“…And I don’t care if you forget all the lyrics, and I don’t care if you hug me all the time, and I promise I won’t get mad anymore just…just please don’t graduate!”
-Azusa Nakano K-ON! volume four, page 114
Following the quoted passage above, Azusa watches as her four seniors perform a song that they had written specifically for her upon the event of their graduation. As she watches them together, she wistfully identifies how, when they are separated, their individual sounds are quite different from the robust music that they make as a group.
Azusa has always been a bit of an outlier in K-ON!. Being in the grade below the main group of four, she joins the Light Music Club as a fifth to an already cohesive unit. The girls accept her wholeheartedly, and although they have a history prior to Azusa joining, one rarely gets the sense that Azusa feels left out in any way. If anything, she distances herself from the other four through her dedication to improving and her constant pleas for the club to stop various tea-drinking, cake-eating, cosplay activities, and actually practice music. In this way, she firmly establishes herself as both a necessary part of the K-ON! group dynamic and as an outsider. Accepting that she is not part of the original four, Azusa finds her own place within the Light Music Club and the series is all the better for it.
A few days ago, I mused briefly on how three is an awkward number in Yuyushiki as compared to the standard four or five. This was in light of the obvious exclusion of Chiho Aikawa, and how she would forever be on the outside looking in. Returning to Chiho, it’s important to note that, for as much as she wants to be a part of Yui, Yukari, and Yuzuko’s world, she also noticeably excludes herself from it.
Similar to Azusa, Chiho is too serious to fully let herself go and wholeheartedly give in to the trio’s antics, in spite of the fact that she desperately wants to be a part of them. When Yui falls ill, Yuzuko and Yukari immediately begin snapping photographs of her as she sleeps. Chiho watches for a moment and then asks if she can take a picture as well. The fact that she phrases it as a question implies that taking a photograph in that moment still goes against what she feels is acceptable or normal. She feels uncomfortable, and upon taking the photograph, treats it as a special occasion or achievement. Briefly, she is able to step outside of being herself and be a part of the group; however, unlike Azusa, doing so defies her established personality instead of enhancing it. When Azusa is swept up into the Light Music Club’s craziness, she gives in to their whims completely without it compromising what we know to be Azusa Nakano.
Similarly, within the tightly-knit group of three, Yuyushiki shows us another outlier in Yuzuko Nonohara. As early as the third episode, when the series chooses to shuffle around its parts for various effects, Yuzuko and Yui end up alone together while Yukari is on vacation. The result is off-putting and awkward. In light of episode five, it’s easier to see why Yuzuko and Yui as two simply doesn’t work. Previously, I had assumed that Yui was the glue holding the three together, with Yuzuko and Yukari as the trouble-making duo that she not-so-reluctantly kept in line. However, the series is making it more apparent that Yukari is actually the foundation of the group, bringing Yui and Yuzuko together. Yuzuko may still claim to love Yui best (and she may believe it wholeheartedly) but her place in the group relies far more on Yukari’s presence.
“Then, if we stay together, we’ll be immortal!”
-Yukari Hinata, Yuyushiki episode five
Opening with Yuzuko jokingly declaring that the Data Processing Club is now reliant on a turn-based system, episode five of Yuyushiki immediately immerses us in these thoughts of the group dynamic. It then deliberately separates Yui and Yukari from Yuzuko, establishing their long-standing friendship without Yuzuko’s presence. In a way, this makes her role in the group of three far more painful than Chiho Aikawa’s could ever be. Yuzuko is far closer to both Yukari and Yui. She does nothing in their presence half-heartedly, committing herself to being their mischievous third. However, where Azusa’s outlier status is also her way of being a part of the Light Music Club in K-ON!, or where Chiho’s inability to fully step in to the trio’s world is holding her back, Yuzuko will still be unable to relate to Yui and Yukari as well as they can relate to each other due to their childhood friendship. It is because Yuzuko is so much closer that her role is shown to be, ever so briefly, a far more painful one.
These setups create the backdrop for the girls’ conversations about death, leading to Yukari’s exclamation that if the three stay together, they will be immortal. In a way, they already are. Regardless of Yuzuko’s doubts, the trio, in that moment, truly believes that they will be together forever.
For example, if someone had asked sixth-grade me if I would be with my best friend, Diana, forever I would have emphatically assured them, “Yes.” and I would have meant that with every fiber of my being. Of course, we naturally drifted apart until, a bit like Yuzuko albeit in reverse, I realized that she had already grown up without me. We were still acquaintances, but no longer best friends who organized the neighborhood kids, created tree-climbing clubs, and invented our own imaginary worlds. The younger me wouldn’t have been able to think of a life without Diana, and the me of today can now see our separation as an inevitable part of growing up.
What will likely separate Yukari, Yui, and Yuzuko is not one of them being hit by a bus, as they vividly imagine, but time and maturity.
In K-ON! Azusa recognizes this and, in a burst of emotion, begs her seniors not to leave her. She knows that they can’t be together forever, expressing her feelings in the most raw and honest way possible. Four pages later, the manga shows the original K-ON! four in a bittersweet conversation as to where their lives will lead them now that high school, and with it the Light Music Club, is over for them.
“I guess we graduated, didn’t we? I still don’t feel any different.”
-Ritsu Tanaka, K-ON! volume four, page 118
There won’t always be an event that definitively marks the next stage in your life. In fact, when such events happen, as Ritsu expresses above, you usually won’t feel different until a bit further into your future. No matter how much you beg, like Azusa, you won’t be able to prevent people you care about from moving on without you. Yukari, Yui, and Yuzuko probably won’t be together forever. At some point, they will graduate, both within the series as high school students and from our vantage point as viewers when Yuyushiki ends. The important thing then becomes the time that they spend together in their present. In that time frame, Yukari is correct. As long as they are together, they are immortal.
Postscript: I can’t be the only one who imagined a No Exit ending for our trio, where Yui, Yukari, and Yuzuko continue to torture each other in the afterlife, right?