Do I even need to introduce Ho-kago Tea Time? Unless you've been living under a rock of late, and love them or hate them, you'll know all about K-ON! (and its more recent sequel, complete with additional exclamation mark) and the way said franchise has turned into a marketing and merchandising anime powerhouse. Much of this potential is released in the form of the music of the show's light music club band members, and so it's no shock to see both K-ON!!'s opening and ending songs gain quick single releases.
First up is Go! Go! Maniac, the opening track which could give Alvin and the Chipmunks a run for their money in the squeaky-voice stakes. Compared to the opener for the original series, it has to be said that Go! Go! Maniac simply isn't as good, although its title is certainly apt for the manic speeded-up tune and lyrics that it deploys. The trouble is, this particular tune actually sounds even worse as a full four minute single, as it loses any of its TV sized charm when extended over such a long period. It is admittedly catchy as all Hell (how many times have I found it stuck in my head in recent weeks?), but it's easily one of the weakest major tunes to come from the franchise thus far.
Oddly then, the real news here is that the single's B-side is much, much better - Yes, Genius...!? doesn't have the energy of its A-side, but it's a far better constructed tune that also manages to work pretty well with Yui's vocals (which can't be said of a number of other tracks from K-ON!). Quite frankly, I can't help but think that this should have been the opening theme of the second season rather than the quirky at best Go! Go! Maniac.
Needless to say, tracks three and four take in instrumental versions of these two songs, and to be fair Go! Go! Maniac is slightly improved when shorn of its lyrics - if you can somehow flush Yui's voice out of your head while listening to it. Conversely, Genius...!? sounds better in its entirety, although at least as a tune it's more suited to singing along to if you're so inclined, sounding as it does almost a little too simplistic as an instrumental as its flaws are revealed.
This takes us to Listen!!, the beautifully animated and altogether more awesome closing single for K-ON!!, complete with the far more accomplished vocals by Mio. It might not capture your attention immediately musically in quite the same fashion as Don't Say Lazy (which, let's face it, is pretty much peerless in many ways), but it's still a great song and perfectly built to work as a full-sized track as well as a TV-sized sound bite. So it goes that the song as a whole works excellently - It's fast-paced, compelling and a great slice of well-crafted pop rock.
In terms of its B-side however, Listen!! is basically a polar opposite of Go! Go! Maniac, with its second track Our MAGIC disappointing hugely. It's overly synthesised (to the point where it doesn't sound much like something from K-ON! at all), and it's generic to the point of being genuinely boring. It's light and fluffy, but not in the same kind of way that makes so much of this show's music so enjoyable to listen to. Once again, tracks three and four consist of instrumental versions of the two songs - Track three is great although predictably less so without its lyrics, while track four is weak no matter what you do to it.
If nothing else, these two singles are further proof that the multimedia juggernaut that is K-ON! shows little sign of abating, and to be honest I wouldn't have it any other way right now - Even at its weakest the girls of Ho-kago Tea Time can produce a frighteningly catchy tune, while at its best it simply can't be beaten in terms of anime-derived pop/rock. Oh, and the anime isn't half-bad either...