Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: December 2011
Synopsis: “As the second school term begins, so do preparations for the upcoming school festival! The Pop Music Club starts working on some fresh lyrics as they tune up their act for their live show. But the third-year girls find themselves practising for a performance of another kind when Ritsu and Mio are selected to play the lead roles in their class production of Romeo and Juliet! With the rest of the girls tied up in play rehearsal, Azusa spends her afternoons alone in the clubroom … Will the show be ready to go on?!”
The synopsis for this volume is a bit misleading. While the themes it raises are present for the entire book, the plot surrounding the play is actually resolved very quickly. The rest of the volume is concerned mainly with the older girls of K-ON! as they face their imminent graduation and the challenges of getting into university.
While I have seen the first season of the K-ON! anime, this was my first time reading the manga. As a result, I found myself facing confusion early on as I wasn’t quite sure which order to properly read the panels. They are presented on the page as eight panels equally spaced in two columns. At first, I thought I was meant to read them horizontally however after a couple of pages I realized I had to read vertically. This confusion was added to by the opening colour section which is not done in the four-panel style and so is read from left-to-right and from top-to-bottom, as occurs in traditional manga. I’m not sure if the fault lies with Yen Press or with the original Japanese publication, but I personally would have liked the two columns to have had extra space between them, to make it easier to understand just how to read them, as has been done for other similar releases.
There were a few other flaws in this volume. At times, I felt as though material was missing, as events such as concerts would be skipped over and the transition between the end of one storyline and the next was not always the clearest. While this may be due to the strips being put together in a collection, rather than appearing separately in serialization, the effect is still a bit off-putting to a reader.
One main event of the story that did not appear much was, surprisingly, the actual music played by the band. The concert mentioned in the synopsis is over in a page. This may not necessarily be as much of a negative as it first appears though. Manga that deals with musical performance often falls a bit short when it tries to write out songs, especially given that J-Pop songs often have lyrics that quite frankly don’t make much sense.
One of the shining features of this volume is the inclusion of the colour pages, which let the art style really shine. This is especially true of the large panel at the beginning of each section, containing art that stands by itself, apart from the main comics. One panel featuring Mugi in front of a Christmas tree in particular made me stop and stare for a minute, before continuing on reading. Colour pages are always a treat in manga and one that I am glad to be seeing more and more of.
It’s hard to say much else about K-ON!‘s story. It meanders and is filled with moments that make you smile. There are not too many laugh out loud moments in this volume but it is still a very fun ride. When talking about K-ON!, it is difficult not to compare the series to Azumanga Daioh. Both series are four-panel gag manga, and both focus on high school girls. The main characters are also really quite similar, enough that it’s impossible to believe that kakifly was not inspired by Azumanga somehow, either directly or indirectly. And while K-ON! is not Azumanga‘s equal, it is certainly a decent successor and fans of one should enjoy the other (just don’t expect too much actual music involved in this one!). Also, the move to follow the girls into university does set it apart from its predecessor and has me very interested to see where things go, more than I expected to be when I picked up volume four.
That said, it is a bit unclear how exactly the series is going to continue, as there are two on-going continuations currently being published in Japan, one featuring the girls in university and the other featuring the younger cast members trying to keep the high school club alive. But given that there is no indication from Yen Press that this is the final volume, I have no doubt we shall see more in the future.
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Book provided by Yen Press for review purposes