Is it bad if I say I’ve never really cared much for character image songs in general? Granted, they’re obviously going to be a little bit harder to get into than the songs that are actually in the anime, which you get to hear on a regular basis and get stuck in your head before they’re even released on CD… but aside from that, character singles often appear to me to be blatant cash grabs with little to no artistic merit, half-assed productions of uninspired songs relegated to image song status because they just aren’t good enough to be featured in the actual show.
Okay, let’s be honest – they’re pretty much always blatant cash grabs. There’s little reason to create a buttload of extra music not meant for inclusion in the anime itself, and releasing it as a series of CD singles, other than wanting to wring some more money out of the hardcore fans who are still willing to buy more after the many opening/ending/insert song and OST albums and singles.
These things are generally merchandise first, and entertainment (or “art”, if you want to pretend we’re being important here) second. However – that doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t ever be good. At best, character songs can provide an insight into their respective characters that goes beyond what the anime itself is able to relate through the actual storytelling. At worst, they can be fluff pieces so generic and clichéd that it doesn’t matter who’s singing or what anime they’re tied to.
In the specific case of K-On!, the character song series is a mixed bag. There certainly are a lot of them – seven for the first season alone – but one good thing they all have in common is that they certainly don’t skimp on the production or musicianship. Whatever one might think of the songs, they’re all slickly and professionally produced and sound terrific. Many of the songs are composed by Tom-H@ck, composer of “Cagayake!GIRLS” and the other anime opening themes, so you know right away there’s going to be a lot of perky, frantic, fast paced tracks that walk the thin line between catchy and obnoxious, with songs landing on both sides of the fence.
I’ll be looking at all the singles in good time, but for now I’m going to concentrate on the first two: The Yui and Mio ones, which were released all the way back in June 2009.
For Yui’s single, the cover features our beloved guitarist against a red background. As the observant K-On! fan knows, each character has a color associated with them that is typically featured on their merchandise, covers, etc. – and Yui’s is red. The CD case is one of those with a clear transparent spine.
The back features the track list printed in red on black, and a bunch of colored balls or bubbles. Those same round thingies are found throughout the cover insert, which folds out to reveal the song lyrics and credits.
The disc itself displays the pretty cover art on its surface, but with a more metallic/reflective quality to it than one would usually see on a printed disc label.
The K-On! character song series is off to a great start with the Tom-H@ck composed “Giita no Kubittake”, a fun and catchy “love song” of sorts dedicated to Yui’s beloved Giita. Just the type of mentality one would expect from her, so yeah; this works.
The second track is “Sunday Siesta”, a more laid-back tune composed by K-On!’s OST composer Hajime Hyakkoku. For the longest time, this song bothered me because I felt like I’d heard it someplace else. I wondered if maybe it was based on one of the OST melodies, which would make sense given the composer, but that didn’t appear to be the case. Finally, I realized that it wasn’t a direct adaption of any one theme, but that it shared a few distinct similarities with “Karui Joudan”. Go ahead, pull out your K-On! OST album if you have it and give it a comparison… tell me that doesn’t sound like it was at least cut from the same cloth!
Thirdly, there’s another Tom-H@ck composition in “Let’s Go”. This one is notable for a couple of things – firstly, for being the only K-On! image song with words not by Shoko Omori, credited instead to KANATA. Secondly, for being featured on all five Ho-kago Tea Time members’ character CD’s. They all contribute background vocals (well – background shouting, anyway) here, though with this being Yui’s version, Yui obviously gets the spotlight as lead singer.
I was never much of a fan of the song “Let’s Go”. I don’t dislike it, exactly, it just doesn’t do much for me. It worked rather well as the grand finale of the “Let’s Go!” live event, however, and I greatly prefer it compared to its season two equivalent “Come With Me!!”.
Instrumental versions of the three songs complete the CD, and with that out of the way we can move on to Mio’s single.
Design wise, it follows the same style as the cover of Yui’s single. The front shows a stylish Mio against a blue background, the back features the track list and those colored balls, and the disc has the cover art on it.
The first song is a catchy bass heavy pop tune composed by Hiroyuki Maezawa (of “Don’t Say “Lazy”” and “Fuwa Fuwa Time” fame) called “Heart Goes Boom!!”. It’s nice.
The second song is “Hello Little Girl”, composed by Kazunori Ashizawa with arrangement by K-On!’s music producer Shigeo Komori. As K-On! songs go, it’s something of a departure – rather than upbeat, peppy pop-rock, this would be better described as a slow(ish), slightly melancholic pop ballad. The “little girl” referred to in the title is, of course, not a literal child but Mio’s “true self” who loves fun and fluffy things, that childish side Mio has but is afraid to show. Hey, what do you know – a character song that manages to go slightly under the surface of the character it examines! It may not bring any Earth shattering revelations for those who paid close attention when watching the anime, but “Hello Little Girl” captures an aspect of Mio’s personality that’s not immediately apparent – so yeah, this is a good character song.
The final song is, as one would expect, “Let’s Go (Mio Ver.)”. It’s the same as on Yui’s CD, except, y’know, with Mio on lead vocals. The CD finishes, of course, with instrumental versions of all three songs.
And that’s it for part 1 of the character singles review! But do stay tuned for the continuation – coming sometime next year.