Monday, February 7, 2011

Manga Review: K-ON! volume 1

I was really excited to see the K-ON! manga licensed last year. I enjoyed the anime, but had never read the manga before Yen Press's release in English. While I don't have the Japanese version for comparison, the English version seems to be a top-notch release, with color pages, a smooth, natural-sounding translation that retains honorifics and cultural references, some of the best translation notes I have ever read, bonus comics, and a Music 101 section in the back.

Hirasawa Yui is starting her first year of high school, along with her long-time friend Nodoka, but she doesn't know which club she's interested in joining.

First-years Mio and Ritsu find out that the pop music club's only members just graduated, and it will be disbanded if it doesn't have four members by the end of the month. Ritsu realizes that she can be the club president of she joins now, and cajoles Mio, who would have joined the literature club otherwise, into it.

Tsumugi ("Mugi"), another first-year, enters their club room thinking it's the chorus club room, but joins the pop music club anyway because she thinks it looks like fun. Yui doesn't think she should join because she can't play anything, but, after Mio, Mugi, and Ritsu give a lackluster demonstration performance, she happily exclaims that even she should be able to play like that. Yui takes up guitar while Mugi plays the keyboard, Ritsu plays drums, and Mio plays bass. Eventually, shy Mio becomes their lead singer and lyricist. They also rope Sawako-sensei, a teacher who was in the pop music club when she attended their school, into being their club adviser. The volume ends at the beginning of their second year of high school, as they start looking for new members and try (and fail) to recruit Yui's younger sister Ui and her friend Jun.

Like the K-ON! anime, the manga is loads of fun, with a highly likeable ensemble of characters who harmonize well together. It's really funny, playing it's characters effectively to set up gags and punchlines, and simply...working extremely well as a relaxing, upbeat pick-me-up series. Some readers will find K-ON! too easygoing for their tastes, but it's my cup of tea.

The yuri in this volume is the gag in which Mugi randomly mentally pairs up her friends. It is kind of funny, but I prefer how the anime tones it down and indicates that she has a (brief) crush on Sawako-sensei. The "I can slash my friends!" gag feels at home in something like Lucky Star, where the raison d'etre of the characters is to act as vehicles for the perspective of their target audience, but it feels too meta for this series. (Added to the hand wave of having a cosplay-loving teacher.) But it's a small nitpick in a series that consistently hits strong notes as a smile-inducing comedy.

Story: A-
Art: B-
Overall: A-

Apologies for the abundance of bad music puns. Couldn't resist.


Damien said...

I want to get around to finding me some K-On manga, but for now I've settled myself with the anime. Nice review.

Katherine Hanson said...

@Damien- Thanks! :-)