The high school’s pop music club is about to be disbanded due to a lack of members, but 10th grader Ritsu jumps at the chance to both be a club president and fulfill her dream of being a drummer in a band. She drags along her reluctant best friend Mio to play bass, but they still need two more members and an adviser to qualify as an official club. They snag Tsumugi to play keyboard when she mistakes the meeting for the choir club, recruit Yui for guitar, even though she’s never picked up an instrument, and blackmail the music teacher, an ex-rocker, to supervise the club. Will this band of misfits ever move on from taking beach vacations and using their meetings to indulge in snacks to actually learn some songs and perform?
K-On! by Kakifly — the title refers to to keiongaku, a Japanese term for pop music — was originally published as a four-panel comic in a young men’s manga magazine and is collected here in the first English volume from Yen Press. Since the short four-panel comics (read vertically) were intended to be read over the span of months, reading them as a continuous narrative in one volume gives the story a choppy feeling that takes some getting used to. Likewise, there’s not much room for deep, ongoing plots, so there are a lot of quick gags and simple storylines. That said, the story is fun to read and packs in a lot of humor. Each of the main characters has her own endearing quirks — Yui is incredibly earnest, but also extremely clueless, Ritsu is an overachiever, but also pretty lazy — that makes the character interactions entertaining. The club adviser is particularly amusing with her ostensibly demure exterior hiding a pop-music obsessed interior, helping the girls learn their parts and making them elaborate stage costumes. This volume also includes a few pages of translation notes and a music lesson at the end of the book to enrich the reading experience.
While this is mostly a girl-friendly series, there are several panels that make it clear that it was originally intended for a male audience, including gratuitous bikini scenes, panty shots, and maid costumes. It’s not pervasive, but it does stand out. This garners an Older Teen rating from Yen Press, indicating it may be inappropriate for readers under age 16.
Overall, while a bit superficial, K-On! is a lighthearted romp with likable characters and a fun premise. Yen Press is releasing all four volumes of the manga and the anime adaptation is also available in the US on DVD and Blu-Ray from Bandai.
K-On!, vol. 1
Yen Press, 2010
Publisher Age Rating: OT (16 )