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The Case For K-ON!: What's the big deal?


K-ON! is a lot like James Cameron's Avatar.

Stay with me, I'm on to something here. I'm not talking about the characters, plot, or development of them. On the surface, there isn't much parallel between a high school girl band and a band of warrior catpeople fighting robots. Below the surface, there is even less in common. Avatar by its very premise has a lot going on behind it, and K-ON! is a slice-of-life anime. Where exactly can the lines be drawn between them? After a month of deliberation, I think I've figured it out. It was a dawning revelation to me, but the answers were right under my nose from the start.

What I'm about to say might surprise you if you know anything about my opinion of highly publicized series in general. Then again, it might not, if your opinion of either K-ON! and Avatar is anything like my own. I haven't seen anyone make this claim yet, but after I realized it it's just so obvious to me now. There is more in common with one of the biggest film releases of the decade and a cartoon about teenagers making music and do nothing in the meantime than one might think.

The 2009 science-fiction epic Avatar is noted for its above-average production values and troubling history. The technology behind it is groundbreaking, to say the least. It's also known for its polarized reception, with equal counts of people calling it one of the most important works of our generation and those labeling it a colossal waste of time and money. What is known as an epic tale of complex human issues pervading all of existence to some is just a gaggle of Blue Man Group cosplayers fighting our cybernetic oppressors in the stars to others. To me, it's one movie trying to be two. I suspect the debate of the merits of Avatar will rage on for years to come.

The 2009 anime series K-ON! is noted for its musical motifs and unconventional characterization. Kyoto Animation lent it it's typical high quality animation highlighted in the ending sequence of the first season, which has a following all its own. It's certainly noteworthy in those regards. It has also gained a significant hatedom in recent years with people accusing it to be void of artistic merit and being little more than a vehicle to watch bubbly high school girls act half their age. A friend of mine told me that some fansubbers even went so far as to remove the musical segments in their encodes. I think that's overdoing it. Given how the second season is playing out, it doesn't look like this war will slow down any time soon.

If you look at things through my eyes, there's plenty of reasons to hate on both. Most of them have to do with the endless praise they get. And you know me; if it's popularity is based on a single character or exaggeration, then I'll have a full argument against it ready by morning. K-ON and Avatar certainly have no shortage of those. I'm a sucker for brash displays of technology but I've learned that impressive frameworks by themselves do not for a good movie make. In the case of K-ON!, Don't Say "Lazy" itself is an inviting point of contention. Another reason has to do with their respective hype. Again, it's there in droves, but I'm not enticed in the least. Even the fans are ripe targets like usual. It's impossible to go to a film community and not hear something about James Cameron's epic 15 years in the making. Similarly, it appears that K-ON! and it's bastard child So-Ra-No-Wo-To are today's hot-button topic in anime. Insipid arguments on both sides are there for the picking. It may sound contrived, but looking at it this way, Avatar and K-ON! have so much in common that it's hard for me to ignore.

And yet, I can't find it in me to take sides on either.

The case I make for K-ON! is that there's no case at all. I've given it a month to work out a reason why I can't so much as pretend to get worked up over it and turned up nothing but apathy. It's not that it's good, but it's not even bad. It just is. It is on the same level as every other non-noteworthy anime. It's the Avatar of anime: either really big or really overblown, and it's so big that it all blew right over my head. I should be parading my belief that it's the most overrated show of 2010 and that you all need to calm down. But I'm not, despite the fact that it clearly is. I'm not conflicted on my stance like I normally am with these things. My opinion is solid: I have none. I won't tell you to stop watching and I won't tell you to stop posting. I don't even want to call it average. That would imply that I care. For a show that is so polarizing and controversial in its substance, it's strange that I of all people would find the middle ground and nonchalantly bury myself in it. I would make some bigger claim about its merits or lack thereof, but I can't be bothered. There's something to be said about it, but... Yeah.

Back to my thesis, most of my friends at college are film students. They have plenty to say about Avatar. They certainly did all they could to convince me to watch it. You would expect me to administer the beatdown after the 10th Facebook message about it, but no. I just ignored it and our friendships are none the worse for it. Maybe I'm just burned out from various things, not the least of which were previous anime debates and school troubles. At present I have two papers due in classes that will wreck my GPA no matter what I do now. If I can't focus on something this important, then I certainly won't invest in going near the controversy behind either of these shows. If I were to go on, I would just repeat myself more. That's how little I have to say about this.

Maybe that guy who claimed K-ON! was empty was right. In a way, it was empty for me, in that I felt absolutely nothing after having seen a few episodes and watched the debate unfold. No anger, no hope that it'll get better, no concern that it'll get worse, no surprise that it's not so bad after all, no rage that someone on the internet could say something like that. Nothing. However, I don't want to take sides, especially not with someone important. I said on that post that "It has to be something. Why else would so many people get worked up about it?" When I wrote that, I was acknowledging that there is a debate and that this is something worth discussing, therefore it's not empty. After all, I just wrote eight paragraphs about it and had the gall to compare it to an unrelated American movie. Despite that, something inside me is saying that it's not worth the effort, despite how fertile the grounds are for this show. Or rather, the thing that usually compels me to say something has not even given me a poke. I miss it.

I would like to clarify that I did not learn to "ignore the hype" as so many have implored me to do. I have not changed in that regard. In fact, it's closer to me than ever, now that there are several people recommending me shows left and right in person. However, as the hype for K-ON! and Avatar wore on and on, they didn't approach striking a nerve. They just were, getting their fans and detractors and hilarious drama building between them. I see the hype and dismiss it, passing over it without a second thought. Such is the case with these two big-budget productions. Just meh.

Actually, not even that.
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About The-Excelone of us since 5:08 PM on 12.25.2007