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K-On! Ultimate Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

21 min read
Every club room is special for someone.
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Tea, biscuits and rock n’ roll, Japanese style.

What They Say:
K-ON! the Ultimate Collection contains anime episodes 1-14 of Season 1, episodes 1-27 of Season 2, and K-ON! the Movie directed by Naoko Yamada.

The Sakuragoaka Girls’ Academy curriculum traditionally focuses on the three “R”s of reading, writing and arithmetic, but Ritsu Tainaka wants to add two more “R”s: Rock and Roll! To do that, however, Ritsu has to save the Light Music Club from being shut down due to little problems like not having any other members or a faculty advisor.

After strong-arming her best friend Mio into joining and convincing Tsumugi Kotobuki to make it a trio, Ritsu’s would-be rockers are soon only one talented guitarist short of the quartet they need for school approval. What they get, unfortunately, is Yui Hirasawa, who’s never held a guitar in her life, but she’s determined to learn! Will the school halls come alive with the sound of music? Find out as four outrageous girls band together in K-ON! The Ultimate Collection!

The Review:
Audio:
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. 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. The movie is kind of similar in a lot of ways even as it gets the natural 5.1 bump up but it does have some areas where it stands out more with incidental sounds of the world and especially with the music. Both tracks serve their material well, which is key, and both mixes come through clean and clear here without any dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2009, 2010, and in theaters in 2011, the transfer for this property is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The set contains forty-one episodes spread across five discs with the movie on its own disc and the movie extras on its own disc as well. 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. Having seen three or four different releases of this over the years, the show is one that has its appeal with the details in the backgrounds, the simplicity and appeal of the character designs, and some of the standout moments when they actually play their music that breathes some great life into it. This encoding captures what makes the show special and brings it to life wonderfully, whether the slightly simpler TV material or the upped the budget feature anime film.

Packaging:
The packaging for this ultimate collection is not a premium set, which kind of surprised me that they didn’t go that route. What we get is an oversized Blu-ray case with additional hinges inside to hold the six discs overall. It’s a solid case if standard one and it accomplishes what it needs to in the basic way. The front cover brings us our core cast together as they hang around in the clubroom flashing peace signs all about. It’s subdued in a way because of the simple background and basic school uniforms that they wear but the character designs are very appealing and that’s what stands out the most. The logo gives it some additional color but it’s kept at a respectable smaller size along the upper right side. The back cover goes for something a little more detailed with a really nice red background with some gold edging to give it a bit of class. Within that we get a few shots from the show and film with a decent summary of the premise in its most basic form. There’s a good listing of how much material is included and that the bonus disc is separate. The technical grid breaks down things so that it reflects both TV and movie technical aspects along with some production credits. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu:
The menu design for this release has a good look to it overall though it leans less on character artwork than one might suspect. The large portion for each disc is given over to the multi-color piece where we get the instruments laid out in white against the pop of color that’s done up with an almost polkadot-like layout. This gets your attention and is almost a bit garish when combined with the red and gold effect of the back cover used as the wrap around the navigation block. That area is a bit cleaner overall with stars for episode separators and the use of pink and black managing to not look garish. Each new aspect of the franchise changes this up a bit in terms of color but and it provides for some good variety. With the upbeat music playing along, it all moves quickly and easy as a main menu and doubles well as the pop-up menu during playback. Selections are quick and easy and referencing during the show is a breeze with the pop-up.

Extras:
The extras for this release are all brought to the final disc which is where we get a collection of the various openings and closings, which is definitely welcome to have in one collection. The bulk of what we get is from the movie though with a lot of material coming in at close to two hours.

The first is a twenty-minute “dubbing” report that has the main girls being interviewed, or mostly playing games with, while in the booth that’s kind of cute and silly but far, far too long. We also get a twenty minute press conference piece from 2011 that TBS did which involved a London bus being used, which I suspect you don’t see too often in Japan. It’s all done up for the movie of course and leads to the full costume press conference with the girls which is sparkly and fun, but about what you’d expect from a press junket. There’s also a twenty-three minute piece from TBS that looks at the whole K-On phenomenon with some good concert footage, behind the scenes stuff and exploration of the show itself. It’s a nicely done promotional piece, though it feels a bit more middle school aimed in terms of how the presenters work it, but it brings in bits from other extras to showcase the cast and production. The movie premiere event is another twenty minute feature that showcases the leads talking before the audience at the premiere of the film and hits up a lot of the usual things with their feelings on the production, the characters and its meaning.

A really fun feature that I had hoped would be included is here with a thirty minute behind the scenes look at the director, Naoka Yamada, as she flew to London and experienced all of it. You can see how much of that trip ended up in the film and it’s a very fun little work-vacation video log. The release also includes a fourteen minute piece called the K-on Music Hall that does a similar thing to one of the other specials in how it’s set up for TBS to promote the hell out of the movie by showing things with the cast and some of the concert footage and the series itself. TBS went all out to promote this movie and it shows.
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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 began as a twelve-episode series, got a two-cour follow-up, some OVAs, and a feature film along with a couple of games. The property was “all that” for several years and helped to really put into the mainstream the whole girls club thing with music that exploded from there. With the original manga ending in 2012 and a new series kicking off in 2018, it does feel like a good time as a tenth-anniversary thing to go back and pull all the anime works together. Sentai Filmworks has a lot of material here with forty-one episodes, a film, the shorts, and a couple of hours of extras in one nice little box. Though the show has had a slew of imitators, and a few projects that worked similar but different enough works along the way, this one still stands out as unique even as it set the trend in full.

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.

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.

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