Back in the Nineties, the all female group Shonen Knife started to become known in the West: a weird mix between garage-punk and bubblegum pop, their songs could be about banana chips or Singapore, "a small island nation just north of the equator". I'm not kidding, that literally is a line. Very catchy, simple tunes, with a Japanese office lady singing about her favourite snacks. Strange, maybe, but that's how things were in those days.
Now, fast-forward fifteen years, make those ladies twenty years younger and start recording their day to day lives, like a behind-the-scenes documentary: How the band came together, their first instruments, their first gig, etcetera. Think something like Anvil, or This Is Spinal Tap, just replace the burly unshaven men with young teenage girls. The comparison might be weird but it is apt: There's not much of a story here except for the chemistry between the characters.
And characters they are: you have the clumsy Yui, the well-off Mugi, the tomboy Ritsu and the shy Mio, who are later joined by the strict-but-soft Azusa. They're all well-acted, well-designed and smoothly animated, but something feels off and it's not, like most characters say in K-on!, the lack of music: the main four stay pretty much the same during the two series. They don't fight, they only suffer insecurities when the script calls for them, there's no interest in pursuing romantic relationships. It's less like watching a band than watching the latest idol group, fresh from the record labels. They too have this unnerving sterility about them, every move calculated to draw in more fans. Less Spinal Tap and more like the Monkees.
Not that that's bad: K-on!'s goal is to entertain, not to shed a light on the struggles of a small beginning band. And it does it quite well. The gags amuse, the little bits of music makes toes tap, the animation's flawless in most places. It just lacks the sincerity and character development other slice-of-life anime, like Azumanga Daioh, display.
It's pop in its purest form: appealing and throw away, well-executed and slick, but like most fast food, lacking substance.---