My writer friend Kate (look, she’s a girl and a friend but she’s not a girlfriend) declared a comic book and comic book movie weekend. The object is to get mental relief, and since manga and anime count I played along.
The problem I had was that it was the week before finals and one of us (hint: not Kate) had to be writing exams. So I needed something I could just put on and not pay any attention to. Oh, look: Netflix has K-On!
That suited my needs very well for the most part, except every so often I had to look at the screen and say some bad words. And I can tell you why:
This is the easiest character analysis I have ever written because Yui Hirasawa, the central character of K-On!, is a really easy to analyze character: She’s D-U-M-B dumb.
Seriously, apart from her being modestly amusing because she’s so incompetent, she doesn’t seem to have any redeeming qualities. She’s lousy in school (I do NOT believe she passed her college entrance exams), she is unimaginative (she names her guitar ギーター, which is Japanese for “guitar”), she never practices (not that any of them do), she’s always late, she falls over everything, and she has the attention span of a gnat.
But I think that’s the point. Because at it’s heart K-On! is a magical girl story.
Right? Yui is exactly like Usagi Tsukino, Sailor Moon her own self, in her “Clark Kent” identity: basically useless. But when she picks up ギーター and starts singing, she transcends her civilian identity. It’s just like Usagi waving the wand and reciting the chant.
And transformation is one of the themes that characterize magical girl shows. That’s their function, socially: they show everyday girls (like those in the audience) transformed into something extraordinary. In Sailor Moon’s case, it’s heroes. In K-On!’s case, it’s a band, and a darned good one.
Another constant theme of the magical girl show is mutual support, and that, of course, is what saturates K-On!. Once the core members of the band come together, they’re a team, inseparable. This is doubly the case when the younger girl, Azusa, joins the club and the group. After a short trial period (during which they prank her), she’s so much a part of the team that she goes on senior trips with the seniors and they make it clear that for the five of them it’s one for all and all for one.
Cuteness is a magical girl feature, and that comes in in a couple ways, starting with the school uniforms, and ending with the teacher, Sawako, trying to dress them in costumes straight out of Josie and the Pussycats. Plus that turtle! I’m surprised Yui didn’t name it Luna.
And the final magical girl theme, triumph, comes into play as well. No, they don’t save the world, but that’s not the world they live in. But they end up going to college together, overcoming long odds to do it, and in the sequel movie as a band they even play a couple shows in England! Not a bad outcome, right?
That’s why Yui is as dumb as she is: because when she picks up ギーター she is transformed from a person with very few markers for success into a legitimate star in the context of her world, and by extension the world K-On!’s viewers inhabit. Each time she plays she goes from duckling to swan, and the more duckling she is in her everyday life, the greater the distance to swanhood she covers and the greater the triumph she represents.
Yui periodically goes from zero to hero. Yay! V-I-C-T-O-R-Y! Structurally, it creates and resolves tension very nicely. But to go from zero to hero, she has to be a zero to start with. And Broooothur! What a zero she is!
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.