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K-ON!: Volume 1 (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 29, 2011 by  



The immensely popular “K-ON!” anime series has arrived to the US and its on Blu-ray. While the features of the Blu-ray release may be limiting to some, I’m going to say that this series is one of the most entertaining anime TV series that I have watched in a long time and I’m so happy that it’s finally out in the US.  After watching this first volume of “K-ON!”,  I can now understand why this series has become a pop culture phenomenon not only in Japan but worldwide. It’s awesome and I can’t wait for volume 2!

Images courtesy of ©Kakifly/Houbunshua/Sakura High Band. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: K-ON!: Volume 1

DURATION: Episodes 1-4 (100 Minutes)

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen), Dolby Digital, Audio: Japanese 2.0 and English 2.0, Subtitles: English

RATED: Suggested 13 and Up

COMPANY: TBS Animation/Bandai Entertainment

RELEASE DATE: April 26, 2011

Originally Created by kakifly

Directed by Naoko Yamada

Series Composition by Reiko Yoshida

Screenplay by Jukki Hanada, Katsuhiko Muramoto, Reiko Yoshida

Music by Hajime Hyakkoku

Character Design by Yukiko Horiguchi

Art Director: Seiki Tamura

Chief Animation Director: Yukiko Horiguchi

Animation Production: Kyoto Animation

Production: TBS

Featuring the voices of:

Aki Toyosaki/Stephanie Sheh as Yui Hirasawa

Asami Sanada/Karen Strassman as Sawako Yamanaka

Ayana Taketatsu/Christine Marie Cabanos as Azusa Nakano

Chika Fujitō/Laura Bailey as Nodoka Manabe

Madoka Yonezawa/Xanthe Huynh as Ui Hirasawa

Minako Kotobuki/Shelby Lindley as Tsumugi Kotobuki

Satomi Satou/Cassandra Lee as Ritsu Tainaka

Yōko Hikasa/Cristina Vee as Mio Akiyama

When Yui Hirasawa enters high school, she wants to join a club but can’t decide which one is right for her. Fortunately, the Light Music Club is desperate to find another member or else they’ll be disbanded! With the enticement of delicious snacks and assurances that no musical experience is necessary, Yui joins up, becoming the guitarist in this all-girl high school rock band. Together with Mio Akiyama on bass, Tsumugi Kotobuki on keyboard, and Ritsu Tainaka on drums, they’re going to rock the school and someday make it to the Budokan! Now, if only they can just put down the snacks long enough to practice…

“K-ON!”, it happens to be one of the hottest anime series in Japan that has not only dominated in the TV ratings but also on Japan’s Oricon music charts!

The series has been a phenomenon as it has attracted fans all over the world, those who want to cosplay as the characters, those who want to sing like the characters and those who want to play the music of the characters.  Just one look on YouTube and you can see how passionate people are for this series!

“K-ON!” began as a four-panel comic strip written and illustrated by kakifly and the manga would then be serialized in Houbunsha’s seinen manga magazine “Manga Time Kirara” between May 2007-October 2010.  In April 2011, the manga was relaunched on both “Manga Time Kirara” and Houbunsha’s magazine “Manga Time Kirara Carat” with two separate storylines.

The popularity of the manga series led to a 13-episode anime TV series which aired in Japan on April-June 2009, an OVA episode in Jan. 2010 and a 26-episode second season titled “K-ON!!” which aired in Japan from April through Sept. 2010 and a new OVA released in March 2011.

The series would also lead to a Sony PSP music rhythm video game and now fans in Japan are awaiting for the film adaptation set for Dec. 3, 2011.

As for fans in the United States, there has been high anticipation for its anime release and now the first season will be released in separate volumes courtesy of Bandai Entertainment.  With the first volume (featuring episodes 1-4) being released on Blu-ray and DVD in April 2011.

“K-ON!” is a play on the Japanese word “keiongaku” (light music) and the series follows four high school students of Sakuragaoka Girl’s High School who are members of the “keiongaku” club.  The four characters featured thus far in the series are Yui Hirasawa, a naive and clumsy student entering high school who is not entirely sure what she wants to do in terms of extracurricular activities.  While she tries to figure out what she wants to do, two other students, Ritsu Tainaka and Mio Akiyama join the keiongaku club to find out that most of the members have graduated and the only way they can keep the club open is if they have four members.

Because Ritsu plays the drums and Mio plays the bass guitar, they hope they can find other musicians and form a band.

Fortunately, a new member joins the group, Tsumugi Kobobuki, a student from a wealthy family who plays a Korg Triton Extreme 76-key keyboard.  Now all they need is one member.

While Yui is trying to think of activities to do, she sees a flyer for the keiongaku club and in her mind, she remembers light music as something she did when she was young student in elementary school and so she joins.  Meanwhile, the other three members are happy because with a fourth member, the club will stay alive but also the fact that maybe Yui is a guitarist and now, they can start their own band.

But Yui is not a musician and if anything, what she loves about the club is the ability to eat desserts and drink tea with the other members but when the three members perform in front of her, she becomes inspired and wants to be a member of the club and be part of the band.

The first four episodes features the startup of the new Keiongaku club, how the new members try to help Yui become a guitarist and how the four members become friends.

“K-ON!: Vol. 1” features the following characters:

  • Yui Hirasawa– Yui is a naive and clumsy student who likes to sleep, eat and go shopping.  But when she joins the Keiongaku club, she becomes the group’s newest member and the band’s guitarist.  She tries to learn how to play a Heritage Cherry Sunburst Gibson Les Paul standard electric guitar.
  • Ritsu Tainaka – The most vocal person of the Keiongaku club.  She is a drummer that plays a yellow Rick Marotta Signature Yamaha hipgig drum kit and always upbeat, energetic, sarcastic and often always playing jokes on her good friend Mio.  Sometimes she can get in the nerves of the other members but she is the most determined in wanting to make sure the club exists and that they form a band.
  • Mio Akiyama – The levelheaded person of the group and the smartest student among the four.  She plays a Fender Jazz Bass.  She originally was planning to join the literary club but her friend Ritsu tore up her applications and made her join the Keiongaku club.  Although a person who knows quite a bit about music, she is also quite shy and is easy to scare.  She can’t take anything that deals with anything scary, ghosts, blood, injuries or anything macabre.
  • Tsumugi Kotobuki – The daughter of a very wealthy family.  Known as “Mugi”, she plays a Korg Triton Extreme keyboard and is a piano prodigy.  She is known for her blonde hair and thick eyebrows.  Because her father owns a variety of businesses including a maid cafe, she often brings desserts to the club meetings.

OTHER CHARACTERS:

  • Ui Hirasawa – Yui’s younger sister who tends to get Yui out of a jam.  Unlike Yui, Ui is more responsible and mature and takes care of her older sister.
  • Nodoka Manabe – Yui’s childhood friend and confidant.  Smart and intelligent, despite how Yui is at times, Nodoka always supports her.

VIDEO:

“K-ON!” is an anime series that is stylishly created but also features beautifully painted art backgrounds.  Presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1 anamorphic widescreen), one thing that I love to see when it comes to anime series is the attention to detail when covering a modern setting.

A lot of TV series tend to not make the backgrounds of a city landscape so detailed and tend to put a lot of recycled trees, dirt and sky but “K-ON!”, is not one of those anime series.  There are scenes and also still images of natural settings that are beautifully painted and added to the series.  There is detail for the instruments, for the desserts and I felt that with each episode, aside from the practice room and the wideshot image of their school, there was always something new being featured in terms of location.  So, the color palette of the series is full of color and nothing is stale or seemed regurgitated.

With that being said, the colors are a bit saturated and uber-vibrant but for an anime TV series, for the many decades I have watched Japanese animation, for anime series that are set in a modern Tokyo setting, I prefer anime series that focused on the smallest things such as what is tacked on a pinboard, posters in a room, the manga and books on Yui’s bookshelf, I prefer those small details rather than a vibrant close up of a character but with backgrounds that are stale, static and boring.

“K-ON!” is one of those series where those little things matter and for me, those attention to small details enhanced my appreciation for the series.

AUDIO:

If there was a weak side of this Blu-ray release, I’m sure the audiophiles might be a bit cranky that the soundtrack is not Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA.  What you get is an English and Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.  What surprised me is the fact that even with the work for the English dub version, there was no change to make it a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack or to increase the bitrate for Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA.   But for a Blu-ray release, those who expect lossless audio are going to fret about it, while those who have been waiting for this series to come out to the U.S. will be perfectly fine with the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

Personally, I chose to have my receiver play the anime series with stereo on all channels for a more immersive soundscape.  But nevertheless, with the awesome music featured in the series, it would have been wonderful to hear that music via uncompressed lossless.

As for the voice acting, I am a bit biased to the Japanese voice acting but I did watch the series also with the English dub soundtrack and for the most part, the voice acting will appeal to both fans who prefer one over the other.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“K-ON!: Volume 1” comes with the following special features:

  • Interview with Stephanie Sheh – (10:21) English dub voice actress Stephanie Sheh talks about her character, how she got the part, if she is like her character and more!
  • Trailers – Bandai Entertainment trailers

I personally have been waiting for “K-ON!” to be released in the U.S.

I have heard so much about the series and even when I cover the weekly Japanese music sales charts for J!-ENT, I can’t help but notice how many times K-ON! has dominated the charts and even beating popular artists in single and album sales.  Personally, I have never seen an anime series have this much success musically and I couldn’t figure it out until I watched “K-ON!” for the very first time!

The music is awesome!  The characters are entertaining.  The animation and art backgrounds were very good and for the most part, it has been a long time, possibly since “Azumanga Daioh” in which I really enjoyed a gakusei anime series (student anime series – focused on a school setting).

I have seen music-based anime series, from the long running “Hummingbird” idol pop anime series to an anime series like “NANA”.  But while “NANA” had its flair for the dramatic and also featured a more young adult theme, “K-ON!” is a series that attracts people of all ages.  It captures the youth of one wanting to become a band, to be part of the band and to fit in.

In Japan, you can watch variety TV shows such as “Gakkou e Ikou” (Let’s go to School) or films such as “Linda Linda Linda” and there are many young people who want to play music.  While here in the West, there are shows and events that spotlight this, in Japan, its a bit more magnified because these storylines are brought to television, film and manga.  There are constant music auditions throughout Japan featuring many young teenagers who want to make it and these auditions are featured on television.  Especially female students who create a rock band.

“K-ON!” captures that essence of those female students wanting to create a rock band and the series gives life to those characters and while keeping the stories fun and light-hearted, I was very impressed with how music is integrated into the series.  From the instruments featured, the focus on chord progression and hand/finger movements.  While there is an anime series such as “La corda d’oro ~primo passo~” that does focus on intricacies of instruments and focuses more on classical music, the show is more magical in a sense that a fairy gives the protagonist the power to play the violin.

In “K-ON!”, the anime series keeps things real.  Students having to deal with homework, the realization of the expense of  the cost of a guitar, the amount of practice it comes to learning an instrument but also capturing youth and everyday life and interests and eventually showing the progression of these individuals being a band and playing good music.

And speaking of the music, “K-ON!” features awesome music!  The ending theme “Don’t Say ‘Lazy'” is a wonderful song with awesome guitar playing and if you look on YouTube, you can see guys and girls, including some individuals who are pretty hardcore in playing “K-ON!” music.  It’s catchy, enjoyable and I can understand now why the soundtracks, the singles have dominated the Japanese music charts.  A lot of care went into the planning of this series and its music and it shows!  And I also have to say that the animation for the ending theme of “Don’t Say ‘Lazy'” is stylish and very cool to watch! Often at times, I forward through the ending theme but in this case, I always look forward to it.

As for the Blu-ray release, I know the more hardcore technical Blu-ray reviewers will probably be a bit more unforgiving to “K-ON!” and its saturated colors and lack of a lossless soundtrack and there will be some who may be critical that there are only four episodes on this Blu-ray release, but I enjoyed this anime series so much that I know I am a bit more forgiving than other reviewers.

Overall, if you want a fun, entertaining anime series with cool characters, awesome music, “K-ON!” is a wonderful series thus far. I can’t wait for volume 2!

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