K-On! Vol. #1 (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, April 15, 2011
Release Date: Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My god, it's full of moe!

What They Say
When Yui Hirasawa enters high school, she wants to join a club but canât decide which one is right for her. Fortunately, the Light Music Club is desperate to find another member or theyâll be disbanded! So, with the enticement of delicious snacks and assurance that no musical experience is necessary, Yui joins the Light Music Club. She becomes the guitarist in this all-girl high school rock band with Mio Akiyama on bass, Tsumugi Kotobuki on keyboard and Ritsu Tainaka on drums. Together, theyâre going to rock the school and someday make it to the Budokan! Now, if only they can put down the snacks just long enough to practice.

The Review!

Audio:
The audio presentation for this release is pretty much DVD quality as we get the English and Japanese language tracks in their original stereo form using Dolby Digital encoded at 192kbps. There stereo mix is about as you'd expect where it's a decent forward soundstage piece but it feels like it's just weak for what it is. It's not bad, but it's not what you'd think it would be based on other lossless stereo presentations you may have heard, either as PCM or using a different codec. This is likely a licensing/protection issue cropping up again, since Bandai has been good about high definition audio with most of their other releases, so I’m hard pressed to lay much of the blame on them, especially knowing how some Japanese companies are about all of this in the last couple of years. Dialogue is decently placed across the stage and there are some decent moments of directionality, especially with the music, but it's not a mix that really stands out and impresses. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
 
Video:
Originally airing in the spring of 2009, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. With only four episodes to the disc, there's plenty of space to work with here and they use a pretty varied bit rate with it ranging from the mid teens to mid thirties on a regular basis. The show has a lot of still background scenes without a lot of motion, keeping it to the simplicity of the characters moving inside a defined space with little camera motion to it. They come across well with good, solid colors and the show in general has a very appealing feeling to it. There are a few moments when it comes to some of the greens in the background at the school where it feels a touch soft, but generally speaking, from a normal distance and watching it in motion, it's a good looking disc that lets the detail and colors pop very well. Some gradients are visible in a few areas, generally it seems to be on some of their blue school uniforms and only in a few scenes, but it avoids blocking or motion artifacts.
 
Packaging:
K-On comes in a standard Blu-ray case, a blue one and not a pink one like with the Japanese release, while using the same kind of artwork we saw from that release as well. The artwork is pretty appealing as it has the four main characters together in the light music club room together with the soft light of the sun being cast through the window. It gives it all a very atmospheric feeling with a nice kind of warm sense about it that shows just what kinds of friends they are. The colors are nicely muted and it all flows together well here. The back cover plays up the music aspect of it rather nicely where the left side has a close-up of Yui's guitar which dominates things. The majority of the cover is given over to text though, which is at least easy to read against the white background. The summary covers things well and there's a clean listing of the episodes on this disc by number and title as well as a look at the extras. Add in a few shots from the show and the production information and it fleshes things out well. The technical grid covers the basics well enough but I wish they'd break down the audio in more detail so you know what's really there as well as what the resolution of the video is. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
 
Menu:
The menu design for this release is nicely done with some good colors and a cute look to it where the top two thirds is given over to a variety of clips and pretty shots from the episodes on this disc. It's all set to some nice instrumental music that's got a nice bit of bounce to it and plays well with the clips that were pulled together for it. The bottom third has the navigation bar which also is used for the pop-up menu. It's done with two different shades of green for the bars and on top of that we get the series logo and volume identification as well as a nice white strip that has the four main selections in different colors. There's a simplicity to it but it feels very in tune with the show itself. Submenus load quickly and access times are nice and fast. The disc defaulted to English language with songs and signs subtitle track rather than going by our players language presets. Strangely, you can't hit top menu during regular playback and get to the main menu, you have to use just the pop-up menu to get to some access.
 
Extras:
The only extra included on the release is a ten minute video interview with Stephanie Sheh as she talks about the show and the characters that populate it, but mostly things related to Yui.
 
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the seinen manga of the same name by Kakifly, K-On is a thirteen episode series that aired in the spring of 2009 with the animation done by Kyoto Animation. K-On developed quite a following in its initial airing and spawned an OVA in 2010 and a follow-up series that aired throughout 2010 for another twenty-six episodes. While the show is one that plays deep in the realm of moe as all the girls are very cute and cuddly, it has an interesting flavor to it that is strangely reminiscent of Beck in a way. The music element, one that avoids classical music in fact, is a welcome change of pace for a show of this nature. While you can't say they rock out, it's a good bit of fun.
 
K-On revolves around several characters as an ensemble piece, but its central focus is on that of Yui. Yui's a fun character overall as she's one of those new kids in high school who has a very positive outlook on things, a smile on her face and a love of all things cute. What gets her is that she's easily distracted. One scene shows her walking across the street to meet her friends that are there, but she ends up stopping to pet a dog and completely forgets that her friends are there. She's not a good student, but there's a great scene where she goes through a heavy cram period with her friends and ends up blowing them away. She's the kind of person that just needs the proper application of herself. Yui is easy to like both when she's flighty and when she's completely focused on something.
 
What draws her in to dealing with other people is that as a first year student at the high school, she has to find herself a club to join. She's not sure of what to join and because of how distracted she is but luck has her meeting with a few other students that need a fourth body in order to keep the Light Music Club going. The club has a trio of pretty fun girls in it that want to use the club in order to start a band. Yui's all eager when she learns about the club but after she put in her application she opts to get out of it. All of that changes quickly though when they serve her some great treats with some tea. It's kind of a silly kind of thing at first, but eventually they do draw her into it, but she has to find an instrument.
 
The group she becomes a part of does play to the usual archetypes but they're pretty nicely done. Ritsu is the most outgoing of them all with the kind of very active personality which is why she's ideal on drums and pretty good at it. Mio is the opposite of her as the quiet and slightly shy girl who is very studios but has plenty of smiles for everyone. She's the bass player of the group and it's another very appropriate matching as she gets very into it when she plays. The other archetype that's in the group during these first four episodes is Tsugumi, the wealthy and proper kid who has little experience with the real world and plays the keyboard. She has a cute scene where when the gang goes to the fast food restaurant, she's all excited about it because she's never been to one before.
 
With the four episodes here, we get the basic coming together storyline and the basic exploration of their personalities. All of them come across well and as a group they're the types that play well off of each other. We do get little tidbits about them as they go through their academic and social lives, but a lot of the focus early on here involves Yui finding the instrument that really fits her the best. She ends up focusing on a guitar at Mio's suggestion, but that has its challenges as well since she comes across a $2500 guitar. Seeing her looking at something like that without even playing a chord beforehand is kind of amusing, but it says a lot about how she is when it comes to dealing with the world. Thankfully, her guitar playing doesn't look to be a passing fancy though as the group starts coming together with the goal of putting on a really good show at the upcoming cultural festival where they have to live up to the reputation of past groups within the club from years past.
 
K-On doesn't really stretch itself all that much here with the storytelling or the characters, but it does do what most moe shows intend to do, which is to make you like the characters as they go through their lives. Though they are archetypes, the music angle makes it a good bit of fun and they're not the focus of any particular boys, at least at this point, and there aren't any boys to speak of in general here. That's another welcome change of pace since it just lets them have fun. There isn't a lot that actually happens in their lives here, as the focus is initially on the instruments and then some good fun when it comes to studying and exams, but it makes you smile. Even the beach episode where they go there for a training camp and instead end up spending the whole time having fun works well. K-On feels like a simple, fun and inoffensive show. It hits its marks right, looks great and makes you smile. Sometimes the moe shows just click very, very well.
 
In Summary:
Considering the reputation that precedes K-On, I can't say that the show won me over completely, but I also put myself into the mode of realistic expectations before watching it. Without any real knowledge of it beforehand, I had a good time watching it and getting to know the characters. The music angle is one that I really like in seeing it come together with the girls. They're all fun with their quirks and personalities and I felt that I wanted to see more of it as it went on, especially with the really well done ending sequence that has me wanting to see them really figure out the whole band thing. K-On has a lot going for it here if you're a fan of this type of show and it's one that's definitely worth checking out. The only real drawback to this release is the lack of high definition audio, something that I had thought we had managed to put behind us awhile ago when it comes to Blu-ray releases, but it's more of a deal breaker for some rather than others. 


Features
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 Language, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Interview with Stephanie She

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: C
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: A - N. America, S. America, East Asia
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 34.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 1080p
Disc Encoding: H.264/AVC
Series: K-On