To some, the fact that a K-ON! movie was even green-lit signified some kind end-of-times for anime; while others were most likely ecstatic to hear that their favorite show was hitting the silver screen. I personally like K-ON! I like it enough to want to buy it on Blu-ray… at a discount, mind.
But, I don’t love K-ON!
The show certainly had a handful of fine episodes, the characters were generally likeable, and the animation was top stuff. So, I went into this movie expecting at least a generally pleasant experience. And to that end, the movie delivers splendidly.
As it’s been a while since I’ve seen K-ON!!, I had to expend some brain power figuring out where exactly this movie fit into the continuity, and who some of the lesser known characters were. Also, Yui’s parents making an appearance is apparently not a spoiler, as it seems that they showed them in the show’s second season. Goes to show how good my memory is! But let’s see if I can’t remember at least some of the events in this movie…
The first half of the movie centers around the girls planning their graduation trip, while most of the second half is the trip itself. The film fits quite snugly into the show’s continuity; even going as far as to recreate a scene from the TV series at the end to tie it all together.
Given its setting, the first half of the movie is more or less business as usual. The one real game changer is the movie’s opening, which I won’t spoil, as it’s just too good. Yes, people laughed, at least at the movie theater I was at. But aside from that, the first hour–for better or for worse–just feels like another episode (or two, I guess) of the TV series. The girls are all at their best here, with their quirks shining as brightly as they can for the silver screen. Yui’s dumb, Ritsu is energetic, Mio is easily embarrassed, Azusa is responsible, and Mugi is… well… Mugi. The secondary characters also get their requisite few minutes to shine in order sedate the hunger of their respective fanbases.
What makes the movie stand out from the numerous TV episodes that surround it is the Keionbu’s trip to London; a huge change in scenery in stark contrast to the show’s entirely Japanese setting. English architecture! English signage! English people! English voice acting! Now that’s what you want in a movie! And yes, there are more than a few instances of un-subtitled English voice acting for the sake of authenticity and flavor. The actors are actually gaijin (you know, what the locals over here like to call people like me), but they don’t seem to be trained actors. Either that, or they’re acting under really poor direction. Not like it really matters, as the target audience obviously doesn’t care, but their stilted acting did result in some solitary chuckles on my part.
The girls’ trip to London is interesting because it explores their character traits in a completely different setting. While this doesn’t result in anything revolutionary, seeing them struggle with English (with some cartoony foreigners) and react to the strangeness of a new land demonstrates some level of awareness and depth that K-ON! never really had up until this point. Their adventures when they first land are some of the more charming moments in the film. It’s a joy to watch them just be themselves in a different country. Yes, it’s mostly played for laughs but… you’ve seen Japanese tourists, right? It’s not that far off!
That said, I wish this culture shock and exploration was given a few more scenes to shine. After their first night, the movie montages through the girls doing a lot of touristy things throughout the city. The character of London that the movie develops falls into the backdrop a bit too early for my tastes, and simply becomes just that–a backdrop. Which is fine, I just think it would have been more fun to watch them mess around in London for just a bit longer.
In exchange, the movie goes back to focusing on something that it concerned itself with a bit in its earlier half: The club’s farewell present to Azusa. This running theme makes for some funny sitcom-esque moments where Azusa walks in on the girls planning on something, with the girls then pretending to not have been doing anything. It’s a good theme for the movie to tie itself around, but like I mentioned before, it could stand to be a bit looser. But if that was the case, it’d probably become Shoushitsu-length. Which I wouldn’t mind, by the way.
But aside from kind of breezing through London a bit too fast, the movie moves at a pleasant, relaxed pace. Par for the course, basically. In fact, since the movie has two hours to let various parts of it breathe, certain plot points (I laugh inside when I mention “plot” in regards to K-ON!) are explored in good detail, whereas in the TV series events in one episode don’t typically carry over to the next, and stuff is resolved in the space of 22 minutes. That is, when there’s stuff to resolve. It’s K-ON!, after all.
I’ve never actually been to London, but the movie’s visual portrayal of the city seems incredibly detailed and real. For one, I didn’t notice any English mistakes in any of the background art, which leads me to believe that the backgrounds were primarily photo sourced. The level of detail speaks to this as well, which is also part of why it’s sad that the city isn’t explored more than it is. Maybe I should just go to London and instead of vicariously living through cartoon high school girls, huh?
While on the topic of visuals, the movie looks no different from the TV show. Which is to say, the movie looks quite good, as the TV animation was already of a very high standard, and it’s hard to really top that. But if I’m going to the movie theater and paying 1800 yen to watch a movie, I do expect a slight upgrade in quality. Maybe I’m just stuck in that 90s anime mindset where End of Evangelion looks amazing, while Evangelion just looks like a TV show. Each episode of K-ON! is more or less near anime-theatrical quality anyway, so I shouldn’t really be whining. And to be fair, the movie does have two nice money shots.
That said, this is a movie, and if you’re not going to up the ante a bit on the visuals, you have to do at least something else to make yourself worthy of gracing the silver screen. While the movie did satisfy my base expectations, I wanted more of a shock to the system. And that’s my main issue with this film: It doesn’t put enough effort into trying to stand out from the rest of the series. Sure, there’s attempts–a good half of the movie takes place in a foreign country, but like I mentioned before, it’s not explored in as much detail as I would have liked. The focus on the girls trying to do something nice for Azusa is a fine subplot, but it’s not really outside of the series’ usual reach. In fact, that first scene is probably the only time the movie really turns the series’ usual formula on its head and does something a bit daring. It’s probably my favorite part of the film.
I know it’s stupid to moan about this sort of thing this late in the K-ON! game, but at the very least the movie needed a musical performance that beat the pants off of the sort of stuff they did in the show. All of the musical performances in the movie are the same sort of low energy performances I remember from the TV series. I know asking for a second helping of Haruhi’s God Knows performance is a tall order, but I don’t remember K-ON! even doing something half that good. Didn’t Yamada Naoko do that scene? I expected at least that much out of this film in the finale.
There weren’t even any new songs! Well, aside from the opener and ender, which I remember being inoffensive and in keeping with series’ musical style. And that end animation is pretty sick, as usual.
But you know? This is K-ON! This series has always been about the fun of one’s daily routine, and making a movie that–on the whole–doesn’t really stick out from the rest of the series, is in keeping with that idea. However, I still can’t help but wonder if it’s okay to be satisfied with this cop-out of a reason…
Whatever. I enjoyed the film. I will probably buy it on Blu-ray. It’s fun, it’s nice looking, and it works. That’s all it really needs to do, I suppose.
As an aside, while I was there, I took a quick look at the slice of humanity that surrounded myself and mt-i as we watched this film. I won’t say we were the oldest guys there, but we were probably in the upper-echelon. Lots of young girls (who while standing behind me in the line for goods couldn’t stop talking about how cute “THAT SCENE” was) and young men. I even heard babies in the crowd, and saw young kids. There were some otaku-types (us), but they weren’t the overwhelming majority. That said, this was Ikebukuro, so that probably skewed the demographics somewhat.