English Dolby Digital Stereo
Japanese Dolby Digital Stereo
For two full years, Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Tsumugi have worked together to keep Sakuragaoka Girl's High School's struggling Light Music Club alive, and along the way they've begun to build a reputation as real rock musicians... especially since the previous year's addition of underclassman rhythm guitarist Azusa. But as a new school year begins, there are new and scary challenges ahead. With four fifths of the club graduating at the end of the year, replacement members have to be recruited. There are college exams to prepare for, colleges to choose, and friends to prepare to say goodbye to. But no matter what happens, they'll have their faculty adviser and secret former death metal guitar/vocalist Sawako Yamada there to help them in her own unusual way, especially since she's now their homeroom teacher as well! Most of all, they'll have each other. The group of amateur musicians who barely knew each other has become much more than just a band, and by the time this school year is over, they're going to achieve something so amazing it requires multiple exclamation marks!!
It's a little thing to just enjoy anime. We place so much emphasis on how it looks, sounds, plays out like and who's in or making it. So I found myself staring at the discs for K-On!! Part 1 and thinking that I just wanted to enjoy an anime without the drama of talking with people about it online or having some preconceived notion about it.
Thankfully, the K-On!! bandwagon has long since left town in English speaking territories. Created in 2007 by Japanese artist Kakifly, it started life as a 4 panel gag manga before being turned into an animated media juggernaut by Kyoto Animation (fresh from their success at The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya) with two TV seasons, games, OVA's and a final theatrical film. The manga follows four friends who meet in Sakuragaoka Girl's High School and form a band after saving the Light Music Club from being discontinued. The four friends eat cake and have tea in the club room when they are not practising or performing. That's the entire summation of the series.
By the time I came to this review, the fans have moved on from this franchise but it's still has fans worldwide. So I think I can look at it without needing to check if the offend tag is on. After all the hype, was it worth the wait? Yes, but I will explain why it might not for some. The first thing to get out of the way is that this is a quick gag anime so a lot of the situations the girls find themselves in could be easily solved but that would defeat the point of the show. Each girl has a quality meant to draw every cross section of the audience in: Mio is supposed to be sensible but is a bundle of phobias and neuroses. Ritsu is the club president but acts like the class clown, Mugi is the rich girl but has no scruples about talking with the common folk and is great at everything and Yui is a klutz who shouldn't operate heavy machinery. All of these qualities make the target audience in Japan want to fawn over the four girls. Which they do and so do K-On's fans worldwide. And while you may argue about whether or not you could watch thirteen episodes of four girls just passing the days in school away eating confectionary and drinking oolong tea while playing electric guitar at the school auditorium, what can't be argued is that Kyo-Ani have figured out the exact formula for the cute girls doing cute things genre in anime. If you say on the first episode that this is boring you, turn it off and watch something you will enjoy. If not, then you're in for the long haul because each episode is pretty much like the last. The girls, plus second guitar player Azusa (who joined them at the end of the first season), get into flusters and flutters about every little thing, go on trips, annoy their mentor and homeroom teacher Miss Sawako and generally while away the hours during the days.
Where K-On! works is that even though every episode is like the last, it triggers feelings we all had at some point in school. Hanging out with our friends, getting into some mischief and not having a care in the world are all rites of passage as school goers so we can definitely see ourselves in the Ho-kago Tea Time band's exploits. For all the grief I endured as a student, I miss those days and would gladly step back into them for a while if I could. But I can't, so shows like this and ARIA help recreate the sentiment. So such series can be called slice of life stories but it would be more accurate to call them recall life stories. Please note, however, that nothing really bad or stressful happens to the girls in K-On!. Contrast this to Cross Game which is slice of life but tackles the bitter moments as well.
All the girls have their particular traits and quirks but I think Mugi is my favourite. For such a serene character, she constantly says things or does things that are weird and odd. Her passion for Yakisoba is interesting, making her go to great lengths to find it. The others are good but only Miss Sawako with her wild former life as a death metal musician makes me want more. Animation wise, Kyo-Ani are masters at their craft and caused a meltdown in the Japanese prefecture that they used as a model for the school the story is set in because fans of the show descended upon the place like locusts. This is because the animators copied the real life locations exactly and we all know how good the internet is at identifying stuff, right? Yeah, the prefecture didn't think it was groovy at all. Never mind because each episode looks lovely and the opening and closing animations are cheesey J-Pop anthems.
This show is so well known amongst anime fans that I bloody well own four of the Alter figures of the band (I'm missing Ritsu and her drum kit) despite having not properly seen the series until now. This is a show that you will either hate and never watch or you will get the concept being sold to you and have a good time with five girls who just want to have fun. This is a fun little jaunt that hurts no one. Moe and all.
No extras on the disc to speaking of and despite the fact that distributor Manga UK are releasing the finale K-On!! movie on blu ray and DVD, the series remains a DVD-only affair here in UK/ROI land.