If you watch most modern anime, music tends to provide an important role in the setting and promotion. Nearly all opening and closing anime title sequences are 90 seconds long and feature extracts of much larger songs. As a result, a musical anime can often be a big hit not just on TV but in the charts too.
K-On! is an example of this. A musical comedy, K-On! has broadcast two series between 2009 and 2010, with a feature film set in London released in 2011. The central characters, a group of schoolgirls who set up a pop band, are some of the most popular anime characters around. This is proved by a bizarre record that they hold: they are the first anime characters to be credited with their own No. 1 single.
K-On! follows the members of the “Light Music Club” at Sakuragoaka Girl’s High School. The problem however is that the members of the club are of varying degrees of incompetence and talent. Lead guitarist Yui Hirasawa cannot play the guitar and joins the club because she thinks the Light Music Club is devoted to playing music that is easy to learn. Bassist and main lyricist Mio Akiyama can play, but she is very shy, easily scared of just about anything and her lyrics are bit too odd and very girly. Keyboardist Tsumugi “Mugi” Kotobuki is a very rich girl who spends most of her time making tea, giving everyone cake, and wanting to be more “normal”. Meanwhile tomboy drummer and club president Ritsu Tainaka is too busy playing pranks on old friend Mio and messing around to organise anything.
The band however, who soon become known as “Ho-kago Tea Time” (“Afterschool Tea Time”), manage to somehow to work together to produce some songs and perform for their school. They become a hit, and the following school year another member joins the group. However, this new member, rhythm guitarist Azusa Nakano, differs from everyone else in that she can actually play her instrument and wants to practice. Together the five-some plug on through school, trying to perfect their band while also doing their studying.
The music is obviously the area that is of the most interest concerning K-On!. Unlike the vast majority of anime who might get one or more bands or singers to perform the music, in this series all the music is credited to the characters – Ho-kago Tea Time are the performers. All the theme tunes and the songs played in the series are credited to people who are fictional. This may sound odd, but it is not unique in Japan. There is a voice synthesizer called Vocaloid which is popular in Japan and has a manga-looking synthesizer application called Hatsune Miku, and it is often custom that when you use her “voice” that you credit it. She thus has thousands of songs credited to her and even performs concerts.
In the case of Ho-kago Tea Time, the first opening theme tune for the second series, a song called “Go! Go! Maniac” reached No. 1 in the charts, making it the first song credited to anime characters to top the charts. Not only that, but the first end theme tune for the same series, “Listen!!”, got to No. 2 at the same time, so Ho-kago Tea Time held both spots simultaneously.
Other than the music, the comedy is also very good. The band members themselves all funny, but the minor characters who surround them are also good. These include Ui, the younger and much more competent sister of Yui, but the main character in this group is teacher Sawako Yamanaka. She is blackmailed into becoming the advisor to the Light Music Club after it is discovered that when she was a student at the same school she was a guitarist in a metal band called “Death Devil”. She also has the habit of trying to get the entire band to wear bizarre costumes when performing.
If there is one problem, it is that you cannot download any of Ho-kago Tea Time’s music from iTunes. You can watch music videos on YouTube, you can try to import CDs from Japan but you will most likely be hit with import fees if you do. It is a shame that the complete musical works of the most famous band in anime are unavailable in Britain. This is especially odd when you consider the fact that in the film version of the series the band go on holiday to London.
Manga Entertainment has released both series of K-On! on DVD, and K-On! The Movie on DVD and Blu-Ray.