K-On! is an interesting show to discuss, because you can’t really discuss the plot – there simply isn’t one. If we look at plot as more than just a series of events that are happening, but that are leading us somewhere, that are connected and paint a bigger picture, then K-On! doesn’t have a plot. K-On! is an atmosphere show, not a plot one.
What lead me to want to talk about K-On! is the following comment I’ve left on Yi’s post about the movie (which I still hadn’t watched), and using my post there I’ll jump of to discuss the series at more length:
It really is a show about the every-day comfort, not the everyday with the ups and lows. It’s a very laid-back show, it’s the mental state of napping in the shade on a warm spring day.
Anime have a genre dedicated to this sort of show, which is called “Slice of life”. I think for an episodic show that has no real continuity between the episodes and where you can watch each one completely separate from the others, having no real plot makes sense, and many of the “gaps” also makes sense. K-On! with its two seasons is only half-way an episodic show, however, and halfway a show with some sense of continuity of goals, with references to what had happened before.
Slice of life shows tend to cover a certain “slice”, because you can’t cover everything. But, on different episodes you can cover different slices, and “slice” often isn’t a specific aspect of life as much as it is a “snapshot”, covering a day or two and then moving on. But with K-On! we’ve got three years’ worth of high school time, we have 1.5 full seasons (39 episodes total), so the lack of certain things is really noticeable.
Where are the parents? This is something I’ve noticed lately, that parent figures are almost completely absent in series, and not just shonen shows where it makes sense (see Joseph Campbell), but the parental unit is just not there, and there aren’t even parent figure replacements – the parents are more like siblings to the characters in the shows, and unlike some series, it’s not even explained here.
Likewise, where are the boys? The show covers for the most part 9 girls, over 3 years of their lives during high school. We have the teacher figure’s love-life woes get about 5 minutes of air-time during the whole show, and the other girls spend about 30 seconds discussing boy related issues during the show (Someone receives a letter in their shoe-box and thinks it might be from a boy).
Now, we can certainly have a show without parents or any boys in it, but since it’s not explained at all, I have a somewhat hard time thinking of it as fitting in a “slice of life” show, and on the other hand, it is also extremely fitting – I mean, we get a very limited variety of slices, which is what I’m faulting the show for, but for the specific slice they show us, it is fitting.
But there is another thing that is missing, and this is also the real thing that makes it hard for me to consider this not only a “plot-show”, but “a show with a plot” even. There isn’t really adversity in the show. Adversity doesn’t necessarily mean combat, or even human adversity, it can be time, it can be not having money when you need to buy something – it’s just things not going the way you want them to. K-On! doesn’t even have that – one of the members is rich and mostly any part where they’d need money is solved instantly – even when picking a guitar. There is nothing to really move the story forward, there’s no impetus – and thus, we don’t really move forward, the show is about a certain moment.
Even within the show they talk about it – how while they’re ostensibly a music club, most of what they do is drink tea, eat cakes, do homework and talk to one another. Their table is lit by the afternoon sun. This is the moment the show is about – there is no story that moves forward because this is not what the show is about, the show is about being comfortable with your friends. It’s about spending time smiling in a cozy and safe environment. The show is about this certain moment, frozen in time.
There is only one word I can think of to describe such an atmosphere, which is even more fitting when you think about the lack of any real conflict (things are smoothed over, you gloss over any and all negativity), when you think of it as a “moment frozen in time”, and that word is nostalgia; This is the essence of the show K-On.
Score: This covers two seasons, combined I give them 6.7 smiles in the sun. I’d give the first season more along the lines of 7.2, and the second season 6.2. They just could’ve done more, could’ve done things differently in the second season, but I respect this is not what they were going for.
The animation is crisp, the voice acting works, but from a show that is ostensibly about a music club, I’d expect more songs. This is a good show to watch when you need something warm and comforting, when you need something to pick you up, but to some degree the show is between popcorn and warm chicken soup – warm and tasty, but leaves you wanting something more nourishing.
I’ve watched this show one episode a day, during my lunch break. I think this is the best way to watch this show.