I feel like I was prepared to like slice-of-life from the beginning. The fun episodes that others would call filler in Code Geass and Oreimo were some of my favorites and I had always loved the relaxed atmosphere present in much of Pokemon, especially during Hoenn. Most importantly, the cartoon which had kept me from the depths of depression during 7th and early 8th grade, My Little Pony, was, for the most part, just like a slice-of-life anime in structure, bar the opening and concluding arcs that bookended every season. It really can’t be overstated how important MLP was to me back then, introducing me to girl x girl shipping, providing a warm and compassionate message at a time where my depression was at its absolute peak, and giving me a space to tentatively explore the codification of gender, allowing me to indulge in remarkably feminine things while backed by an entire community with which to defend myself. Having cared so much for this series, it’s really not such a shock that I gravitated towards K-On.
So-called Cute Girls Doing Cute Things anime have always been popular on /a/, or at least have for as long as I’ve followed it. For most of 2013, the board’s opinions played a massive role in my deciding what to watch, especially once Oreimo had ended, given that I was far too unseasoned to make my own decisions at that point. The steam group I had joined quickly coalesced around a person we all called “Orange”, notable for being a lover of K-On’s Ritsu, as well as a pretty killer Zelda main in Melee. With a bit of prodding from the group, who were my only friends in the summer of 2013, I sat down and watched the show, enraptured from the first minute.
While my depression had become much less severe over the second year of middle school, I was still in middle school, stuck in a body that was “off”. Moving onto high school was nice but with no meaningful friendships and a lack of solid social skills, I was not exactly of the opinion that my school life was on the way up. At the same time, the new friends I had made online kept me somewhat happy. Since I was still high on my new fandom, I found myself to be a bit of an “otaku supremacist”, a proud loner who was glad to not have any real-life friends, silly as it looks in retrospect. Nothing reveals that idea’s status as a mere coping mechanism better than my reaction to K-On. The girls in the show had friends, ones they loved deeply. I told myself I didn’t need that but clearly, I did. When Yui became close with the others, I mean really became close, I cried. And that’s not so unusual for me now, but the only time I’d cried at an anime to that point was at the end of Code Geass. It didn’t take much for it to become my favorite anime for the next year.
It’s kind of interesting how different my opinions on the show were back then, even though my love for the series hasn’t gone down a bit. On first watch, I hated Azusa. Absolutely despised her. I thought she was a bitch and her early behavior remained in my head for the entire run. It’s kind of amazing that I enjoyed season 2 given that, considering it focuses so heavily on her feelings in regards to graduation, but then again, I was of the weird opinion back then that the first season was superior. And I get it. The club is so wholesome before Azusa comes and then she tries to enforce her own ideas on the group. She starts out as the kind of person I would’ve hated to be around and back then I was a lot worse at forgiving characters when they change over time. Furthermore, I didn’t fully get the ending. I hadn’t had close real-world friends for over 2 years and while I intellectually understood why the girls were sad to be leaving behind Houkago Tea Time by graduating, even feeling somewhat emotional due to the strong directing of their final performance and the farewell to Azusa, I couldn’t fully relate. I was used to leaving people behind and at this point, it didn’t make me particularly sad. By the time I rewatched the show, my friends were a lot closer and these moments actually hit as they were supposed to. On this third watch, having left behind companions I truly and dearly cared about 6 months earlier, it caused me to totally break down.
I think that’s really important to reckon with. In many ways, I don’t believe I was a fully complete person back in 2013, when I first watched the show. My friends in the so-called Orange chat were great and I’m still thankful for the ways they helped me to evolve as a person but when I watched K-On, I just wasn’t able to fully conceptualize friendship that existed for reasons beyond convenience. Let me be clear, I had plenty of close friends in my childhood and was hardly wanting for socialization. But in the 2 years of middle school, a period where I never hung out with anyone once the school bells had rung, I felt as if I had lost that ability, silly as it may sound. K-On… didn’t change that. I still prided myself on being an otaku, on being a loner, on shunning the friendship of non-otaku. I was a cringy, annoying asshole who actively resisted the friendship of those who offered it. There’s nothing noble about what I was doing. But I’d like to think that, slowly but surely, the show did help. I did embrace my online friends to a stronger degree due to it, it helped me to forge more steadfast bonds and I can’t say that was nothing. Had even those online relationships fallen apart, I can only imagine the depths that I would’ve slipped into. And certainly, its focus on the feminine was key. Simply having shows about girls, who do girly things and are never punished for it, was massive to my repressed 14-year-old self and I’ll never forget that. By the time I was finally ready to make friends again, K-On! had me prepared. I could opine for hours about how true K-On’s depiction of friendship is, how strongly its affected me, hell I could even talk about how it influenced my writing career, but I’d rather end it by saying this: K-On didn’t save me, no anime can save a person on its own, but it helped that little bit, and that in itself is something which sticks for a lifetime.