Region: 2 - UK
Length: 106 minutes
It's graduation time for the members of Sakuragaoka Girl's High School Light Music Club and Japan's hottest all-girl teen pop group are about to mark the momentous occasion with their very own Magical Musical Tour in the form of a five-day trip to London, England. But, despite their excitement, the girls' minds are slightly preoccupied with coming up with a suitable present for their underclassman rhythm guitarist, Azusa, who is destined to remain in school without them when they all leave for college. Naturally, once the gang arrives in Britain, chaos reigns during their stay as they embark on a whistle-stop tour of the capital, breathlessly taking in the sights from Camden to Earl's Court, Westminster to the West End and Soho to the South Bank. The adventure also sees them unexpectedly unleashing their effervescent pop music upon an unsuspecting but highly appreciative British public!
There's a scene at the end of Peter Weir's Witness where the hero Book (Harrison Ford) prepares to leave the Amish community where the adventure was and go back to being a cop in Philadelphia (back among the English as the Amish might say). Book has been to another country (an Amish community) and, while he liked it, he knows that he must go back to his own world and remember only the good things that happened to him on his journey. K-On!! The Movie might be described as going out among the English and trying to find your way back. We go with five friends worrying about the end of school life together and watch as they remember the reasons why they are such good friends.
The thing that always upsets me about slice of life shows like K-On or ARIA is that invariably they end. Of course, they end but since the shows have a lackadaisical pace you think they'll go on and on. When they do end, I get upset as it was nice to get a little insight into the world they were set in. K-On! is no different. Despite being a monster hit in Japan and legions of fans, so long as the girls had to graduate from high school, the story's days were numbered. So have we come to the end of the journey? Yes, and it is a wee bit sad but not as sad as you might think. We're nearly ready to call time on the four senior girls (Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi) from Class 3-2 at Sakuragaoka High School and they decide to go on a graduation trip to London. Since they are all part of Ho-kago Tea Time, the four, not wanting to leave out their other band member, take Azusa along with them to London. While there, the girls take in the sights and prove that they might leave Japan but they're still as dizzy and ditzy as ever. Naturally, they want to have a good time but the four seniors also have to think of a present to give to Azusa. Since she'll be left behind after they go, they want it to be special.
I must say it took a while for me to like K-On! but now that I've spent time with the show, I can understand why so many people like it. It really is nothing more than five girls hanging out and having fun while learning to be musicians. Where other series ratchet up drama and tension, K-On! takes a more winding road, getting us to a place where we get remember the quiet moments in school or in college where we were certain no finer time could be had than in the social embrace of kinsmen and fellows who truly understood our demeanors and the depth of our characters. The show doesn't ask you to concentrate on higher concepts, that's for other stories to do. As we watch the girls through the show and now the movie, we see facets of them as people we know and as we learn about the complexities of life as a Japanese schoolgirl, we should be happy that they make us laugh or shake our heads in disbelief they could be that flakey. Trust me, life holds no better certainty than knowing you're not the only person getting it all wrong.
The trip to London is a fun one and as it's the last hurrah, the girls go out in style. Ritsu and Mio are their usual selves but they develop this wonderful double act with Ritsu being the band leader but her English is poor and Mio who knows what the English are saying so everything Ritsu says yes to gets them into trouble at a sushi bar but Mio never sees a need to interject. Meanwhile, Mugi is excellent as she watches her friends make edjits of themselves all the while looking for her beloved afternoon tea. Finally, Yui gains what I can only describe as degree of maturity since she thinks about Azusa's farewell present more than her time in London while Azusa gets herself into a panic over how she will deal with her four friends and mentors leaving her for pastures new. Now, this might all sound serious but I had to think about this stuff after the movie was over since it's presented in such a fluffy way. Never pushing ideas onto you, the movie feeds it to you like cakes and tea (pardon the K-On! style pun) in the form of laughs, cultural misunderstandings and the hyper serious task of being a teenage girl.
When the movie was announced and the plot revealed, I thought this would be two things: one, a paean to the musical culture of the great English city and two, a summer vacation movie. Turns out I was wrong on both counts. Yes, they want to see the famous places where their heroes grew up but they spend most of their time just walking around the city, taking it in and playing in gigs organised by their homeroom teacher's friends. Speaking of Miss Sawako, the writers and director of the film wisely hold her main appearance until the right moment. Finally, they deal with leaving their friends and high school behind in a nice and commendable way. Not in an overly dramatic way nor in an emotionally upsetting way but in the crystal clear idea that what made the five girls the people and band they are is not that they went to school together but that they found each other in school and that their friendship will be the same no matter how much distance there is between them or how many years.
I am sad to see the animated version of K-On! going away and I wish there was more to watch but I consider myself lucky that I got to enjoy these little snippets. The story, I'm glad to say, is expanded with what happens to the five girls after graduation in the K-On! manga by original author Kakifly. So now, I must put away the discs for the time being and find something else to occupy my time. Oh, that reminds me. As Book leaves in the end of Witness, the head of the household where he was staying, who didn't initially like him, bids him goodbye and gives him some advice.
"You be careful out there among them English."
I guess that's what the characters in K-On! and myself now get to do.
Sentai/Madman/Manga present the movie on blu ray and DVD with dual languages and a smattering of extras. The dub was good and the English VA's get their chance to shine as good as their Japanese counterparts. I liked the performances in both.
Extras, we get some fluff (all the promo stuff leading up to the release) but the main draw, for me, was the walkaround London with the director Naoko Yamada (who also directed the series). Yamada takes herself and her team and we can see where some of the ideas they came up with ended up in the movie. Some of the ideas that didn't make it seemed like whole other stories in and of themselves. The rest of the material is the standard promos, trailers and clean animations. Good stuff in any case.