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Posts Tagged ‘K-On! the Movie’

No spoiler policy: The following review will not mention important plot points or describe scenes in detail. It will only analyze themes and contents in broad terms.

Those interested in spoilers are welcome to visit the plot summary page instead.

With this movie, the K-On franchise begins a new chapter in its conquest of fans’ hearts. The words ‘a new beginning’ get thrown around a lot for every franchise that enters a new medium, but the significance of the event is much greater for K-On than for almost any other recent anime title. The reason for this is twofold.

First, the challenge K-On faces here cannot be denied. The series has charmed many with its loose storytelling, disposing almost entirely of cliffhangers, twists and climax scenes present in other titles. The plot progression has always been as carefree as the lives of the five girls it follows. But the transition to the silver screen, commonly seen as a ‘step up in the world’, imposes limitations that may be particularly hard to swallow for a slice-of-life series. Can K-On, a story about ‘five girls having fun’, meet the demands of scale and pacing… and yet preserve what made it special in the first place?

The second reason is what the series stands to gain if it plays its cards right. The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi was an excellent movie by KyoAni, but it was also nearly inaccessible to anyone but followers of the original series. The storytelling style of K-On, on the other hand, offers it an incredible opportunity to broaden the ranks of its fans. The simple premise of the show allows anyone to dive right into it without preparation. Few people are willing to watch midnight anime shows, but taking a stroll to the nearest cinema might be a different matter altogether. This would mean nothing if the movie were to be dismissed as just another ‘otaku movie’, of course, but this is K-On, the series featured on children’s news programs and the originator of the ‘tehe-pero’ buzzword spreading among female middle school students.

The two points need to be remembered when reviewing the K-On movie, as they leave their imprint on every artistic decision therein.

—Music

As with any other K-On installment, the music in the movie can be divided into in-universe music, played by the characters, and the insert songs present in your usual anime. The movie’s timeline is set before the HTT group’s graduation ceremony, and so the in-universe performances are a reprisal of songs already familiar to fans from the first two television series, with nothing new added to the repertoire. The movie’s soundtrack, on the other hand, includes three new songs: “Unmei wa Endless” with Toyosaki Aki’s Yui singing the opening theme, “Ichiban Ippai” as an insert song, and “Singing!” with Hikasa Youko as Mio in the ending theme.

The tracks known from the main series are used expertly to reestablish HTT as a band with its particular style, as well as to show the characteristics and relationships of individual members. The first HTT piece we hear is “Curry Nochi Rice”. The track is carefree enough in itself, but the circumstances in which it is played make it seem even sillier, reminding us never to underestimate the unfathomable depths of Yui’s psyche. U&I returns as Yui’s most heartfelt creation, showing her gratitude towards the important people in her life. “Tenshi ni Fureta yo!”, the song forming the centerpiece of the movie’s plot, represents the bonds between all the HTT members. At the same time, the old tracks are used to cover new ground and develop the characters further. The HTT members experiment with English translation of their songs, Yui and Azusa exchange their parts mid-performance, and Yui dives into the audience to personally address each of her friends with her vocal part. The creation of “Tenshi ni Fureta yo!” becomes as much a journey in search of the essence of HTT musicality as it is a token of gratitude for Azusa.

The soundtrack songs contain the same duality. Despite being all-new content, the tracks will make all fans feel right at home with the OP/ED structure known from the original series. Yui’s bubbly and hectic vocal sets the mood for the movie and acts as a theme for the HTT itself, accompanied by shots of the characters’ daily lives. Mio’s ending performance offers a more impassioned performance, reminiscent of the second season’s “No, Thank You!” and contrasting strongly with HTT’s lighter tracks. A staff interview mentions that the ending theme of the movie can also be considered to be the theme of the K-On franchise itself – it presents the feelings the girls hold toward their group and music in general.

—Storytelling/Characters

The challenge put before director Yamada Naoko by the producer side could be summed up in just a few words: a scale befitting the silver screen. The idea put forward was “London” – five girls up against the world in what Yamada referred to as a ‘complete coming of age story’.

But anyone expecting the usual Hollywood structure out of this movie is in for a surprise. It seems not even London can win against the ‘my pace’ spirit of the HTT girls. If the travel preparations would normally be considered no more than cinematic ‘necessary evil’, K-On finds delight in showing the process. The graduation trip idea comes about as a result of a misunderstanding, picking a travel destination involves hours’ worth of shenanigans and Yui packing her things is a worrying sight…. Before the girls set foot on foreign ground, the viewers will be well-reacquainted with all their personality quirks.

Even when they finally reach Britain, Yui and her friends have no intention of conforming to any standards. It helps that all of them are virtual trouble-magnets, making it completely unnecessary for them to seek out great adventures on their own. They face the adversities of London with great aplomb, forcing their own brand of common sense upon the city.

It soon becomes obvious that London is just another stage for the interplay of the zany personalities that we all know and love. Yui romances with her guitar, Mio is torn between her passions and defense mechanisms, Ritsu takes potshots at her friends, Mugi gets lost in her own little world, while Azusa should honestly get paid for playing the caretaker of the group. Same old, same old.

It is therefore something of a surprise when the journey turns out not to be entirely meaningless. With the backdrop of a vastly different nation on the other end of the globe, the HTT members realize that they can be themselves regardless of the circumstances around them, and that it is up to them to decide their own goals in music and life.

—The Verdict

The box office results so far are enough to call K-On a financial success, unrivaled by any recent late-night anime adaptation. K-On achieved this through tapping into the otaku resources (encouraging repeat viewing by handing out commemorative film strips for every three tickets bought) while remaining fully accessible to a much wider demographic. This was a huge battle for director Yamada, one full of difficult choices. She mentions the character designs were altered ever so slightly for the movie by making the characters’ eyes smaller, and explains that she wanted “characters that female viewers could easily identify with, not ones focused on appealing to a male audience”. On the other hand, the director made sure not to stray far from the roots that made the series popular in the first place, commenting that she was “careful not to make HTT’s performances too successful”. K-On, she explains, is not a story about the way to stardom. “The girls never played for a nameless crowd, but always for somebody important to them.”

All that’s left is to thank the staff for their hard work and recommend the movie to anyone willing to give it a chance. It’s a new step in the journey of After-school Tea Time – a must-see for old fans and a possible starting point for many new supporters.

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I got around to compiling this plot summary from the notes I took after the screening of the K-On! movie. I wasn’t taking notes while watching (too busy enjoying the thing myself), so there are probably some missing tidbits, but everything in a reasonable cause-effect relationship should be here.

  • HTT makes a playback performance of one of Death Devil’s songs

  • The band discusses an image change and discovering new musicality… but nothing comes of it

  • Yui tells the other third-years that Azusa has only seen them screwing around all the time, and they should do something upperclassmen-like for once

  • The girls agree to prepare some kind of present for Azusa, but Azusa interrupts the conversation before they can get to anything specific

  • Yui hears the volleybal club girls in their class mention a graduation trip and tries to convince the others HTT should go on one too, but she gets shot down by Ritsu, who tells her they should be thinking of Azusa’s present first

  • Yui consults Ui about Azusa’s present. Ui tells her that there is nothing in particular that Azusa wants – just spending time with the band seems to be the most precious thing to her. Ui jokes that the third-years could fail their exams and stay with Azusa for another year as a present…

  • Azusa walks in on her sempai as they are discussing the ‘repeat year’ idea. In a panic to cover up the topic of the discussion (without giving Azusa the idea that they failed their exams or something, as she did hear the unfortunate keywords) Yui comes out with a big declaration: the third-years are going on a graduation trip after all!

  • Azusa tries to politely refuse going with them on the trip (since she’s not graduating, and she’d be a bother, and…) but her resistence doesn’t last long…

  • Time to pick the trip destination! The girls each pick a location (Mio: London, Yui: Europe, Mugi: onsen trip, Azusa insists she can go anywhere, Ritsu I forgot, Hawaii?)

  • Yui offers to pick the location at random… and cheats, putting Europe on every piece of paper. She gets busted by Azusa in no time flat and forced to wear a paper-mask kind of thing as a penalty

  • The girls turn to Ton-chan as their randomizer. Ton-chan is not particularly cooperative, taking hours to pick one of the choices… but finally settles on London, to Mio’s badly concealed exaltation

  • Azusa walks out of the clubroom to call her parents and ask if she is even allowed to go abroad… everyone uses this opportunity to call their parents (the whole trip planning started with a lie, after all)

  • Azusa walks back in to see the other members putting away their phones… and realizes that their safety abroad is largely dependent on how well she can keep her ‘reliable’ sempai in check

  • Somewhere around this point, the third-years come up with the idea to make a song for Azusa’s present. But they immediately think it cannot be just any song. It needs to be something on ‘a world scale’, worthy of Azusa.

  • Yui, in a conversation with Nodoka, expresses surprise at the notion that Europe is not a country. She also corrects Nodoka that no, they are not going to England, they are going to London…

  • Yui packs for the trip in a scene which marks the first appearance of the Hirasawa parents in the show… or of the Hirasawa parents’ legs, at least. Ui helps Yui pack, cramming instant noodles into Yui’s travel bag…

  • The girls go to reserve a tour, but have so many places in London they want to go to that the travel company employee recommends they should take a no-guide tour with full freedom of activities. Azusa agrees to plan the whole trip.

  • Without agreeing to do so beforehand, all the girls except Mugi end up bringing their instruments along for the trip, because ‘it wouldn’t feel right otherwise’

  • All kinds of Yui&Azusa cuteness ensues aboard the plane

  • Some small trouble occurs in London when retrieving Mio’s baggage. The problem is resolved soon enough, but not before Mio incurs some trauma against conveyor belts and things that spin in general

  • Photo frenzy!

  • Yui confronts the door of a British car… London: 1 Yui: 0

  • The girls get to their hotel… or rather, a hotel. Turns out they got the address wrong. Resolving the issue seems to be beyond Azusa’s linguistic ability, and things start looking grim when even Mugi admits the hotel staff speaks too fast for her to understand… Mio saves the day, as it turns out she can perfectly understand any and all English, as long as she doesn’t have to directly face the scary foreigners…

  • The girls end up having to walk more than they planned to, and Azusa learns that going on a trip abroad in brand-new shoes is not always the best idea. The rest of HTT get her to admit that her feet are hurting, and the whole group change plans to go shoe shopping first. Azusa gets a free ride on Yui’s travel bag, too.

  • Everyone gets hungry, so they decide to eat… sushi. But things will not be as easy as they think at the sushi restaurant.

  • The owner of the sushi restaurant gets to confirm Yui and Ritsu’s English ability. Or rather the non-existence of such…

  • Turns out they will not get to eat unless they perform for the guests (or that’s what the two aforementioned bakas understand from their ‘conversation’). Mugi steps forward, apparently ready to resolve the misunderstanding… but in fact ends up just requesting help in finding a keyboard (she didn’t bring hers, after all).

  • With two minutes to prepare a performance, Yui saves Azusa in a pinch by helping her kouhai tune her instrument by ear. London: 47 Yui: 1

  • They end up playing Curry Nochi Rice of all things, because Yui spots an Indian among the customers…

  • Turns out they ended up performing because the band of Ritsu’s friend (from the live house episode) is also in London and had arranged for a guest performance at the sushi restaurant

  • HTT finally reaches their hotel, still hungry. Ui’s instant noodles save the day. (Did the girl really predict things this far ahead…?)

  • Angsting about the song for Azusa, more Yui&Azusa bonding, and London sightseeing snapshots ensue

  • Ritsu forces Mio to board a ferris wheel despite Mio’s newly-gained fear of spinning things… but boy, does Mio end up being grateful when they see the entirety of London stretching out before their eyes

  • HTT gets a more formal invitation to perform at a Japanese culture promotion event from the band they met at the sushi restaurant

  • Sawa-chan turns up in London and brags about the ninja outfits she made (with Jun, Nodoka and Ui as models). HTT flatly rejects the idea of performing wearing those, though.

  • The performance is relatively successful, but almost causes the girls to be late for their plane due to Yui stretching things out (there was a cute baby in the audience, or something)

  • On the taxi to the airport, Azusa falls asleep from exhaustion, showing how much it took out of her to plan and oversee the whole trip. The third-years realize that the song they make for Azusa shouldn’t be any different from their ‘normal’ music, because their style was the thing that brought them all together in the first place

  • The girls get back to Japan, and we have a time shift forward to graduation day, when they organize a last class live (with some help from Sawa-chan)

  • We get a glimpse of how hard Ui had to work not to find out about the secret song despite Yui being Yui… Ui is ❤

  • The third-years gather on the school rooftop before their first performance of the still-titleless song for Azusa. The tension levels are incredible, and nobody is sure if they can make the song as perfect as they want it to be… when, at the last moment, Yui has a flash of inspiration, creating the final version of the lyrics we all know. And finally…

  • “Tenshi ni fureta yo!”

So much for a dry plot summary from me. I’ll come back with a review/favorite scenes post later.

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