Best girl, I love her so much.
The time has finally come for me to write a full-out blog post about what is arguably the best work of media I have ever consumed: a glorious anime called K-ON! I absolutely love literally everything about that show—the music, the nostalgic atmosphere, the sense of humor, the EXTREMELY PRECIOUS AND CUTE girls, but most of all, the connections and nostalgia it gave me for middle school and early high school.
People aggressively recommended K-ON! to me after I watched Love Live! School idol project due to extreme summer boredom, claiming it to be—and I may be paraphrasing here—”love live but actually good”. When I finally watched the first episode of K-ON! on my 20th birthday (which also by EXTREME luck was the 10th anniversary of the show’s premiere, like holy shit how can I be so lucky), I immediately saw what they meant. The season 1 OP blew me away when I first heard it and made me know I was in for a wild ride. A wild ride of humor, endearing girls, and being far more enjoyable than that other anime which I won’t talk much about from here on out, because while I’d be glad to do a full comparison between those two shows, I’d like this post to be just about K-ON! by itself. I’ll just say Nico Yazawa is kind of an amazing character and leave it at that.
Season 1 (13 episodes) was pretty fun, but the show started to go way above and beyond for me in season 2 (26 episodes) as I took more time to think about its implications and realized that watching K-ON! is a lot like re-experiencing middle school, a time I am extremely nostalgic for. Middle school was three years for me, the last of which felt the longest by far; season 2 of K-ON! is similarly two thirds of the show and takes place entirely during the girls’ third year, with a lengthy and extremely emotional lead-up to the graduation. I also started to heavily identify with the lead girl, an impossibly adorable dorky bundle of joy named Yui Hirasawa, and some other characters started to sort of remind me of specific friends from middle school which is pretty crazy.
I kind of get dazzly whenever I think about this absolutely wonderful anime and I don’t think I’ve been doing a very good job putting all my thoughts into words. Maybe I’ll be able to write out these thoughts better if I go on a character-by-character basis. I’ll start with the five band members ranked from favorite to least favorite, then do the other major characters. Do note that I love every character in the show, just that there’s some that did something special for me more than others. To add some visual spice, my sections on each character will be accompanied by my own personal Artist’s Interpretation of them.
1. Best Girl Yui Hirasawa
Best Girl Yui Hirasawa, known more succinctly as Yui Hirasawa, is incontestably my favorite character in K-ON!. I can’t overstate how much I love her. She is extremely super mega adorable and extremely super mega relatable, and an amazing representation of people whose brains work differently from most. It’s not like she’s just some weirdo who constantly makes dumb faces and randomly recites complicated math formulas. She can be extremely clueless or spacey, but when she shines, she shines HARD and provides an encouraging moral message to those who have doubts about their competence as a person. I know that probably sounded cheesy as hell, but I am completely serious when I say Yui is best girl.
Ways in which Yui is adorable:
- she wears tights, which automatically makes an anime girl 10 times cuter
- she makes over-the-top cartoony faces the most of all the girls
- she has slightly messy hair and an earnest bright smile
- she unconditionally loves everyone and gives somewhat aggressive hugs to Azusa in particular
- have I mentioned that she wears tights???
Ways in which I relate to Yui:
- she spaces out EXTREMELY easily
- she gets very excited by free snacks
- she gets very excited by mundane things in general
- she is oblivious and draws a blank at more complicated real-life stuff
- she has perfect pitch, which is the most “holy SHIT” of them all
- she deeply attaches herself to longtime friends and is extremely excited every day to see a few specific newer ones
- she is overall a being of pure, unfiltered sincerity
- she wears tights, not that that’s a way I relate to her but I just thought I’d mention that again
As wonderful of a character as Yui is, I can’t really go for very long just talking about her and not the other girls. Yui is a powerless airhead when she’s all alone and only by her characteristic short-sightedness did she stumble upon the Light Music Club, in which she met several other girls who all help make this show as amazing as it is.
2. Azusa Nakano
Azusa Nakano, or “Azunyan” as Yui calls her, is actually a character I didn’t like very much at first. I found her to be a kind of boring addition to the spectacular quartet that is Yui, Mio, Ritsu, and Mugi. But Azusa started to REALLY grow on me as I watched through season 2 and saw things more from her perspective. My favorite episode of the entire show, season 2 episode 13, is an Azusa-centered one and it’s what sold me on her character. Most of the episode consists of her having bizarre dreams featuring exaggerated caricatures of how she perceives her friends. Comical exaggeration, accompanied by sudden animation style change or some other form of dramatization, is one of the pinnacles of K-ON’s sense of humor. The dream episode’s constant employment of this exaggeration helped me see Azusa’s character for what it is: a reserved girl passionate about music whose smart girl archetype is hindered by her small stature and adorable look that rivals the likes of Yui herself, which contrasts against Mio and Nodoka’s smart girl archetypes as I’ll go over later.
I find myself relating to Azusa in more oblique ways than with Yui. As the youngest member of the group, Azusa is often freaked out by her seniors’ ways—this is something she demonstrates in full throughout the dream episode I mentioned earlier. She tends to be unsettled by people acting unlike her, which is a trait I relate to that she shares with Mio. From Azusa’s perspective, Yui and her crew are a quartet of perpetually smiling lunatics who have their lives figured out more than she ever could. And yet, she deeply looks up to her seniors and gradually starts to enjoy spending time with them, much like I did in my first two years of middle school. I would often participate in a bunch of goofy bullshit with students in the grade above me, but more in a free-floating way like Yui. Weirdly enough, the students above me I spent the most time with were also a group of four, which is a pretty crazy coincidence.
Speaking of Yui, Azusa and Yui’s dynamic is probably my favorite in the entire show. As soon as Azusa joins the Light Music Club, Yui fawns all over her and absolutely loves spending time with dear, sweet Azunyan. Azusa takes a while to warm up, but eventually she comes to enjoy Yui’s company just as much Yui enjoys hers. The two have some incredibly endearing scenes where they teach each other to play guitar or otherwise goof around.
3. Mio Akiyama
Compared to the last two girls, there isn’t too much that needs to be said about Mio. I have a huge affinity for the stuck-up smart girl archetype, which Mio most certainly fits into. The only reason she isn’t the best girl is because Yui and Azusa are even better, leaving her in the extremely misleading “third place out of five”.
Mio thinks she’s the only normal one among her friends but freaks out at small things in the most hilariously predictable ways possible, and despite her frequent dislike of what the other girls consider fun, she’s internally full of thoughts about the most sappy, flowery nonsense you could ever imagine—all standard for her archetype, which as I said I tend to gravitate towards. She also doesn’t seem to realize how lucky she is to have Ritsu in her life, who is exactly who I’m going to talk about next.
4. Ritsu Tainaka
Ritsu is an absolute treasure of a character. Her rather low ranking is merely a result of the process of elimination. A good portion of the humor value in K-ON! comes from scenes with her. She’s goofy and impulsive, always full of snooty jokes and love of teasing that make any episode centered around her a true spectacle. Ritsu and Mio’s interactions are hilarious on the surface, but deep down represent a firm, resounding friendship that neither would be complete without.
To tie into the topic of this post, I’d say Ritsu reminds me of some people I knew during middle school who always annoyed the hell out of me but I deep down felt I had a strange special friendship with anyway. This analogy isn’t as strong as the others and it might be me projecting nostalgia, but I really think there was something special about my times in middle school, which I definitely feel whenever I hear from my classmates from that era.
5. Tsumugi Kotobuki
Another ranking caused merely by process of elimination. In the first few episodes, I referred to Mugi in my head as “the other one” because she didn’t get as much focus as Mio, Yui, or Ritsu. I later came to realize that Mugi is not just the other one, but the other one—”other” as in her motives, interests, and joys in life are in a whole other plane of reality from the rest of the girls.
Mugi is full of surprises, and I mean that in the best possible way. What good is a nostalgic anime about girls at a school without a girl who’s completely crazy and weird but everyone loves her anyway? Not an anime I’d ever want to watch. Mugi has quite a few extremely memorable scenes, or on occasion entire episodes, demonstrating her bizarre day-to-day mindset and her unique role in the girl’s escapades. I think the very existence of her character teaches an important lesson about open-mindedness regarding making friends who may seem a bit odd.
With the band members done ranked from most best to least best, let’s go on to a few other major characters.
Best Childhood Friend Nodoka Manabe
As Yui’s childhood friend who she’s known since they were four or five years old, Nodoka plays an enormous part in making K-ON! so relatable to me. I’ve always felt a special strange connection to anyone I knew since I was little (which includes most of the people I knew in middle school because I went to a K-8 school), no matter how far their life may diverge from mine. Nodoka especially reminds me of a friend I had in middle school who was one of the few to go to the same high school as me and seemed to grow into a much more competent and well-rounded person than I could ever dream of being but never seemed to look down on me in any regard (though I don’t tend to have a sharp eye on such social matters). You can really tell that Nodoka and Yui would never have reason to step anywhere near each other if they hadn’t known each other for so long; they both regularly demonstrate a deep, expansive backlog of friendship that highly influenced both of their high school lives.
Best Sister Ui Hirasawa
I love Ui for many of the same reasons I love Yui. Though she’s at first portrayed as the opposite of her sister, especially in terms of responsibility and manners, later scenes where she hangs out with Azusa and Jun have plenty of moments where you can really tell she’s Yui’s sister. Both have the same air of unfiltered sincerity and the same uncanny talent at picking up unfamiliar topics; both immediately and unconditionally love just about everyone they meet. Ui is just the sweetest, kindest person in the world and yet manages to have the exact same goofy Hirasawa energy, which makes sense because I consider her to be every bit as adorable as Yui.
Best Other Girl Jun Suzuki
Jun plays a simple but incredibly important role in K-ON’s storyline: she completes the trio of friends needed to make Azusa’s character arc and high school life feel just as real as the upperclassmen. This role is important because Azusa wouldn’t feel as real or relevant as the other girls if she didn’t get some scenes with her classmates too; this may be why I overlooked Azusa’s character during season 1, before she got more screen time (and in a few cases, separate episodes) with Ui and Jun in season 2. These three make for a wonderful trio who each feel like their own personalities without being pale imitations of the main quartet; Jun has some of the same snooty and impulsive personality as Ritsu but is at the same time very different from her in ways I can’t place, just like the differences between Ui and Yui or between Azusa and Mio.
Best Teacher Sawako “Sawa-chan-sensei” Yamanaka
What am I even supposed to say about Sawako? This lady is fucking incredible. A high school teacher with an embarrassing backstory who genuinely serves as a friend to the girls’ antics. Her strong presence in the show is as heartwarming as it is hilarious, especially the way she flips out when characters ask her about her personal life or past experiences in a death metal band. The running gag of Yui aimlessly asking her about boyfriend problems is the funniest goddamn thing in the world to me—one of uncountably many ways Yui is best girl.
It’s probably no surprise that I found the ending of K-ON! (the last five episodes or so) to be extremely emotional; that’s one thing fans of the show all seem to agree on. It’s also probably no surprise that to me, Yui and her classmates’ graduation felt like reexperiencing my extremely emotional middle school graduation. It was surprisingly easy to feel for Azusa and her group too, saying goodbye to the third years who were somewhat intimidating but insanely fun to be around.
I think part of why that the ending was so emotional may be because the show does an insanely good job at showing the characters growing up—it does that so well that if you’re watching the episodes in linear order you may not even notice, which is why the revelation that the girls are about to graduate hit me like a truck at the sixth or seventh last episode and led to HOLY SHIT FEELS. Feels both from Yui’s perspective (my own grade graduating) and Azusa’s (the grade above me graduating). Only at that point did it become clear to me how much the girls grew since their first year—Yui from a nervous, bumbling klutz with an animalistic love for snacks to a goofy but earnest inspirational figure; Azusa from an absolute outsider to an honest friend and bandmate; the other three from standard humorous archetypes to more well-rounded and forward-thinking people. This became even clearer when I went back to some early episodes and realized how the four main girls evolved from my initial perceptions of them. K-ON! does a masterful job at everything it intends to do.
I can almost hear the squeaky “Azunyan!”
… And that, my friends, is but a small portion of all the reasons I love K-ON! I could really go on and say a lot more, but I wanted this post to be a simple overview of what I like about that show. I knew that I would become obsessed with K-ON! the moment people started recommending it to me, but not like this.
K-ON! is one of few works of media I recommend to literally everyone and I’m glad so many people had pushed me to watch it. Please, PLEASE do yourself a favor and watch that show right now if you haven’t. Just do it, what are you waiting for???