Saturday, July 21, 2012

K-On! (Japan 2011)

The much-beloved manga-turned-anime, K-On! (けいおん!), finally gets the big-screen adaptation fans have been clamoring for. We all know that series' do not always translate well when turned into a feature-length film, however, as a rabid K-On! fan myself, I'm pleased to say this animated movie does not disappoint.

For those that don't know, K-On! is about a group of high school girls that join the music club at school and form a band. They call themselves Houkago Tea Time, or HTT for short. The series focuses mainly on their friendships and the moments they share in school and in the music club. The movie finds the girls, Yui (Aki Toyosaki), Mio (Yoko Hikasa), Ritsu (Satomi Sato), Tsumugi (Minako Kotobuki), on the cusp of graduating high school, and while they have big plans to attend university together, they worry about leaving their underclass bandmate, Azusa aka Azu-nyan (Ayana Taketatsu), behind. They're also planning a big graduation trip, because that's just what you do apparently, and after some assistance from the club pet turtle Ton, they pack up and head to London! Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi decide that there's no better way to say thank you and to show their appreciation for Azusa than by writing a song just for her. They plan to write the song while on their trip, looking for a little London inspiration. Azusa begins to grow suspicious as the others do their best to keep their song-writing plans a secret. As you can imagine, while in England, the girls find themselves in a few wacky, unexpected situations while taking in the sights, but that's all a part of the adventure. When an opportunity to perform for the people of London on the gang's last day of vacation presents itself, time suddenly becomes a major issue when you have a plane to catch! Can the girl's put on a memorable show and still make it to the airport in time to catch their flight? And will Azusa catch on to what the others are up to and ruin the surprise?

Having K-On! made into a full-blown movie, not straight-to-dvd, was an exciting announcement. I'm a big fan of the series and I'll admit that it's even become a mini-obsession of mine. I just find the characters to be incredibly endearing and I think the art style is great. I also really like the attention to detail given to the instruments the girls play, which adds a nice level of realism to the music of the show. As a side note, for those who don't know by now, Ritsu, the drummer, is my favorite. I previously mentioned that a TV series, regardless of being animated or not, rarely translates into a successful big-screen movie, but K-On! fans, fear not, this is a movie that will not disappoint. It picks up right where the second series left off, the art is more detailed and the animation has clearly been given an extra layer of polish. It appears that all involved with the film took the extra time (thanks to a nice budget I'm sure) to add a bit more TLC to everything. All of the characters, memorable characters that is, from the series are in the film, even if only for a few minutes (Yui's sister Ui, Jun, Nadako and, Sawako-sensei for example). Most importantly, the movie version of K-On! actually feels like they're doing something big with these characters. It's not just an hour and forty-five minutes of them sitting in their clubroom, talking and having sweets. Sure, there's some of that, because that's what these girls do, but they pack their bags and head out on a big adventure. It's really a lot of fun to see them in a foreign environment (literally and figuratively speaking), because it's something you haven't seen in the series. Also, there are some original songs written for the movie and if you enjoy the music the K-On! girls put out, then these songs will be right up your alley. You'll be sure to hear some of their "classics" in the film as well. Is a near two-hour animated film too long? Perhaps for some, most likely those who didn't read the manga or watch the anime, but for a fan, it's a great running-time and you almost don't want it to end. The only downside for the movie that I could think of is that it's not really accessible for those unfamiliar with the series. Sure you can still watch it, but will you care as much about the characters? The series spent 41 episodes and countless smaller specials, developing the relationship between these characters and getting you, the viewer, invested in it.

All-in-all, I found K-On! the movie to be a great success and I'm the not the only one. It had a huge opening here in Japan, beating out Steven Spielberg's Tin-Tin at the box office when it was released and where I'm from, that's saying something. The people have spoken. Who knows what the future holds for this series, but I can only hope that there's more K-On! somewhere down the line. It would be a shame to say goodbye to these characters, but if I'm forced to, the movie was a satisfying way to do it. (Lee)

Grade: A

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