What They Say:
Rock n’ Roll may never die, but the Sakuragoaka 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 beat 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 in her 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!
Contains episodes 1-14.
The audio presentation for this release is pretty good as we get the Japanese and English language tracks in stereo, both of which are encoded in DTS-HD MA. This season was released originally by Bandai Entertainment on Blu-ray but it wa crippled with the Japanese audio to just Dolby Digital, so getting it in lossless form here is definitely a big positive. The show is mostly just dialogue based and it has a good flow to it here with good placement throughout and an appropriate sense of depth where needed. When the show shifts to the music, it does pick up a fair bit more, though not overpowering, and it has a greater sense of warmth and richness about it that works well in the series favor. K-On isn’t a series with an over the top score or audio design to begin with, being a slice of life series, but it’s well captured here. Both mixes come through clean and clear here without any dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2009, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The set contains fourteen episodes spread across two discs with nine on the first and five on the second, giving everything plenty of room. K-On does play to the slice of life angle but with a good bit of detail and some very fluid scenes throughout, particularly when the music is involved. There’s a good sense of color here and a lot of detail, both in characters and backgrounds, that gives it a pretty lived in feel while still having a clean and accessible look. The transfer captures the colors well with only a few areas of noticeably noise in some of the solid color backgrounds. Generally speaking, everything looks very good with no line noise or cross coloration issues to be had either.
The packaging for this release is done up in a standard sized Blu-ray case that also goes heavy on the blues with the background as it has a solid field of it with the shadow of the logo over it in a lighter shade. On top of that we get the four main girls here in a circle as they play forward towards the viewer with all their respective instruments on hand. It’s a good looking piece overall that’s heavy on the blue, which makes the red and white of the logo stand out all the more. It’s certainly eye-catching. The back cover goes for something a little more traditional with a pink and green border border that blends into a white one with music notes while inside we have a lot of text and a few shots from the show. It’s all done on line paper design that ties it to the school aspect well, but there’s just a lot of text here. The layout is good, extras are clearly listed and the overall episode count is solid. The technical grid lays everything out accurately as well and there are no show related inserts nor a reversible cover.
The menu design is similar to what we got with the second season previously and it’s a mixed bag with is design while being a positive in terms of functionality. The bulk of the screen is given over to a green hue with some little widgets inside of it while having the series name, in a light color, overlaying it. It’s essentially a big plot of empty space for the most part. While it’s okay, what does salvage and sell it is navigation strip along the bottom that has stars for each episode with each of them done using different colors. This strip, which doubles as the pop-up menu, has a really strong feel to it with lots of colors and a big sense of fun about it. Submenus load quickly and language selection is a breeze.
The only extras included are on the second volume in the form of clean versions of the opening and closing sequences. Sadly, the interview material done with the English language voice actors from the previous edition didn’t make it to this release.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the seinen manga of the same name by Kakifly, K-On is a twelve episode series that aired in the spring of 2009 with the animation done by Kyoto Animation that comes with two bonus episodes. K-On developed quite a following in its initial airing and spawned the additional material and a follow-up series that aired throughout 2010 for another twenty-six episodes. I had seen the first few episodes originally on Blu-ray years ago, but never saw the rest of the first season. But I ended up seeing the follow-up series and film, so it’s interesting going back to finish it out in this way. While the show is one that plays deep in the realm of moe as all the girls are very cute and cuddly, it has an interesting flavor to it that is strangely reminiscent of Beck in a way. The music element, one that avoids classical music in fact, is a welcome change of pace for a show of this nature. While you can’t say they rock out, it’s a good bit of fun.
K-On revolves around several characters as an ensemble piece, but its central focus is on that of Yui. Yui’s a fun character overall as she’s one of those new kids in high school who has a very positive outlook on things, a smile on her face and a love of all things cute. What gets her is that she’s easily distracted. One scene shows her walking across the street to meet her friends that are there, but she ends up stopping to pet a dog and completely forgets that her friends are there. She’s not a good student, but there’s a great scene where she goes through a heavy cram period with her friends and ends up blowing them away. She’s the kind of person that just needs the proper application of herself. Yui is easy to like both when she’s flighty and when she’s completely focused on something.
What draws her into dealing with other people is that as a first year student at the high school, she has to find herself a club to join. She’s not sure of what to join and because of how distracted she is but luck has her meeting with a few other students that need a fourth body in order to keep the Light Music Club going. The club has a trio of pretty fun girls in it that want to use the club in order to start a band. Yui’s all eager when she learns about the club but after she put in her application she opts to get out of it. All of that changes quickly though when they serve her some great treats with some tea. It’s kind of a silly kind of thing at first, but eventually they do draw her into it, but she has to find an instrument.
The group she becomes a part of does play to the usual archetypes but they’re pretty nicely done. Ritsu is the most outgoing of them all with the kind of very active personality which is why she’s ideal on drums and pretty good at it. Mio is the opposite of her as the quiet and slightly shy girl who is very studios but has plenty of smiles for everyone. She’s the bass player of the group and it’s another very appropriate matching as she gets very into it when she plays. The other archetype that’s in the group during these first four episodes is Tsugumi, the wealthy and proper kid who has little experience with the real world and plays the keyboard. She has a cute scene where when the gang goes to the fast food restaurant, she’s all excited about it because she’s never been to one before.
Within the first few episodes we get the basic coming together storyline and the basic exploration of their personalities. All of them come across well and as a group they’re the types that play well off of each other. We do get little tidbits about them as they go through their academic and social lives, but a lot of the focus early on here involves Yui finding the instrument that really fits her the best. She ends up focusing on a guitar at Mio’s suggestion, but that has its challenges as well since she comes across a $2500 guitar. Seeing her looking at something like that without even playing a chord beforehand is kind of amusing, but it says a lot about how she is when it comes to dealing with the world. Thankfully, her guitar playing doesn’t look to be a passing fancy though as the group starts coming together with the goal of putting on a really good show at the upcoming cultural festival where they have to live up to the reputation of past groups within the club from years past.
Coming into this after getting exposed to a lot more of it through the second season and movie, and understanding the culmination of their journey, it’s really enjoyable to watch this portion of it. The simplicity of their challenges is certainly charming and there’s an ease with which they all go through their lives as there’s not a lot of adversity for them to face. But they have such an earnest and straightforward approach to things, and to each other, that it becomes very easy to root for them. What they do throughout this to hone their craft – and to enjoy their treats, is very fun to watch. But what strikes me the most as it progresses is just how smoothly these cast of characters comes together and how at ease they really are with each other. The result is that it’s a finely tuned machine overall but a machine with great heart to it. It manages the usually hard task with me of even making me like all of the characters here as there’s nobody that I really wish wasn’t in it.
Though Yui is the focus early on and it becomes more of an ensemble along the way, there are a lot of instances where it seems like Ritsu is the real lead of it. And that gives it a pretty interesting flavor since she has the connection to Tsumugi and Mio that goes back a bit, which plays well with how welcomed Yui is. I rather liked Ritsu this time around a lot more than I have in my past experiences with the show and particularly the playfulness between her and Mio. Tsumugi also has some really fun scenes throughout the season with the way she has to deal with her family from afar and the way they’re so disconnected from the way she wants things to be simple and normal while dealing with her friends. That also plays well with her friends when they see the reality of it, and while it should have a little more meat to it in how they all interact with each other I can’t fault it too much because that isn’t what the show is trying to accomplish.
The supporting side to the series is often what steals the show though at times. I really loved their advisor, Sawako, as she has her history with the light music club and that has some beautifully hilarious moments to it and some great interactions with the club members themselves. I also liked seeing how Azusa was introduced to the show, since she was a regular in the material I’d seen before. Her coming in as a first year after the others have moved up to second years provided some good passage of time elements and a decent repetition of events and holidays with new twists that shows some wonderful growth for all involved. Azusa almost feels like one character too many within the show, but as she finds her place she ends up providing some great insights and new configurations for the cast. And there’s even so much fun with the minor characters like Nodoka or Yui’s younger sister, which has some wonderfully hilarious small side takes along the way. It’s a strong cast overall.
K-On is a show that I’ve struggled with as a whole at times because it is that slice of life series that can be frustrating because little really happens. But the beauty of it is that a lot happens as the characters grow up in front of our eyes across this and the other releases. It’s done so very well and with such detail in small but great ways that it’s almost deceptive in how it happens. This season deals with the first year aspect that starts this group and friendship in a big way and it progresses well, building onto the cast with new additions, fleshing out the supporting side and advancing the larger narrative of growing up and figuring out what really makes you feel alive. This release brings the show together in a good, solid way that should please fans of it for the most part with a bright and colorful transfer, well done audio for both tracks and a solid price. It’s been a long time coming for me to see this season in full and it definitely reshapes my view of the property as a whole.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD Ma 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: September 1st, 2015
Running Time: 350 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.