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K-ON!: Volume 4 (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 14, 2011 by  



Fun, exciting and all-out entertaining!  “K-ON!” is definitely one of my top three TV anime series on Blu-ray for 2011 and with volume 4, the episodes are the conclusion to season one and what an awesome way to close out the season!  This is too good of a series to pass up and if you are interested in watching a fun series about an all-female rock band…definitely give “K-ON!” a try!  Recommended!

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

TITLE: K-ON!: Volume 4

DURATION: Episodes 12-13+OAV (75 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: November 22, 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

Minako Kotobuki/Shelby Lindley as Tsumugi Kotobuki

Satomi Satou/Cassandra Lee as Ritsu Tainaka

Yōko Hikasa/Cristina Vee as Mio Akiyama

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

The school festival is here again, but Yui is out sick! The girls try to make do with Azusa on lead guitar when suddenly Yui shows up. But her guitar playing is just too perfect and she’s seems to be too polite to everyone. What has happened to Yui, and will she be make it to the performance in time?

Melancholy has set in on a cold winter day, as all the girls face some troubles doing their own thing. But a sudden text message from Yui cheers them up and they are all able to rally together and rock in the New Year at their first live house performance!

The hugely popular animated series “K-ON!” is back with its third volume on Blu-ray and DVD and this time, a new member named Azusa Nakano joins the band!

So, what is “K-ON!”? Well, 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 two volumes are now available courtesy of Bandai Entertainment and in Sept. 2011, a third volume featuring episodes 9-11 is 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 in order for the club to exist and the band preparing for their very first live performances and preparing for another school year in which they hope to attract more members to the club.

The third volume is here and it focuses on the introduction of a new club member Azusa Nakano, a friend of Yui’s sister Ui and a guitarist and the group trying to make her feel comfortable around them.

The fourth volume of “K-ON!” marks the final volume for the first season and features the two final TV episodes plus the OVA.

With the band having practiced together for so long, especially with new member Azusa, it’s time once again for a new live performance at the school festival.  But unfortunately, Yui has caught a cold and is very sick.  The band wonders if Yui will be better before their live performance.

The final TV episode features a storyline that features a storyline of each member who have decided to do their own thing for winter vacation.  Everyone is keeping their lips sealed of what their plans are, but Yui wants to have a hotpot party.  Will the group eventually hang out before their winter break is over?

And the OVA features the band being invited to perform with other female bands for a live gig.  Will Hokago Tea Time be ready for their first live performance outside of a school function?

“K-ON!: Volume 4” features the following episodes:

  • EPISODE 12: Light Music! – The band has a new live performance but with Yui sick, will the band be ready to perform?
  • EPISODE 13: Winter Days! – It’s winter vacation and Yui hopes to get everyone together but unfortunately, everyone is busy and are out doing their own thing during vacation.  Ritsu thinks she has a secret admirer, Mio travels in order to come up with inspiration to write lyrics, Azusa is taking care of a friend’s cat and Tsumugi takes a job at a fast food restaurant.
  • EPISODE 14 (OVA): Live House! – When Hokago Team Time are invited to perform with other bands for their first live gig, how will their first experience performing outside of a school function be?

“K-ON!: Vol. 3” 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.
  • Azusa Nakano – The same class as Yui’s sister Ui, Azusa joins the Keiongaku music club but not sure if she wants to stay because the members do not appear to be taking their band practices that seriously.

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. She is also becoming good friends with Mio since they are in the same class.
  • 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.

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 (which is expected) but the OVA does feature more vibrant colors and a bit more detail.

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 4” comes with the following special features:

  • Brush Pen, Ballpoint Pen Music Video – The English dub music video for “Brush Pen, Ballpoint Pen”.
  • Interview with Shelby Lindley – (6:00) English dub voice actress Shelby Lindley talks about how she got the part as Tsumugi Kotobuki but also her approach to voice acting and how different she is from the character.
  • Trailers – Bandai Entertainment trailers

And the final volume of “K-ON!” is here and the first thing that comes to my mind is how I want more episodes of this awesome, fun and exciting rock n’ roll anime series.

I love this series!  And loved the progression of the Hokago Tea Time band and how each of these young ladies grew up together to become a band that can actually perform quite well and start playing their first major gig.

I love the fact that it focuses on normal high school life but also the formation of a band and the dynamics with each of the members as they go through their ups and downs but also the little cute quirks that come with each character.

I typically don’t go crazy over anime series, nor am I the hardcore fan that goes out and buys anything after I see a series but this is probably the first time since I watched an anime series such as “Ranma 1/2” back in 1992, where I went out and started buying merchandise related to the series. In fact, I have purchased the PSP video game, the Figma figures and it has become one of my favorite series that I have really got into in a very long time in this manner.

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 gakusei-based anime series (student anime series – focused on a school setting).

If anything, while the episode “Light Music!” eventually shows us Azusa now playing live with the band, the growth is seen in the OVA episode “Live House!” as the band ventures out of the school setting and are performing with other bands who perform different styles of music.  You sense their fear when they started out but eventually learned along the way.

So, I look at these two performance episodes as growth episodes for each of these characters.  The final TV episode #13 was rather interesting because it is a story about individuals not relying on the group.  For the majority of all episodes, these teenagers are together.  But for “Winter Days!”, they are busy and want to do their own thing for winter vacation.  You would never think of a wealthy daughter such as Tsumugi wanting to work at a fast food restaurant, Azusa’s fear of cats, Ritsu finally removing the headband and showing us how she looks with bangs and of course, there is Mio…trying to create more music.

So, I’m quite happy that this episode was created because it gives us insight to the characters outside of the group and the band.

The final volume of “K-ON!” was absolutely fun and entertaining and now is the big question, will Bandai bring the 26-episode+OVA to Blu-ray?  I hope so!

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! It’s a wonderful anime series on Blu-ray and there is really nothing like it out there (although one may want to check out the live action film “Linda Linda” if they are interested in a storyline of all-girl rock bands).

Overall, another exciting, fun and entertaining volume of “K-ON!” and definitely one of my top three picks of must-own anime series on Blu-ray for 2011!

Definitely recommended!

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