After Class Tea Time: Graduation, and K-ON!’s First Year at College

k-on!, k-on! college, after school tea time, mio akiyama, yui hirasawa, ritsu tainaka, mugi kotobuki

“Really gives you that ‘new life’ feeling, doesn’t it?”

-Mio Akiyama to Ritsu Tainaka on waking up to their first day of college, K-ON! College, page 4

An odd social experiment was conducted in my third year of college. Notorious for its faulty internet services – registering for classes became an all-day activity beginning at 5:00a.m. involving constant browser refreshing and oceans of tears – the servers experienced a significant crash for the first two months of the 2004 autumn semester. I was on the school newspaper staff at the time, and one of the more interesting articles written on the subject involved the social effect on incoming freshman that year. Past classes of wide-eyed, confused, and lonely first-years had relied on the likes of AIM or other varied internet messaging systems to stay in touch with their high school friends, as cell phones were not nearly as ubiquitous as they are now. These options were not available to what would become the graduating class of 2008, and their safety net of existing friends and family was further from reach than it had been for previous classes.

So what did the class of 2008 do?

Unlike most first-years, the four original leading ladies of K-ON! – Yui Hirasawa, Mio Akiyama, Tsumugi “Mugi” Kotobuki, and Ritsu Tainaka – conveniently end up at the same college following their high school graduation. This means that their safety net is already in place. The first few pages of the K-ON! College manga read like another day at Sakuragoaka Girls High School, replacing Mio’s pleas to practice music with pleas to wake up on time for classes. While it’s familiar and homey, it also rings a bit false.

What the aforementioned class of 2008 at my alma mater ended up doing was nothing more than venturing out and getting to know each other. Obviously, this happens with other incoming classes as well, roaming the hallways in packs made up of students within relative proximity until the uncomfortable first semester passed, with everyone sorting themselves into various groups depending on hobbies, interests, or programs of study. In previous classes, the availability of friends from home slowed down the first-years’ progress in branching out and making new friends. However, with the class of 2008, the lack of a safety net forced people to get to know one another far more quickly. They held impromptu jam sessions in the hallways of the first-year dormitories, actually attended their Resident Assistants’ programs, and became the most tight-knit class of the four I knew, including my own.

I could point to the fact that attending the same college as three of your four closest high school friends is unrealistic, and this is why the opening of K-ON! College seems so uncanny. Yui et al. are the exact opposite of the class of  2008, as they enter college with their high school best friends in tow. However, the reason why I fell in love with K-ON! was certainly not because the plot was realistic, but because the development and relationships between the characters were emotionally resonant. In spite of an obvious detachment from “the real world” in terms of circumstance, the growing friendships between all five members of the Light Music Club were always fun to drop in on for an episode a week, or a page or two of the manga. As a viewer, I felt oddly included in the group, privy to the same amount of friendship that Yui, Mio, Mugi, Ritsu, and Azusa shared with each other. Their graduation and subsequent migration to higher education signals a change in perspective from a viewing standpoint. Had I only stopped at the anime series’ end, or the fourth volume of manga, I suppose that I would feel differently, as the girls’ lives would be left up to my imagination.

yuyushiki, yuzuko nonohara, yui ichii, yukari hinata, yuyushiki episode 12, yuyushiki final episode

“Then, if we stay together, we’ll be immortal!”

-Yukari Hinata, Yuyushiki, episode 5

A similar series that plays with the idea of graduation is Yuyushiki. Leads Yui Ichii, Yuzuko Nanohara, and Yukari Hinata are often shown musing about their futures, and the animated telling of their story deliberately chooses to have the most heady of these discussions in its penultimate episode rather than its finale. This decision leaves the viewer longing to see more, but satisfied in seeing the trio cavort as usual before the end of summer vacation. This final episode ends like the series began, with Yui donning her uniform, meeting with Yuzuko, and Yukari, and the three head off to school together. Following Yukari’s logic, quoted above, as they exit our screens together, they are immortal. Their in-universe graduation is implied, unlike K-ON!‘s emotionally-charged event, and it will occur off-screen, when it does occur. Similarly, there is a second graduation, separating us from Yui, Yuzuko, and Yukari in the event of the series’ completion.

It’s not that K-ON! has overstayed its welcome as it transitions from high school to higher education, but that in giving the girls their safety net in each other while also introducing new characters, it attempts to move on while staying the same, sacrificing a bit of emotional resonance in the process. Perhaps the four could have used a disruption, separating them from one another. It worked for the class of 2008.

Related: One, Two, and Yuzuko Makes Three in the Fifth Episode of Yuyushiki

4 comments

  1. It would have been pretty interesting to see a little bit of both! Kakifly could have tried something a little different without completely romoving the girls from their safety nets. I would be remarkably interested in a scenario where the girls are split amongst two different colleges, but also break up the obvious Mio/Ritsu pairing.

    I personally loved the Ritsu/Mugi episode in Season 2, and Yui and Mio have a really cool thing going on in terms of what they bring to the overall cast: while Mio is supposedly the most capable one in terms of musical ability, Yui is the frontman of the group in a saimilar way that Honoka and Ichigo are for their respective units. With Azusa still doing her thing back in HS, I think there’s enough separation there to make the girls refocus the dynamics of their existing relationships while still remaining really good friends with each other.

    In a way, this sort of effect reminds me of what one goes through when going through that sort of transition between different levels of education. While they’re completely removed from their previous academic and social environments, there’s often a familiar face to lean back on for that sort of security, even if that person wasn’t as significant of a relationship in previous times. I had a similar thing when I went to University; a classmate who I’ve known since I started high school, despite only knowing him in passing, became a pretty close friend of mine, even though I still kept in touch with my best friend who went to a different school. It was different, but I still feel fortunate enough to be able to rely on him to get through the initial parts of postsecondary and beyond. You could say we were Mugi and Ritsu in the example that I mention above.

    So I leave you with this question then, my dear Emily. If you had to decide which two girls would pair off in different postsecondary schools, which setup would you go with?

    1. It’s interesting that you bring up the Ritsu/Mio pair, because they have some really sweet moments together towards the end of this manga volume. ^ ^

      I would pair off Ritsu/Yui and Mugi/Mio. Here are my reasons:

      Mugi is a bit odd. She reminds me of Takane from The Idolm@ster in that she’s been very sheltered, comes from a rich family, and is a bit of a weirdo. The difference is that Mugi is less dreamy and more outgoing. I want to see more of her eccentric nature. Both Yui and Ritsu are more outgoing and eccentric than Mugi, so she naturally slips into the background when they’re around; however, Mio is uptight and proper. I think Mugi’s wilder side would come out if she had Mio around to corrupt. ^ ^

      Additionally, I like the Yui/Ritsu pairing because it brings out Ritsu’s more responsible side. When the four (or five, including Azusa) are together, Ritsu is more rambunctious, playing off of Yui’s energy and laziness. However, if the two were isolated, I think Ritsu would step up and attempt to manage Yui, and I’d love to see this diligent side of her.

      Note that these are not yuri pairings, just who I would want to pair off to attend university together.

  2. A Mio/Mugi pairing would be kinda cool. It’d be interesting to see a wilder side of Mugi playing against the more proper Mio, as you said, but I’d also like to see how Mio would fair without Yui to shield her from the spotlight. Mio has tremendous talent and the best singing voice, but she’s always been too afraid to be the center of attention. Yui, who draws attention everywhere, is a very convenient shield for Mio, and I think this has been detrimental for her character growth…

    To be fair, Mio is already trying to get out of her conform zone in the College manga, and has achieved some results. I just think being alone with Mugi would force her to change faster, and I’d love to see that.

    1. I love your reasoning behind separating Yui from Mio. Additionally, I agree that Mugi would force her to change more quickly, due to the fact that she would have a harder time saying no to Mugi rather than someone she is closer to, like Ritsu.

      Thanks for the comment! ^ ^

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