The final finales: Asobi, K-ON!!

The finale of Asobi ni Iku Yo does what you expect it to. The good cats win, the bad dogs lose. But it was hard for me to get interested in it.

Focus, damn it! FOCUS!

It starts out well enough. The Cathian rescue ship needs thirty minutes to fuel up but there’s NATO tanks and helicopters on the way. We get a nice land battle between NATO and the maids and their matter-converting thingamajib weapons, but then it gets interspersed with more Manami and Aoi arguing about who gets Kio (who, thankfully, is totally oblivious to what they’re talking about). It gets so bad that ditzy Eris asks them to stop. When they turn on her, she suggests a foursome. This shuts the girls up, though it’s out of shock, while Kio remains clueless.

Things don’t get much better after they reach orbit. Threatened by Dogisian ships all three girls must first kiss Kio before undressing in front of him to change into their spacesuits. I guess the foursome’s on. Someone should tell Kio what it is. Then, thank heavens, we leave that plotlline alone and get to more action. The problem is that it’s unclear how each unit is progressing. Okay, we get an idea of the Dogisian/Cathian space battle, but there’s Kio’s whimsically old-fashioned looking spaceship plunging into warp, then slamming into the captured Cathian ship and meeting hardly any resistance at all. The Dogisians are good at infiltration but not much on defense. I kept waiting for their reinforcements and all we get is a giant dog-robot. Kio shoves it over, or something.

Computer room.

Meanwhile Manami, Aoi and Eris do some of your usual anime space battle offensive work (a “super spacial graviton cannon”) and then risk their lives preventing the Dogisian ship from crashing into Okinawa. Aoi’s “I’m just a mercenary” theme comes up again, such a big ongoing issue with her since it was first presented one episode ago. Bah. Everyone is saved. And Kio makes the ultimate sacrifice:

This final story arc felt wrong. I have nothing against epic space battles, but one of the reasons I watched this silly show to the end was because of its light touch. Happy, buxom alien cat girls cavorting in sunny Okinawa with the locals not caring one jot, with some gun battles here and there. This finale felt too cosmic.

And though it ends with a pretty image, I can safely say I’m done with this series now. I’ll leave it to the characters to work out their foursome.

K-ON!! finally wraps up with a thoroughly appropriate episode where nothing much happens, laced with more goodbye stuff.

Azusa's welcome to the club. I have no idea what the others are up to.

I don’t know exactly when this episode is supposed to be, before episode 23, maybe. After a typically bizarre opening bit of memory we move to the nitty-gritty of the show, such as it is, the dreaded yearbook photo picture revelation. Yui looks just fine but wants advisor Sawako to have it changed before publishing. But Sawako is out with the flu. So off they go to visit. My only fear was that they were going to damage the facsimile, but that doesn’t happen. What we get instead is typical HTT behavior in Sawako’s apartment.

Sawako's home life is less unsavory than they had hoped.

Nothing much happens. Sawako won’t change the photo. There’s the mystery of a ghost hand in another photo. Yui gets into Sawako’s wardrobe. They decide to cook dinner and do her laundry. Nothing more than usual, except, like all of this season of K-ON!! at least, it’s put together with great skill. I’ve quibbled with this series plenty of times but one thing it has always done well is combine great art and detailed animation with ensemble acting that puts it above just about every other anime series out there. Even when the characters got on my nerves I enjoyed looking at it.

They must throw in sentimentality somewhere, and it’s Sawako’s turn to do it. She got a few chances in the graduation episode, but this one, I think, works better. Half asleep at the table, she looks at the yearbook, photos she helped them make, while her charges fold her laundry and cook dinner. She can only smile. What about? Because she’s fond of the girls? Because she’s remembering her own school days? Probably both.

They throw in a little subplot where Azusa is secretly rehearsing with other girls for a surprise performance at “the reception.” When was that? How come we didn’t hear about it before? And then, because there’s still a minute to kill, we get the girls running outside to jump in the air “Hard Day’s Night” style. It’s an appropriate way to end things. Girls acting silly and goofing up.

Except it’s not over. There’s a movie coming out. Now that we’ve seen them go through school I wonder if I want to watch their adventures all over again. Well, when the time comes we’ll see.

There! All the finales are finalized. Now it’s time for the Fall season! And, er, Amagami and Shiki.

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K-ON!! 25

K-ON!! is over, story-wise, but we still have a couple of filler episodes to entertain us until the fall season overwhelms us in less than a week. The thing is, I don’t see why they couldn’t have put episode 25 where it belonged. It was a nice, typical episode.

The early days.

Azusa discovers an old Light Music Club recruitment video which Mio, for perfectly understandable reasons, had sealed in a cookie tin and shoved to the back of a shelf. This leads to memories, and some agreeable flashbacks which aren’t just retreads of previous episodes, at least I don’t think. But since the club will desperately need new members soon the modern-day HTT decide to make a new one. They try to come up with ideas. K-ON!! is good at this sort of situation. The ideas make slightly more sense than the songs they tried to write episodes ago, and everyone can bounce opinions and embellishments off each other’s.

Sweet little Mugi always goes for the suspense angle.

Personally, I think they should have gone with Sawako’s Hollywood movie trailer theme. If you’re a hardcore fan of the show the idea of having them wear more revealing outfits wasn’t bad either. For club recruitment in an all-girls school, maybe not so much. Dressing up as animals—no. Ton-chan as narrator … that might have been fun. TV infomercial—no. In the end it’s up to Azusa to come up with the theme. The big problem with her character is that she’s a straight man for the rest of them. When she works alone it’s just not that interesting. Anyway after some dull consideration and discussions with her classmates she comes up with an idea, and the show’s energy drops farther.

Her idea of interviews with concert footage (love the look on Mio’s face when that comes up) is a good one, meaning it’s not all that funny to watch. We see the girls screw up scenes by breaking character or invent unreal characters … come to think of it, that’s all Yui’s doing. That gets tedious quickly. It improves a bit when they interview school members about what they think about the club and get both “Awesome!” and “They should hand in their forms on time” in response. Guess who said that last one.

It will take years for Azusa to live this down.

Not bad, not great. Typical middle-of-the-road K-ON!! episode. Again, I don’t know why they had to air it after the story ended.

K-ON!! 24, really the finale.

Technically, K-ON!! isn’t over. There should be two more episodes to go. But for all intents and purposes the show officially ends with episode 24, graduation day.

Even though there’s an extra sentimental, bittersweet feeling to this episode it still manages to showcase the show’s specialties: day-to-day life and HTT goofing off. Oh, and music. We start with the goofing off, The girls running late, Yui getting a hole in her stockings (Ui smartly brought a replacement pair), and there was the issue of the thank-you card they made for Sawako …

They're not hiding anything, Sawako! Honest!

I’m a little surprised that they didn’t show more of the ceremony, either in the auditorium or in the classroom. Instead they jump ahead. Well, we do see Yui’s diploma. How she managed to graduate I’ll never know.

Now that the shenanigans are over the episode can devote the rest of its time to the sentimental stuff. We get nice moments from Sawako. This is, after all, the first batch of students to graduate under her care. We see her tired, near tears from the positive response her students give her, maybe preparing for the next batch of students but relishing her current class as much as she can while they take their last photos, say goodbyes and slowly filter out of the school, on to bigger things. And she and Nodoka hang on a little longer because, even though it was not announced, they know HTT will serve tea.

She PROMISED herself she wouldn't cry, but ...

But we know where the biggest emotional scene will come from. Azusa has been down for several episodes. We knew it would come out eventually. She holds up well at first, handing out thank-you letters and delivering hurried speeches about how she’ll recruit new members, she’ll be all right … before her sadness gets the better of her and she gives a pathetic, crying plea. Don’t graduate! What made the scene was the response. Instead of falling to tears themselves or making fools of themselves in some other way, the seniors instead gently reassure her. To my surprise they have all come to terms with graduating; they know it’s time to move on. And they haven’t forgotten her, proving it by performing a new song they wrote in her honor. It’s a lovely scene that nearly brought a tear to my eye. Maybe this silly gaggle of girls HAVE grown up, somewhat. Then it’s undercut by a humorous bit when Azusa says a line that Yui said back in the very first episode of the original series. Heh.

Speaking of growing, I think the show has as well. I don’t remember the first season being this good. It’s been awhile and I’m not going to go back and watch it, but I remember it as passable, often irritating, but with Kyoani’s typically impeccable production values. And early on I thought the second season would be no different. But then they put out a good episode, followed by another, and another. From time to time I still got irritated but now the good scenes outweighed the bad ones, and I found myself looking forward to watching.

That said, I think the series has run its course. Unlike the show I looked at yesterday which criminally ended after only twelve episodes, K-ON!!’s 24, plus two fillers, feels like just the right length. It’s done all it can. Time to graduate and move on.

K-ON!! 23, Asobi 10

The final episode of K-ON!! is already out and everyone but me has seen it. Nevertheless I’m going to write about the previous episode, because, er, I’m behind. In this episode the girls set records for dithering, and for once I don’t mind at all.

It’s the day before graduation and the seniors are not required to be in school, but the girls decide to come anyway, even if there’s nothing for them to do. It may seem like a strange thing to do but I understand it perfectly, even if the girls couldn’t articulate it. This is their opportunity to say goodbye to the high school. Much of the episode has a bittersweet feel. Classes are in full swing but the girls aren’t in them. They visit their old classroom (Yui, natch, hasn’t cleaned out her desk) and wonder at the empty feeling. High school will go on without them.

It feels bittersweet but the girls’ high spirits make up for that. After they grow bored of the music room they take up with Nodoka as she finishes Student Council duties, then go bug Sawako, beg Azusa to buy bread because they’re embarrassed to, and it goes on. In this way they say goodbye to little parts of the school. Back where they started they have tea for the umpteenth time, then actually do something practical—clean the room. Meanwhile chimes periodically ring to mark the start and end of classes going on without them.

And at the end we have a classic K-ON!! digression. School lets out and they decide to record all their songs for posterity … but first they have to decide on the song order … but before that, how about some more tea? It goes on like that until you wonder if they’ll ever actually get around to it. Scenes like this usually drive me up the wall but hell, it’s the pentultimate episode, they’re graduating the next day, let them dither. Besides, they DO actually get around to recording. Nice episode.

Asobi ni Iku Yo 10 has two stories going for it. One has to do with the Dogisians and is actually exciting. Then there’s the other story.

Girls, would you please talk about something else for a change?

It’s getting close to Christmas (interesting that in Japan you can have Christmas-themed stories year round, while here in America (and I suspect most other places) it’s sacrilege if you do one outside of November-December. Manami, as you can see, is still bugging Aoi to make a move. Man, I’m getting tired of this. The only decent moment in it comes when Manami pulls out her own regrets to make her argument, though this might actually work against them, since Aoi is considerate toward Manami’s feelings. But they’ve been through this so many times I just don’t care anymore.

Happily the Dogisian attack gives us some sustained action. They’ve attacked a few times in the series and never had much effect. I was about to write them off. But this time the evil Jens and the Dogisian who sounds like Muttley (and is named Madley, a tip of the hat, perhaps) pull off an organized plan of action which soon has the Catians reeling. Start by firing a harmless shot so that the Catian ship destroys them, only to have Dogisian assistaroids sneak through in the rubble. Meanwhile the Earth-bound Catians are also under attack.

Tune in next week ...

So the Catian ship is frozen and will fall to the Earth in two weeks, the bridge crew is hiding in hyperspace, the captain is unconscious, Eris’s own craft is presumably destroyed. Oh, noes! On the other hand, the last image we get is a determined Kio punching his fist in his palm. Earlier he had been given a bracelet that can generate a power-suit, so the good guys aren’t out of it yet. How they’re going to get up into space is anyone’s guess. Oh, well, it was good to see the show get back to the action.

K-ON!! 22

In K-ON!! 22 the important real-life events, like studying and taking exams, waiting for results, etc, appears in spots around the main focus, Azusa making the girls a Valentine’s day gift. But when you look at it, that’s not really it.

Sure, much of the episode revolves around Azusa deciding to make them a cake, then making it, then being too embarrassed to give it to them, over and over (causing me to grit my teeth), but it’s the reasons why she wants to give them a gift: gratitude and regret because the girls are graduating soon and she’ll be losing not only her band but her good friends. Azusa’s sadness gives what would be routine scenes about choosing ingredients, baking (and hiding the fact from Yui), and giving the gift extra poignancy.

Morning of the exam.

When the episode isn’t concentrating on Azusa looking wistful or praying at shrines for exam success we follow the girls as they study and worry about results, thought that also brings up Azusa’s increasing isolation, as she kills time in the practice room while the others slave away at their studies. She has no one to play music with her. When she plays alone the others get distracted from their books. Of course it’s not that she’s unwelcome there, she just has no way of joining in.

While they wait for their first choice school’s exam results (and I’m surprised the show devoted so little time to the exam itself, no, I take it back; I’m relieved) the whole Valentine’s Day business gets handled successfully. Thanks to Sawako they realize that she had been embarrassed to give her gift to them, so they think something up. And there’s a warm, fuzzy moment looking out at the snow. These moments will be among the last for poor Azusa so she’s enjoying them while she can. And it’s the same for the girls if they don’t get into their first choice. So, to polish off the episode:

Exam result time.

K-ON!! 21, Sora no Woto 7.5: Moe in peace and war

When an extra episode of Sora no Woto appeared I thought it would be fun to pair it up with its civilian counterpart, K-ON!! I don’t expect to have any sage pronouncements on the concept of moe in these differing series, but the character designs are so similar … At the time of this writing I haven’t watched the Sora no Woto episode yet. I tend to write about a show just after I view it.

K-ON!! 21 gives us a good opportunity to examine the characters’ appearances, since the whole episode is devoted to mirror gazing and hair brushing. It’s school picture time.

And most of it follows Yui, dissatisfied with her previous yearbook pics and determined to take a great one this time. She fiddles with the bangs, tries on Ritsu’s headband (forehead!), worrying, worrying, while of course she looks just fine to begin with. So do the other girls, but though they go through similar bouts of anxiety they’re nowhere in Yui’s league with fussing. In the midst of this we do get a couple other things. Yui and Ritsu need to hand in their career preference sheets (how long ago was the deadline?), Azusa has lost focus now that the festival is over, but is still worried that the seniors are slacking off. Ui tries on Yui’s hairclip … and winds up looking exactly like her.

Seconds before the tragic sneeze.

It will come as no surprise that Yui’s fussing would turn to tragedy (love the pause and silence after the fatal snip). And that it would lead to subsequent scenes where the girls try to fix the horrible damage. What bothers me a little more is that Mio, who could go to just about any school she wanted, turns down recommendations because she wants to attend college with her friends. I know it’s supposed to be a sweet thing she’s doing, but college is where things change, horizons broaden, new things are discovered. It’s not like she’ll cease being friends with all of them.

Well, okay, the pics are taken, Sawako accepts the late career sheets and doesn’t seem to mind the thought of them going to the same college, so I won’t worry. Well, I will, because Yui and Ritsu are such airheads it’s going to be difficult for them to get in. In the preview we see them actually sort of studying, so maybe it will turn out all right. As for me, since this episode had endless closeups of moe girls’ faces I’ve hit my limit … oh, that’s right. Still have to watch that other show.

It was nice to see the Sora no Woto girls again, especially in an episode that holds no significance, apart from Yui Kanata discovering their bootlegging secret.

Everyone, including me, commented negatively on how Sora no Woto’s characters looked just like K-ON’s. Looking at them together now I see some resemblance, sure. You can easily make the connection in appearance and behavior between Yui and Kanata. Azusa and Kureha share a trait or two as well, especially with their relatively serious demeanor. But that’s about it. With hindsight the character designs are more different than I had thought. Sora’s are drawn more simply, and while the artwork for both is superb the animation is less fluid than in K-ON!!, which is in no way meant to be a putdown. Also, while the K-ON!! girls dither about nothing, the Sora girls dither with intent. In this case to keep the distillery a secret from Kanata and Yumina the nun. When Kanata’s suspicions arise and she keeps pressing about what’s behind that door, Filicia orders a squirt-gun battle, with Yumina joining it to even the sides.

It’s very amusing. By now we’ve guessed that Filicia spiked their tea with hooch. The girls get sillier and sillier and the whole thing plays out as a parody of bad war movies. Moments of great bravery. Superweapons (courtesy of Noel). Heroic speeches followed by “No, you mustn’t!” Sacrifices. A final showdown. But the entire time there’s something a little odd about it.

Filicia's heroic death.

These are not only soldiers, they’re war victims who know all too well that war isn’t really like in fiction. Even pacifist Yumina is excited to participate, though for her it’s because as a child she never got to play much with other kids. Okay, they’re drunk, but it still goes down … not wrong, but odd. Only Kurehara seems bothered by it all, and that’s because we learn later she is incapable of getting drunk (but she can get sick afterwards. That can’t be any fun at all). We get a lot of shots of her wondering what the hell is going on.

1121st Platoon tea time, laced with hooch.

After the battle has reached it’s gory end they all get drunk some more, take multiple baths, and we get our bits of rather tame fanservice. I forgot this show occasionally indulged in that. A fun episode. Again, I wish the series had gone on longer. There was a lot more they could have done. Unlike K-ON!!, which, frankly, has just about run its course.

K-ON!! 20

K-ON!! 20 brings me everything I like and hate about this series. Um, three-quarters like. One-quarter hate.

Yui in a rare non-dithering moment.

It feels like a finale. It’s the girls’ last show, save possibly Azusa. KyoAni figured we’d want to see the whole performance, and we do get almost all of it. Unfortunately that means we see all the dithering and silliness that the girls, especially Yui, are prone to. Alas, she’s the group spokesman.

The curtain rises on another HTT performance.

She’s taken aback immediately when she sees the audience all wearing the same HTT T-shirts that HTT is wearing. Okay, all the girls are. That kills a couple minutes. Then we actually get a song. To my delight it’s one of the weird ones they were suggesting a few episodes back. “Rice is a dish,” and with its ridiculous lyrics and fast beat it’s fun to watch. But then it’s back to dithering time. I don’t mind when the girls just dither; it’s when they do it when they’re supposed to be focused on something else that my blood pressure starts to rise. They have a specific time block to perform in and instead Yui is digressing about the school play, getting Mio and Ritsu to recite lines, oh, I can’t remember all the digressing. Then they play a song, while we get a commercial. When they come back all the members must be introduced, not to mention Sawako, Nodoka …

Even the damn turtle gets a shout-out.

By now I’m growling at the screen. Nodoka backstage is gesturing for them to move it along. But no, they have to thank everyone all over again. Yui sees her sister in the audience. The school play business is brought up a second time … they thank the turtle and the music room …

All right, I’m being a little too harsh. It becomes clear that this isn’t a concert but a love festival. The crowd doesn’t mind Yui’s antics at all. They’ve come to thank HTT as much as HTT wants to thank them. And it IS their last festival performance, a farewell show. So I’ll just be the grump in the back row. And they DO manage to squeeze in one more song.

Following this is a lovely scene that got rid of most of my grumpiness, as the girls talk about what to do next, slowly realize that this is it, mainly, for HTT, and they dissolve in tears. Lovely in that they don’t easily come to terms with it all ending, and cling together for comfort. Here the pointless asides feel gentle and almost healing. This is how they behave together. It binds them in both the good and bad times. For now what do they have to look forward to? Exams. Graduation. Get studying, girls! Yeah, right.