Review for K-ON! - Volume 3
A single volume, full-ish price release, with just three episodes on, and nominal extras. I'd be in the middle of a full-blown whinge right now, if I wasn't eagerly awaiting the arrival of K-ON! Volume 3 with a Pavlovian reflex. Quality makes everything worthwhile, and K-ON!'s is oozing with the stuff. The cute girls doing cute things antics, the charming and heart-warming stories, the likeable characters, and the toe-tapping music, it all adds up to a very appealing package, and even if it is coming in small doses, at least the final three volumes are coming decently spaced at only a month apart.
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, and together the girls aim to hit the big time.
The next three episodes of K-ON! are presented on this single layer disc from Manga Entertainment.
9. New Club Member!
Following on from the previous volume, the Light Music Club has a new recruit in the shape of Azusa Nakano. As a nervous young first year, she looks up to the older club members, but as a beginner, she's had a whole lot more practice, and plays a meaner guitar than Yui. She's also got a whole lot of motivation and a desire to succeed, inspired by the live performance that the girls gave at start of the school year. But in the Light Music Club, she encounters four fun loving girls who spend more time eating cakes and drinking tea, than they do playing music. She's also a little discomfited when they adopt her as some sort of mascot. And then she meets the club advisor, Miss Sawako, who in Azusa has found her cosplay muse. Soon Azusa is beginning to forget why she even fell in love with the Light Music Club in the first place.
10. Training Camp Again!
The summer holidays arrive, and once more it's time for training camp, where courtesy of Mugi's rich family, the girls take off to one of her summer houses, by the beach, where they can play, and sunbathe, and kick off their shoes and relax. I mean they can get down to some serious practice and further hone their musical skills. This time, Azusa is invited as their newest member, and hoping to practice and gel with the band, she finds that she's complaining more than most at their lack of commitment. But it's funny who winds up with the deepest suntan.
As before, the conclusion of the summer holidays heralds the coming of the school festival, and it's even more exciting for Azusa, for whom it will be her first chance to perform with the band in front of an audience. But there's trouble looming. Once again, Ritsu has forgotten to fill out the appropriate application form, and this time they realise that the band doesn't have a name. Worse, Yui learns that she really needs to take better care of her guitar. That doesn't mean dressing it up in girly clothes and sleeping with it. Worse, it looks like the band's first 'creative differences' are about to appear, when Mio starts spending more time with Yui's friend Nodoka, and best friend Ritsu gets jealous. Then her drumming starts to suffer. Then she starts ditching the club altogether.
K-ON! gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, which as usual is filtered through Australia's Madman Entertainment, who have deigned to give it a native PAL conversion. The animation is excellent, detailed and fluid, while the show is replete with bright, sunny colours, and very pleasant character designs, character designs that served as inspiration for the characters in the Sound of the Sky anime. This is another high-end anime production, and it shows on the screen, with some very imaginative animation, and thoughtful character study. I noticed no problems with compression or judder, and the image looks fine, even when scaled up on a high definition display.
You have the option here of DD 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, along with the usual translated subtitles or a signs only track. The audio is fine, the show's splendid light pop music comes across with great effect, while the dialogue is clear throughout. As usual I opted for the original language track, but from what I sampled of the English dub, it's one that follows the original pretty closely in terms of character voices, style, mood, even to the point of using Japanese honorifics.
K-ON! gets the usual treatment of static menus and a jacket picture. As usual I only got a check disc, so I can't comment on disc label art or packaging.
The only extra features on the disc are a brief music video for one of the group's songs, "My Love is a Stapler", although only the English version, and a 7-minute interview with the English voice of Ritsu, Cassandra Lee. She discusses the character and the show, and also talks about how the show relates to her own experiences of high school.
The episodes get a new opening sequence to make room for the new member of the band, and there still are no textless credit sequences to be found on the disc.
Last time, I was in the mood to pick a few nits. K-ON! wasn't deep enough, there wasn't enough emphasis on the music, character growth was minimal, and there was a total lack of drama. I'm not going to do that this time, because yet again I spent the disc's runtime engrossed in a light, fluffy, charming and utterly inconsequential show, and felt infinitely better for the experience. K-ON! is the ultimate feel-good series, it hasn't a malicious bone in its body, and to criticise such a creation is like scolding a puppy. It makes the scold-er feel worse than the scold-ee.
A case in point is this collection of three episodes. The second year of high school has started for the girls of the Light Music Club, and that means we get three episodes of reruns, in that with the same high school timetable in order, the girls get up to the same antics over again, albeit with a year's experience under their belt. This could be seen as simply recycling old storylines, and to a degree there is a repeat of certain jokes and punchlines. But it's such a wonderful comfort zone of entertainment that I just can't complain. What makes this run of episodes feel so fresh is that there is a new recruit in the form of Azusa Nakano, and she brings a different perspective to the Light Music Club.
She's a first year that was inspired to join by the live performance at the start of the new school year, and she's an accomplished guitarist who loves music and loves the vibe that the Light Music Club displayed on stage. She's opinionated, motivated, a little shy, but quite driven. And then she sees what the Light Music Club is really all about. She's our eyes into the Club as the new recruit, and we get her perspective on the slacker antics of the second years, the club hours spent drinking tea and eating cakes, and the shocking revelation that the club advisor is a cosplay fanatic who likes to dress the girls up in embarrassing outfits.
There is the charm with which the girls take to Azusa, adopting her as something of a club mascot. Yui temporarily has the thrill of being looked up to as an experienced upperclassman, until she hears Azu play the guitar, and realises that she still has much to learn. The prospect of losing someone as skilled as Azu when the reality of the LMC hits is enough to motivate the girls to practice a little more, which keeps Azu interested until the Training Camp at least.
She's still the outsider looking in when the girls go on their annual retreat to ostensibly hone their skills, but once again spend the summer goofing around. But this time the summer holidays serve to integrate Azusa into the band, and she not only starts to feel like one of the girls, the girls also treat her less like the cute newbie mascot, and more like one of the group. Four truly become five when Azusa and Yui get to practice together.
The final episode on the disc presages another school festival, and another chance for the band to shine in front of an audience. Mio is embarrassed, Ritsu is absent minded again, and Yui's lack of common sense is brought to the forefront once more. The real difference, and the first note of drama in the story is the band's first argument. Lifelong best friends Ritsu and Mio have a falling out, and as always for best friends, it's over something so petty that it's hardly worth mentioning, and it spirals for the most ridiculous of reasons. But pretty soon they aren't talking to each other, and then Ritsu stops coming to the club altogether. But this is K-ON!, and K-ON!'s idea of the dramatic is hardly going to elevate the blood pressure.
Like I said, it's not deep, and it isn't going to get the grey matter cogitating. But it is pure, unadulterated fun. This disc's runtime may be on the lean side for the money that you spend on it, but if we're talking quality per minute, then K-ON! is a veritable bargain. It's 70 minutes of pure joy.