What’s In a Character: Azusa Nakano

The youngest HTT member takes the stage!

Happy New Year once again! A new year requires new writing, and while a review would have been doable and straightforward to start with, it felt important to bring back AniB Productions’ most popular and liked series again: “What’s In a Character!”

Truth be told, there’s a number of character pieces in development. The term “development hell” is often used in gaming to describe titles that have had delay after delay and perhaps even outright cancellation for various reasons. I’m unsure if that applies also to writing on a blog, but sometimes it happens here with these pieces. To get the quality demanded by both the readers and myself, it takes extra time and effort, but also the juggling act we all know as “time management.”

Of course, nowhere is that skill learned better than in school, and in this “What’s In A Character?” we’re headed back there…again. No, it’s not the super-powered world of My Hero Academia or even a return to the Assassination Classroom, but rather, the charming real-life based domain of K-ON! It seems somewhat difficult to imagine this show’s run ended about 10 years ago at the time of this writing, but its charming characters, animation, and of course- music- have held up beautifully. While any of Hokago Tea Time’s (HTT for short) members are worth looking at in a piece, it’s the junior member of the group- Azusa Nakano- that gets the nod here. Turn that amp up and get ready to rock, as this piece explores this modest, talented member of the crew!

(MAJOR SPOILERS for K-ON! ahead.)


 

“Individually, they aren’t much…but they sound so good together!” -Azusa Nakano, on HTT’s sum being better than its parts

The main cast of K-ON!, in a word, is “adorable.” It was easy to become captivated by the girls’ everyday lives in high school, and while any one of them would be worthy of a piece, Azusa’s unique traits made her the pick. That isn’t to say the others won’t be revisited in the future, but the youngest member of the band gets to take center stage here.

An interesting aspect about Azusa is that she’s K-ON!’s “hidden” main character- one who doesn’t appear until well into the show’s 13-episode first season. A year in-universe elapses, and at this point the nascent HTT had formed within the structure of the Light Music Club, but outside of Yui, had failed to attract any new members in. While the girls’ “marketing campaign” featuring some dubious animal costumes had the opposite intended effect, it was a concert they gave that got Azusa interested in the first place.

As the only non-founding member of the band, Azusa often questioned the practicality of the club’s relaxed habits, and despite vowing to “not get caught up in their pace!”…she did.  Part of this was because of Azusa’s own mild nature, but the other members also had their own ideas. In particular, Yui affectionately took Azusa under her wing, characterizing her as “Azunyan”, or literally, “Azu-cat.” Their relationship was a weirdly inverted one, where Azusa was the more responsible and level-headed one while her “senpai” was good mostly at pushing her agenda of cuteness. (This is K-ON!, after all.) Some of the show’s more amusing moments came from Azusa’s capitulation to Yui’s will, from sweet treats to the cat-eared headband that both the latter and club advisor Sawako Yamanaka pushed fairly hard.

Perhaps the sweetest culmination of this friendship was when Azusa agreed to help Yui for a local talent show and sing a duet. Spending her personal time, she selflessly helped Yui’s dream become a reality- and in turn the two impressed as a duo, both to the neighbor Yui wished to sing to in the first place, and the other club members who came to watch, with Ritsu even commenting “they really prepped for this!”

Sawako is so into this moment. “Azunyan,” not so much.

Of course, Yui was not the only one who Azusa fostered a relationship with. She looked up to Mio Akiyama as a role-model of sorts, given her smarts, more practical nature and devotion to her bass guitar…only to be surprised by how shy and easily flustered she could be. In disputes or arguments in the group, Azusa often turned to Mio, but it could be rather hit-or-miss depending on the situation!

Ritsu, the band’s resident free spirit, nearly was responsible for driving Azusa away from the club initially with the excessive tea breaks she liked to take, but did become friends with her as time went on. Azusa was often quick to point out Ritsu’s slacking on her official club duties, but more importantly, served as a counterbalance so that (nominally) more practice happened.

Mugi, as usual, was an enthusiastic friend, and like the other girls, Azusa was surprised at her antics and enthusiasm for everyday life at times. She was indirectly responsible for the latter’s anguish at how much the club slacked off, given that she supplied the tea and sweets- but they were hardly refused when offered, or with little resistance. Azusa also marveled along with the others at Mugi’s hidden family wealth, be it at her spacious beach house or the unexpected discovery that her folks had a place in Finland!

The club’s affection for Azusa as a full-fledged member was seen in many ways, from her cat-themed tea mug that was obtained, to her taking on the role of watching the club’s baby turtle they obtained- Ton. The turtle’s existence in the club room was a result of Yui’s belief that Azusa had wanted him- a thought that wasn’t true at first, but after the effort of obtaining him (via selling Sawako’s old guitar, no less), what had been an initial curiosity turned into a companion the pigtailed girl was very fond of taking care of.

Azusa was also at the center of a secondary trio in the show within her own year, as she became fast friends with Ui Hirasawa- Yui’s younger sister, and Jun Suzuki, a spunky girl who often asked why Azuza joined the Light Music Club, while harboring her own secret interest in the group. The trio had a few spotlight episodes, most of which showcased some summer escapades- and the fact that the focus of this pieces gets very easily sunburnt.

Setting Guitar - K-ON! Wallpaper (1366x768) (144774)

A passionate, talented musician.

All the silly, cute parts of the series did not change a fundamental fact about Azusa: she was an outstanding guitarist. More serious and dedicated to her craft than her band-mates, she often pushed to practice when no one else would, and sincerely hoped the club would spend more time on music and less on tea and sweets- something that never quite happened.

Azusa provided a major talent infusion upon joining the group, and understood the fundamentals of the guitar extremely well, along with more advanced techniques. She was shocked that Yui did not despite being impressed with her initial performance and energy at the welcoming concert of her freshman year, and in turn would wind up advising Yui more on her craft than the other way around!

It was Azusa’s talent, determination and experience, along with her junior status that made her the only logical choice to carry on the Light Music Club when her friends all were set to graduate. Furthermore, it spoke to her character as a person that she’d be entrusted with the club’s fate by herself, as without her, there was hardly a guarantee for a tomorrow as far as the Light Music Club went.

One of the more emotional moments in any show comes courtesy of K-ON!’s series finale, where the graduating members sing a song of farewell and gratitude to Azusa, knowing that she alone could carry the torch at their school. And indeed she does, ending the series playing a solo instrumental version of “Fuwa Fuwa Time,” one of the band’s signature songs. While not in the anime version, she carries on the club and even forms a new band when the others leave, leading the way.

All of the events that form her character point to an individual who was passionate about music, a great friend to those she knew, and a responsible person. Add in that she’s relatedly adorable, and very cute when she’s taken off-guard, and you have a real winner of a character. Not every individual has to have an epic backstory to be great, but Azusa’s strength lies in the total characterization that she receives, both in her own right and in the context of the people around. It’s true that this is a strength as well of what is an outstanding “slice of life” show in general, but Azusa Nakano manages to still be very unique among this quirky cast, and worthy of the “What’s In a Character” designation.


It wouldn’t be an Azusa piece without this scene:

Some things in life are irresistible.


Like what you see? Big fan of Azusa or K-ON!? Leave a comment!

 

AniB’s Top 10 Anime Openings!

The return of the blogger, with some musical fun!

Hello everyone! So, I’m not dead, I’m still committed to AniB Productions, and I’ll square off the most obvious question: my long absences are both academic and hardware-related. (Seriously, my laptop needs a keyboard replacement at the time of this writing.) As both a thank you to the loyal readers here and an apology for said frequent hiatuses all year long, I’ve got a fun piece in store for you all!

Anime openings are in simplest terms, “the gateway to a show.” Often times, they are our first impression of a series, and they must encapsulate some essence of the show in question in a roughly 90-second block of higher-budgeted animation and song. What exactly makes a great opening tick is a fairly subjective exercise though, even if certain broad objective standards are to be recognized in doing so. For the purpose of this piece, I’ll attempt to note these unifing factors of OPs as I progress though an unusual write-up for me on here: my personal top 10 anime openings! (It’s actually extended out to 15, so extra fun for anyone wondering “what was cut off?”)

Long-timer readers may recall I did a “top 10” listing of my top ranked and reviewed shows on here years ago now (back around when I first started writing here, probably close to 6 months into running AniB Productions.) Since then, while the site has featured lots of reviews, character and thought pieces, there hasn’t been a ranking-type writing in a long time, and I couldn’t be more excited to get underway. Here we go!


Honorable Mention (5 that almost made the cut):

For these guys, I’ll give a short explanation before hitting the ones you’re all waiting for:

15) That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime (Nameless story, OP 1)


Disclaimer: If you were looking for a pretty good isekai and an opening to match, you might be in luck here. Slime, despite its unwieldy title has two very nice openings in its first season, and “Nameless story” gets the nod here, for both a great visual and musical appeal. It gets you excited for this show, no doubt. (Review pending here!)

14) Utayo! Miracle (K-On!!, OP 2)

“That bass line is amazing, Mio.”  Probably my first thought about the song can be summed up there, as there’s this incredible bass part in the middle of the song that feels like a much deeper cut than it has any right to be in a show featuring adorable leads. Just fun to listen to, and the visuals are great as well.

13) A Cruel Angel’s Thesis (Evangelion, OP 1)

This song may as well be the unofficial anthem of anime opening everywhere. Talked about, praised, scorned, memed and edited in dizzying array, “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” doesn’t really need an introduction, but it remains the best part of Evangelion years later.

12)  H.T. (Trigun,OP 1)

A classic banger right here, Trigun’s opening is just a straight minute and a half of shredding on a guitar. Few openings have ever sounded as epic before or since- and while the visuals are admittedly hit or miss, the music does not disappoint in the slightest.

11) Through the Night (Outlaw Star, OP 1)

Finishing the mini-trip through the 90’s, Outlaw Star, along with this opening are underrated by the current generation. This is a rock-solid piece that serves as a fine entry point into Gene Starwind’s adventures (and another show that definitely deserves a review.)


So that’s the preliminary round. What did I find personally as the best of the best?

 

 

My top 10:

10) Kimi No Sei (Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny-Girl Senpai, OP 1)

A mild surprise, given the recent nature of this show (and the review that has yet to be dropped!) but this catchy tune from The Peggies is likely to wedge itself in your head as well as it did to mine. The opening to a show that is much deeper and more psychological than the title suggests, it’s always a welcome start to the high-event episodes.

9) Kyouran Hey Kids!! (Noragami Aragoto, OP 1)

Honestly, either of the Noragami openings could have slotted in here, given that the show had the pleasant rarity of two outstanding openings. The second season’s pick, by the Oral Cigarettes, gets a slight nod, for combining a banger of a song with some really well paired and interesting visuals. While Noragami itself is the definition of a “solid, good show,” both OP’s deserve the distinction of being noted in this column.

8) Hyadain no Joujou Yuujou (Nichijou, OP 2)

A while back I talked about the standout music from this show, and at least some part of that was the energetic openings from Hyadain, who did some really cool producing tricks to make some interesting audio output. While either of the show’s openings could come into this slot, much like Noragami, the second one’s frantic but fun energy gives it the subjective (but truly non-existent) edge.

Aside from the technical wizardry of this piece, Nichijou’s a standout in its specific genre, and at least a part of that is due to how well the music works for it. While the piece in question about it can be read here, the openings do an amazing job of setting the tone for the surreal comedy that Nichijou embodies.

7) CAGAYAKE!Girls (K-ON!, OP 1)

While all the K-On! openings are delightful, the original takes the cake. Featuring two versions mirroring visuals of HTT pre and post Azusa Nakano joining the club, this song’s the perfect representation of a great show- energetic, upbeat, cute and with the synergy of the lovable main protagonists.

In a very real sense, K-On! as a series is “never-ending girls’ talk.” Following the high school careers of the main characters turns out to be every bit as fun and unexpected as this song seems to imply- and regardless of whether you’re a guy or a girl, it’s very relatable as a life experience.

6) THEME FROM LUPIN III (2015) (Lupin III: Part IV)

While any variation of the famed Lupin III’s theme could have fit this slot, it’s Part IV’s refreshed updated of the ’77 theme that takes the cake here, with just a hint of Italian flair. A jazzy classic from the long running franchise, the Lupintic Six always hits this out of the park- and frankly, this one wouldn’t be out of place at a jazz performance, top anime lists aside.

The song has actually undergone several variations over the years, the most recent of which was Part V’s Parisian-themed take in 2018, but it’s worth looking up the different versions just to hear the different twists on the leimotif. Like its source material, it’s aged like fine wine. (RIP Monkey Punch, you are missed.)

5) Re:Re (ERASED, OP 1)

Erased was a great show, with all the right notes of suspense, an interesting lead and cast, and a very well executed mechanic. Of course, the review I wrote on that would echo the same sentiment, but another well executed part of this anime was its opening.

Sure, the song from ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION is catchy as heck as is the music, but it’s really the superb attention to visual detail in this one coupled with the notes that lifts this one as high as it is on the list. Nothing is irrelevant in the greater picture of the show- and like how things come together for Satoru Fujinuma, so too does the visuals for the viewer as the plot accelerates.

4) MIND CONDUCTOR (Little Witch Academia, OP 2)

The last in a series of openings on this list that could have featured either one, Little Witch Academia is blessed with two superb efforts from YURiKA, who some of you may also recognized performed Land of the Lustrous’s opening. “MIND CONDUCTOR” gets a slight nod from me based on personal preference, but both it and “Shiny Ray” (OP 1) do a great job of representing the show.

While “Shiny Ray” captures the absolute wonder of the adventure you’re about to dive into and that of Akko Kagari, the lead, the pick here combines some wonderfully detailed visuals paired with a story that’s advanced further and a song that has some energy, tonal shifts, some intense drumming and a really nice power guitar riff going on there. You get the sort of excitement, tension and idea of what this world of magic is going to be throwing at our leads down the stretch, and it couldn’t be more appropriate, especially with context. This show definitely evoked some emotions, and the openings did have some part in that role.

3) departure! (Hunter x Hunter (2011), OP 1)

“So…do you want to be a Hunter?”

My personal favorite anime also just so happens to have an excellent opening, and in a more interesting twist, it’s the same song through the entire series. Indeed, while there are two different lyric sets, the longevity of “departure!” is impressive, along with being the right song to kick off an episode anywhere in the series.

If that wasn’t enough, the visuals change for each major arc of the show, keeping it refreshing. The visuals featured here are from the Hunter Exam, the first arc of the show- but half the fun is seeing them change as the show rolls on and the details stuffed into them. HxH fandom aside, this is a Swiss army knife of an OP for what it does in this series, beyond being just plain enjoyable.

2) Tank! (Cowboy Bebop, OP 1)

Ok…3…2…1… let’s jam! It doesn’t get much more classic than the theme song from Sunrise’s classic show. For the space noir that Cowboy Bebop is, nothing gets you more appropriately in the mood than this famous jazz song that has flair and life set against the ever-fitting visuals, with the “newspaper clippings”, shading, silhouettes and more.

There isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said about this one in the years since Bebop burst onto the scene, but the advice from yours truly is to just sit back and enjoy this one anytime it plays.

And finally, the top pick…

1) Bye Bye Yesterday (Assassination Classroom, OP 4)

There was a great deal of debate and careful listening that went into deciding the top pick, and Bye Bye Yesterday captures everything wonderful in a fantastic opening. It tells a story unto itself, gives us a great song performed by the VA’s themselves, pairs it with incredibly thought-provoking visuals to add up to an emotionally charged and bittersweet final opening to what is an excellent show. However, the greater context pushes this one over the top:

You’ve been riding the highs and lows of that school-year with Class 3-E, and every opening of Assassination Classroom tells a part of that story, but this is the endcap- both the highest of highs, and the uncertainty of the future for all of the characters. The melancholy is even reflective in the lyrics, for instance- “Though we laughed and said goodbye/Though tears were in our eyes/Time passed before we even knew the reason why…” You ride that emotional rollercoaster to the end with those kids- and for a show that packs one hell of a punch at the end, this opening couldn’t be more appropriate or emotionally resonant. That’s why it’s my #1 on this list.

(All credit to “animethemes.moe” for their repository of opening videos. Credit also goes to respective studios of these shows (Lerche, Madhouse, Sunrise, Trigger, Kyoto Animation, and so on.)


Like what you see? Have a favorite opening you’d like to share? Leave a comment!

Review: K-ON!

A charmingly cute and energetic anime classic.

The Lowdown:

Show: K-On!

Studio/years aired: Kyoto Animation, 2009-2010

AniB’s thoughts:

Before the review really gets underway, it’s great to be back! It has been quite a while since I sat down and wrote a proper review, but I did remain busy in the business of watching shows while on hiatus, and the standout of the bunch was this one- K-On! Considered somewhat of a modern classic in the “slice of life” genre, the show centers around the high school careers of the main cast- Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi (and slightly later, Azusa)- and the club band they form and bond over, the Light Music Club. (In Japanese, “light music” is actually “keion” the way it’s pronounced, and so the title of the show is rather literal in that sense.)

So how would one describe this series and why it’s so good? For me, if a show like Nichijou was the peak of comedy in this genre of show, K-On! is its soul in what you’d want. It’s cute without being pandering, the characters are fleshed out individuals not boiled down into stereotypes, and it’s got a wonderful energy buoyed by the dynamic interactions among the cast. As a result, the episodes feel like a great deal of fun rather than a slog to work through, and the show successfully avoids the common pitfalls of many a mediocre “slice of life” en route to being adorably awesome. There’s also a relatable aspect to what you’re watching- while it’s true that not everyone is a high school girl in a band they formed, the memories of bonding with people over shared pursuits and the relationships made while growing up, right towards graduation, is a theme that resonates strongly here.

There’s a substantial real-life tie-in with the school that K-On! takes place in. It’s a real place- Toyosato Elementary School in Japan’s Shiga Prefecture, and all the locations within the grounds in the show are faithfully depicted. The historical building, which was a fully operational school until 2001, can be toured around in, and to no one’s surprise, the clubroom in which the Light Music Club held their activities in the show has become a sort of K-On! shrine, from drawings to tea sets, and even replicas of the instruments the girls used. *

As you also might expect from a show featuring a band, there’s a great number of original tracks between the two seasons, three openings and endings. Like the girls who comprise the club, the styles tend to vary with one unifying theme: it sounds pretty good, which while hardly the be-all, end all of any self-respecting evaluation, is both critical and important in this show’s success. From the openings and ending to the various songs played at key moments in the show, it all melds together into the overall narrative in a way that works really nicely.

From my end, K-On! was a joyful ride while also staying entertaining and interesting the whole way through. I wasn’t on the anime scene in any meaningful way when the show released back in 2009, so the fact that the experience was undimmed by 10 years is a testament to the show’s enduring qualities in this writer’s opinion. It’s not to say it’s a perfect show, as nothing quite is, but it embodies the best qualities of a genre and executes them at a high level, and that is worthy of some praise.


Animation: Let’s get the most obvious observation out of the way: everyone is adorable in this show. At the same time, the cuteness feels natural and not pandering in the character designs, and everybody is very “expressive.” You can get a sense of each character’s personality through their actions, and so the action is conveyed nicely not only through words but the animation as a result. Overall, the show looks great still (it was a 2009-2010 release) and the style helps convey the action well.

4.75/5 points.

 

Characterization: The main cast, as mentioned in my thoughts, focuses on the members of the Light Music Club and the band they form (which is later named Hokago Tea Time, or HTT for short). Featuring remarkably distinct personalities, the way the interpersonal relationships and character growth proceed organically in K-On! gives the show an undeniable heart while avoiding the pitfall of being generic.

Yui Hirasawa serves as the lead guitarist and technically as the show’s lead, though any of the main members could lay a claim to that title. She’s an upbeat and hopelessly flighty girl who despite the latter, can perform amazing things with proper focus (such as learning to play her guitar, which she named Gitta)…but at the expense of everything else. Yui’s also got an insatiable appetite for sweets and was initially lured into the club by the promises of tea and snacks. She’s the older sister of Ui, though in an unusual reversal it’s her loving younger sister who looks after her, knowing all too well Yui’s bad habits.

The self proclaimed president and leader of the club is Ritsu Tainaka, the group’s drummer. She’s synonymous with an air of informality, from her constantly untucked uniform shirt to her often blunt manner of speaking and love of practical jokes. Childhood friends with Mio Akiyama, the two are the formative members of the club and share a close bond, though are complete opposites in personality.

Indeed, Mio is a brilliant but shy girl, smart but easily frightened and embarrassed despite being a capable individual. As the group’s bassist, she also serves as the chief songwriter and is more level-headed than most of her companions. Despite that, she can easily get flustered, a fact that is exploited all too often by Ritsu with practical jokes. How she came to be friends with Ritsu is explored in the show, but for those who haven’t seen K-On!, I’ll save it.

 
Tsumugi Kotobuki, usually referred to simply as Mugi, is the group’s keyboardist and resident supplier of tea. Coming from a wealthy background, Mugi is constantly enthralled by common everyday experiences and takes great pleasure in learning about new activities and actions while seeing new places with her friends. Despite her upbringing, she’s a very kind girl and rarely gets upset or rattled over events, making her a steady presence in the group.

Azusa Nakano is the group’s junior, joining on in the later half of season 1. A serious and talented guitarist, she’s often dismayed at the lack of practice the Light Music Club does- but inevitably gets pulled into the pace of the others, as she has a not-so subtle liking for sweets. Nicknamed “Azunyan” by Yui, she’s often characterized as a little cat as Sawako (the group’s teacher and advisor) likes to make her wear a headband with cat ears, and she even gets a unique tea mug corresponding to this as well. She’s fond of her seniors and never fails to get excited when they actually perform.

The major supporting characters are small in number, yet fullfill their roles well. As previously mentioned, Sawako Yamanaka is the club’s teacher and advisor. She’s usually a kind presence who supports her students, but she hides a wild side to her, as she’s a metalhead at heart (and in her past), and has a hobby of making new costumes for the girls for their performances.

Ui Hirasawa is Yui’s younger sister and unlike the latter, she’s an extremely responsible and competent individual, but also kind. Ui adores her sister in taking care of her, and like Yui, is a fast learner (albeit far more focused all the time.)

Finally, there’s Nodoka Manabe and Jun Suzuki. The former is Yui’s childhood friend and classmate; she’s a serious and resourceful individual who becomes student council president, and remains a useful resource for club needs. Jun on the other hand, is a friend of Azusa and Ui’s in their grade. She’s quick to appear like she has a sense of knowing everything that’s going on, but she’s really a bit of goofball. In a show where characters are so important, K-On’s cast shines.

5/5 points.

 

Story: In simple terms, this is a character story about growing up, in high school, and about the girls who formed a band. Sure, it’s been done before, but not always as tactfully or as fun as it is here. Here, the characters make the story, and it’s relatable on a human level, which makes it engaging in turn. Split into two seasons, 41 total episodes (counting 3 extra episodes) and a movie (which isn’t technically covered in this review), it’s a overarching narrative that keeps up at a good pace.

4/5 points.

 

Themes: Going off the story, thematically this show’s about shared experiences, being part of something greater than just yourself, and of course a throwback to something relatable to everyone- going through high school, and the memories associated with it. It’s all wrapped up nicely in a cute package.

4/5 points.

 

Don’t Insult the Viewer: In terms of intangibles, K-On! is overflowing with them, from its catchy music soundtrack to its engaging main cast and the fact that it’s also considered a superior adaptation from its original source, a 4-koma manga. Add in that it avoids being fanservicy, and you’ve got a superb outcome.

5/5 points.

 

Total: 22.75/25 (91%): A delightful blend of fun, sweetness, and enjoyable interactions, K-On! proves to be a must watch for fans of the “slice of life” genre and an excellent pick  for animation fans of any persuasion. An undeniably charming show.


Like what you see? Big fan of K-On? Leave a comment!

*Credit to https://www.bewashiga.com/article/toyosato-elementary/ and Ashley Davis for information on the real-life Toyotaro Elementary.