K-On!! (S2) staff interviews pt 1: Director Naoko Yamada & Series Composer Reiko Yoshida Dialogue

Director x Series Composer Dialogue

Director Naoko Yamada:
Director/Animator at Kyoto Animation. Notable works include directing Tamako Market/Love Story, series director of Sound! Euphonium, and episode director/storyboards/key animation for Clannad, Clannad After Story, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and other shows.

Series Composer Reiko Yoshida:
Freelance scriptwriter. Notable works include series composer for Bakuman, Girls und Panzer, Tamako Market, and Yowamushi Pedal among other series.

Director Yamada and Yoshida-san created K-On!! with love surpassing the usual for these roles. What thoughts and memories do they continue to hold as they look back at the final episode and the three years that have passed since the first four entered high school until their graduation.

K-On!!, by introducing points of view outside the light music club, opens the world of the show.

– When did production start on the second season?
Yamada: We finished all of production on the first season in May of last year (2009), so I remember starting work on the second season about 3-4 months later.
Yoshida: I remember being surprised when I heard we were doing a second season. I was surprised again when I heard that it was going to be 26 episodes in 2 cours. My first thoughts were “What do we do in season 2? I never thought about doing one!” (laughs)
Yamada: I also recall feeling like “What do I do for this? And it’s 2 cours too!” (laughs)

– What topics did you two discuss concerning this surprising second season?
Yamada: I remember talking about how it should be fine if we keep the world the same in it.
Yoshida: Right. Rather, it should feel like nothing changed at all.
Yamada: We also talked about what kind of episodes we’d like to see and what original episodes we’d like to insert, what kinds of twists and turns to put in, and where should we start with the first episode. We talked about various opinions on where we should start. Should we start in April with the opening ceremonies in their third year or should we pick up where season 1 left off? Eventually, we settled on starting the first episode with their opening ceremonies. The reason we chose that was because it was set to begin broadcasting in April. I felt that the psychology of having sakura petals blooming and falling would still feel fresh as the season began to change.
Yoshida: The main four becoming third years would feel fresh too.
Yamada: I felt that the viewers for season 2 wouldn’t include just the people who knew about season 1, but people who were watching the series for the first time. I felt that a temporary reset was necessary so that both people who had seen the first season and those who hadn’t would feel the same way watching episode 1. That’s why we started it with a new year in the opening ceremonies.
Yoshida: We had decided that the second season would be the story of the third year up until the girls’ graduation. We set up the structure of the season going backwards from that because we felt it would be best to have it tie together as one story itself.

– Were there any points between seasons that felt completely different between them?
Yoshida: There were a lot of things that we wanted to do but couldn’t insert in the 13 episodes for the first season. Particularly in that we weren’t able to depict their classmates at all. We really regretted not being able to do that for their first two years. But with this season spanning 2 cours and only one year, we could slowly proceed through this at a quarter of the pace that we did for the first season. Thanks to that slow pace, we could depict the normal class life of the girls and how the other classmates view the light music club. Being able to depict a different point of view that we hadn’t shown before would be the biggest change in my opinion.
Yamada: Since the first season had episodes that mostly focused on the girls in the clubroom, it was the entirety of the world in the K-On! universe. But with season 2, we could take another step out of that world or we could occasionally see the girls somewhere that hadn’t been seen before. Up until now, the girls had been doing normal girls’ school things like passing notes back and forth during lessons or eating lunch with friends, but now we could finally show these little everyday scenes that the audience hadn’t seen before. That has to be the biggest difference. Now you can feel that the girls are more like real girls, can’t you?
Yoshida: I think it was nice that we were able to convey that feeling of the girls stepping outside of the clubroom and going out a bit into the wide world.

– Did anything change in your depiction of the characters?
Yamada: Picture-wise, the girls have grown a bit. If you compare the first episodes of season 1 and season 2 together, you’ll understand when you see it, but the girls have a bit of a third year expression. At first, it was to be just at the start of the season for a fresh feeling and then they would revert back to how they looked in the first season, but as the storyboards and frames were drawn, we would spontaneously, innocently make them feel just a bit older. Also, Horiguchi-san has already started steadily drawing the girls with third year expressions. Spontaneously, that type of atmosphere had already come out, so next we decided it was best to move towards that direction.
Yoshida: It wasn’t just their images as well; their discussions with Azusa also began to take on more of an “upperclassman” feeling.

The second season’s first episode starts in April as the season changes. Since the season was set to begin broadcast in April as well, it was important for director Yamada to match the season in the show with the blooming sakura trees.The second season’s first episode starts in April as the season changes. Since the season was set to begin broadcast in April as well, it was important for director Yamada to match the season in the show with the blooming sakura trees.

The second season’s first episode starts in April as the season changes. Since the season was set to begin broadcast in April as well, it was important for director Yamada to match the season in the show with the blooming sakura trees.The second season’s first episode starts in April as the season changes. Since the season was set to begin broadcast in April as well, it was important for director Yamada to match the season in the show with the blooming sakura trees.

– There’s a lot of “older sister” type characters with Yui, Ritsu, and Nodoka. How do you differentiate between them in your portrayal?
Yamada: Whenever we think about those girls, they become just as they are naturally!
Yoshida: Also it’s important if Ui is present for Yui. If Ui is present, I write some good older sister lines for Yui and similarly some good upperclassman lines for Azusa as well.
Yamada: ….I love that older sister breeze from Yui, but it’s alright if she doesn’t feel like one either.
Yoshida: She’s not a little sister character at all, isn’t she?
Yamada: I’ve always thought there’s been some good points where people could see Yui as an older sister. When people see Ricchan, they can imagine her as an older sister, but one of Yui’s charming points is that she doesn’t really seem like one. She’s a girl you can rely on, won’t betray you, and can be confident in. Being an older sister is such a charming point of hers.

– Ritsu is in the same year as her, but she’s seen as being an older sister at more points.
Yamada: That’s right. She’s a girl who shows portions of herself that make you think “she’s definitely an older sister.” She’s the club president among her various burdens.
Yoshida: You don’t easily think about Yui being an older sister, but Ritsu definitely has that feeling due to her slight attentiveness.
Yamada: Since Ricchan is also a girl who panics easily, I’m relieved that she’ll forget to differ from everyone else and act like idiots with Yui.

– Additionally, the atmosphere feels like Tsumugi was the one who came around well before the others.
Yamada: There were a lot of things in the scenario oriented around Tsumugi. Once we understood how to handle her, we could enjoy it more and more. We could plan like “we want to do this here” “we want to do that here.” (laughs)
Yoshida: She was a character who we felt we were scrambling around trying to create actions for her to do in season 1, but it feels like we’ve become used to her as a member of the light music club.
Yamada: Since she was a girl who wouldn’t say “no” from season 1, she started to become a character who would gradually start to agree to various kinds of things. Furthermore, she’s become a girl who wants to do things and would distinctly say “let’s do it!” so I wonder if that isn’t huge for her. That’s how the light music club affected her.

In season 2, Tsumugi has become more proactive than before. Frankly, there’s a lot of energetic expressions with her eyebrows in that warm and soft image of hers.

In season 2, Tsumugi has become more proactive than before. Frankly, there’s a lot of energetic expressions with her eyebrows in that warm and soft image of hers.

– The comebacks for Mio towards Ritsu also changed; there’s a greater variation of them in season 2.
Yamada: In the scenario, Mio pops Ritsu faithfully to the manga, but somehow I don’t see Mio as being the kind of girl who only pops someone. (laughs) That might be the case, but we wanted to try new patterns to the comebacks like pinching cheeks and reducing the pops to balance it all out.

– How did you decide to structure the entire story?
Yoshida: I wanted to insert balance in the amount of music stories. The first season has that “The light music club has begun!” sense to it where the ability to enjoy music together gradually rose as the episodes moved forward. The second season revolves around life through music as it affects various things when you play. And then we tackled the challenge of how we would depict the girls’ adolescence. It was big to center the season around the sole graduation event.
Yamada: But while they did graduate, I thought the girls shouldn’t “seem” to be realizing they should think about their futures. Real 3rd year high school girls, of course according to people, have a surprising image of being indifferent about their futures. Due to that, I thought it was important to carry a cheerful mood until the very end.

Episodes 8-10’s flow hint at the girls’ futures

– The amount of anime original stories in the second season increased.
Yoshida: Episode 3 was to be a music episode, so it became an episode where we re-introduced the instruments that everyone plays. It’s a review of the first season. Episode 5 is a story about the 2nd years who don’t appear in the field trip episodes, so in contrast to episode 4, I wanted to talk about the kouhai, Azusa’s, daily life and class relationships. This was something else that wasn’t touched upon in season 1, so I definitely wanted to do it and not leave it behind again.
Yamada: I said in my orders to Yoshida-san “Please make it an episode like kittens playing around.” And then scriptwriter Jukki Hanada-san wrote episode 5’s script feeling like “come here kitties.” It became an awfully cute episode that cuddled together.

– It was a close-up of Azusa’s relationship with her friends Jun and Ui.
Yoshida: Since Jun in particular didn’t talk in season 1, we talked about many ideas what to do for her.
Yamada: The information we received about her from the mangaka Kakifly-sensei said “she’s an utmost modern-ish girl” so we packed in a lot of modern girl elements to her. She’s a frivolous girl unlike Yui or Ritsu. I think her complex about her frizzy hair is cute.
Yoshida: She wonderfully spits out nastiness in the manga. (laughs) I wanted her background to be charming so you don’t feel annoyed by her.

Jun becomes a regular character in season 2. She goes about life at her own pace in contrast to the serious Azusa and Ui. She’s also seems like a girl who’s modern and goes along with each new fad.

Jun becomes a regular character in season 2. She goes about life at her own pace in contrast to the serious Azusa and Ui. She’s also seems like a girl who’s modern and goes along with each new fad.

– Ui’s position along the 2nd years didn’t change, did it?
Yamada: She’s unshaken.
Yoshida: She’s got that image of taking care of anyone wherever she goes.
Yamada: She’s a highly consistent character who doesn’t change with the scriptwriter or the director. I guess everyone has a common inclination when it comes to their individual image of Ui. Particularly in how she won’t be swayed from “really loving my big sister!” (laughs)

– Episode 9 introduces a new character in the neighborhood old lady.
Yoshida: I’ll say that director Yamada was enthusiastic in her appeal to have an old lady appear.
Yamada: I could feel the amazingly sweet relationship somehow between Yui and the old lady. Yui has that lively sense to her, so I thought surely a story where an elderly person like an old lady affectionately raising her would be very entertaining. There was nothing special about that old lady, but as my own desires to see Yui being that charming girl that would get a neighborhood woman saying “Good morning Yui-chan” and “Yui-chan’s come to visit me” worsened, I asked “please make this” and so we made an original episode about it.

– The “YuiAzu” combo at the performance festival was very entertaining. Whose idea was that?
Yamada: Please ask Yoshida-san about making this.
Yoshida: I don’t recall how we decided it, but somehow it felt more appropriate for the combo to appear than the light music club at the festival. (laughs)
Yamada: Azusa exploded in cuteness many times that episode; I was honestly grinning the entire time.
Yoshida: “Fude Pen ~ Ball Pen!”’s folk song version was also entertaining. It’s a fantastic arrangement.
Yamada: You’d never think you’d hear a kokiriko in an anime. More than including fad songs that felt “K-On!”ish, we also wanted to include various other elements like nursery rhymes in the second season. Of course it’s a bit risky to include something so childish, but I felt that it’d be OK if Yui did it. (laughs) I definitely thought it’d be nice if it influenced children. We also inserted older verbs that she’d remember that would carry the same feeling. It’d be great if K-On! were a handy anime that would give you a great grade on a test after watching it. (laughs)

– Was this joy of older characters something you picked up during your school years, director Yamada?
Yamada: Yes. I presented a version of the “Carp Banner” song where I changed the verbs at the scenario meeting for the “Hello Mr. Turtle” song. I thought “maybe if Yui learned this, she’d get a good grade on her test.” (laughs)

– And then episode 10 is an episode about Sawako-sensei’s past.
Yamada: We decided that episode 10 would be a Sawako-sensei special. (laughs) Due to that, we asked Hanada-san to please give it his all and think about Sawako-sensei coming out at a wedding ceremony. Occasionally we don’t use very important themes in K-On! that aren’t limited to the people watching it, but this episode is a very deep episode where various generations of people would experience different meanings in it. Among those, I was shocked with Yui’s “I wonder if I’ll be like that when I become an adult” line.

– Does it feel to you that episodes 8-10 feel connected in how they flow together?
Yoshida: It’s a pragmatic tale about a “career path” that pops up in the relatively fluffy light music club. That path is a different factor than anything that’s been shown before now, so it can’t be anything other than a bit dangerous to the frivolous characters in the story. To show that the girls still want to play music in their everyday lives, I wanted to show them gradually picturing playing at Natsu Fest on their own will in episode 12.
Yamada: That too is a point that you see a bit at a time, a bit at a time. Isn’t that sense that you’re changing one step at a time very important to have?
Yoshida: Instead of “I’d be happy if I was in here” it’s more “I want more happiness like I had before.” It’s a light music episode, but I thought about gradually showing the girls realizing that this happiness doesn’t have to end once they graduate.

Episode 23 is an important episode that could be said to be representative of K-On!

– Continuing on a few episodes later, episode 16 feels fresh with Azusa meeting each of her senpai individually in the club room.
Yamada: Since Azusa had settled her issue of “everyone’s always so scatter-brained, but when they play together, they make good music” in the first season, it was entertaining for her to a sense of danger that she’s become too accustomed to that mentality. (laughs)
Yoshida: It’s still really entertaining.

– Additionally, episode 17 where their club room isn’t usable and they have to rent a studio was memorable.
Yamada: Though only the location may have changed, it still felt like they were continually performing a short.
Yoshida: I had investigated a girls band a while ago and they also rented a studio, so I was able to use that atmosphere here. I even included slack portions like how, even though food and drink are prohibited in the studio, there was a bun left on top of an instrument.

– The mood of the 3rd years after the school festival in episode 20 carried a different impression.
Yamada: We prepared the last four episodes going towards the final episode as preparation tales to become aware that graduation is near. Since the episodes up to episode 20 were as entertaining as they usually are, I consider it a huge success for the atmosphere of the show to completely change after this episode. I felt the air of the festival ending along with realizing that graduation is near was a realistic situation. I’m incredibly happy that we were able to safely bring that feeling out in the episode.
Yoshida: Furthermore, Yamada-san told me “I want to tell about the day before graduation,” so I put it in the episode gap between episode 22 when they take their exams and graduation. That direction towards the climax of the series was quite successful.
Yamada: That is a very important episode. I put it in the very first composition we made. I absolutely did not want to remove that story since, though it’s the same everyday activities they always do, the mood is changed from usual because it’s the day before a very important day making it special.
Yoshida: I think that episode is a frank representation of the light music club. It’s their usual habits that they do everyday, but with the sense that something’s absent. I thought about what we absolutely wanted to have and needed in that special mood right before graduation.
Yamada: Yoshida-san was like a goddess with how she prepared this marvelous story with writing the scripts for episodes 21, 23 and then the final episode.
Yoshida: K-On! is a work that depicts this kind of atmospheric feeling more than its story. That doesn’t mean that some special amazing things don’t happen, but if it doesn’t involve these girls, then it doesn’t happen in the show and furthermore it’s not felt. That’s something I’ve realized here with this work that hasn’t been present in the works I’ve depicted before this.
Yamada: We decided from the very beginning “they’ll act like normal up until the real final episode” but we were constantly thinking about how we’d structure everything towards graduation. Due to that, we broke off after episode 20 and Yoshida-san brought us from episode 21 to the climax with her own hands. I was happy being able to see the developments I wanted to see. I wanted people to experience that nonchalant, yet mysterious atmosphere of a girls’ high school until the very last day.

Episode 23, occurring right before graduation, depicts a tale of the 3rd years spending a different day doing the things they always do. It’s a symbolic episode of how K-On! depicts the atmosphere more than the story.

Episode 23, occurring right before graduation, depicts a tale of the 3rd years spending a different day doing the things they always do. It’s a symbolic episode of how K-On! depicts the atmosphere more than the story.

– At graduation, Azusa, who didn’t cry at the school festival, cries and yet the 4 graduates remain relatively stoic. That difference in the two paths being taken is quite impressive.
Yoshida: I think when everyone was crying in episode 20, the third years felt it as “this is the light music club’s graduation” after the school festival ended. That’s why they didn’t cry at graduation. But Azusa, at the point where everyone is graduating, finally faces opposite them. I had decided at the time we composed it that it was here that Azusa would cry as she sees them off. Also, those emotional points matched the notes we received from Kakifly-sensei for how to handle the finale.
Yamada: I drew the storyboards myself for the final episode, but I had personally intended to draw the last episode for the sale of the third years. Their star, Azusa, is crying while her own stars, her senpai, aren’t.

– And about the third years not crying?
Yamada: I absolutely didn’t want them to cry. They’ve walked the same path together, so what meaning would there be in having them cry in front of Azusa? They were able to walk together to start off, so I felt it would be ruined if they cried later. I thought the biggest act of kindness they could do that would also suit them would be to not cry as they faced Azusa. That’s why I never considered having them cry in that final scene.
Yoshida: For the first time, Azusa brings her emotions to her forefront and acts like a spoiled child in front of her senpai. And then for a moment they actually become senpais. (laughs)
Yamada: Yui looks so cool at such an important time. I thought “wouldn’t it be nice to show everyone Yui’s cool figure as she gently watches over Azusa?” here too.

– And then you shifted back time a bit after the final episode for the two extra episodes.
Yoshida: You could say I was a bit worried after we had composed the rest of the series as to where to put these difficult extra episodes in the order. Furthermore, we didn’t know if they would broadcast these two extra episodes, so I was quite concerned over the content since there was no decision on if they’d air.
Yamada: It felt like “where should we go with these?” (laughs)

– Whose suggestion was it to show the jokes about the cover arts for the first season’s Blu-ray/DVD cover arts in these bonus episodes?
Yamada: Actually, I decided on creating a little short that tells the situation when composing these cover arts. It felt like they’d be wasted if they were shelved away, so I forcibly asked Hanada-san to please include them upon circumstances. Incidentally, the start of the second extra episode occurs right after Azsua joins the light music club.
Yoshida: Furthermore, why was she holding a baby doll? That was what puzzled me when I saw the cover art. (laughs)
Yamada: As I was thinking about what kind of picture these girls would take, that kind of thing popped up. (laughs)
Yoshida: Some kind of fake family photo. (laughs)
Yamada: Azusa was carefree at that time too; at least more than she is now. She was like that until she did that frolickly post for the cover art of the 7th volume. (laughs) It’s quite touching.

– And we understand the reason why Mio’s the one out of place.
Yamada: She doesn’t like being deceived, or more like because she didn’t think Ritsu had faith she’d be able to do it (laughs) Though it was shown as her being able to do it, in the end she looked the worst.

– There were a lot of slips for Mio in the second season, wasn’t there?
Yamada: Mio’s a bit of an airhead. Her leg is sticking out of the cup in the second volume’s cover art too. She’s serious and self-conscious, so she’d go to the sea of Japan like in the first season’s extra episode.

– That was an episode where Yoshida-san wrote the scenario too.
Yamada: Mio’s become a steadier person since that time in the anime, but there are some strong points where she slips.

Mio looks steady and reliable, but there’s also points where she slips. Her spontaneous side is shown more in the second season as she’s involved in many gags.

Mio looks steady and reliable, but there’s also points where she slips. Her spontaneous side is shown more in the second season as she’s involved in many gags.

– Mio also has a joke where she’s in a lyric writing slump by writing about animals in episode 17.
Yamada: That was also Yoshida-san’s doing. (laughs)
Yoshida: It’s not necessarily that she likes fluffy things, but I find that gap for Mio to write somewhat fluffy lyrics to be adorably cute.
Yamada: Mio is depicted as more proper and cool in the manga, but thanks to it, she likely became a deeper character in the second season of the anime. I’m grateful we were able to make a turn around to have her appear cuter than her seriousness.

K-On!! is a work brought up by the love it received from the staff

– What do you think about all 26 episodes now that you’ve seen them all? Were there any portions that differed from your original plans?
Yamada: I personally was constructing how the visuals would look to me in my head while we were working on the scenario, so there is little difference from that. Conversely, I’m very curious what Yoshida-san thinks.
Yoshida: It spread out in various directions from what I thought about, but when I saw the ending, it truly felt like it was the light music club. Where ever they go, no matter what they do, the light music club is the light music club.
Yamada: The light music club members have an image associated with the club room. Due to that, when we would move them away from the room, it was important to me to endeavor to keep that sense of light music club. You have to add and subtract various things while working in the scenario meetings or in the storyboards, especially for episode 4’s school trip since you have to have a school trip episode. When season 2 started, I heard “is it alright for the girls to leave the clubroom like this?” It was a huge event in episode 1 to get the girls to go outside, but season 2 only needed smaller things so they could poke their heads in various places. At first you’d think “is this alright?” but since the light music club is the light music club regardless of where they are, you’d get the impression “well, that’s fine” despite being surprised.

K-On!! depicts the final year for the 3rd years at Sakura High. With their graduation, this isn’t farewell; it’s the first step towards their brilliant future.

K-On!! depicts the final year for the 3rd years at Sakura High. With their graduation, this isn’t farewell; it’s the first step towards their brilliant future.

– Now that season 2 has ended, what do you think about each other’s impressions or literary styles?
Yoshida: Season 2 has more points where you can feel Yamada-san’s individuality. It feels like they’ve stretched and affected more. I think it’s wonderful that everyone could experience those “Yamada-isms” Her expressions and sense are her own personal style that’s cute and yet magnificent.

– One “Yamada-ism” would be the spontaneous attention to detail or tasks when creating images. I thought it was entertaining how the skirts in the first season would always fall between their legs when sitting down spontaneously.
Yamada: I don’t know what a “Yamada-ism” is, but I really love observing girls. When Yoshida-san was writing the scenario, I’d comment how “wouldn’t it look like its stuck to the girl?” “It would look that way!” and then that gentle humid-like topic between fellow girls would appear from the scenario. But if you look there, you can’t see anything. Since there’s been a fantastic reception to my direction style, I’m also able to not show things like that. It’s that feeling of overwhelming sensation.

– It felt like you’d spontaneously looked a few times before you’d realize “what’s that?”Were you aware of that when writing Yoshida-san?
Yoshida: Perhaps it’s psychologically there as I wasn’t aware of anything in particular.
Yamada: It truly feels unconscious. It’s one characteristic of Yoshida-san’s style.

– Finally, please give a message to all the fans.

Yamada: I’m personally super lucky to have been connected with the K-On! work. I mentioned it to the character designer, Yukiko Horiguchi-san, but I can’t think of a better experience than to continually show the vivacious life of high schoolers from enrollment until graduation. It’s a great work. I think K-On! is a work that grew thanks to the love it received from so many people and now it’s graduated.
Yoshida: I think it’s a work that you want to watch over and over again. I think the adviser Tatsuya Ishihara-san said it, but it’s important for different generations to feel something in a work, so one of the themes of K-On! is how you can watch it as a high schooler and then after graduating and feel completely different towards it. If you wait a little while from when you first watch it, grow a bit older and become an adult, and then watch it once you’ve grown up, you’ll be able to experience it differently due to a different sense from how you’ve grown. Since it’s such a lovely work, it’d be nice if it would suddenly pop in your mind and you can reflect on it. Always keep K-On! in your heart!
Yamada: “Always keep K-On! in your heart!” is such a great phrase. (laughs) I also wanted to make something so I could show the girls when they’re 20 “you were these kinds of girls.” Everyone else too should re-watch this show again after various things happen to them. I think this is the kind of work that touches memories each time you snuggle closer with it again after things happen in your life.

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