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.
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.