Apr 03 2009

Capsule Review: K-On! Episode 1

vlcsnap-8900It is no mystery that I’m a huge Kyoto Animation fan. I am also a huge fan of pop music/idols, and I am a huge fan of club/seitokai stories. Well, take all three elements, put them in a blender and stir well. What you end up with is K-On! (Kei-On!) I’m sure there was a lot of pressure on Kyoto Animation to make this show a hit, and if the first episode is any indication, I think that most of us will be satisfied (well, at least until Haruhi Season 2 comes out). Sometimes products can become a victim of their own hype. I really was worried about K-On! because the manga isn’t a really well established franchise. Still, all of the components for a good show are here, plus Kyoto Animation has shown that it is capable of producing some very fan-pleasing animation. Based on the 4-koma manga by Kakifry (Japanese for fried oysters, another reason to love the show), there are only two bound volumes out. The show is the directorial debut of Yamada Naoko. In fact, I can’t find much on Yamada aside from key animation and background credits, but she does seem capable. I’m still shocked at the firing of Yamakan from Kyoto Animation, but I still think that perhaps Kyoto Animation found a fresh face with new ideas, something I look forward to in K-On! (Also hats off to them for bringing in a female director! If I recall, there are not very many.) Anyway, on to the show.

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Our story begins with Hirasawa Yui on her first day in High School. We discover she is rather clumsy, but always full of energy. During her mad dash to her first day of school, we are introduced to the other members of the band in background scenes. Later, we are introduced to Yui’s childhood friend, Manabe Nodoka. Nodoka, unlike her very distracted friend, appears to be very diligent, and later joins the student council. The story revolves around the keiongaku Club, or light music club, that faces disbandment due to the fact that all of the prior club members have graduated. The advisor for the club, the school music teacher (as of yet unnamed), tells Tainaka Ritsu, who desperately wants to be in the club that if the club cannot recruit 4 members, it will be disbanded by the end of the month. (Hey, isn’t that the fate of the Drama club too? There are a lot of people out there tormented by club closings in Japan, I swear). Ritsu, now self-appointed president, manages to snare her friend, Akiyama Mio, into joining the club. Kotobuki Tsumugi rounds out the trio when she stumbles on the keiongaku club looking for the choir. Looking for a fourth, then stumble upon Yui. Unforunately, neither Yui nor Ritsu, Mio or Tsumugi are very good at playing instruments, nor can they read sheet music. Still, the four appear destined to become good friends, and save the keiongaku club.

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Kyoto Animation never fails to amaze me in their flexibility. Some studios focus on producing consistent animation of a similar style and focus. Kyoto Animation on the other hand seems quite willing to take risks. As Konata says, they are a studio that focuses on certain types of titles. K-On! seems to fit that pattern. The OP feels like a mix of Kannagi, ZONE (for anyone who got into them after Haruhi) and Manabi Straight. The overall animation style is very loose, with the ever morphing arms and legs that is becoming more and more common in animation (Think Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsuna Koto-Natsu no Sora, which makes perfect sense considering Kobayashi also directed Beck and ParaKiss). There is a lot of extreme foreshortening, but this doesn’t bother me one bit. You notice this when you see hands on this show, they are exceptionally small and slightly deformed. The motions are extremely exaggerated and as a result are very expressive, taking full advantage of the one thing that manga and eroge lack and animation is all about, motion. The characters themselves fit the modern loli trend of portraying older girls in a very stylized fashion, as KyoAni did with Lucky Star. In some ways the overall image of the show fits the new trend towards the bandol trend that was started by Zone and brought into anime through Haruhi. The gothloli band ED was also really cool. Somehow it reminded me of a harder version of a FINKL video I saw once.

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The show itself is very cute, and it shows a bit of a feminine touch (or my imagination of a feminine touch) with the very loose, hand drawn art used in the transitions. I actually noticed that there is a liberal use of nonverbal expressions in the voice acting, which actually is very effective. The heavy use of face morphing (ironically it seems subdued after just watching Special A) also reminds me of Lucky Star. Perhaps a bit of Kyoto Animation’s bias towards my generation is evident, since the scene transitions feature an audio cassette, which to me would be totally lost on most kids, and clearly harkens back to the 80s when tapes were the medium of choice for sharing music. I’m pretty sure this fits with the Kyoto Animation nostalgia for cassette tapes that made them release the Lucky Star “Cape of Thirty Years” enka song by Kogami Akira on cassette. If you know anyone who collects enka, you know that there are still shops in Tokyo that sell in this format…mostly for the over 70 crowd. I know, because I had to help my parents get some tapes for my grandmother last trip to Tokyo. Oops, off topic. In any case, the music is, of course, very light and j-pop, but the reference to Detroit Metal City was not lost on me!

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I only wonder if Jeff Beck knows that not only is he getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this weekend, but into the hearts of anime fans as well!

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