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K-ON!: Volume 1(TV) (2009)
It's Yui Hirasawa's first year in high school, and she's eagerly searching for a club to join. At the same time, Ritsu Tainaka, a drummer, and her friend Mio Akiyama, a bassist, are desperately trying to save the school's light music club, which is about to be disbanded due to lack of members. They manage to recruit Tsumugi Kotobuki to play the keyboard, meaning they only need one more member to get the club running again. Yui joins, thinking it will be an easy experience for her to play the castanets, the only instrument she knows. However, the other members think their new addition is actually a guitar prodigy...
For more about K-ON!: Volume 1 and the K-ON!: Volume 1 Blu-ray release, see K-ON!: Volume 1 Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on April 27, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Aki Toyosaki, Yoko Hikasa, Satomi Sato, Minako Kotobuki, Laura Bailey, Stephanie Sheh
Director: Naoko Yamada
» See full cast & crew
K-ON!: Volume 1 Blu-ray Review
Hey, hey, they're the light music club.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, April 27, 2011
Pop bands created expressly for television are certainly not a new commodity. The 1960s and 1970s saw two Top 40 hitmakers in The Monkees and The Partridge Family, both "manufactured" bands that were created with market share in mind and cross-promotional purposes in the grand scheme of things from the get-go. The Monkees famously rebelled against their handlers, leading to the rather quick demise of the group after two years straddling the top of the pop charts. The Partridge Family was more compliant, perhaps due to Shirley Jones' long professional career, but even they (or at least Jones and stepson David Cassidy) seemed to bristle at least a little bit when it was suggested they weren't really singing and/or playing on their big hits. In one of the supreme ironies of this sort of weird subunit of pop culture fame, The Monkees' Swahili Don Kirshner evidently wanted that group to record "Sugar, Sugar," which they resolutely refused to do, adding to the devolving relationship between Kirshner and the "Pre-fab Four", a relationship which soon completely dissolved in acrimony. Kirshner decided he had already helped create a manufactured real life group, and it would be just as easy, if not easier, to manufacture an animated pop group, and so The Archies were born, taking "Sugar, Sugar" to multi-Platinum status and the bizarre distinction of being the only fictional band to ever score the best selling song of the year according to the Billboard charts. The Archies opened up a whole new subgenre of pop music, with a number of animated groups coming along, even if none of them ever had even the one-hit wonderment of The Archies. And following that now long tradition is the Japanese anime K-On!, a sweet if largely uneventful series that follows the adventures of four high school girls who join the "Light Music Club" and embark on a song filled journey as they get to know each other better. There's not a heck of a lot to K-On!, but its generally sweet demeanor which skirts around the edges of traditional moe, keeps it light (no pun intended) and easily watchable, even if as in the case of a lot of pop music, you don't remember much about it after it's over.
K-On! has had a couple of previous home video releases, but this new iteration is perhaps a bit odd in that it includes only the first four episodes, with the rest to follow in separately packaged offerings. On the other hand, this is a quick and relatively inexpensive way to check out the K-On! universe to see if it's something that appeals to you. The four main characters offer some interesting contrasts in style and mannerisms. Yui Hirasawa is a young girl just starting out her high school career and looking for a way to make friends despite her incipient shyness and predilection towards klutziness. She responds to an ad at the high school asking for people to join the school's Light Music Club, which is in danger of extinction if four members aren't found, and soon. Though she misunderstands what the club is all about, and has little to no experience with music, she signs on the dotted line as it were and is soon part of a quartet featuring the other three characters who make up the bulk of K-On!.
Ritsu Tainaka is the opportunist of the group, the girl whose main motivation is resurrecting the moribund Light Music Club which will have the added side benefit of making her President of the club. Ritsu talks her friend Mio Akiyama to join the club as well, even though Mio's main interest is in literature. The third member is Tsumugi Kotobuki, a girl who initially wanted to be part of the school's Choir Club, but who gives in to the requests of Ritsu and Mio so that they only have one more member to find, which of course turns out to be Yui. With the existence of the Light Music Club at least rescued temporarily from the edge of the precipice, K-On! begins to focus more on the girls, their interrelationships, and the progress of their music studies.
As is probably evident from this brief plot summary, K-On! is not exactly a model of complex plot dynamics or even in very deep characterizations. But what is here is an often joyful and very childlike series that is bright, colorful and includes a bevy of hook-laden songs. K-On! may not have the madcap insanity of The Monkees going for it, or even the family dynamic of The Partridge Family (although truth be told it does at least hint at that as the girls become almost like siblings), but it's still so unassuming and gentle that it's hard not to just sit back and enjoy the show for the small scale entertainment it is. Though it probably wasn't in the minds of K-On!'s creative team, there's also a nice subtext here about the importance of music, and though the opening episodes don't really delve too deeply into this aspect, that love for music is part and parcel of the series and might be appreciated more by parents who are seeing their kids' schools cut art and music programs right and left.
The first four episodes of K-On! establish the four main characters, their respective instruments, and their attempts to both procure those instruments and then get their performing lives underway. There's a lot of lightweight but enjoyable comedy along the way emphasized by a clean and direct animation style courtesy of the character designs of Yukiko Horiguchi, working off the original manga conceptions by Kakifly. K-On! proves what an elastic and varied genre anime is, able to support everything from the whimsy of Studio Ghibli to the philosophical ruminations of Ghost in the Shell to the many proto-Apocalyptic fantasies that dot this idiom. If K-On! is less ambitious than any of those other entries in the wide genre of anime, it is unassuming, sweet and very easy to take, and that in and of itself is a welcome relief to viewers tired of too much portentous content.
K-ON!: Volume 1 Blu-ray, Video Quality
K-On! is not the most incredibly detailed anime ever released (even within the confines of the Bandai universe), so its AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1, while fine by its own standards, probably won't overly excite "outsiders" to anime television series. This is a rather surprisingly uncolorful series, albeit flashes of deeply saturated hues come into play as the girls choose their instruments, and the episode featuring the girls working as waitresses has some nice diffuse light effects which help to give some visual variety. The image here is suitably sharp, but this is anime that has not been overly developed, so frequently whole faces go blank, features of various sets are left to the imagination, and there simply isn't a huge variety of detail within the drawings themselves that the Blu-ray can exploit.
K-ON!: Volume 1 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Bandai only provides two lossy tracks on this Blu-ray, the original Japanese track, and an English dub, both in Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes. There's nothing hideous to complain about in either of these tracks, and voice work is clear and consistent in both of them, but for a series emphasizing music the way this one does, one has to wonder why at least a stereo LPCM uncompressed track wasn't provided in at least one of the languages. These are both completely serviceable tracks without having much of a "wow" factor. While the music elements sound fine, there's a lot of great power chord guitar playing going on here, and a lossless track would have emphasized the low end especially, upping the allure of this release considerably.
K-ON!: Volume 1 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
An Interview With Stephanie Sheh (1080i; 10:21) who voices Yui in the English language version, is kind of fun. It's absolutely amazing to hear how deep her real life voice is, considering how high and squeaky Yui's voice is in the series.
K-ON!: Volume 1 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
There's nothing very earth shattering about K-On!, but this is a series that should appeal to moe fans as well as young girls. The series is sweet and good natured, with just a dash of silly comedy highlighting the proceedings, and the stories move along swiftly and easily, if often with little to no consequence. This is a sort of middling show that isn't amazing but is so unassuming that it's hard to be overly critical of it. Some fans may balk at paying a premium price for a Blu-ray that only includes four episodes, but if you need some undemanding anime to while away an hour or two, K-On! could be just the ticket. Recommended.
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