All these years, I wanted K-On! to prove me right. I wanted it to be a shitty anime about cute girls doing cute things. I wanted to hold myself above it and I wanted you all to point and look and say “Look at those folks over at Bateszi Anime Blog, they have such good fucking taste, they’d never blog about K-On! because it’s moe-moe shit!”
K-On!, an anime ostensibly about cute high school girls forming the next world-shattering rock band, ends its 2nd episode ends with a dubiously punctuated countdown. The countdown records the 1000-odd days the girls have to achieve their lofty dream of playing in Japan’s national stadium, the Budoukan, before they graduate. Perhaps the most jarring part about watching K-On! for me, with all my preconceptions, was that the show had me from this moment on. As soon as I saw the countdown I knew I was watching for keeps; that I had to see the girls through to their dream, or wherever they ended up instead.
If this were any other anime, playing the Budoukan would actually be an attainable goal, and something its characters visibly worked towards each episode. The long-since gone anime blog Iwa Ni Hana once mentioned that at the core of all anime (and indeed, all Japanese culture) is the spirit of ganbaru, translated, “to try one’s hardest”. However K-On! isn’t every other anime, and perhaps embodies a more modern, honest take on the spirit of ganbaru. The light music club seems to take great pleasure in doing all it can to not play music; spending their after school time lazily drinking tea and eating cakes instead. In its second season, comparisons are constantly drawn to the hardworking and musically talented jazz club and the lackadaisical light music club.
But, like Azusa, the earnest and solitary underclassmen of the light music club, even though I knew the light music club would never play the Budoukan as they so boldly proclaimed I still kept watching. I watched as their Budoukan dream was quickly forgotten, and as the seasons seemed to tumble into one another all too quickly. Shouldn’t they start practicing now? I’d ask myself. Do they even remember what they said, on the club’s inception? I pondered. The question I was really asking, of course, is whether they’d ever make their dreams into a goal.
We had glimpses of the dream, of course. The music video hallucinations the animators provide us during performances. The girls playing at a live house in the OVA. Yui, jubilant in front of a row of roman candles, pretending to be the rock star they foolhardily aimed towards. It was as if the Budoukan was always right around the corner, always one more big push away. If they’d just practice more, or focus on writing better lyrics, the ball would start rolling down the hill, and before we knew it, we’d be there.
And then, quickly as it all started, the girls were in their last semester of their last year of high school. Somewhere along the line, the girls had traded their dream of the Budoukan for college exams, and music video dreams for imaginings of their future careers. Suddenly, everyone was graduating, and high school was nothing but a collection of photographs.
And though K-On! was definitely the moe-moe show of cute girls doing cute things that I expected it to be, it wasn’t shitty, and I was sadder than I thought I’d be when it was all over. The girls dreaming of Budoukan wasn’t abnormal: who hasn’t dreamed of becoming a rock star, or an astronaut, or a president. What’s abnormal would have been if they’d actually succeeded. Ultimately lots of someones need to become the quiet office workers in normal companies dotting the globe, the housewives, and the secretaries. Not everyone is suited for the road to the top, but even the most average of us dreams of the path.