There was a bit of concern around whether the UK would get any more of K-On! after relatively disappointing sales of the first series caused the cancellation of a proposed Blu-Ray boxset. However, after a bit of a gap the second series hit our shelves and now we get the most recent part of the franchise - K-On! The Movie.
The film follows on directly from the end of the second
series, with Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi all on the verge of graduation and their
time in the light music club drawing to a close. Their younger bandmate
Azusa is going to be left behind when they go on to college, and the girls want
to get a present for her as a memento of their time together in the band, but
are stumped at what to get. There's also the question of a graduation
trip, several other clubs are doing one but after getting their passports the
girls of the light music club have made no concrete plans. Hoping that the
trip may inspire some thoughts of what to get Azusa they decide to press ahead,
narrowing down their choices and eventually settling on a short break to London!
The destination is set for their last big trip together and the girls invite
Azusa along with them, but will England be able to trigger an idea for what to
get her? And more to the point how are the scatterbrained Yui, impetuous
Ritsu, terminally shy Mio and endearingly airheaded Mugi going to cope in a
country where they only have a very basic grasp of the language? They may
have wanted to do something for Azusa, but as the most level-headed of the group
it may be that Azusa will have to do something for them!
Yes, K-On! is back, and like a jumper on a winter's day it's as warm and comforting as ever. Fans of the series will find that it has changed little following its leap to the big screen, the central cast is present and correct, the animation is the same (no big budget CGI effects here I'm afraid) and the generally cheerful, happy and light-hearted tone that made both series such an easy and enjoyable watch remains intact. In fact the biggest difference between this film and the last series is the music, in that there is some in the film.
One of the strangest things about series 2 of K-On! was that - despite focusing on a band formed in the light music club - there was barely any music in it, even the times when the band performed you only got to see a few flashes of their songs before it went back to them drinking tea and talking. To start with the film looks like it may follow a similar track, but as it goes on we are treated to several full songs from the band as they fall into accidental performances at a sushi restaurant and an outdoor festival. It's nice to see them playing some music, it's just strange that the writers had to take them halfway round the world to do it.
The storyline, like that of pretty much the entire
series, is pretty lightweight. K-On! is largely a sitcom, a
slice-of-life tale of a group of school friends in their final years at
school. The franchise draws its entertainment from the interaction
between the central cast, there's no real story arc and this is pretty
much the case in the film too. In fact the only real narrative
running through the film is the search for a present for Azusa and
trying to keep the search a secret from her, prompting a slight dramatic
undertone as she frets about why they seem to be doing something behind
her back. Most of the humour comes from her getting the wrong end
of the stick and from the group's trip to England, particularly their
struggles with the English language. It's because of this that the
film works much better in Japanese, and a special mention must be given
to the Cockney-accented Londoners in the Japanese dub, it was a bit of a
surprise that they went to the effort. The London trip is a bit of
a whistlestop tour with the girls visiting a few tourist attractions and
taking in the parks of central London and the music shops of Camden,
whilst some major landmarks are just glimpsed in the background.
The film does avoid some of the clichés you often get from American
films set in England, with the characters often going a little off the
beaten track and refreshingly staying in a budget hotel (an Ibis no
less, although the rooms have never been like the ones in the film when
I've stayed in one). They don't randomly meet the Queen or
accidentally steal the Crown Jewels or anything, they just have a short
break as tourists, braving the buses and tube and having a good time.
It's quite refreshing when compared to the fake version of London you
often get in films.
The main issues with K-On! The Movie are the same as always. The whole thing is just too damn nice, there's never a sense of drama or peril, no big hurdles for the girls to overcome, very few misunderstandings and no arguments. It's strangely compelling viewing despite this, but the cast is never really stretched in any way, and despite the near two hour running time you may as well be watching a couple of episodes of the TV series. Some of the best moments come from their attempts to make themselves understood
in London, seeing them dropped at the wrong hotel, or mistaken for performers when they go to sushi bar for food, so it's a shame that it takes the film a while to take them there. The first half of the film is pretty indistinguishable from the series, and it's only in the second half when they actually go to London that the film sets itself apart in any way. There are also some extremely convenient coincidences (such as Ritsu meeting someone she knows in London), and some slight disconnects from reality (they surely would have got their bags nicked in real life if they left them lying around as much as they do in the film), but mostly their problems are pretty endearing. There's plenty of good observational humour that will strike a chord with holidaymakers everywhere and it's quite interesting to see Britain from an outsider's point of view, even if it is something of a 'spot the tourist attraction' session. There are a few missed opportunities though, why oh why didn't they try and put Mio in the London Dungeon or take Yui to see the waxworks in Madame Tussauds?
K-On! The Movie is, like most of the franchise, the anime equivalent of a nice cup of cocoa before bedtime. It's warm, sweet and relaxing, and very hard to dislike. To be fair the film doesn't really stretch the franchise beyond what we've already seen in the series, focusing largely on the friendship shared by the girls and how they work together to overcome minor inconveniences. There's plenty of tea drinking, some nice moments of culture-clash humour and more musical performances than the last series gave us, and the characters are once again engaging and likeable. The vague plot underpinning the film of finding a present for Azusa has a nice ending to it (like you expected anything else), and as a whole the film is enjoyable and entertaining viewing. It's sometimes a bit too cloyingly nice and earnest, and it does gloss over some intriguing potential plot elements (such as Azusa's fear of being left behind), but despite the lack of action, romance or even drama it remains an enjoyable film. If you've been unconvinced by K-On! so far there's nothing in the film to change your mind, and it doesn't stretch the franchise in any way, but it's hard not to be won over by its simple, light-hearted charms. It's gentle, sedate and endlessly likeable, so curl up with a cup of cocoa and just enjoy it.
Quite a bit. Trailers, various promos and TV spots and a couple of short 'making of' reports make up the bulk of the extras. Most of the promos are from various opening night shows in cinemas around Japan and feature the film's voice actresses taking questions from the audience, there's also another interview between the cast and an interviewer from the TV station that screens the anime. There's also a special episode of a Japanese music programme focusing on the real life Hokago Tea Time - the actresses from the anime perform live too and have had several hit singles and sell out tours - as well as an intriguing location report showing the film's director scouting places in London for the girls to visit. It's a shame there's not more of the live music performances on the disc, but it's a decent selection of extras nonetheless.