「卒業式！」 (Sotsugyou Shiki!)
The budget is blown! This finale looked amazing every step of the way and didn’t disappoint in tugging on the emotional strings. Azusa is brought to tears like I’ve been waiting for all this time and receives a surprise performance of “Touched By An Angel” from her seniors. Amazingly, I managed to keep myself together through the entire thing, even though the bitter sweetness of their graduation was so close to opening the flood gates. In addition to Azusa finally admitting that she doesn’t want Yui and the others to graduate and leave her behind, the sight of Ui nearly overwhelmed by those same emotions with her sister in mind almost did it for me. Had Azusa not grabbed Ui’s hands and reiterated that they should be happy for Yui and the others, I’m pretty sure she was going to break down and cry right there and then. It’s probably safe to say Azusa reached out for her sake just as much as Ui’s, because her tears probably would have set off a contagious chain reaction. It was no secret that school life without them was the only thing on Azusa’s mind and that she was probably trying her best not to think too deeply about it. Of all things, it was the sight of their graduation diplomas that finally got through to her though.
Subsequently, what got me pretty choked up and on the verge of tears myself was Yui’s unbelievably sweet gesture of giving Azusa their commemorative first-year club photo with a cut out of her added to it and a five-petal flower to signify the five of them. She didn’t simply hug her like I thought she would when Azusa was crying in her arms and instead reached out with a smile on her face. For that, I have to agree with Ritsu on Yui taking the spotlight as the cool senior of the group, as she really did come off that way to me as well. Even Mugi didn’t get a chance to add some words thanks to Yui being on top of everything, but we did get to see Ritsu rubbing her cheek against Mio, who wasn’t going to get upset this time and ruin the touching mood. The surprise song they had written and prepared just for Azusa marks the first time we’ve heard all four girls singing together in the series and only went on to reaffirm the idea that Ritsu and Mugi should have sang songs long ago. The lyrics themselves are undoubtedly the most touching aspect of the song, because they convey everyone’s feelings on how much they cherish their relationship with Azusa, reaffirm to her that they will be friends forever, and most importantly stress that their graduation doesn’t mean that anything’s ending. How can Azusa not tear up more after suddenly learning that everyone’s been thinking of her even when they’ve been busy with entrance exams? Simple answer. She can’t. See below.
INS4: 「天使にふれたよ！」 (Tenshi ni Fureta yo!) by 放課後ティータイム (Houkago Tea Time)
Watch the 4th INS (with lyrics): Streaming ▼
After seeing how Sawa-chan managed to keep her composure in front of her first graduating class of students — even after they surprised her with a collection of yearbook-type messages — it was nice to see that she was moved just as much as she seemed to be. All it took was an empty classroom with a blackboard full of more loving messages to get through to her and make her shed a few tears in private. More so than her tears, it was her feeling that she could never erase those messages that really spoke volumes to me about how touched she was. She sure hid it well when she accepted her gift by busting out her Catherine alter ego and screaming that she’ll be waiting for everyone to visit her though. As such, it’s good to know she had an opportunity to listen to the surprise performance for Azusa and take in every last minute of the light music club she’s watched over for the past three years. In retrospect, the first half of this episode and its more lighthearted endeavors was probably a very unassuming way of getting the viewer to let their “emotional guard” down. With Azusa spacing out and walking into a wall, Yui keeping the class’ surprise gift throughout the entire ceremony, Sawa-chan suspecting that something’s up, and Ritsu screwing up the telephone game-like message from Mio, nothing felt terribly out of the ordinary. Quite honestly, it’s a recipe that generally gets the best of me emotionally, so I’m a bit surprised that I didn’t find myself teary-eyed. It must have been all that hardened practice I had covering Angel Beats last season.
In any case, the graduation is complete as is the main K-ON story, which means it’s bonus episode time for the next two weeks. Judging from the preview, it looks like the first one will focus on the future of the light music club and emphasize that Yui and the others are gone by giving them little to no screen time. Now I could be getting ahead of myself, but it almost seems like Ui and Jun are set on joining like a lot of people were hoping (myself included). As for promoting the club, I think they just need to advertise it as THE Keion-Bu. No one can say no to that right?
* Final impressions will be saved for the very end of the series, even though this is technically the end of the core part of the story.