I was an otaku before an anime blogger, I played my first visual novel before reading The Animanachronism. I collect things that have pictures of attractive 2D females printed on to them just because I can. The acronym of my blog’s name spells a familiar word. If I wore glasses, surely they would be rose-tinted.
But that’s not the point. The point is Akiyama Mio. You know, Mio. That Mio, that Mio, that Mio, that Mio…and yes, even that Akiyama Mio. So what does this mean, aside from the fact that Nasu’s pen has infected me? It means that Mio is popular.
…And it also means that I’m going to try and figure out why, because that’s what I do!
Let’s start with the obvious aspect: Mio’s tsukkomi to Ritsu’s Boke. Much like Kagami and Kontata, their relationship begs fans to toss around the word tsundere, but none of this matters since it doesn’t change her character in the least. Whether Mio is more tsun or dere is irrelevant: for now, let’s call her the “serious” one. She’s the cool, collected, levelheaded one in the group, and she just so happens to be in a group filled with not-so-levelheaded people. Mio plays off of Ritsu’s vast quantities of energy, forces Yui into doing something productive, and puts the band as her first priority. She might not be refined and delicate and lesbian like Mugi, but she has an air of maturity about her that sets her apart from her friends.
However, unless she possesses the mystical powers of Nagato Yuki, she won’t be able to win the heart of fandom with just subtle maturity. But don’t forget, she isn’t silent, and she’s more than capable of being nice. In fact, we’ve already seen signs of a girly side – or should I say, a light and fluffy side?
Alluding to Mio being “light and fluffy” might make the wrong impression, so I’ll settle it by calling her…sentimental. Well, that’s probably the wrong word, but it’s obvious by this point that she’s figuratively soft on the inside. She might look like the leader of the group, and I question how far the light music club could have made it without her, but one can never accuse her of being cold. She’s cold on the outside, but warm on the inside. Like fresh taiyaki on a winter’s evening. Or like a good tsundere.
Not that she’s a tsundere at all by any definition of the word, but she shares some of the important traits, and subsequently some of the appeal. She plays with the viewer’s mind by altering conveniently between the kind of person a young guitarist could talk to earnestly about music, and a clumsy VN girl that just wants to be loved and protected (and loved once more in whatever way you see fit). This may or may not have been intentional, but certainly, her incredible appeal in the male fanbase is due to more than a nice character design and a flashy ED.
Now, this is where I believe Mio diverges from other characters of a similar archetype, as well as the reason why I believe she’s worth devoting a post to. Like with everything else, the secret lies in the finer details.
Like barnacles. Those things are scary! Well, maybe the viewer wasn’t supposed to agree on that point – it was one of those awkward moments where you find yourself attracted to a trait that you already have, like a meganekko fan looking into a mirror and seeing his own glasses - but it definitely worked. Mio’s natural shyness is somewhat of a replacement to the hesitance tsundere feel toward the thought of confessing their feelings, and it’s a more plausible substitute for other devices that beckon protection like physical frailty and the dreaded Keyicitis. Mio’s weaknesses are all mental, and they’re noticeable enough to be adorable yet not serious enough to warrant real worry.
And then there’s the fanservice. Oh boy, the legendary KyoAni fanservice. If there’s one thing they know how to do right, it’s this: fanservice that doesn’t even come close to crossing the line, but hits you harder than a thousand episodes of Queen’s Blade. (That is, it hits your Burning Otaku Spirit harder, not your IQ, which is bound to decrease after a thousand episodes of Queen’s Blade).
The thing about KyoAni fanservice is that it’s innocent, and yet…not innocent. It’s brilliant, really. They know their boundaries and they stay within them, but in playing with an otherwise pure series and inserting their own little…moments…they can toy with the hearts of their fans and produce earth-shattering results.
Mio is, in effect, a more realistic, accessible, and relateable psued0-tsundere that gets the best from both worlds. Her violence is comic rather than annoying, and she’s doesn’t seem like the type to go yandere; her soft side is cute, and appeals to much of the otaku population, if not much of the male population; and to top it all off, she’s intelligent and diligent, assuring that she can never be called a moeblob. You want someone who can teach you algebra? Sure thing! But she won’t be rude or condescending when teaching you, and she’ll probably make a few careless mistakes of her own – and what’s worse, she’ll even find those careless mistakes embarrassing. Assuming that you’re a stranger, she might try to cover it up with something to hide her shame, but a little teasing will be enough to make her blush. Not that anything more will happen, of course, because K-ON is pure!
And that, I believe, is the glue that holds Mio and the rest of the cast together. Their story is told through innocent eyes, in a world untainted by H-doujins and fanservice – it’s the perfect breeding ground for moe. Whoever is responsible for the creation of Mio’s character either thought things through or came upon an extraordinary fluke, because she takes traits that we all know and love, builds upon and develops pre-existing archetypes, shows her weaknesses in relateable, everyday scenarios, and ices the cake with a subtle showing of shimapan.
…Er, you know what I mean. The point is, she does everything, and not in a disturbing patchworked sort of way. It actually works. All she needs is a pair of glasses.