K-On! Manga, Volume 1

May 20th, 2010

If it were up to me, every guy who wanted to write about women would be required to read/watch K-On!. I find the series to be utterly delightful in every way, and about as realistic a portrayal of a bunch of girls hanging out as I’ve ever seen. It’s not a “realistic” series but it’s got just the right mix of realism and fiction to make a great story.

The K-On! manga is a series of 4-koma strips and has all the usual strengths and weaknesses of the format. Volume 1 is a great example of the format actually working.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. For those of you not already familiar with the series, K-On! is about the “light music” club in a high school and the four (then five) girls who are make up the band. Ritsu is the drummer and the on-again-off-again-responsible President of the club. Yamato Nadesico beauty and bassist Mio is a fan favorite, because she’s the most shy and retiring, fans got to see her underwear and she writes funny song lyrics. (The last is not probably part of why most fans like her, but it’s why I do.) Lead guitar and lead character is the pleasantly loopy, idiot savant Yui. Tsumugi, the keyboardist, with her daikon eyebrows, is our passport to Yuri, and latecomer Asuza plays second guitar and second fiddle to Yui’s gags.

What makes K-On! work is the characters and the interaction between them. It’s natural, carefree, goofy. The characters are more than just one joke, maybe as many as three or four jokes per character – it allows for more combinations in the playbook. Above all, what I like best is how freely they share food and touch each other – something that, at least in my experience, is pretty natural for female friends. When Yui hangs over Mugi’s shoulders, it’s not “Yuri,” it’s what friendship looks like.

Nonetheless, Yuri there is, if only in Mugi’s mind. For it is Tsumugi, with her “Mugi-vision” fantasy scenarios that pairs the various girls in the band. Many fans see the obviousness of Mio and Ritsu as a couple, but Mugi doesn’t limit herself to imagining just them. :-) Fujieda Miyabi had a fan-work for this series at the last Comiket of basically nothing but Mugi imagining them all paired up. It was very silly, on top of the normal silliness of the series itself.

The anime was a big hit in Japan – and totally understandably so. It was and is delightful. The second season is running as we speak. The manga has already been licensed by Yen Press and I very much look forward to its release here. I hope that someone picks up the anime (if no one has yet done so,) because that’s a series I will glad throw my money at – I’ve been tempted to buy the Japanese DVDs already.


Art – 7
Characters – 10
Story – 9
Yuri – 3 for “Mugi-vision”
Service – 3 for the whole underwear thing, but other than that, it’s probably more like a 1

Overall – 9

This is the kind of series that just totally works in every direction. The characters, the art, the writing all work together a complete package of entertainment.

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11 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Am I so drunk that I’ve entered some sort of upside-down bizarro world?

  2. kaei says:

    Wow, really! Intriguing. I usually find myself nodding in agreement with your reviews, but I had to stop watching the K-On anime (first season) after 4 episodes, precisely because I found the characters and their interactions so unbelievable. (Me, turning to my husband every 5 minutes: “I don’t know any girls that behave like that in real life.”) It could just be, though, that I don’t hang out with enough girls. Or the anime adaptation is much different from the manga.

  3. @kaei – They seem just like me and my friends in high school to me. :-)

    @Anonymous – More likely you had some erroneous preconceived notion about my likes and dislikes based on your own biases. Happens all the time. Don’t stress about it. :-)

  4. Anonymous says:

    Above all, what I like best is how freely they share food and touch each other – something that, at least in my experience, is pretty natural for female friends.

    Quite right, and it’s natural for male friends too, when they aren’t paranoid about someone questioning their heterosexuality. On Easter 2006 I watched a six year old boy in the pew in front of me kiss his Dad on the lips and then rub noses. Somewhere along the way that gets drummed out of men.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Glad you finally came around to Moe. Well, what the otaku like can’t be too bad then. Let’s hope for more stripes :)

  6. Sean Gaffney says:

    Yeah, Erica, how DARE you like something that the fanboys also like! I hate you double plus seven gamma DELTA now!!!

    (Has 4chan melted down yet?)

  7. Anonymous says:

    Did you get to see the entire first season of the anime? If not, and you want to check out the rest before spending the big bucks on the DVD/BDs, gooBB’s anime rental site accepts foreign credit cards and doesn’t block foreign IP addresses (at least last time I tried).

    I wound up blind-buying the first disc to try it out (back before TBS put it up for streaming) and didn’t regret it, promptly ordering the rest. Delightful is definitely the word. I just want to pat these characters on their heads and cheer them on.

    I’m looking forward to season 2 once that hits BD (or streaming, but if the first season is an indicator, that won’t happen till later).

    And I guess I really should check out the original comic, heh. Wish they’d put up an ebook version! But I’ll probably break down and order the paper version at some point.

  8. @Anonymous – Yes, I’ve seen the entire first season and some of the second.

    @Anonymous – I have not “come around to moe.” I don’t like or dislike blobby faces with poorly rendered features. I like good stories and good characters.

  9. Anonymous says:

    And so, with this last and greatest conquest, the domination of K-On is complete.

    Erica, don’t you know that you were supposed to represent the final, unassailable bulwark against the teary-eyed, pudgy-faced armies of moe? I WEEP at this gut-wrenching act of defection. I WEEP.

    I still can’t it watch though, no matter what. I loathe the art style with a poisonous intensity too great to be overcome by any praise, EVEN YOURS.

    ::throws self from cliff::

  10. Sachiko says:

    I put off actually watching this for a really long time. Just recently did I marathon it, and I loved it. I have no idea why I was missing out on this. Tonight I watched the first three episodes of season three. I’m definitely going to check the manga out now. I’m more shocked at the fact people can’t believe you like this than I am that you do. :D

  11. Tregingigan says:

    Well, what a coincidence. I started watching the first serie last week (you know,”What the heck is this K-ON everybody talk about? Let’s give it a try”)and at the moment I’m at chapter 9. I got hooked immediately and I’m really enjoing it! And there is a second season too? Great!
    Ah, don’t mind the moe-haters! The style fit perfectly the story. :D

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