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K-ON!: Volume 2 (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 5, 2011 by  



Highly contagious!  Hilarious and outright enjoyable and fun!  “K-ON!” has become one of my favorite anime series and I can’t get enough!  Volume 2 is another must-buy and “K-ON!” is a series that is recommended!

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

TITLE: K-ON!: Volume 2

DURATION: Episodes 5-8 (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: July 5, 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

As the Light Music Club rehearses for their performance at the school festival, they realize that they’re not officially registered as a club. They need to quickly find a faculty advisor, but that’s not something that a little blackmail can’t fix. As their new club advisor, Miss Yamanaka coaches Yui to become the frontman of the band and pushes her to the point of losing her voice. Mio is forced to be the lead vocalist in her stead, but can she overcome her stage fright?

Later, the Light Music Club celebrates Christmas with a party and gift exchange, and soon another school year begins. If they want the Light Music Club to live on even after they graduate, they’re going to have to recruit new members, and that means another performance at the freshman reception!

“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 the first season has been released with the first volume now in stores courtesy of Bandai Entertainment and now a second volume featuring episodes 5-8 out on Blu-ray and DVD.

“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.

In the first volume, 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 second volume focuses on the club dynamics, having to find an advisor for the club, preparing for their live performances and preparing for another school year in which they hope to attract more members to the club.

“K-ON!: Vol. 2” 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.  She also has an intriguing interest in the club advisor, Sawako Yamanaga.

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.
  • Sawako Yamanaka – A beloved teacher known for her kind heart, she also carries a secret, she is a former member of the Keiongaku music club during her high school years and was a member of a death metal band known as “Death Devil” as the lead guitarist and vocalist.  She has tried to hide her past but when the members find a photo and music of her past, as part of a deal for them to keep it a secret, she becomes their advisor. Despite seeming to be responsible, she is quite wild and an airhead like Yui.  And also making the members dress up in costumes that she creates.
  • Azusa Nakano – The same class as Yui’s sister Ui, Azusa is looking for a club to join and discovers the Keiongaku music club.
  • Jun Suzuki – Ui’s and Azusa’s classmate who is tempted to join the club.  But will she?

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  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 details, such as what is inside their bedrooms and home.  What’s inside the stores when they go shopping, etc.  I love seeing those details instead of the typical walls or trees that are part of the banality anime TV series.

“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 2” comes with the following special features:

  • Fuwa Fuwa Time Music Video – (2:20) The English dub music video for “Fuwa Fuwa Time”.
  • Interview with Cristina Vee – (7:36) English dub voice actress Stephanie Sheh talks about her character (Mio Akiyama), how she got the part, if she is like her character and more!
  • Trailers – Bandai Entertainment trailers

As I wrote about in my last review, I personally have been waiting for “K-ON!” to be released in the U.S. and after watching the first volume, I absolute love this series!

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).

In the second volume of “K-ON!”, we get to hear a new song “Fuwa Fuwa Time” from the band and for the story, we get to see a few things come into play.

In episode 5, titled “Advisor”, we are introduced to the club advisor Ms. Yamanaka and this calm and well-liked teacher turns out to be something else entirely when her secret is revealed to the keiongaku club.  Of course, we get to see other sides to the characters as well.  One, seeing Mugi actually having a crush on the advisor.  Yamanaka, definitely brings comedy to the series and it will be interesting to see where her character goes in future episodes.

In episode 6, titled “School Festival”, we get to see how the vocalist is chosen for the band but also get to see more of Mio and her fears.  She’s a fun character to watch because of her duality.  She’s mature in front of the members when it comes to her school work but watching her get scared of blood, monsters, stage fright, etc. was quite interesting.

In episode 7, “Christmas!” is not only just a Christmas episode but it helps set the storyline for Yui’s younger sister Ui, who becomes a major part of the band and also as a friend to the other girls.  We get to see how Yui’s younger sister is actually more mature and helps take care of her clumsy older sister.

And for episode 8 titled “Freshman Reception!”, this introduces viewers to Azusa and how she decides if she wants to join the club or not.

But overall, these four episodes were so hilarious, fun and highly enjoyable.   This is one of those light-hearted series that if you want to get away from the serious or dark anime or if you are having a long or tough day, “K-ON!” is the feel-good anime series because it’s all about having fun, enjoying life and doing your best!  That’s what I love about this series!

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.  And its evident from the various young bands that have come from Japan straight out of high school that have become signed to a major label.

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.

With this second volume, you also get “Fuwa Fuwa Time” and although you do get the dubbed version of the song as an extra, there is something exciting and enjoyable about the Japanese vocal tracks and the music that I just love listening to!  But it’s all about preference but you do get the voice talent singing in English for the dub.

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 towards it than other reviewers.  Do I wish the whole first season was presented as a complete series, sure I do!  But I understand that anime companies have different strategies, especially those who are closely tied to the Japanese business side of the anime industry.  That’s how it is and I don’t see it changing any time soon.

But I’m loving “K-ON!” and if you are an anime fan who loves a straight-up, feel-good anime series with nothing dark, nothing to risque but something just all out-fun, give “K-ON!” a chance!

And for those who did purchase “K-ON!” volume 1, volume 2 is a must-buy!  Recommended!






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