Next stop, Budokan!
What They Say:
Rock n’ Roll may never die, but the Saduragoaka Girl’s High School Light Music Club might not be here to stay unless would-be drummer Ritsu Tainaka can find three more members to replace the graduated seniors. Determined to see that the best goes on, Ritsu can get a little help from her friend Mio Akiyama on bass, and together they might be able to convince choir-inclined Tsumugi Kotobuki to join on the keyboards.
But even then, they’ll still need a hero, preferably of the juke-box variety with stars in her eyes. Instead they find Yui Hirasawa, who’s looking for a club to join and who’s never held a guitar inher life. But when Yui does pick up a beat-up six-string, it feels good in her hands, and it doesn’t take long to understand that maybe she’s finally found a place where she belongs. Because you can’t stop the music when four girls share a dream, even if it’s something as crazy as someday playing at the famous Budokan. It’s going to be a long and winding road, but if they find their passion and follow their muse, they could go anywhere in K-ON!
The series contains two language tracks: English and Japanese, both in 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo. For this viewing, I listened to the English track, and the sound was great. While there was no directionality I could detect, the music came through loud and clear, as did the dialogue. There were no issues with volume or distortion.
English subtitles are also provided.
K-On! is a gorgeous show with vivid colors, fluid animations, and excellent character and background design. Each episode is presented in 16:9 anamorphic aspect ratio, and there were no problems with fading or color distortion or encoding that I could tell.
K-On! season 1 comes packaged in a standard Amaray case. The 12 episodes and 2 OVAs are spread across three discs—the first two housed on a center inset and the third on the inside back cover. The front of the case features the four girls—Ritsu, Yui, Mio, and Mugi—in their club room. Ritsu is passing Mugi a paper over the head of Yui and Mio (who looks a little confused and concerned) while Yui looks straight at the viewer, chewing on what looks to be a Pocky, and cradling her guitar. The spine is green and features a picture of Yui at the top. The show’s title is written in red over a musical chart full of icons of musical notes and guitars. The back cover contains the traditional screenshots, story synopsis, cast and crew credits and DVD specifications. It’s a solid design with some very pretty art.
The menu is setup in typical Sentai style, divided roughly in half with a character on one side and the episode list on the other. In this case, Yui, sporting her typical confused-yet-determined look, stands on the lefthand side of the screen against a green field with white stars on the first disc. Azusa takes her place on disc two and Yui returns on the third disc, this time playing her guitar and singing into a microphone. The episode listing format remains the same on each disc: occupying the righthand side of the screen, superimposed over what looks like black notebook paper with yellow lines. The show’s theme plays on a ten-second loop, which is fine, because I love the song, but I’d rather it play all the way through. There is no “play-all” button, but selecting the first episode automatically enables that function.
This set features the standard special features: clean OP/ED and trailers. Typically I don’t really care about extras, but this time I do because I love the ED song and video. I could watch it five times in a row if I let myself.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Some stories transcend their surface elements. Some alchemy occurs where plot, premise, character, and setting mix together to create something greater than their parts, and that’s exactly what happens with K-On! Try as I might, I just can’t quite quantify why I love this show so much.
At first blush, K-On! seems like just another cute-girls-in-high-school-doing-cute-girl things, only with a dash of rock n’ roll added for spice. Those of you who have read my other reviews know that I’ve complained about the glut of this type of stories in anime, so you might be surprised when I say that I absolutely adore this series. My only answer to that surprise is that sometimes a title is so good it transcends the tropes it uses. It turns lead into gold.
Ritsu and Mio are new to Saduragoaka high school, and like all high schoolers in Japan, they must choose a club to join. Ritsu plays drums and Mio plays bass, so they decide to resurrect the currently-defunct Light Music Club (Well, Ritsu does and bullies Mio into going along with her). It starts off well until they hit a snag—in order for the club to exist, it must contain four members. They get lucky when Tsumugi (later known as just “Mugi”) joins, but they still lack that crucial fourth member, and time is running out.
Enter Yui. To call Yui spacey would be an insult to space. While she is sweet and has a good heart, she just thinks differently. Although she does have a friend, she hasn’t quite found a place where she feels like she belongs. She ends up joining the Light Music Club despite the fact she can’t play an instrument. The group pitches together to get her a guitar, and from that point on it’s—as Ritsu likes to say—next stop Budokan!
Except that the group enjoys sitting around, drinking tea and eating sweets during club time instead of practicing their instruments. This provides a constant source of irritation for Mio, and later Azusa, who genuinely desire to improve their craft. Their irritation becomes compounded when their faculty advisor, Miss Sawako Yamanaka, encourages the tea breaks.
It turns out that Sawako was a member of the Light Music Club back when she was a student—spurned to the rock n’ roll lifestyle by a boy who said she wasn’t hardcore enough for him (she goes a bit overboard in compensating). She hides her heavy metal past under a demure demeanor, but being around the girls allows her to let her inner rock n’ roller show. She encourages the girls in their music almost as much as she does in their tea breaks, and she has a borderline creepy penchant for dressing them up in outfits.
When the girls finally settle down and play, they’re great. Their songs are peppy and catchy with silly lyrics and a rock n’ roll spirit that absolutely charms the listener. Yui turns out to be a savant whenever she is able to focus on the task at hand, and she picks up the guitar like she was born for it. Really, this is Yui’s story. Although the strength of the show relies on the strong ensemble, Yui undergoes the clearest character arc of all the Light Music Club members, but the nice thing about it is that it’s subtle. Unlike other anime, K-On! keeps a consistent tone, never drifting into the dramatic or the maudlin. If it had shifted gears, it wouldn’t be nearly so endearing.
And make no mistake, this is an endearing show. I absolutely adored it. Part of it is due to the quality of the animation, which is fluid and dynamic—really, some of the best work I’ve seen in quite some time; part of it is due to the characters, who are all immediately charming and funny; part of it is also due to the tone, which mixes rock n’ roll sensibilities with a sweet, tongue-in-cheek attitude; and part if it is due to the music, which is genuinely good.
All of those elements combine to make a great anime, but they don’t quite explain why I love this show so much. It all comes back to alchemy—that magical process of transmuting basic elements into gold. I’ve seen many excellent anime in my day that possessed the same quality in terms of art, character, plot, and premise, but some of them failed to touch me the same way that K-On! has. I grinned like a fool when I watched it, and I tapped my foot along with the songs. There’s this joy that permeates the show: a silly, open attitude tempered by genuine character interactions. I actually watched the movie before I watched this, and I jokingly called it the love child of Azumanga Daioh and Beck, but having watched the first season, I think I might have done K-On! a disservice. Certainly there are shades of both those great shows here, but K-On! stands on its own. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to go watch it again. Professor Josh gives this an…
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: September 23rd, 2014
Running Time: 350 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Panasonic Viera TH42PX50U 42” Plasma HDTV, Sony BPD-S3050 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection