. In the film, our heroines take a trip to London to celebrate their graduation, and locations from Camden Town to Denmark Street to Abbey Road are reproduced in impressive detail. The girls even take in Earl's Court, Sherlock Holmes' gaff on Baker Street, Borough food market and dozens of other spots, all instantly recognisable to anyone born and bred in London. After seven years in Tokyo I don't get homesick much, but K-On! The Movie had me pining for proper tea, service with a frown and fights outside pubs. Aaah, London.

K-on! the Movie

Hugh David can’t find his hotel and he’s carrying a guitar…
K-On!, the TV series, adapting the manga about high-school girls forming a rock band at school, has after two seasons on TV spun off into a theatrical feature. A tradition of the TV business internationally, the subject matter is also a typical spin-off tradition: taking the main characters abroad for fish-out-of-water hijinks (see The Inbetweeners for another recent example). Where The InBetweeners has been a raucous success in the U.K. for showing accurately just how vile and stupid teenage boys really are however, K-On! has broken new ground in Japan by being a female-fronted series with considerable behind-the-scenes female talent, who are making a show that eschews fan-service in favour of greater realism, and this has continued with the movie.


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Andrew Osmond on the real “adult” manga
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