I have not kept up with episodic blogs re: K-ON!! but a series of posts on Fuzakenna! got me to organize a lot of the thinking I’ve been doing on the show, to the point that I’m breaking my usual publishing schedule to do this post.
One of the big areas of conflict facing the Light Music Club is the threat of discontinuity, that is, the lack of new members. This is most acutely felt by Azusa. Naturally, because she will inherit an empty club and find herself without a band. The first episode of this ‘season’ is titled “Abolition of the club!”
This is serious because it is direct and powerful: from Light Music Club to no Light Music Club; it almost goes without saying that HTT will disband.
There was a lot of ineffective effort to get new members, but these were unsuccessful.
Yui got a fake soft-shelled turtle, Ton-chan, as a surrogate for new club members for Azusa. Then Ui wins a fake (stuffed toy) version of the pseudo soft-shelled turtle. This is dark comedy gold: a fake something to fake another thing altogether, when that thing being faked is of real significance and utter importance to someone. Who knew this show can offer such a cruel joke on its cast?
Ton-chan isn’t some kind of throwaway detail too! Azusa grows into her relationship with the turtle, struggling to understand how others find it cute. When confronted with the responsibility (or her lack of it) when it comes to feeding and caring for it, she pulls through and goes to the club room on a Sunday. On that same day, Ui wins a prize in the batting cage: a giant stuffed version of Ton-chan — another layer of (fake) reference to the theme of the problem that Ton-chan was meant to, but is horribly miscast to address.
The members of the Light Music Club are consistently half-assed about doing music, and are irresponsible about club administration and ‘pursuing their dreams’ altogether. This to me is a very interesting detail. It shows in their preference to while away their time goofing off rather than confronting the threat of the club being discontinued, and Azusa’s own feelings and concerns about this. Teenagers aren’t good at confronting reality. To make an analogy, adolescents eat junk food without much thought, only to feel the consequences of poor nutrition once their metabolisms normalize upon adulthood.
It speaks to the human condition of the show’s viewers. What are we doing, watching shows like this? We think we can get away with gratifying simple desires without confronting complexity?
Yes, it is very easy to reduce K-ON!! into gross simplifications:
- Cute girls being cute
- Moeblobs doing nothing
- A show not about music, and nothing else at all
- Plotless (pandering drivel)
This is what I would say how the plot of this show goes: girls who aren’t all that into music form a music club up until the end of high school. The plot becomes so because of the conflict – that the club may cease to exist – the way it was before Ritsu and Mio revived it. It’s nice and symmetric too, it’s just not obvious. The conflict doesn’t seem important enough for the main cast.
And this is what makes it delicious! Many viewers, and many more from the ranks who enjoy the show are said to be ‘database animals’ – that are, viewers who don’t require media to possess plot or complex narratives as long as certain desires are fulfilled from a database of items and tropes:
- Yuri (with sub-categori siscon/sister-sister incest) subtext
- Moe elements (many variations as sub-categories)
- Young / school-age characters
- Very few males per scene
- Beach episodes (implies swimsuits)
- Bath house/hot springs episodes (implies nudity)
The subject doesn’t have to mean anything. The subject need not say anything important or even interesting. The ‘animals’ instinctively consume it for the gratification. It’s as if the subject show is a unit of food that has empty calories. While there is nothing inherently, objectively, or morally wrong about this, these viewers are missing an opportunity.
Yes, an opportunity to appreciate complexity. Beneath the sheen of superlative production values, the complexity lies: these girls will meet their reckoning. Do they value the club as much as they think they do? Do they really expect they can buy Azusa off with a supposedly ‘cute’ turtle? With smothering attention? Azusa is stated to need underclassmen to take care of, just as the graduating class took care of Azusa. I say that in the past tense, because it is questionable how they’re taking care of her now.
If the club is indeed as valuable, it isn’t evident in their actions. Music may not be as important as idling their time, but the cost of that idling is critical to the succession of the club.
What are the possible resolutions to this conflict?
- From within the show we see a possibility that Suzuki Jun and Hirasawa Ui may join Azusa. The pretext is that they played music in episode 05 inside the Light Music Club’s room. Ui can play the guitar as well as the organ, as shown in episode 13 of the 2009 season.
- From outside the show (as the ending credits exist not within the continuity of the narrative) we see a dark-haired girl who looks younger than the band members. She could be a future band member.
Depending on how you feel about the club continuing on (I can appreciate a tragic ending where Azusa is absorbed by the Jazz Club after the Light Music Club is abolished and HTT disbands) during her time.
The narrative tells us that things work out in the end, and it ends quite simply. But to reach it, and to perhaps take a larger satisfaction from it, we could appreciate some complexity and relish the conflict in the story.
The database expands by putting more music-related elements in the show without actually adding new music (lelangir 05/13/2010)
Azuma Hiroki’s lecture on otaku and database postmodernity.
The constructs of appreciating K-ON! (pontifus 04/29/2010)
Round Two, Match 3 I’m up vs. Hanners Anime Blog; last chance to help me out: Vote now! Poll is closing by the end of today.