First off, apologies to long-time readers for not getting to this sooner. I know that I scrounge up regular readers about as well as Afternoon Tea Time scrounges up new members for the Light Music Club, but still, Ritsu would not have left you hanging for almost two months, and I should not have either.
That out of the way, I'm going to pick up this series review where I left off at the end of Part 1. Just to remind everyone, Part 1 of my series review dealt with the first 13 episodes of K-On!!, while Part 2 will deal with the second half of the anime. And also to further refresh memories, Part 1 of my review dauntlessly delved deeply into the inner conflict and workings of this anime's leading group: Azusa, Mio, Mugi, Ritsu, and Yui
There I spoke at length of the ideological conflicts pitting the lighthearted procrastinators Ritsu and Yui against the relatively stern and serious Azusa and Mio, with Mugi caught inbetween. I perhaps exaggerated the severity of that conflict, as the second half of this anime quickly resolves it, and is mostly free of it.
The key turning point for this conflict is in Episode 16, where we begin to see strikingly substantial character development for Azusa. This episode makes it clear that Azusa is slowly, but surely, becoming more and more like her fellow band mates, Yui in particular. This, along with some key scenes and pieces of dialogue during Afternoon Tea Time's last major school music performance, makes it clear that Yui's fight with the world is decidedly going her way. She is starting to escape her Rodney Dangerfield quality (at least within the narrative itself), as she becomes the recipient of numerous sincere compliments during that last major school music performance.
The anime appears to settle on the following idea: Goofing off and having fun is great, and in fact needed for a happy life, but you have to be prepared and do some work for certain key moments in your life, such as writing final exams or putting on a major performance. To put it into pro sports terminology, you can have fun during the regular season as long as you deliver when it matters most: in the playoffs.
And "the playoffs", for Afternoon Tea Time, is represented by major musical performances, important school exams, and performing in low-budget theatrical productions.
I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the K-On!! episodes surrounding this school play and showcasing it. It did a masterful job - one which I dare say Shakespeare himself would have appreciated - of accurately reflecting the work, the time, the jitters, the improvisations, and the overall struggles that go into putting on a play; a school play in particular.
I also felt that Mio and Ritsu did an ultimately excellent job as Romeo and Juliet. Much like them, I felt that Ritsu's personality was well-suited for Romeo, and Mio's was well-suited for Juliet, but then the two characters wisely took advantage of that fact to help them in their acting performances. It was neat to see Mio play Ritsu playing Romeo, and Ritsu play Mio playing Juliet. Alas, Brandon Routh was not that good playing Christopher Reeve playing Superman, but that's a separate discussion. ;)
In the end, Mio and Ritsu's approach probably gave the play its best possible outcome, as Mio's height made her fit the look of Romeo better than the shorter Ritsu would have, in my opinion.
Just before the preparations for the play, there was also a highly amusing episode in Episode 17 that I want to touch on briefly. For sheer entertainment value, it was a lot of fun to watch our beloved quintet try to find a place to practice given the temporary lost of their club room. This was a very good episode premise on the part of the writing staff for K-On!!'s source material (unless it was anime original material, in which case, the credit goes to the anime's writing staff).
Following the Romeo and Juliet production, we're soon after treated to an episode dedicated almost entirely to an Afterschool Tea Time musical performance.
This was great to see and watch as it ties this anime back into its wider music-based origins. It was also here that we get a good sense of how beloved Afternoon Tea Time is becoming at their school, and how, as I mentioned before, Yui is finally starting to earn some respect from her peers, even Nodoka. Some of the elements of this performance that really brought a smile to my face were Yui acting like she was hosting Saturday Night Live, Ui briefly going ga-ga over her own sister as though Yui was a celebrity star that Ui was not related to, and the neat T-shirts that Sawako-Sensei made for everyone.
As it pertains to Yui acting like a stand-up comedian at times, I'd seriously like to see her and Will Ferrell do a comedy bit together. It could be an outrageous laugh riot!
But, moving on, the next thing in this anime that really left an impression on me is this:
When Ui let down her hair while behind Azusa, and then glomped Azusa just like her sister loves to do, I literally did a double-take. I actually rewound Episode 21 back a few moments to see if I could catch the moment where Ui and Yui switched places. Much to my surprise, there was no such moment; it was all Ui. She truly could easily pass for Yui's identical twin. Getting to see that was, I have to admit, kind of cute.
On the flip side, I felt badly for Yui in the same episode in which Ui did her Yui impersonation. Yui's hair looked perfect after her first try with the scissors, in my opinion. If only she had stopped there...
From Episode 21's school pictures, we move on to Episode 22 about Valentine's Day, and then further unto Episode 23 which focused on the graduating foursome of the band deciding to spend their entire day off in their clubroom at school. Both of these felt a bit odd to me, as I never thought that Valentine's Day would warrant much celebration at an all-girls school, and while anime does an impressive job of making school life seem fun, I still found it hard to swallow that graduating students would actually want to spend a full day at school when they have the day off.
Nonetheless, the execution of the ideas behind these episodes was truly top-notch. So much so that it made me completely forget the oddity of the ideas behind them while I watched them. It's also in these later episodes that I felt that the trio of Azusa, Jun, and Ui shined the most, and had their characters fully realized. In Part 1 of my Two-Part Series Review, I argued that Azusa, Jun, and Ui can't carry an entire episode, and while I still hold to that, they really do work very well in a supportive plot-moving way. I can certainly say that it was a wise choice to have two circles of friends, with Azusa caught at their intersection. It added a certain welcomed character diversity and spice to this anime. Jun, in particular due to me not remember seeing her at all in K-On!, really added a lot to K-On!! I think it was good to have Jun as an "everygirl" outside perspective to reflect on the goings on of Afternoon Tea Time.
Finally, we come to the grand conclusion, the Graduation Episode.
I have to admit, the flowers are very pretty.
There's an enchantingly exquisite elegance to the flower aspect of the Graduation Ceremony. It's simple sweet sentimentality, but it's also very powerful symbolically. I very much liked how the younger girls gave flowers to the graduating girls, symbolizing good will, respect, and an overarching sense of accomplishment and blossoming into adulthood. My only minor nitpick here is that I think it would have been better if more care had been put into which younger girl had given which graduating girl a flower. For example, it's a shame that Azusa never gave her flower to one of her four graduating band mates. An opportunity was perhaps missed there.
The way the gift to Sawako-Sensei was handled was flawless, though, in my estimation. It added some nice comedy to what could have otherwise been a dull scene, while also leading to a very pleasant and heartfelt moment for Sawako-Sensei herself. I will say that I was surprised at how, well, underwhelming the actual graduation ceremony itself was overall, though. I can honestly say that my own high school graduation ceremony was much more flamboyant. But then, the anime clearly wanted to devote most of its time to the five leading ladies of this anime, and that gave this anime what I felt was a most fitting and wonderful climax.
The final song that Mio, Mugi, Ritsu, and Yui all sang for Azusa was simply beautiful, both in its harmonious presentation and in its lusciously lovely lyrics, and it so marvelously summed up both the experiences that all of these girls shared together as a group, and also what I think is the main overarching theme of this anime.
It is in this moment, this moment when Azusa comes to tears due to the love and appreciation shown to her by the song of her band mates, that this anime reaches a point where it is genuinely deserving of its popularity and praise. It is in this moment, as well as in an earlier moment in which the girls share a tearful group hug after their musical performance, that we truly see that Afternoon Tea Time was much, much more than simply silly girls goofing off in order to have fun.
No, this anime was about friendship, and the importance thereof, every bit as much as Clannad was about family, and the importance thereof. Furthermore, I would say that K-On!! is to K-On! what Clannad: After Story is to Clannad.
It's a shame that this anime franchise's harshest critics will likely never watch this far to see where this anime is about much more than basic moe appeal. And yet, at the same time, I wonder if even seeing this would change the mind of such critics.
For during the entire run of K-On!!, I found myself continually wondering just why this anime gets so much hate.
I've heard it suggested, or at least strongly implied, that K-On!!'s "exploitation" and overall handling of its cast makes it sexist against females. I found this dubious, as its rather difficult to make a work sexist against one gender if the other gender is almost entirely absent. Typically, sexism in entertainment comes through portraying one gender as holding a decisive and overwhelming upper hand over the other. But, aside from Ritsu's brother (who only appears briefly in one episode), this anime has no male characters of lasting importance, and none of them come across as somehow superior to the all-female main cast.
But, I'll admit that there is one way for K-On!! to be somewhat sexist without having major male characters to measure its female cast against, and that would be by portraying its female cast in an unflattering or overly stereotyped light.
But that is certainly not the case here, and that is a point that I think needs to be made given the harsh criticism this anime has received from some quarters. Yes, Yui and Ritsu can be goofballs. Collectively, the entire band can be. But since when is being goofballs an inherently bad thing?
The world of entertainment is littered with widely beloved male goofballs. Everyone from The Three Stooges to Gilligan of Gilligan's Island, to Inspector Gadget of the classic cartoon show, to just about every signal character that Robin Williams ever played. It's a sad state of affairs if we've come to take ourselves so seriously that we're no longer able to have a chuckle over lovable goofball characters.
And with that in mind, my view is that a sure sign of true gender equality is that you can do the opposite gender equivalent of any accepted character type, and nobody will bat an eyelash at it. That doesn't just mean that men can be mothers, or that women can be bad-ass action heroes, it also means that female characters can be goofballs just like Gilligan was. To say otherwise is to limit women in the roles that they can be and play... and isn't that what is truly sexist?
And it's not like the cast of K-On!! are portrayed as hopeless incompetents. Quite the contrary, actually. For all of their goofing off, eating sugary treats, and hilarious hijinks, they still consistently get the job done when it matters most.
Shocking truth be told, the main cast of K-On!! are some of the most well-adjusted, psychologically healthy, and least neurotic, characters in all of fiction, male or female. Their anime world is an eminently realistic one, and hence real practical lessons and themes can be gleaned from these girls and their story. This makes realism one of the chief strengths of K-On!! There's no fantastical elements here: The girls are happy and successful through hard work, believing in themselves, turning to friends or family members when its prudent to do so, and a generally optimistic outlook towards life in general. Along with Superman and Nanoha Takamachi, this makes them some of the best fictional antithesis to cynicism, doubt, and skepticism, that I've ever seen.
And that, I fear, is where much of the hatred for this show actually comes from. It's not about opposing sexism, or the characters failing to be cool (the characters are cool in their own way, in my opinion), or anything like that. It's rooted in cynicism, a loving of the bad-ass and the anti-hero and the pessimist at the expense of other more cheerful and upbeat character types. I like some bad-ass and anti-hero characters myself, but I also recognize where there's much room in the world of modern fiction for a more upbeat and uplifting narrative and character story. And I'm glad that the cast of K-On!! has helped to fill that gaping void, and provide us with a fun and heartwarming, coming of age tale of camaraderie and friendship.
And that brings us to the key theme of K-On!!
K-On!! frequently reminds us of the inevitability of change. It reminds us that, as we go through life, we can not stay in any one place permanently, as much as we might like that place. For teenagers, graduation (or failing to achieve it) is inevitable. You can not stay in school forever. And there are other steps along the road of life where people have to leave comforting locales for brand new ones; where the past has to be left behind.
But while where we physically are in life is ever changing, our relationships with the people we meet can be everlasting. That is the theme of K-On!!, I think. It is reflected gorgeously in the lyrics of the song sung to Azusa, and it is reflected in the choice of Mio, Mugi, Ritsu, and Yui to all attend the same Post-Secondary Institution together. With clear conscientious choices, and with precision effort, friendships can last on through all the stages of one's life. There is comfort in that, and hence there is comfort in this anime.
9/10 for K-On!!. In conclusion, it was probably superior to K-On!, but it's perhaps not a fair comparison as K-On!! had more episodes to work with. Both seasons had a slice of life appeal, but K-On!! was ultimately a more satisfying anime. It is like comparing the eating of a scrumptiously sweet strawberry tart (K-On!) to the eating of a finely fulfilling full-course meal at a restaurant (K-On!!). Both are good, but the latter is probably more good for you. ;)
And that does it for this review. I look forward to Yui perhaps meeting Will Ferrel after all, as she's soon going to be making it big...