K-On! High School

By Kakifly. Released in Japan by Houbunsha, serialized in the magazine Manga Time Kirara Carat. Released in North America by Yen Press.

And so at last we come to the end of the K-On! gravy train, with the sequel that never really made sense. With the college series, at least we had several things going for it: it had the original characters we’d loved from the start, we could see their continued development and growth as a band, and they could finally stop telling school jokes. Well, that last one didn’t really happen, but still. But with the High School volume, we have one remaining main character, whose best moments came when she was interacting with Yui, who’s gone. She’s put together with a few of the supporting cast and two new girls. It’s not really that much of a surprise to see this is the less compelling of the two stories.


That said, Kakifly is making an effort, and this isn’t a total slog. Probably the best joke in the entire book comes right at the start, with Azusa deciding to ditch the pigtails to give herself a more mature, sempai-esque image. This doesn’t last long at all. Then Ui, who we all recall is identical to Yui despite not being a twin, takes her hair down and starts to glomp Azusa. The gag is then carried further when Ui announces she’s really Yui, who snuck back to high school just to snuggle some more. As Azusa herself notes, this makes perfect sense because Yui only thinks with her senses. Of course, it is still Ui in the end, having mastered the art of taking a joke to its logical conclusion. (I could do without the dumb bust-size capper, though.)

We get two new characters added to the threesome (sorry, did I forget to mention Jun? It’s because she makes that little impression on me), one of whom is there to emphasize similarities and one of whom is there to be different. The moment Sumire appeared we were going to compare her to Mugi just based on appearance alone, so it was a good choice to actually make her be Mugi’s maidservant. They’re both sweet and mellow, but Sumire tends towards the shy end of the spectrum, whereas Mugi… tends more towards the yuri end. As for Okuda, the quiet stoic girl is a type we hadn’t yet seen in the series, and it’s amusing to see her total lack of ability at singling or playing instruments, as well as seeing how she brings something to the club anyway.

Of course, this title was always going to be short-lived by virtue of 3/5 of its cast already being third-years. Azusa and company do their one big concert, it goes pretty well… but that’s it, it’s time for them to graduate. I’d hoped we’d get a better sense of whether Azusa would try to continue a band with Ui and Jun or just join back up with Afterschool Tea Time, But there’s not even that much closer, the series just sort of stops. There’s nothing actively boring or bad about this, and it was reasonably fun to read. But you forget most of it 90 minutes later, and the problem is that of all the K-On books, this one was the least necessary.

K-On! College

By Kakifly. Released in Japan by Houbunsha, serialized in the magazine Manga Time Kirara. Released in North America by Yen Press.

It’s hard to be drawn in sometimes when a series is just so corporately driven. There was nothing wrong with the ending of the original K-On! It ended quite well, with the girls graduating and moving on to college. And yet suddenly, a few months later, we return with not one but TWO new series, each running in a separate magazine. It’s hard not to look at this and think that the publisher asked the writer to drag things on a little bit longer. What’s more, it is only a little bit – each sequel only lasted one volume, and the ending for this college volume just isn’t as satisfying as the original ending. Not to mention that many of the new characters fill similar functions to the old group. So, why read this cash-in?


Well, because the author still knows how to write cute girls doing cute things and having cute situations. I mentioned in a comment on a previous review that I use ‘moe’ in two distinct and separate ways, and this is the first one. Everything about this is designed to make the reader happy to read about girls doing everyday things and trying to keep their high school rock band going. There is zero romance, and next to zero fanservice (there’s a suggestive color page of Mugi at one point). And there are absolutely no little sisters being this cute. Well, there’s Ui, but she acts the part of the responsible oneesama in any case. In any case, what we have here is more of the same, but at college. But if you enjoyed the first four volumes, there’s a high percentage you’ll enjoy this.

There is even, dare I say it, a bit of character development, showing that the girls might be growing up. Yui is trying to think about why she wants to keep playing music, even if she tends to think so hard it gives her a fever. Ritsu is the same, only she’s not a prodigy like Yui or a hard-worker like Mio and Mugi, so her fears tend to come to the fore. Mio still has her little foibles, but is cringing and freaking out a lot less, and is able to give just as good as she gets (her friendship with Ritsu remains a highlight). As for Mugi, she’s on her own for the first time in her life, so has her own insecurities that the others have never worried about. Seeing her joy in the little things we take for granted is really sweet.

As for the new girls, they get fleshed out more than I expected. Akira in particular I wasn’t fond of when we first met her, as it was fairly clear that the author needed someone for Yui to glomp and Azusa wasn’t around anymore, so here was a nearby replacement. Gradually, as the manga wears on, though, we see that she’s isn’t just another tsundere. She’s also allowed to have an old male crush, since she’s not one of the original cast and fanboys won’t burn merchandise in protest. But fear not, it doesn’t go anywhere. Sachi and Ayame round out the rest of that trio, and each have their own little quirks (particularly Sachi), but sadly don’t get as much time as Akira to develop in the minimal pages we see here.

Again, there’s nothing here that doesn’t support the idea that the author was asked to draw a little bit more to make some more money. But the core of what made K-On! enjoyable is also still here, and there’s nothing actively wrong with this. If you enjoyed reading about the four girls before, you’ll enjoy it here. If not, well, get it so that you can watch Ritsu’s hair evolve over the course of the volume.

K-On! Vol. 4

By Kakifly. Released in Japan by Houbunsha, serialized in the magazine Manga Time Kirara. Released in North America by Yen Press.

It’s finally time for time to catch up with the cast of K-On!. Graduation is around the corner, and this volume deals with everything that comes with it: the senior’s school play, deciding on a future, taking exams so that you can achieve that future, and of course their final concert. But is it really the end for our pop band cuties?

Of course not. This is not the sort of manga where you’re going to get a lot of angst and serious business. It’s a silly 4-koma, and we get what Kakifly does best. In fact, one of the main plot points is that the girls *don’t* want this to be the end – they all decide to join Mugi in applying to the prestigious Japan Womnen’s Univ – pardon me, to heavily disguised “N” Women’s University, because they’ve grown so close they can’t let it end like this. Of course, this isn’t just some convenient escalator school – Yui and Ritsu really have to buckle down, and a lot of the humor in this volume comes from the two of them trying to study while being so easily distracted (Yui) or bored (Ritsu).

Then there’s that class play. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, this is not a yuri series, despite what the fandom would tell you. However, among the situations that aren’t yuri but which fans glom onto anyway, this volume certainly has the most, especially for Mio and Ritsu. The class decides to do Romeo and Juliet, and decide that Mio is perfect for the role of Romeo… which she totally isn’t, but clearly they just want to see her dressed up as a hot Elizabethan boy. Likewise, Ritsu is a horrible choice for Juliet, and was likely chosen because… well, Mio was Romeo, and the two are inseparable. The manga latches onto this dissonance immediately, with some of the best jokes being about Mio’s timidity and Ritsu’s brashness. (Speaking of which, Yen’s translation of Ritsu’s speech patterns is fantastic – in Japanese, aside from ‘watashi’, she always tends to use boyish speech, and that’s conveyed very well here.) The solution to their issues is both funny and very clever, and again relies on them knowing each other inside and out.

And then there’s the chapter where folks think Ritsu has a boyfriend. (Look, Ritsu’s my favorite character, cut me some slack.) This is probably my favorite chapter in the book, as everything is just pitch perfect. Mio’s panic and jealousy, Mugi’s support and joy (Mugi is a yuri fangirl, but really just pushes interaction of any kind – again, it fits with her upbringing), Ritsu of course using this situation as a giant prank, and Yui for once as the voice of reason (great line about how Ritsu being girly makes her feel sick). In the end, of course, Ritsu does NOT have a boyfriend – it was set up so she could watch Mio freak out. Needless to say, Mio’s reaction in general, and particularly the “Ritsu, you can’t do this! Men are barbarians!” line made yuri fans happy. (Half the chapter was leaked online in Japan, and big surprise – otaku who thought Ritsu was ‘impure’ freaked out and made threats to burn merchandise again. And people wonder why so few love stories in Japan resolve anymore.)

And then we get graduation, and more attention is paid to the one band member who isn’t doing so, Azusa. Getting her to admit she’s an emotional bundle of stress, of course, is like pulling teeth – Ui and Jun both note this. However, when the other four have gotten their diplomas and reality is finally sinking in, Azusa just loses it, in what is one of the sweetest scenes in the entire series. Kakifly’s art is usually more what I’d call “satisfactory” than anything else, particularly with his ‘far older than they look’ character designs. But the way Azusa’s expression is drawn when she begs the cast not to graduate is simply excellent.

And so now it’s over… except it’s not. We now have not one, but TWO sequels running in Japan. The first deals with the four graduating girls in college, the second has Azusa, Ui, and Jun trying to keep the light music club going in high school. How this will be collected is unknown at this point, but no doubt we will eventually see more K-On!. Till then, this was a light and fluffy but of fun, and I enjoyed hanging out with these girls.