This analysis will carry more weight if you have experienced the shows beforehand.
Concepts of community and friendship are often discussed in the discourse surrounding the works of Yamado Naoko, director of the K-On! and Tamako Market franchises. However, something that I have noticed in Naoko’s works is that these series tend to go much deeper with these themes. The series’ are loaded with expressions of Mutual Aid and Kinship. Mutual Aid is best defined by the late 19th century philosopher Peter Kropotkin. In an essay by Moya K. Mason, she wrote: that he (Kroptkin) “maintains that cooperation within a species has been an historical factor in the development of social institutions, and in fact, that the avoidance of competition greatly increases the chances of survival and raises the quality of life. He contended that mutual aid is a factor that is both biological and voluntary in nature, and is an enabler of progressive evolution. Kropotkin also believed that we have a predisposition to help one another, and we do so without governmental coercion.” Kin can simply be defined by its dictionary definition: of the same kind or nature; having affinity. However, going even deeper into the topic, the political philosophers bergman and Montgomery write that “(w)ithin the Spinozan current, friendship is being revalued: not as a bond between individuals, but as an ethical relation that remakes us, together, in an ongoing process of becoming-otherwise.” These concepts of a stronger form of connection between individuals and communities is something that I see expressed beautifully throughout both the K-On! and Tamako Market franchises. Therefore I will proceed to unpack specific scenes from both series in order to present how mutual aid and kin become applicable.
- Tamako Market/Love Story
The most straightforward example of mutual aid in Tamako Market, would be the community’s generosity towards Tamako and her friends. The free food they constantly give her, and the general support for everything the characters are going through, are tied deeply to the concepts of mutual aid. When someone is having a struggle with folks around them, or even internally, the community continually comes together to support them. This attention and care happens without causing anyone to feel shame. Sure, the characters in all of the shows discussed here are less than perfect, but I feel that this is what gives both shows their fiery sense of realism and affect, not unlike real life. These aren’t simple ‘kids’ shows, wherein the characters are perfect human beings and every problem is instantly resolved by the end of the episode — as a way to model a good life for the viewers. Midori’s problems with Mochizo are never resolved, even by the end of Tamako Love Story, to the point where the viewer can barely define what it is that is bothering her. Is she in love with Tamako? Maybe. Or maybe Mochizo? Or Neither? It’s impossible to tell. This is achieved by using subtly — a method that I feel is not used enough in storytelling as a whole. The subtly in the interactions throughout Tamako Market greatly resemble the ways real life interactions play out, you can’t always know what your close friend is truly thinking, and you may never find out. But what makes this show so powerful is the fact that despite all these problems, no one is ever shamed for them, and they continue to be treated with the same level of care and love that can only truly play out between kin.
The friendship/relationship between Mochizo and Tamako connects deeply to these ideas of kin, just look at his name and their professions (they’re mochi makers’– kids, in case you haven’t seen the show). The two of them ultimately find out that they share a deep love at the end of Tamako Love Story and this love sprouts from something pure and simple, a common ground. To a lesser extent, this common ground is presented throughout the whole community and is even offered to outsiders. The instant Choi arrives, a south islander, she is treated with wonder and care, so much so that she becomes concerned that there are ulterior motives involved. Ultimately she accepts the community as an extension of her community from the south (kin). Since the market’s level of mutual aid is something that is pure and organic, not a set of rigid rules, which they don’t truly embody, it becomes impossible to distrust them even when they present their personal issues and inconsistencies.
Now here comes the big one. K-On! is so connected to these concepts that it would be impossible to cover them all in this analysis, so I’m only going to cover the moments that stand out the most to me. Probably the biggest example of mutual aid and kin in the series is the way Ui and Yui’s relationship is played out. Ui takes care of Yui with no thought given to reciprocation. Most would pass this off as Yui’s laziness and Ui just being a stickler for duty, yet when one pays attention it becomes obvious how much Ui truly loves caring for her. This love is beyond the realm of familial duty and is shown beautifully whenever Yui is away. Sure, Yui doesn’t do much in way of physical care for the house (or herself for that matter), but through these scenes it becomes plainly obvious that Yui offers a sense of stability to Ui, and a deep sisterly love that goes beyond shallow interaction. What makes this so poignant for me is that Ui never thinks once that it’s weird that she is younger than Yui, this relationship isn’t tied to the hierarchies of age, but instead is connected to the individual abilities that they possess. In short, what each of them is best equipped to give. What the sisters offer each other and the house is mutual aid in the truest sense.
Mutual aid is presented in many small ways throughout, from the moments Mugi shares her financial privilege with the group, to the way that the girls all decide to save money to buy Yui a guitar in the second episode without even batting an eye. The way Sawako works for the girls’ sake beyond her duties as an adviser and teacher, to the point of being regarded more as a friend than any real position of power over them. She also takes them to their first music festival. What teacher in that position of power would do that? When the girls lay on the field at the festival and claim to each other that they are better than any of the bands performing because of their chemistry, it showcases wonderfully that these girls care for each other beyond the realm of friendship, thus moving towards a level of connection that would be impossible to sever. These girls are family, they are everything to each other, they are kin.
The final performance in episode 20 of Season 2 is a perfect example of how much their presence at the school affects the whole community, the way the audience gives complete space for Yui (and the whole band) to give their thanks in the most unhinged way. Any other situation and this scene would have been awkward, but in this context the whole community is aware that the girls of Houkago Tea Time need and deserve this space. The band has given the school something special in the form of their music and energy, and finally the whole school is truly giving back. With the whole student body doning the HTT shirts that Sawako made the night before (she made all those goddam shirts, she is so much more than just a nice teacher), the students completely give the girls the space to open up, cry, joke, give long winded thanks, go way over time, and just express all the raw emotions that are flowing through them. This scene is the most perfect example of community and mutual aid that I have ever seen in any story, period.
These shows aren’t spewing with rhetoric when it comes to these themes (I doubt the creators even thought about it in this way), but instead present honest embodied community and all the experiences and joys that come from entrenching oneself in a circle of mutual aid and love with those that you feel proud to call kin. The series’ presentation of these ideals should be taken as an ultimate example for people of all ages on how to live life to the fullest and to truly care for those around you. The stories here aren’t even making it look like a struggle, you don’t have to be happy all the time, or be struggling constantly, just accept and promote joy and community in whatever way works for you. In episode 24 of K-On’s second season, the girls write and perform a song (Tenshi Ni Fureta Yo) for Azusa, that was written with the intention of giving her something beautiful before the four of them leave Azusa behind as they head off to college. After they finish performing, Azusa says (through her tears) something that I feel captures my relationship to the ideals I’ve covered and everything that comes with it (as well as the whole theme of the show): “In the end you’re not very good. But I want to hear more.” Community and kin is a struggle, it’s not always clean cut and easy, what Azusa says not only covers my feelings on these ideals, but also beautifully presents the fact that she wants to keep “hearing” and living it passionately no matter what.