Review for K-On!! (Season 2) Collection 2
At last I come to the end of my Blu-ray upgrade quest for K-On, with the review of the second part of season 2. Fortunately, the movie was one title that Manga Entertainment did release on Blu-ray in the UK. So, I’m all done and dusted with K-On hopefully, unless someone decides to go all 4k, and Dolby Atmos on the show. Would I triple-dip? Given how much I’ve come to love this inconsequential little show, I probably would. As always, this review is mostly looking at the technical considerations of the Blu-ray, and I’ll point you to the review of the DVD release if you want to read more about the show. And as mentioned before, the DVDs are probably the last time I could be critical about the show, before I fell for the charms of the Light Music Club. Having said that though, Madman Entertainment’s release of the Sentai Blu-ray discs of Part 1 of Season 2 had a couple of niggling flaws. Hopefully they’ll be sorted for this part 2 release.
Yui Hirasawa spaced out 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 start 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 final fourteen episodes of K-On!! Season 2 are presented across two discs by Madman Entertainment thus...
14. Summer Training!
15. Marathon Tournament!
17. No Club Room!
18. Leading Role!
19. Romeo & Juliet!
20. Yet Another School Festival!
21. Graduation Yearbook!
22. Entrance Exam!
23. After School!
24. Graduation Ceremony!
25. Extra: Planning Discussion!
26. Extra: Visiting!
27. Extra: Plan!
This is actually what I was expecting when I got the Bandai sourced Season Blu-rays, but was instead surprised at a largely excellent video transfer, rich in detail and very well balanced. That kind of spoiled me for season 2 of K-On!!, which actually comes across with the usual treatment that companies like Sentai and Funimation give to anime on Blu-ray, a treatment that I would be very happy with under normal circumstances, but now I have something better to compare it to, it comes across as a little underwhelming.
You get the show in 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p resolution and ratio. The image is clear and sharp, detail levels are high, and the line art comes across without issue. It’s just that as so often happens with anime on US Blu-rays, brightness levels get lost in translation and shoot way up. This didn’t happen on the Bandai transfer of Season 1, but it happens with Sentai’s treatment of Season 2, and that results in a bright hazy feel to the image, almost to the point of over-exposure, and colours can seem washed out, particularly the deep blue of school uniform jackets. This can be fixed by manually altering the brightness on your television, and thankfully for this second part of Season 2, macro-blocking is not at all visible, while digital banding is greatly reduced. In recent years, I’ve come to accept this as the state of play for Blu-ray anime sourced from Sentai and Funimation, but it’s harder to do here when there is the positive source of comparison that are the Bandai discs. It’s still light-years ahead of the DVD transfer though.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. This is what I was hoping for from the Bandai disc, lossless audio, and I have to admit that I could tell the difference, richer, more vibrant audio with more depth and clarity to it. The dialogue is just that touch crisper, the music sounds fuller, and it’s easier to define the elements of the audio mix. I didn’t bother with the English audio this time, and stuck to the Japanese track, aside from just checking that it was there. In terms of subtitles, these are effectively the Sentai discs, so one or two questionable translation choices do crop up (although the Bandai release did have the ‘power of cute compels you’ line).
You get two discs in an Amaray style case, with one held on a central hinged panel. Madman once again present some poster art on the inner sleeve. The disc art now features the characters (Mio disc 1, The Band disc 2) holding audio cassettes, with the reels of the cassettes coinciding with the hub of the discs. The discs present their content with static (and visibly compressed) menu screens, and each episode ends with a silent, white on black translated English credit reel.
The only extras are on disc 2 and amount to the textless credits (sorely missed on the Bandai discs), while there are Madman trailers (following an Aussie anti-piracy ad) for Arrietty, Ponyo, and Laputa Castle in the Sky.
There’s no audio flub this time around, and Sentai’s treatment of the video, while still not up to the standards of the Bandai release, is still a noticeable improvement over part 1. On top of that, this half of K-On!! has some of my favourite moments of the whole franchise, scenes that draw me in and envelope me in all that K-On! soft, warm, gooey moe-ness in just the way that the creators design it to. It’s back to my definition of perfect, and I’m in unalloyed 10/10 territory again; my love of the show transcending any reasonable criticisms that might be levelled at it. I guess having seen all the anime that I have to this point, becoming increasingly cynical about all the tropes and ideas I see recycled from series to series, it’s somewhat refreshing to know that I can still fanboy out with all the best of them.
You can criticise K-On! all you want, and twist my arm and I’ll even agree with some pointed observations of this show. The characters are wholly infantilised and de-sexualised. These are high school girls that we follow over the three years of high school, from 15 to 18, yet in their character designs, and in their behaviour, they can act as if they’re 10 years younger, all done to emphasise their cuteness. On top of that, K-On! presents a fantasy high school experience, with no puberty, no zits, no bullying or peer-pressure, no temptations, no drugs or alcohol or cigarettes, a high school experience where everyone is nice, friendly, where teachers are our friends, and where you spend the best years of your life. It’s a carefully constructed fantasy designed to be sold to a predominantly male audience, who can vicariously reconstruct their own high school pasts in K-On!’s image. For twenty minutes a time, I can pretend that I actually liked going to school, that I liked the teachers, and all the other students, that every day was sunny and fun. And you know, I’m okay with that. Besides, two words... Harry Potter.
That is the escapist world we live in. First world issues where adults who should really know better hold onto their childhood with a desperate grasp, refusing to let the years take their toll well into their thirties and forties, although I guess the re-writing of our childhoods has always been a thing, why else would our grandparents and parents always sell growing up as a wondrous, memorable experience, instead of the occasionally painful and scary process that it actually was and still is?
And I don’t care! K-On! and its sequel K-On!! are my anime happy place. I can lose myself in an episode of this show in a way I can’t with any other. It’s my Desert Island anime, and it’s all the better in high definition, at the correct frame rate. Next up on my Blu-ray re-visit, the K-On! movie, but I’ve already reviewed that.