Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions > K-ON!! Episode 1 – Moe Money, Moe Problems

K-ON!! Episode 1 – Moe Money, Moe Problems

It’s a scene that would be familiar to any musician: early morning, all alone in the room, mind focused only on the instrument in your hands. You’re concentrating completely on what you’re doing, your mind scarcely registers anything; there’s no decision-making, you just act, as if everything you were doing was fated, was what you were always going to do.

In that moment, only you exist. And you are doing exactly what you want to do. Every note is hit just right, every beat spot on. You don’t need a metronome to tell you what you already know, what you can feel: it’s perfect.

Then your friends barge in and interrupt your peace, your perfect moment of serenity. In this case, your friends are excessively cutesy, stylized representations of Japanese girls. That’s because this is a moment in an anime. That’s because the show is K-ON!!

The opening theme is a JPop song with the vocals sped up. It's like listening to a Japanese Alvin and the Chipmunks.

One of the purposes of this site is to explain, for better or worse and as best I understand it, anime and the strange culture spawned up around and because of it. I could not explain the current state of affairs in anime culture without explaining moe anime, and I could not explain moe anime without talking about K-ON!

Moe is a Japanese slang term. With regards to anime, it refers to something cute or sweet, usually a character, one that’s been created to be as endearing or adorable as possible. These kind of characters are fairly common in anime, even anime that aren’t devoted solely to them. Lately, though, there have been an ever-increasing number of shows that seem to exist solely to create this feeling. They tend to feature cute girls doing cute things, and usually little else.

You can think of it as the tamest form of pornography there is. Everything that isn’t cute and fluffy—any conflict, any human flaws that aren’t themselves endearing—is excised in favor of more sweetness and light.

It's cutesy, but I like the opening title card. It's like something an artsy high school girl would have on her notebook.

Shows like this have a devoted following among a subset of the people who watch anime. It’s not hard to see why: it’s the purest form of escapism there is. Free of any of the struggles or worries of real life, the shows look back to a simpler time of life, high school, and then throw a big rose-colored lens on, for good measure.

K-ON! is probably the best-known of the genre, and the best I’ve seen at being a constant barrage of cuteness. It’s about four (later five) girls who form a pop music club in their high school, but spend most of their time eating sweets, drinking tea and being generally adorable when they should be practicing. I couldn’t get more than an episode in, because absolutely nothing happened. The girls talked about forming a band, and who could play instruments, and Yui, the main character, bought a cherry sunburst Gibson Les Paul Standard so she could learn to play guitar (which is a bit like learning to drive on a Porsche), but there was no drama. No conflict, no reason to keep watching, other than the promise of more cute girls doing cute things.

I tried to find the least cute screenshot I could. This was the best I could do.

K-ON!! (notice the extra exclamation mark) is the sequel to the original series. It’s two years later, the four main girls are seniors and they’ve added a junior as another guitarist, but things are pretty much the same. Well, mostly. You see, this episode, there’s an honest to goodness plot brewing.

You see, the main girls are going to graduate in a year, except Azusa. If they don’t find some new members, poor Azusa will be left all alone. What will they do? Trying to recruit new members, they dress up in animal costumes to hand out fliers, try out other clubs to see what they do, and do a few other things as adorably as humanly possible. Nothing works. Is Azusa doomed to a senior year of loneliness and sadness? Is a dark cloud about to descend upon the happy kingdom of K-ON!!? The older girls were pretty apathetic about finding new club members to begin with, so they decide to just keep it just the five of them, and have fun their senior year. Azusa, ever the stoic, seems fine with this, and everyone’s all smiles again. Roll credits.

Actually, as a still image this isn't very cute either. Does that mean...

Wait, did the whole group just collectively decide to doom their friend to a year of loneliness so they can have as much fun as possible as seniors? Is Azusa’s passive acceptance of this going to flare up later on in the season, is she going to vent her frustration in passive aggression with her clubmates? Probably not. But it does show you what happens when you create conflict in a show that’s about everything being happy and cheerful: you have to either resolve it or somehow write it off. I think it’s interesting that the only way they can write it off is by making the other characters look like terrible friends. It just goes to show how hard it is to create that facade of perfect sweetness.

Nope, never mind.

Strangely, I found myself liking this episode. Maybe it was the amazing intro scene, or the way there was actually a plot, but I enjoyed watching it.

The animation alone is fun to watch. It’s full of life and personality, even if that personality is sickly sweet. Before they started doing nothing but these kinds of shows, Kyoto Animation was my favorite animation company, and I had forgotten why. The design isn’t as good as Arakawa Under the Bridge, and it doesn’t have the slick production of Angel Beats, but the direction is incredible. The way the characters move and act make them seem like real people, even though they’re so idealized they could never actually exist in real life.

I probably won’t be back next week, but I had fun. And I guess that’s all the show was trying to accomplish.

The music-lover in me wants to like this so badly. Of course, he also wants this to actually be about music.

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