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K-On Volume 1

Review

K-On Volume 1

written and illustrated by Kakifly

Without a fourth student to meet their membership quota, the pop music club will be disbanded. Self-appointed club president Ritsu has already managed to press-gang her shy childhood friend, Mio, and the rich girl with a generous personality, Tsumugi, into joining. And then, Yui Hirasawa happens along. She can’t read music or play an instrument (though she sees a bright future for herself in castanets), but she is desperate not to be left out of the high school social scene. Mio sees weakness! In fact, with some amount of persuading, Mio and company are even able to convince Yui to become their much-hoped-for lead guitarist.

The girls help Yui select a guitar and teach her how to play. Yui may seem like an ordinary young woman at first, of mediocre exam grades and little life ambition, but she can be a monster when she puts her mind to something. Sooner rather than later, she has learned the rudiments of guitar, and if the club would just dial back their collective passion for afternoon tea and turn their attentions to getting their musical mojo on, they might become their school’s next big thing. The maid costumes are very popular, at least…

Drawn by kakifly and published in the United States by Yen Press, K-ON! is the blockbuster four-panel Japanese manga series that spawned a multimedia franchise of anime, film, music, videogame, and other assorted character goods. Representations of cute cartoon girls playing peppy pop music seem to have experienced a sort of cultural Renaissance as of late, as a matter of fact, but unlike many of the multimedia phenomena out of Japan, its charisma actually lives up to the hype. There is a good reason K-ON!’s witty execution and cohort of handsomely drawn characters with distinctive personalities have attracted a devoted global following.

Although the story is nothing to write home about in itself --- its various chapters cover all of the expected school days subplots --- a double helping of pop culture punning and lowbrow humor keep the chuckles coming and the pages turning. But of course, the characters are the main draw for most fans, and kakifly’s confident yet fluid pen describes that fine line between the appealingly sensual and the appallingly sleazy. In K-ON!, the warmth of friendship is spiced up with just the slightest frisson of excitement and tension. One recurring joke, for example, involves Tsumugi imagining romantic, yuri-flavored scenes during otherwise ordinary interactions between her friends.

All and all, Yen Press does an admirable job of adapting this manga for the American market. Many of the pages have been reproduced in the original full color. The English translation is pleasing and supported by a raft of well-composed endnotes documenting the many in-jokes that might pass a non-Japanese reader by. K-ON! is a must-have for all manga collections and is well on its way to becoming a cult hit with the same anime and manga fandom set that made Azumanga Daioh such an unlikely breakout success. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Casey Brienza on October 18, 2011

K-On Volume 1
written and illustrated by Kakifly

  • Publication Date: November 30, 2010
  • Genres: Manga
  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Yen Press
  • ISBN-10: 0316119334
  • ISBN-13: 9780316119337