Category Archives: K-ON

Waking Up From K-ON

This post is probably a K-ON spoiler, if that’s possible.

I really feel a connection with K-ON, especially with the way how K-ON season 2 ended, with its final (for now, anyways) school festival and that glorious afterglow. It’s like having the right amount of sourness along with something sweet, or perhaps better put, sweet sorrow that is Azusa’s farewell. Or was season two’s ending a goodbye to the rest of us? It’s this stuff that runs through my head when I punch away slowly at random keys, just unlocking yet another character’s entry in yet another soft-boiled image album track. Is Mio a Little Girl or is Hello Little Girl actually trying to be nu-gaze-ish? Did people who worked on the image songs for the series actually tried to inject something into the way the songs are arranged? I’m probably reading too much into it.

K-ON! Houkago Live aside, it’s getting to a point where an oversea fan’s interaction with the K-ON franchise is almost entirely within the commercial context. I think the least I could do to give the whole relationship is to write about it, to define it, to state the meaning it has given me. And when I realized this, it’s all really just sad.

It’s like reading about what Toyosaki blogged after the K-ON S2 live a couple months ago. It’s something pretty special for the tens of thousands who went, but in the end it’s just yet another anime-made-for-hire (albeit in the KyoAni way, which may not be the standard committee style, I don’t know). A piece of plastic or limited edition concert good is not going to love you back, although in this case a continuation of the manga (and inevitably, more anime) is probably as close as it gets to that.

Maybe this is when mining for sequels becomes a celebration rather than the milking of the loyal handful. It’s all in the little things, the details, that you can feel the love, or not.

Feinting sincerity aside, for some reason I feel the creators or some of the core people who had a hand in making K-ON the thing that it is also enjoyed that connection. It’s just that the way we interact with each other and with the franchise material is through the same bloodless machine of capitalism as one would with anything else that required you paying money. To that, the perhaps equally soulless doujin products that the wall booths sell at Comiket at least contain some traces of life despite the shallow, pornographic content (for those who fits the description). I guess we can do better if we look toward truly like-minded expressions in fandom, rather than the usual “let’s just draw what’s popular for a quick buck” kind of thing that prevails much too much these days.

Doujinshi aside (and its implications, worthy of further examination for sure), the only other thing over the years that I’ve settled on as worthy of keeping is to make some great memories. And I guess that meant I should have tried to go to the “Come With Me” live or at least, hope for a home video release. Well, making memories is not always possible, and often infrequent. Perhaps that’s why I value them?

I might have sounded unappreciative about the state of the anime fan overseas when it comes to at least paying for anime locally that I can enjoy, but I do appreciate all the work and passion that went into the stuff now that I own (legit or otherwise). I even appreciate those expensive imports with English subs (and dubs at times) on them nowadays. It’s just that compared to fans in the ’80s and ’90s, the aspects of fandom that went beyond the buying and selling of anime hasn’t really improved by a whole lot. If anything the biggest change is how we’re approaching a saturation point in terms of anime cons (at least in North America) that are big enough to provide another way to connect creators, creations and fans. It’s still one (and more) layer of crud, of drama, and what have you. But that might be more “human” than the well-oiled marketing machine that the Japanese deal with, because at least “they’re here because we love them.”

It’s kind of funny to look at K-ON S2 in this context. I bring my baggage to the show (don’t we all?) and look at it from that angle: what are concerts, right? Aren’t they just yet another venue, another framework in terms of interactions between the band and the audience? It’s been way too long since recorded music has changed the way we experience music, that this human element of simply playing a song adds so much more impact to someone who didn’t grow up with that kind of lo-tech intimacy with music. And I grew up with some experience with music in a live setting (albeit in a typical Asian-American way). But it’s not just me of course. It’s the same reason why Azusa cries when the girls played Tenshi ni Fureta yo! It’s the same reason why some teared up when they watch that. It’s the same reason why it is actually so powerful, that it has already transcended the context of music.

Which is probably why people make novels and movies about friendship and memories in high school, and not (so much) about the nature of music and the evolution of it and the context in which it alters lives, flow of money, and the way people view the world. But that’s just one drop in a large bucket of human relationships and experiences, in the way we relate to each other and the things around us. It’s just that in K-ON’s case, there’s a really gorgeous view from the cliffs of meta, and it’s too bad so few of us get to enjoy this animated adventure from this vantage point.

All Good Girls Have Twin-Tails Inside

I’m sympathetic to 2DT’s take. I always thought Azusa was someone who had to be liken to in some way to a previous experience. The stereotypical saccharine-filled neko-mimi sweets-lover is not why she won Saimoe last year, nor is it why Azusa is probably my favorite K-ON girl (tho I think Yui is still the best, whatever that means).

To put it in the right context, 2DT saw the light because he realized that Azusa is actually based on some real-life notion of ideals. In the comments he explicitly stated this connection (emphasis and added link mine).

I wasn’t so much a fan of her myself… until I realized that all the students I have who are like her, I love! [] Such a sweet, good child. I understand her classic moe pull.

I’m not going to talk much about that classic moe thing (by the way, classic moe is better a term than old moe, because there’s, well, actual old moe involving old people). It is different than the somewhat more mature, hime-cut Yamato Nadeshiko moe (Really? You’d think a Yamato Nadeshiko is naturally attractive?) that is better characterized by Mio, so even “classic” is not exactly a great moniker. Furthermore, moe is so dead, I would rather not talk about it if I could avoid it.

What I will share, however, is my previously-mentioned (well, it was over a year ago) note on how I like K-ON because I see that band dynamics play out in my own experience. In short, Mio reminds me of this guy I know. He is adorable, musically talented and everyone likes him, just like Mio is among her friends. Both of them had a fan club. Well, YMMV, as it is with anything personal.

People are multi-motivational and complex things. It takes time to get to know them, and it is is tough to do fiction where part of the charm comes from mapping characters to actual people in a typical yet lifelike way. The good-girl appeal, however, is always going to be a draw to people who like them. I think it channels some sense of righteousness that many of us have within us, a sense of right and wrong, or good and evil. And going by that measure, that applies to most. I just want to separate out the two different kinds of good girls.

So the story goes, to begin with a scene from Conan the Barbarian (lol thanks JP):

Mongol General: Hao! Dai ye! We won again! This is good, but what is best in life?

Mongol: The open steppe, fleet horse, falcons at your wrist, and the wind in your hair.

Mongol General: Wrong! Conan! What is best in life?

Conan: To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.

Mongol General: That is good! That is good.

Thanks to a certain parody subber, I have long since fallen with Simoun–more importantly, Mamiina. Simoun has a large cast that comes together for some pretty delicious drama. One of these is exactly the very heart-warming, turn-around good girl that newfags may find familiar in the character Kyouko Sakura from Madoka Magica, if Simoun is unfamiliar to you. Just like Kyouko, Mamiina is not a model citizen. In fact there’s nothing to her that makes me want to stick a pair of cat ears on her head. It’s the difference between a stray cat and a house cat, I guess. But it’s just that Mamiina screams loudly, through her actions, that she is indeed the very sweet, good girl you find in Studio Ghibli’s adventures, even if she is at times antagonistic.

The same idea plays out along the lines of all these Azusa-type moe characters. This is where 2DT’s observation comes into play, but only to a point. Because while we have our Kikis and Sheetas, there’s the Sans and, arguably, Nausicaas in the Ghibli lineup. I’m going to say that there are two sides to the Good Girl archetype, and the difference between the two is a philosophical divide in which only some of us can reconcile.

Back to Mamiina. She is a good girl because she jumps this gap between antagonism and protagonism in order to demonstrates her inner qualities, and she does the Right Thing at the Right Time. It leaves an emotional crater, a desired dramatic impact, especially when framed in the context of her intercharacter relationships. But at the same time, I can imagine a Mamiina-type character would be the nemesis or rival to an Azusa-type character (it probably is the plot to some battle show, wouldn’t surprise me). Without the external stimulus that put these characters through the crucible of tragedy or suffering, maybe the difference between the two types of good girl archetype lies within the answers between the random Mongol and Conan. Conan was just some normal barbarian at first, after all.

Another hypothetical may demonstrate better. Remember the YuiAzu episode? Let’s say if we replace Azusa with the antagonist version of Azusa, what would instead happen is that rather being a type A Good Girl, the antagonist Azusa would not volunteer to help Yui with the performance, yet later on do so anyways for some plot-specific reason. It seems like a typical gap moe tsundere type thing, but that is not directly relevant to a demonstration of character. You can be good or bad and still possess this duality.

I suppose that’s all part of the specification of being good; there is a strictness within Azusa’s tenderness, or the flip side of the coin, a tenderness in Mamiina/San’s intensity. It turns some of them evil, some of them slaved to passionate antagonists, some to reason and some to strange plot devices about clones. I’m not sure how much I can stretch this, but all I’m trying to say is that are Good Girls among us, and there are many. And like girls generally, they have a plurality of face!

You Know It’s Been a Good Year for Comedy When…

Author is writing about people’s perception of 4koma presentation and breaking things up. I think it is a matter of personal interpretation but the switch between a seamless medium and 4koma is part of the tricks of the trade of comedy and presenting manga. After all, all manga begins on a blank piece of paper. “Koma” is added to give presentation its structure, and we stop at 4 identical framing for various other reasons, to give it even more structure.

The same applies in anime as well. Seitokai Yakuindomo mimics that by giving those “second joke” cuts with flying stamps, transiting from scene to scene, or strip to strip. On the other hand Lucky Star is almost entirely devoid of it. Thinking back to Azumanga Daioh, the first otaku anime 4koma smash hit, does it make sense?

And why AzuDai, even? It’s just my lens in which I view the situation. Azudai is broken up into 5 segments per episode, where as you can see a similar kind of breakdown in SYD. More so when the punchlines are flying in the air. Not so much in Lucky Star. But that is a stylistic choice. I mean, Lucky Star feels a lot more like K-ON (that’s 4koma too), and that’s because both are similarly presented. And who cares about transitions in K-ON?

Look at Working!! for example, does that feel like 4koma to you? Now that is where AzuDai is. A much more perfected blend of television narrative with jokes that hits like sewn-together sitcom punchlines, that it is textured without trying very hard, because you were laughing when the story changed from frame to frame. The original 4koma material is like dough for this new baked good.

But I think that’s not to say it is the only way or even the best way. Seitokai Yakuindomo is meant to flaunt its panel-switching cuts since it is a running joke as well; it doesn’t hide its transition, but rather uses it as a joke. Of course people who gets turned off by that seemingly-seamless-seam-switching might enjoy it more. It’s not so much that I would be laughing when the anime changes from strip-to-strip: I was too busy trying to process the joke and on-screen text to notice.

However, I find it hard to believe that Lucky Star is underrated. It’s gotten so much hype during its hay days that few shows deserves, if any. Maybe among Author’s reads, I suppose.