Review for K-On! The Movie
I don’t usually have the luxury of time to do this. In fact I didn’t have the luxury this time either, but I still consciously made the effort to watch the whole of K-On! again before watching this film. That’s all 14 episodes of season 1, and all 27 episodes of season 2, and I learned something very important, something that will have bearing on this review. I love K-On! It’s not the best show in the world, and it’s certainly not the best anime. There are better animated shows, there are better stories, and there are more rewarding watches, both viscerally and intellectually. My critic’s brain will tell me that so many shows are better, that I’ll get more out of Cowboy Bebop, or Steins;Gate, or Moribito. These are all shows however that I have to ration, that I have to limit myself to watching once a year, or once every two years, or in some cases, once every five years. I don’t want to wear them out. With K-On! on the other hand, I just adore the characters, and I adore the inconsequential antics they get up to. There’s no drama here, no complex narrative, it’s just fun, and it’s a show which requires that you live in the moment, not worry about what happened two episodes ago, or anticipate what will happen in the next. As such, this is one of those rare series that I could happily have on a loop, just watch all 41 episodes, at the rate of one episode a night, for the next five or ten years, and I’ll probably never tire of it.
That’s the attitude with which I approached the movie, comfortable that in studio KyoAni’s hands, K-On! is always going to be safe, always going to get worthy treatment. This is my first time watching the film, but I’m not really too concerned about how the story will turn out. My only concerns amount to the treatment given to the film by distributors Manga Entertainment who release it here, Madman Entertainment, who Region B’d it, and Sentai Filmworks, who localised it to English, dubbing it and creating the subtitles. This release of K-On! The Movie is available on DVD, and Blu-ray DVD combo, but for the purposes of this review, I’m only looking at the Blu-ray disc.
Incidentally, if you’re never seen the series, then I’m afraid to say that this film really isn’t for you. You’ve got to be cool with the concept of cute girls doing inconsequential cute things for one. This isn’t a film big on narrative or drama or character development, just like the series. Also, if you have seen the second series, then you’ll find that this movie really fits into that continuity, and it works best if you are aware of the series storyline, better still if you can watch the film straight after Series 2: Part 2.
Yui Hirasawa spaced her way through elementary and middle school, but once she got to high school, her friend Nodoka convinced her to at least try some sort of extra-curricular activity, lest she become a NEET. She chose the Light Music Club, inspired by some happy memories of playing the castanets in nursery school. She wasn’t quite ready for what membership entailed. She wound up lead guitarist in a rock band, Hokago Tea Time. On bass is the seriously minded, and seriously shy and easily spooked Mio Akiyama, while Mio's best friend, the brash and outgoing Ritsu Tainaka is the drummer. On keyboards is fellow surprise recruit and warm-hearted rich kid Tsumugi Kotobuki, and in the second year of high school, they got a new recruit in Azusa Nakano, also a keen guitarist. In Season 2 of K-On!!, the girls started their final year of high school, one last year in which to hit the big time, and one final year that promises big changes for the band, not least as four of their number will graduate. Of course none of that is really as important as tea, cakes, and having fun.
The main narrative in series 2 was the girls’ imminent graduation from high school, what would happen to Azusa who would be left behind when they went to college, and going on a Light Music Club trip before graduation. In the series we saw them planning the trip, we saw them get their passports, and we saw them graduate, and we saw the gift that they gave Azusa. But we never saw the trip itself. That’s where the movie comes in. In K-On! The Movie, the members of Hokago Teatime get to visit the birthplace of rock and roll, London, and we also learn just how Azusa’s gift came about.
K-On! in high definition is gorgeous, especially given the extra care, and attention to detail that is due a feature film outing. The 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is presented at 1080p resolution, and is divine. The television characters come to the big screen with little or no alteration, but the animation is even more detailed and fluid, while the world designs and prop designs are so much richer and involving. The sheen on Yui’s Geeta is so vivid and realistic, while there are certain scenes in this film that you do forget that it’s animated. The only slight flaw is a bit of digital banding, and that only when a couple of scenes fade in or fade out. Other than that, this film looks so good, that I won’t be surprised if Manga Entertainment don’t get a few requests to go back and bring out the TV series on Blu-ray, the way they went back and re-considered Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood.
The images used in this review are sourced from the PR and aren’t necessarily representative of the final retail release.
You have the choice here between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English and Japanese, with optional English subtitles and a signs only track. I went with the Japanese as always and was very pleased with the experience. The dialogue is clear, there’s a nice bit of surround effect to give the movie space, and the all important music comes across without issue. One annoyance is that the person or persons who created the subtitles for the film aren’t the same people who subtitled the series, and there’s an inconsistency or two. The girls in the band named their guitars, and Yui’s Geeta at least remains Geeta in the subtitles, but Azusa’s ‘Muttan’ is now called ‘Mud Stain’, which instantly raises a WTF eyebrow, while the gag about Mio’s ‘Elizabass’ is lost as it’s now simply called ‘Elizabeth’.
I gave a couple of key moments in the film a try in English, the potential Dick Van Dyke moments, and I have to say that if you are British, watch the film in Japanese. There’s no problem with the main English voice cast in the K-On! movie, but when it comes to the British characters when they visit London, Sentai have dubbed them excruciatingly badly. The Japanese audio actually has English actors in those roles, and there’s the whole ‘lost in translation’ aspect to the film, with Japanese school girls trying to communicate in bad English. That aspect is lost, but Sentai haven’t re-written it all that well, as it still looks as if the characters are speaking two different languages, American English and Dick-van-Dykian. But the real insult has to be the character of the sushi-shop manager. In the Japanese dub, he has a normal, if a little dull performance, in Sentai’s dub; he’s an insult to the UK. Were Sentai’s scriptwriters drunk or high when they wrote his dialogue? Did they do it as a joke? Did they think no one would notice? Defamation of national character or what!
K-On! The Movie comes loaded with extras at first glance, (the DVD component of the combo set is actually on two discs) but on closer examination, it turns out to be a case of quantity over quality.
The Blu-ray presents its content with a static and silent menu, which has the benefit of loading quickly. As with Sentai product, the video is unaltered, the credits in the original language, so there is a translated English language credit scroll after the film.
Most of the extras here are of the promotional variety that follows the Japanese voice cast, as they press junket around the country promoting the film. There is an unwritten rule in such promotional material, which you will see in all such Japanese sourced anime extras, not just the ones for K-On. The interviewer will not ask any meaningful questions, and the interviewees will not offer up any opinions, thoughts or interesting comments. Stick to the party line, promote the film, be appropriately silly and cute and daft when required, and sign off with a lengthy, convoluted and humble thank you. And you thought Hollywood EPK extras were dull!
Minami Tanaka’s Inside Dubbing Report lasts just under 23 minutes, and sees a TBS reporter interview the five main cast members. That means giving them tongue twisters, asking them their favourite scenes, and the usual exhortations to watch the film.
London Bus & Press Conference at TBS lasts 19 minutes and sees the girls delivered by Routemaster to an interview that follows the usual formula, but ends in cake.
Navi Show 1-2-3 is K-ON! lasts 24 minutes and has a couple of presenters offer a guide to the series to get people hyped for the film. There’s a bit of repeated content here from both the dubbing report and the location scouting featurette.
Movie Premiere Event lasts 22 minutes and gets the cast and the director on stage prior to the film’s premiere to once again manage to avoid saying anything meaningful.
Good Luck Music Hall – K-ON! Music Hall lasts 15 minutes and has some different TBS presenters promoting the film, this time from the perspective of the music, as well as selling some Blu-rays of the live concert.
You also get the Japanese trailer, the Japanese teaser, and the Japanese spots, along with the Textless Credits.
The one featurette worth watching in my opinion is the Director Naoka Yamada in London, which follows her around the city as she looks for locations to use in the film. This is actually interesting and informative, and offers a nice look at how some recognisable London landmarks were given the K-On shine. This lasts 29 minutes.
All of these extras are presented in 1080i 60Hz.
Finally, in the link ‘Also Available from Sentai’ you can find the Australian anti-piracy thank you, followed by a Madman Entertainment trailer for K-On! Volume 4. Incidentally, Sentai didn’t release the first season of K-On in the US, Bandai did.
Well, the extra features didn’t blow me away, and aspects of the English dub invite apoplexy. But the truth is that I’m not going to watch the extra features too often, and the likelihood of me ever watching the K-On! dub is remote enough to be non-existent. We’re talking about the movie, and I love it just as much as I love the series, and I can tell you right now that I’ll be watching this film on a regular basis, just to get my prescribed dose of sugary, schmaltzy, adorable, inconsequential cuteness, backed up with a delightfully poppy soundtrack.
I have to reiterate, if you haven’t seen the series, this film will really be a thin and unsatisfying experience. So buy the series, it’s well worth it. The film continues in just the same way as the series, cute girls doing cute inconsequential things, the object to inspire a warm and appreciative fondness and empathy in the viewer. It still plays out like a series of sketches that somehow find themselves worked into a movie size narrative. It’s really a movie in three parts, the pre-trip build-up, as the girls decide where to go and get ready for their trip, the trip itself, as they music montage their way around London, wandering in and out of frame in front of various landmarks, and of course crossing a certain zebra crossing outside a certain music studio, and then the post trip, pre-graduation sequence. The one narrative thread that links it all is the idea of the graduation foursome giving their fifth member and underclassman a present that will convey their feelings for her.
That’s really it. It’s not much of a story, and it’s never going to go down in the annals of cinema history as a beacon of profundity, or Oscar winning actor performances. What the K-On movie does is give you more of the television series, albeit on a larger scale and for longer than twenty minutes. It’s fun to see how the Japanese see London, and as a Londoner it’s a bit of giggle to spot the various landmarks, although this film will be instantly dated by the sight of the Shard mid-construction. It gets a little meta when you get to the sushi bar and the cultural festival, as it becomes the Japanese seeing how the English see the Japanese. Then there’s how the Sentai script-writers see Londoners, which I promised I wouldn’t think about, but it keeps seeping into my consciousness like an overflowing cistern.
Just like the series, the film is a collection of cute Polaroid moments, little mental snapshots that will stick in the mind after the movie has ended, and will evoke inadvertent smiles when you least expect them. We actually get to see Yui’s parents in the film. A teenage character in an anime actually has parents, which is rare enough to mention. We get to see the effects of excessive and overenthusiastic glomping finally catching up on Azusa, we get the Lost in Translation moments which are always fun, we get an explanation for the 2nd opening sequence to the second series, we get the girls trying to psyche Azusa out with musical differences, we get a hilarious moment with Yui trying to figure out the dog waste bins in parks. It’s a fun movie full of fun bits that you have fun watching.
It’s a ten out of ten movie. I believe that now as I type it, I believed it while I was watching it, and I’ll believe it wholeheartedly every time I watch it again in the future. It’s just in the darkest of the night, my inner cynic rears forth and reminds me of just how manipulative a commercial enterprise the K-On! franchise is. It’s designed for the older male otaku, to evoke the protective adoration, moe feelings towards cute girls doing cute things, and presents us with a gold tinged nostalgia for high school fun and frolics, free of hormones, puberty and peer-pressure, none of which ever existed for anyone. K-On! is the ultimate fairy tale, one to get us invested in a mundane fantasy. It’s perfectly designed to rake in as much money as possible, and it certainly works. Of course that cynical feeling lasts for about 30 seconds around 2 in the morning just as I’m drifting off to sleep, but it’s still enough for me to nudge the score down.
The rest of the time I love this film, and it makes me want to see K-On!: The College Years get an anime, it makes me want to see a movie about Azusa’s graduation trip (a sequel set-up if ever there was one), and it makes me want Manga Entertainment to go back and re-release the first and the second series on Blu-ray. If it’s good enough for Fullmetal Alchemist...