Yesterday, the buzz amongst anime fans on Twitter was that K-On!, the mega-popular, comedy series based on a four-panel comic strip about high school girls starting a band, got the green light for a second season. (Check out Tokyo blogger Danny Choo's post about it.) Of course, this bit of news is most relevant if you live in Japan as the series has yet to be picked up by a U.S. distributor. But, anime fans, much like music fans, have a way of finding things, even if they aren't available domestically, and so K-On! has already built up a sizable fanbase Stateside (as well as its fair share of detractors).
“Don't Say Lazy,” K-On! closing theme
K-On! is the story of a few girls who decide to revive their high school's “light music club” (as opposed to a classical music club, I presume) and, in the process, form a band that will play at the school's festival. There are some problems, though. For example, the guitarist, Yui, can't afford a guitar and doesn't actually know how to play one either. Unlike other recent hit comedies like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Ouran High School Host Club, you don't need to have much of an anime background to enjoy it. Much of the humor is based on the idea of teenage rock 'n' roll dreams, like when Yui spends so much time practicing her rock star poses that she forgets to practice the instrument. As an added bonus, the instruments used in the series are based on real models.
I first heard about the show from someone who had recently been in Japan and noticed that the series, and its accompanying merchandise, was everywhere. Being a sucker for any anime or manga involving bands, I quickly searched for a few episodes that were, fortunately, translated into English by fans. It's a good mix of quirky characters and slapstick humor and I could easily see how, with a good localization to maximize some of the jokes in English, it could be pretty successful in the U.S.
The question remains, though, will a U.S. company pick up on the series?
“Definitely anime companies will be looking at it because it's had such a huge buzz on the Internet and because the sales have been really well in Japan,” says Scott VonSchilling, who keeps track of the fandom buzz on his blog The Anime Almanac, “but as far as the way the American audience is going to respond to it, that's going to be a bit tricky.”
Comedy animes are a hard sell in the U.S. Aside from the fact that translating jokes in and out of any language is no easy task, particularly when dealing with cultural references, Japanese comedies rely heavily on slapstick styles that might be considered outdated to a U.S. audience.
“Japanese humor is really different from American humor and that's what becomes really difficult to translate,” says VonShilling. “We have a culture that's based on snark and sarcasm, with The Simpsons and Family Guy. I think that's why it doesn't make the impact that an action would. It's really hard to find something that Americans would find as funny as the Japanese.”
Hence, even the most successful comedies can't compare to the impact made by action and sci-fi animes in the U.S., where even casual viewers are familiar with titles like Akira, Ghost in the Shell and Cowboy Bebop and where people are growing up with shows like Naruto and Dragon Ball Z on television.
Whether or not K-On! even gets a release in the U.S. remains to be seen, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.