Friends Indeed

August 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

I usually bring up my love of K-On! when I want to embarrass myself to the sake of humor or when I want to preempt someone’s worst assumptions about anime. Either way, it almost always works, because it’s definitely not a show about which you’d expect to hear from a male graduate student in his late twenties, not without him sporting a telltale scar or something that signifies an inward decay. It’s not an act, though, because K-On! is easily one of my favorites, as much for the circumstances under which I watched it as for its own qualities.

Tsumugi, Azusa, Ritsu, Mio, and Yui from K-On!

I moved to a new city in order to start a graduate program back in 2009. Despite the brilliance of my prose here, which invariably suggests a charming and fascinating person at the keyboard, I don’t make friends too quickly, so the first year was hard. I had the people in my program with whom to get along, but there wasn’t any closeness between us because all we had in common was work. What’s worse, in grad school, work is already the kind of caricature you see in movies penned by screenwriters who’ve never worked a day in their lives, in which work has to be taken home and done on the toilet and fed into nightmares. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do and I always have, but it was meager food for a while there.

Anyway, I found other ways to make friends, and by “make friends” I mean “replace friends with media.” I picked up four different podcasts, including one movie review podcast that meant I didn’t need to watch movies alone anymore. I started a couple multiplayer video games, which seems crazy to me now because shooting stuff with strangers is a terrible time. Finally, most importantly to this blog, I started watching anime with a stronger focus on young adults and their relationships, K-On! in particular.

Ritsu and Azusa do hijinks in K-On!

I really don’t even remember how I came to be aware of K-On! as a show I wanted to watch. Burdened with a sudden excess of leisure time, I’d quickly run through all the anime that it seems like everyone’s friends recommend to them. I’d started to trawl forums for second, third, and fourth opinions. K-On! was one of the first things that came up. Looking back, it had just aired that very year, so it’s no surprise that I got the suggestion, but it is a surprise that I took heed. “Cute high-school girls start a band and become friends” is not exactly the easiest sell for me, even knowing what I know now.

Then again, I was different then than I am now, not only because I’ve since seen K-On! and a hundred other shows. I was lonely then and having something like the anime about which I’ve written, a “moe bildungsroman” about loving yourself and others, was just what I needed. I said that I don’t remember who recommended K-On! to me, but I do remember them telling me that it’d make me happy. You know what? Jaded and cynical though I am, it did make me happy. A large part of it, which has often been given as a criticism, is that it’s a show where nothing happens.

Yui doing the windmill in K-On!

Really, things do happen in K-On!, but they happen at a much slower pace than we’ve been taught to expect. Yui learns the guitar. Her band puts on its first show. They get a new member. They graduate high school. They go to London. That’s about it, which is not much considering that only the first three belong to the forty-one episode show rather than the two-hour movie. It’s understandable for some people to resent such a successful anime having very little in the way of substantive content, the kind that could be used to fill out a Wikipedia entry on a given episode.

Still, there’s a good reason I bought the Blu-ray singles from Bandai Entertainment even though they have a ridiculous markup. It’s the reason why it was kismet that I saw K-On! in early 2010, when I had no friends after six months in a new city that had just been buried in snow. You see, there is no cold and no isolation in K-On!, even when it’s winter in the show. It takes place in an eternal summer, not in the sense of sand, surf, and sunshine (although they do have beach episodes because they’re cute little girls and why not), but in the sense of somewhere that exists between life’s spring and autumn. The anime stands astride the gap between childhood and adulthood, in which we sometimes wish we could have hidden with all the snacks and friends and laughter in the world. Nothing changes because nothing has to change. Having a show like K-On! to which I can always return is just as precious to me as having a show with great art or writing, if only because very few shows, even later ones by Kyoto Animation, understand the value of nothing happening. I’m told that Tamayura is a similarly “healing” anime, so it’s definitely on my list, but K-On! has been enough for me up until now.

After School Tea Time gets ready to play in K-On!

After School Tea Time gets ready to play in K-On!

Looking back over what I’ve written here, it seems to be a post about nothing to defend an anime about nothing. In my head, this was originally going to be about the imaginary friends we find in media, but that’ll have to wait for me to talk about Kare Kano because, as much as I love watching Yui and the rest, I don’t actually think I’d actually be friends with any of them in real life. And that’s okay, because it’s not even really important that I like them, just that I like what they represent for me: a place where it’ll always be tea time after school.



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