Saturday, April 23, 2011

Review: K-On Volume #1 (Blu-Ray)

Directed by: Yaoko Yamaka
Screenplay: Reiko Yoshida
Based on the Manga Written by: Kakifly
Animation Studio: Kyoto Animation Studio
USA Publisher: Bandai Entertainment
Episode: 1-4

Mugi, Mio, and Ritsu

K-On is about four girls who join their school’s Light Music Club before it gets disbanded. A seemingly modest story concept would become a multimillion dollar franchise with a legion of followers across the world. When K-On was first announced in 2009, no one expected it to become the enormous franchise it is today. Originally starting as a 4 panel manga in a seinen magazine, it transitioned into anime where it exploded in popularity. In Anime Expo 2010, Bandai Entertainment announced that they would be releasing K-On in the United States. The first volume containing the first four episodes has finally been released in the states. The series looks incredible in its Blu-ray iteration, with a great script, gorgeous animation, a cast of likable characters, memorable music, and excellent pacing. The only downside is that you get four episodes in this release.

Mugi with her hat
K-On is a slice of life anime about four girls in high school. The story starts out with Yui Hirasawa, the female lead, trying to determine what kind of club she should join. Ristu Tanaika forces her friend Mio Akiyama to join her in the Light Music Club, only to find out that it will be disbanded since the club needs four members. Tsumugi Kotobuki stops by the club room to join the choir club, and decides to join the Light Music Club because of the playful banter between Ristu and Mio. Yui mistakenly assumes that the Light Music Club is an easy club and then joins, only to realize her mistake. As she tries to leave they pressure her into joining because if she left, the club would be disbanded. After Mio, Mugi, and Ritsu plays together (miserably), Yui decides to join the club. The slice of life comedy would then go into a variety of ensuing situations, like trying to get Yui her guitar, helping Yui retake an exam she failed, and having a club training camp at the beach. From the descriptor it might sound mundane, but it is anything but dull.

Mio's introduction
A slice of life anime lives and dies on the strength of the main cast, and K-On has an exceptionally good cast of characters that are likable and well-developed. Yui Hirasawa is the lead character of K-On. At first glance she is indolent, undisciplined, and thoroughly normal. As the first four episodes develop you see that there is much more than meets the eye, she is quite a savant on the guitar, playing a riff perfectly that she only heard on tape a couple of minutes ago. Yui is also a person of extremes, completely dedicating all her energy and effort into something at the cost of something else. Mio Akiyama is the beautiful, tall, and exceptionally shy bass player. Mio has a strong work ethic, pushing the girls of the Sakura High Light Music club. Mio is mature and strict, especially with her friend Ritsu Tainaka. She gets embarrassed easily when the spotlight is on her, which is why she refuses to do any job that requires personal interaction and plays the Bass in the band. Mio is also well known among the fans for being the well-endowed member of the cast, but her proportions are very realistic (no High School of the Dead or Queen’s Blade here). Ritsu Tainaka is the tomboy president of the light music club and the band’s drummer. She is cheerful and very sarcastic, poking fun of Mio whenever she has the chance. She is very smart at brainstorming but always seems to fall through in the execution. Tsumugi Kotobuki is the club’s piano player and a stereotypical wealthy girl.  Mugi is a genius on the piano, winning many awards at a young age. She is a sweet girl who is always smiling and happy. The main cast is backed up by a set of secondary characters with a lot of face time. The first one is Ui Hirasawa, Yui’s reliable and mature little sister. She is one year younger than Yui and her personality is the complete opposite of Yui’s. Nodoka Manabe is Yui’s close friend. She is intelligent and very well-mannered, a perfect foil for Yui.

A great anime also needs a great script to hold it together, and K-On has a superb script. K-On’s story originally came from a manga aimed at working men, but the anime has a slightly different feel to it. The reason why is because the scriptwriter is none other than Reiko Yoshida, the legendary shojo screenwriter behind shojo classics like Aria, Kaleido Star, Maria-sama ga miteru, Peach Girl, and Tokyo Mew Mew. The female touch she gives to K-On gives the dialog a more organic, natural feel than the original manga. The dialog amongst the female cast when talking about guitars to getting part time jobs feels organic and rich. The anime’s pacing moves very fast because of her excellent writing. Seemingly mundane situations feel more interesting with Reiko Yoshida’s great script.

Having seen the anime in Japanese, I was quite interested to see how the English voice acting would compare to the incredible Japanese Cast. After watching K-On in English, I can say that I am not disappointed. Stephanie Sheh, one of my favorite English Voice Actresses because of her work as Princess Natalia in Tales of the Abyss and Silmeria in Valkyrie Profile 2 does the voice of Yui Hirasawa. I think that Stephanie Sheh does a great job as Yui, bringing the high pitch of Yui into English without being shrill and infuriating. Cassandra Lee was as equally good in her interpretation of Ritsu Tainaka. Ritsu is the sarcastic tomboy, and Cassandra brings it out in her pleasing performance. Cristina Valenzuela, another one of my favored English voice actresses because of her work as Saki from Ar Tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel and Noel Vermillion from Blazblue does the voice of Mio Akiyama. Initially she was a little weak as Mio, but as the first episode moved along her performance got much better and she ultimately does an outstanding job as Mio.  Shelby Lindley rounds out the cast as the voice of Tsumugi Kotobuki and I think she did great in her job. While it is difficult for any of the voice actresses to live up to the unrealistically high standards that the community placed on them, I think the English voice acting for K-On is very well done.

Mio lecturing Ritsu
If you are looking to satiate your sexual desires or if you desire going through an angst filled drama, then you are looking at the wrong anime. K-On is a enjoyable, jubilant, drama-free anime. In an unusual twist, an anime filled with high school girls is completely devoid of fanservice. The most fanservice you will get is having your favorite girl on screen saying a piece of dialog with an extended camera shot on their face. A lack of fanservice is because the anime has a female director and a female scriptwriter. This series is a very family-friendly anime that you can show to anyone. It is happy and energetic, the type of anime that would be a perfect panacea when you are having a bad day at work or when you don’t do as well as you want in an exam.

The animation and music for K-On is very good for a TV show. The production values are very high compared to many other series out there. The animation is very fluid and natural, with characters moving from frame to frame with relative ease. It looks gorgeous in 1080p, with the transfer being near-perfect. There is zero dithering, no aliasing and there is no color bleeding. K-On looks gorgeous in 1080p and is a great showcase for why all anime should be on Blu-ray. The music for K-On is great, the opening and ending songs are memorable and very catchy. Music in the anime is simple and effective. K-On is a slice of life anime, there is no need for a pounding dramatic musical score. The visual and auditory package of K-On is top class.

K-On is a very popular anime, for good reason. It has an excellent cast of characters that interact well with each other. The screenplay is terrific, making ordinary situations and dialog seem quite interesting. The Japanese Voice acting is one of the best out there, with the English Voice Actresses bringing a wonderful performance. The anime is free of drama and fanservice, and that makes it even better. The production values and music are top class. The overall package for K-On is great. You get the first four episodes, but you get the first four episodes of a great anime. K-On has a great community of fans; I am hoping that this new Blu-Ray release can bring some more fans into the fold of this wonderful community.

You can buy K-On in these great retailers:

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