Just a bit of aniblogger navel-gazing first: one of the reasons why I’m enjoying this a lot more now is because I feel that I can write about whatever the hell I want. It used to be that I felt pressured only to post about the latest and newest anime, preferably on an episode to episode basis, and I’m sure why you can understand why anyone would either burn out or get bored really quickly. Right now, I feel that there are enough blogs that cover a wide variety of anime and manga (and more importantly, enough readers who’d read that stuff), so if I feel writing about an anime series from 2009, it’s all right.
K-On! is a series that I didn’t understand, much less like, at first. You have a group of girls who are in a club/band, but don’t really do much except sit in the club room and drink tea and eat cake. Multiply that by thirteen episodes, and done. I’ve watched other anime about a band trying to make it — Beck, Nana, Kaikan Phrase — and those shows had characters extremely passionate about their music and striving towards their ultimate goal of being the next big thing. I didn’t get the same vibe from K-On!
As I was finishing up the rest of the first season last week, I realized that I was the problem, not the show. As an anime blogger, I’ve conditioned myself to think, “this anime resembles ____ anime,” “if people liked ____ anime, they would also like this anime,” etc. That explains why I had originally thought that K-On! belongs in the band anime category, when in reality, it doesn’t. I couldn’t see the forest through the trees.
What I had perceived to be K-On! weakness is actually its biggest strength. The girls of Houkago Tea Time are at their best, well, during tea time.
From the beginning, the friendships between Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Mugi (and later Azusa) felt real. There was an easy familiarity among the girls that felt genuine. They all dispensed with formalities early on; nicknames were given to you as soon as you entered the club room. Teasing was commonplace, and you could say the dumbest things and nobody would judge you (too harshly) for it.
In American media, finding a work that shows this social dynamic among females is rarer than it should be. For U.S. movies and tv shows, the use of the “Bechdel test” still feels necessary to determine its feminist qualities. The test is a essentially short checklist which examines the role of women in the work: there should be more than one female character, they should be named, and they should have a conversation, the subject of which should not be about a man. If you use that criteria alone, K-On! passes with flying colors, but then again, so most anime series actually do.
K-On! is no Sex and the City; but if you take away the conversations about one-night stands and vibrators, what remain are the intimate conversations that each girl feels she can share with her primary network of friends. As a female, I can attest to the necessity and saving value of talking to your best friends and having your best friends listening to you, no matter how inane or pointless the subject. I was thinking maybe that’s why so much time was spent each episode showing the girls just hanging out. Their friendships may have started out easily, but to keep the relationship growing, you needed to show them nurturing it.
It could very well be that I’m overthinking this. Maybe K-On! is nothing but a show about cute girls doing cutesy, silly things. Even so, I’d like to think that this show paved the way for showing relatable (if idealized) friendships among females. Feminism isn’t just about one strong, competent female in a predominantly male world, but also about groups of females who are showing that together, they can do anything.