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Review: K-ON! (Vol. 01)

Reviewer: Marsha Reid
K-ON! (Vol. 01)

Manga-ka: Kakifly
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: December 2010

Synopsis: “When their high school’s pop-music club is about to be disbanded due to lack of interest, four girls step up to fill the membership quota. Unfortunately, lead guitarist Yui Hirasawa has never played an instrument in her life. Ever. And although she likes the idea of being in a band, standing in front of the mirror posing with her guitar is a lot easier than actually playing it. It’s gonna be a while before this motley crew is rocking out, but with their spunk and determination cranked to 11, anything is possible!”

It’s not easy to write and draw about music. Adding in little music notes and speed lines just doesn’t cut it when you can’t physically hear the music. Luckily K-On isn’t really about the music, it’s about the girls who play the music, so the complete and utter failure to explain what they sound like is both forgivable and understandable. They’re cute, they’re excited, they’re in high school and they’re building a friendship that will definitely last a life time.

One major travesty right off the bat is the translation of what I originally understood their school club was called. I’ve been told they are the “light music club” but in translation they are the “pop music club”. This word “pop music” doesn’t really work as the term “light music” is the source of many jokes and puns throughout the first ten or twenty pages. This club has a history of non-pop music and the girls we read about in K-On are in fact the first faction of the club to even play pop music. If I were to try and justify this I would say they replaced “light music” with something we would understand, but really it would have been better to just leave it alone.

I got about half way through volume one before I realized this was a 4koma. It was both weird and kind of disappointing when I figured it out and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. On one hand, I hadn’t even noticed until I was half way through, but on the other hand I felt constricted and confused about what was going on in the four tiny squares on a regular basis. I found myself frequently lost as to where they were or what they were talking about located outside of the panel, though I muddled through it well enough. While on the topic of the panels I am a huge fan of the full colour pages at the beginning of each chapter. The soft colours and minimal shading make it feel cute and light which is exactly what K-On should feel like.

The three central characters have defined and amusing character traits; Yui is always eating and kinda dumb, Ritsu is pushy (and also kinda dumb), Mio is afraid of everything but the only responsible one in the group. Mugi chan is hard to nail down. She’s not really in the strips in any kind of lime light and feels more like a side character. She has some not-to-subtle lesbian fantasiwa, brings them expensive tea and cake and is generally well behaved. An ever present onlooker, she’s not really a central character due to how illusively portrayed she is yet she is a core member of the band and always on looking with a cup of tea and a kind smile.

The only other secondary character worth giving mention to is their totally bi-polar home room teacher Sawako. If there was going to be a spin off series from K-On it better be about Sawako when she was younger. She has the whole school fooled with her sweet kind teacher act but behind closed doors she’s a hilarious rock demon. I’m not going to go on as her personality is a main root of the story in this first volume, but look forward to meeting her – she’s awesome!

Reading this over twice I realize that this one issue covers an entire year. It felt like we were moving through events at break neck speed – concerts, vacations, visits, school days – everything was just slapped down on the page and then we moved on. I found it hard to really grasp the point to the story or who the events were really following. With everything moving so fast in such small spaces and having so many characters to establish (seven on the character picture/name page at the beginning), I’m amazed this book even came together.

What these characters and this story needs is more space, more time, and more… well… just more! They’re so cute and so energetic and so much is going on that they need to expand in order to exist. Kakifly needs to slow down as this book feels more like a summary of events and less like an actual story. I look forward to how volume two rolls out as this is their first manga compilation and hopefully volume two will be better paced.

Review written November 21, 2010 by Marsha Reid
Book provided by Yen Press for review purposes

Marsha Reid

About the Author:

Marsha Reid is a self-proclaimed manhwa nut – "It’s my not so guilty pleasure and my one true love." She has a group called Anime@ Large, which has become much like a full time job to go along with her full time job at a local theater. Marsha likes fluffy animals (even though she's allergic), manga/manhwa, anime, and make Lolita costumes in her spare time.

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