With over half a million Blu-Rays sold and goodness knows how much related merchandise flogged, Kyoto Animation's adaptation of K-ON has become an anime sensation - one that will be finding its way over here next year courtesy of Manga Entertainment, incidentally. For now though, we can enjoy the first volume of the manga which inspired that huge success, as Kakifly's four-panel series gets an official English translation from Yen Press.
The concept of the manga is simple enough, introducing us to high school girls Ritsu Tainaka and Mio Akiyama as they try to choose an after school club to join. Spotting the opportunity to become a club president, melded with an old promise made with her friend, Ritsu sets her eye on joining the currently member-less pop music club (note the subtle change from the literal "light music club" English translation you might be used to). With a four member requirement to become an official after-school club, Ritsu bullies Mio into joining before completing the required quartet courtesy of rich girl and wannabe choir member Tsumugi Kotobuki and ditzy, musically clueless Yui Hirasawa.
With this foursome in place, K-ON slowly hits its stride as it builds up its various major and supporting characters and sets the pop music club on their way to stardom - or, more honestly, on their way to a high school life of fun, frolics, tea and cake. If you're expecting some kind of wonderful, music-filled journey from K-ON, prepare to be disappointed - although Kakifly's manga puts some loving care and attention into its instruments and musical language, and even its characters are named in tribute to a couple of Japanese bands, the music and band aspect of this volume largely takes a back seat to deriving its comedy from the manga's characters and mannerisms. In other words, expect lots of jokes at the expense of Mio's shy and easily scared nature, or Yui's lack of concentration.
In terms of that comedy, K-ON isn't as sharp or consistent as other similar slice of life manga outings such as Azumanga Daoih and Hidamari Sketch, getting by largely on account of a broader sense of fun which comes from seeing the manga's characters in their school and home settings as they interact with one another. This leaves the first volume of K-ON with few laugh out loud moments, but some nice character designs to ease along this light-hearted and drama-free outing.
Although Yen Press' translation will doubtless get some flak from hardcore fans for substituting the phrase "light music" with "pop music" (ignoring the fact that the latter makes more sense to western readers), while others have winced at the English take on the K-ON logo, the company have done their usual spot-on job with this first manga volume overall - the translation is very much readable, and the translation notes at the end of the volume are both enlightening and comprehensive. Yen Press hasn't even skipped on the extra information on reading musical notation and the like to round off this particular outing.
K-ON's first volume certainly isn't the funniest four-panel manga you'll read this year, nor is it the most sumptuously illustrated - that said, it is a fun and relaxing read and by the end of the volume it seems to be hitting all the right comedy notes. So, whether you're already a fan of the K-ON franchise or you want to know what the fuss is all about, you could do worse than checking out the manga which started it all.