I probably shouldn’t be, but I’m a little surprised at the direction K-ON took entering its final quarter, partly I suppose because I heard that the source manga has just ended like within the last week or so, so I didn’t anticipate the anime to simultaneously gear shift towards an actual conclusion, much less a sappy one.
Still, it was certainly a natural move. The wistful experience of leaving school is an easily relatable – and powerful – one, and it basically links back to everything that has been delivered by the show so far, from the little things to the big events to the routine silliness – especially the routine silliness. In a way the plot move towards graduation is a test of the show’s character/world building. We’ll only be affected by an end to something if we cared about that something to begin with.
For my part I think K-ON did pretty well. Of course, I’d be the first to admit that not everything was executed flawlessly, but while little parts here and there get a little strained and contrived, I thought there was enough positive material going on to keep things interesting and fun, and to ultimately make the characters matter. While K-ON spent the 13 episodes of its first season on a span of two years, we’re hitting episode 24 now on just the final year, and I think that narrowing of focus has really paid off. I was impressed by the number of good episodes we got and the overall persistence of quality from start to end.
And when the realization of the impending end hits it hits pretty hard. The proverbial school festival must be one of anime’s most repeated plot-events ever. But I admit it – I like most of them. Including some of the more inane ones. Here, it is also a great place to begin bringing out the “final year at school” subtheme, churn it in hard, and make it bite. Lucky Star did this gracefully around its conclusion, deftly injecting a stab of subtle wistfulness without quite missing a breath of its quirky humor.
But while Lucky Star curtained-down on the beginning of the big moment, K-ON brought us all the way through to the quiet conclusion. I didn’t quite know what to expect when the long awaited live concert was finally at hand..
I guess part of me wanted to see KyoAni try to assert itself as the forerunner of the mushrooming trend of high quality high school band lives. With the overall visual quality of K-ON up to this point, I wouldn’t have put it past them to actually try to stage something aimed at topping the growing competition. But they didn’t bother. Of course, the animation was by no means shoddy, but it wasn’t fantastic. The songs weren’t the best thing I’ve heard either. And the concert was long, it was drawn out, with lots of Yui silliness strewn all over the center.
But take the HTT live now and put it side-by-side with Haruhi’s venerable Live Alive concert, and you’ll notice a rather interesting difference. Haruhi’s live was headily and insurmountably focused on Haruhi’s stage. It was about the music, the guitars, about Haruhi being incredible. On the other hand, HTT’s live had a significant share of the attention and detail focused off-stage. Where the audience had only been bustling and bouncing in Haruhi’s live, in HTT’s concert they responded heartily to the performers, holding up glowing recorder phones, cheering shrilly and screaming out names. Then there is their enthusiastic and loudly supportive classmates, who enjoyed a generous slab of screentime during the “Rice is the side dish” song. I think the key difference is that, clearly, in Live Alive we are meant to project ourselves onto the audience, onto Kyon, sitting there beholding Haruhi’s spectacular performance, whereas in HTT’s concert we are meant to project onto the performers, to see the sights and to hear the sounds on stage, to play for that fantastic appreciative crowd, be caught up in the fire, and shout, like Mugi, that this is it – this is the time of our lives.
And of course, all of that high only served to sharpen the sting of the collapse at the end of the whole thing. It was a little awkward watching all of them sit in a daze with the day setting outside the window, and then just burst heavily into tears. It almost felt like we were intruding on something heartfelt and intensely personal, almost sacred.
And it made me think: this is how life should be lived – aiming for, anticipating, living through something. Something that makes you feel alive. Then being torn by that bittersweet hurricane at its passing.
Needless to say, I’m thankful that KyoAni has left us a number of episodes after the climax for a slower, plateauing resolution. The recent episodes have been a near-complete return to the familiar carefree K-ON-verse, but the strong undertone of impending end is now unshakable. The music room white board was often included as one of the show’s many quick-stills, and I had always taken perverse pleasure in pausing to see what was on today, so the clean slate at the end of the latest episode really got me for a bit. Hell it’s scary, but, I’m actually getting some somewhat ARIA-ish withdrawals. Like with ARIA, we’ve seen these characters through enough things to care something about them, even if half of said things was just random crap.
Basically, I don’t want the show to end any more than the girls want their high school lives to end. I’m gonna miss this one.
PS: at this point “No, Thank You” is pretty much 99.9% set on becoming the next anisong of the season. But I had to drop like nearly half the shows I picked up this season. Anything out there I should be paying attention to as a potential rival?