Review for K-On! - Volume 4
Already I’m at the conclusion of the first K-On! series. It’s either ridiculously short, or I’m losing myself in enjoyment. In any other series this would be where I would whinge at the release strategy, single volumes, the latter two of which have just three episodes apiece, and in which this final one only has one episode of the actual series, the other two being bonus episodes, but not with K-On! I enjoy every frame of this show, including the OVA episodes, and the shortness of the first series is mitigated by the sight of the K-On!! Blu-rays next in my review pile, the second 27 episode series.
Yui Hirasawa has spaced out her way through elementary and middle school, and history looks set to repeat itself when she starts high school. Even though she is eager and excited about her new life as a high school student, after a few weeks pass, and after every extra-curricular club in school has courted her, she still hasn't decided on which one to join. It's when her friend Nodoka gently informs her that she's on her way to becoming a NEET that she finally picks a promising flyer and fills in the form. She chooses the Light Music Club, inspired by some happy memories of playing the castanets in nursery school. She isn't quite ready for what membership entails.
Now she's lead guitarist in a rock band, although learning to play, after she has bought a guitar comes surprisingly easy. 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, while as the second year of school starts, they get a new recruit in the form of guitarist Azusa Nakano, and together the girls aim to hit the big time.
The concluding three episodes of K-ON! are presented on this Blu-ray disc from Madman Entertainment. Once again, this is just a quick overview of the Blu-ray; the DVD review goes into more depth about the show.
12. Light Music!
13. Winter Days!
14. Live House!
K-On! gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer at 1080p resolution, and it is almost exquisite, taking a bit of step down from the first three volumes. We still have a faithful rendering of the source material, with gorgeous colours and all the detail that you could hope for from the show. The line art is spot-on, the rich backgrounds are warm and inviting, to the point of occasional photo-realism, and the animation is smooth and fluid. While compression is still minimal, the quality of the transfer high, this time the image, particularly in darker scenes is slightly marred by digital banding, noticeable in Yui’s bedroom in episode 12 when she’s down with a cold. The first three discs offered some of the better anime video committed to an HD format, but it’s a shame the final disc couldn’t keep up that level of quality.
Bandai Entertainment US were essentially an arm of the Japanese Bandai, and that meant that they had even less wiggle room for negotiation than Funimation and Sentai. They basically had to take what the Japanese offered, and when it came to K-On! Season 1, that meant the archaic release format of single volumes, and lossy audio for the US, and consequently Australian Blu-rays. A Blu-ray with lossy audio isn’t great, but K-On!’s DD 2.0 English and Japanese encoded at 196kbps is pretty much DVD quality.
When it comes down to it, I didn’t care that the frequency response was inferior, that the resolution of the audio was such that it would be muddy and less vibrant in comparison. For me, the dialogue was clear enough, and the all important music sounded great, and above all, it was all at the intended 24 frames per second, without that egregious pitch correction that marred the PAL DVDs.
Bandai offer optional English translated subtitles for the Japanese audio, and a signs and songs track for the English, and it’s all done in a nice, discrete, but legible yellow font. The subtitles are free of typographical error and accurately timed, and this time the signs translations were in sync with the onscreen text. One error again, a subtitler annotation instead of an actual subtitle at one point [kid’s show continues until cut, but it’s ad-libbed], and the same error is on the DVD.
Volume 4 comes in a Blu-ray Amaray and once again the interior sleeve offers poster art. The disc label art is pretty nifty too, this time with Mugi framed in a partially consumed cake product. There’s no Madman logo at the head of the disc, and it’s clear that they just re-released the Bandai US disc, regionalised to B.
The show gets an animated menu screen, and the extras on disc comprise a 6:02 interview with the English voice of Mugi, Shelby Lindley presented in 1080i. She discusses the character and the show, and also talks about how the show relates to her own experiences of high school. There’s also an English dub music video for Brush Pen, Ballpoint Pen lasting 1:37 and in HD.
There are also Bandai US trailers for The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, Tales of the Abyss, and The Girl Who Leapt Through Space, the latter two in SD.
Despite my preconceptions, upgrading the first K-On! series to Blu-ray turned out to be a no-brainer, even though this final volume dips a little in image quality, with the appearance of digital banding in the last three episodes making it look like most other Blu-ray anime out there. Other than that, the upgrade in image quality is well worth the double dip, and even if the audio is still in humble lower bitrate Dolby Digital form, it is at least at the correct frame rate and pitch. Those Manga DVDs are well and truly retired at this point.
I can also tell you right now that K-On! will be getting a lot more play than the average anime. This is the third time that I’m watching the series, and it’s lost none of its charm. Whereas with other shows I can find my attention start to wander when it comes to re-watching, not with this show, as I’m still glued to the television like it’s my first time with the show. The reason of course is that K-On! is a hug in anime form. It’s a cuddle, a glomp, an embrace of reassurance and escape, it’s safe, warm and enveloping. And don’t let the testosterone and the beard fool you. Everyone needs a hug at some time. Even the ultimate in space pirate masculinity, Han Solo had a wookiee to hug. With K-On! you have a hug at your beck and call. With Madman Entertainment still offering these individual volumes at clearance prices, you can pick up all four K-On! releases on Blu-ray for less than you would have paid for the UK DVD release, even after factoring in customs.
Blu-ray moment of the disc... The members of Hokago Teatime welcoming in the first sunrise of the new year.