3 Episode Taste Test: K-On!! (Season 2)

K-On!! is not the harbinger of doom that so many make it out to be. For a show about the twee shenanigans of five high school girls and their band, it certainly is divisive. The first three episodes of the second series however do not highlight why; sure the opening sounds like it was dragged from the circle of hell reserved for naughty bagpipes and a lot of the animation work is demonstrative of a company with enough cash to be extravagant, but it's the fervour of the audience on both sides that likely bifurcates one's opinion more than anything. Despite the nagging question of its purpose, the series' the opening episodes prove an entertaining, sporadically cringe inducing saunter through a world without raunchiness, without violence but with plenty of sunshine and smiles.

the series is diverting attention to other members before the cash cow is unceremoniously milked

Picking up where the first season left off, the majority of the girls in the Light Music Club have now entered their final year of high-school and are dealing with the trials of schoolwork and attempting the get their band, Afternoon Tea Time, off the ground. The first piece of trouble comes from the realisation that after the end of the year, only Azusa will be left - a mad and ultimately fruitless scramble for new members ensues. The cleaning out of the music room cupboard reveals a hidden treasure in the form of their homeroom teacher's guitar. Lastly, peppy drummer Ritsu has a rare crisis regarding her instrument choice, saying that her position at the back of the band keeps her from the spotlight. Her trial run of different instruments ends much as Mio predicted, but does lead to a new song from keyboardist Tsumugi.

The easiest fault to lay at the series feet is the lack of drama. Ordinarily the cornerstone of any story, here it oscillates between absent or blatantly manufactured; this imbues the series with a whimsical, meandering style that, to its credit, suits the subject matter but results in the entire premise being critically shallow. Each episode threatens to be engulfed by its own quaintness but somehow manages to walk the line between utterly frivolous and light entertainment - crucially the latter is the only thing the series, so far as the first three episodes are concerned, attempts to be. There are no movements towards more in-depth storytelling or melodrama and in all likelihood will end much as it began: with the implication the five band members will remain friends forever. They may not reach Budokan, but they'll have good fun trying.

Sensing the behemoth they had unleashed in the first season, Kyoto Animation have scaled back Mio's overbearing presence within the group. Her doppelgänger in the closing credits indicates the focus may yet shift; for now though the series is diverting attention to other members before the cash cow is unceremoniously milked. Even a series as cynically timed as this isn't immune to the accompanying first episode nonsense, the feeling grows that an excitable child has just been let loose in toy store: over exaggerated gesticulations and a borderline hyperactive cast; the second and third episodes mellow out but nowhere is the amount of money pulsing through the production more apparent than with the fully designed tertiary classmates and constantly varying locales.

K-On!! is at its best in the rare quieter moments alone with the characters when peeking into their private worries and thoughts, away from the laser-like happiness of school. In trying to be universally appealing, the series has ironically galvanised many viewers misgivings into a vehement, personal disdain for it. It is more or less impossible to view the series separately from the cultural context it has borne, it may be a goofy and inane take on high school life, but inevitably it is used as a measuring stick for taste. Entertaining but ultimately unfulfilling, if the previous season is any kind of comparison, the opening three episodes of the series point to how the remainder will play out and so it will likely remain a guilty pleasure for some or a lifestyle choice for others.

Responses to “3 Episode Taste Test: K-On!! (Season 2)”

I don't think I'd want to see drama take over K-on!!. I don't think the show is meant to put you on one character's side over the other or feel tension between them. Not tension that lasts beyond one episode or one argument, anyway.

I'm pretty pleased with this K-on! season, myself. The girls are growing up.
I think K-On!! is proving to be better than its predecessor. When the characters of the first season seemed to be sort of a roulette wheel of stereotypes and moe cliche somehow they seem... developed now. Maybe it's that they didn't really have "development" per se last season, but that they were consistent (mostly) in the depiction of their characters (Mio maybe the exception)so that when s2 hits they at least feel somewhat genuine. I feel like s1 wasn't a complete waste when I watched the first few eps of s2.

I'm on the guilty pleasure side myself; but so far this season has actually made me feel like it's actually quality beyond a guilty pleasure.
I found the little moments of whimsical drama, such as Ritsu's full circle journey back to behind her drum kit, to be the most enjoyable for me. I'm somehow putting the idea that it's pure cynical marketing to the back of my mind and appreciating it as utterly undemanding fluff...perfect for when you've had a bad day and want to unwind.

An aspect that I personally get a lot of enjoyment out of is the attention to detail concerning the dynamics of a group of friends in a non-serious band situation (one I can relate to) and of course the attention to detail in the musical gear (ditto). I doubt many viewers would appreciate the amount of hard work in getting those bits right, but I sure as hell have!

Also, congrats on being able to actually write about K-On at all...I'm currently on my third post draft and I'm on the verge of giving it up as a bad job!
In try­ing to be uni­ver­sally appeal­ing, the series has iron­ic­ally gal­van­ised many view­ers mis­giv­ings into a vehe­ment, per­sonal dis­dain for it. It is more or less impossible to view the series sep­ar­ately from the cul­tural con­text it has borne, it may be a goofy and inane take on high school life, but inev­it­ably it is used as a meas­ur­ing stick for taste.


I personally view K-ON through the satire lens. The show itself is bipolar in a way that pokes fun at the notion of cool at the intersection of high school kids and rock bands. In as such, it fractures the audience, who generally are not in for the meta commentary or lack the personal experience to ground them to the truer-than-life punchlines and events that otherwise makes up a relatively low-key story.

As such it's left to largely those who pursuit it from the superficial end of things, and it just further divide the fanbase.
@meflo­raine: They are indeed growing up, even if Sawako seems to be regressing. Yui especially is having responsibility thrust upon her and yet she still remains the most whimsical of the group.

@Taka: It seems like a long time since I saw the first season so I couldn't venture a comparison; but I feel you're right, characters such as Azusa have definitely come along from their comparatively simplistic origins. I'm on the verge of this being a guilty pleasure, I'm certainly not dropping everything for the latest episode but like Martin says, it's immensely undemanding and great for some escapism.

@Martin: I liked Ritsu's journey around the instruments, but mainly for highlighting the other band member's attachments and why they chose the instruments they did. Yui's "welcome home" to Giita was wonderfully saccharine.

With regards writing about it, it wasn't as difficult as I thought it was going to be. I desperately tried to talk about the series rather than around it. It's only the bland or the particularly challenging series I find hard to talk about, so Rainbow is currently causing me a lot of grief.

@omo: I hadn't thought of the show that way, having never had involvement with a band myself it seems I'm not getting the full experience both yourself and Martin are getting. Regarding the "de-cooling" of the pop/rock band mystique, it's a fascinating angle, certainly set me thinking!