Friday, December 30, 2011

CD review: “K-On! Character Image Song Series” part 1: Yui & Mio

Is it bad if I say I’ve never really cared much for character image songs in general? Granted, they’re obviously going to be a little bit harder to get into than the songs that are actually in the anime, which you get to hear on a regular basis and get stuck in your head before they’re even released on CD… but aside from that, character singles often appear to me to be blatant cash grabs with little to no artistic merit, half-assed productions of uninspired songs relegated to image song status because they just aren’t good enough to be featured in the actual show.
Okay, let’s be honest – they’re pretty much always blatant cash grabs. There’s little reason to create a buttload of extra music not meant for inclusion in the anime itself, and releasing it as a series of CD singles, other than wanting to wring some more money out of the hardcore fans who are still willing to buy more after the many opening/ending/insert song and OST albums and singles.
These things are generally merchandise first, and entertainment (or “art”, if you want to pretend we’re being important here) second. However – that doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t ever be good. At best, character songs can provide an insight into their respective characters that goes beyond what the anime itself is able to relate through the actual storytelling. At worst, they can be fluff pieces so generic and clichéd that it doesn’t matter who’s singing or what anime they’re tied to.
In the specific case of K-On!, the character song series is a mixed bag. There certainly are a lot of them – seven for the first season alone – but one good thing they all have in common is that they certainly don’t skimp on the production or musicianship. Whatever one might think of the songs, they’re all slickly and professionally produced and sound terrific. Many of the songs are composed by Tom-H@ck, composer of “Cagayake!GIRLS” and the other anime opening themes, so you know right away there’s going to be a lot of perky, frantic, fast paced tracks that walk the thin line between catchy and obnoxious, with songs landing on both sides of the fence.
I’ll be looking at all the singles in good time, but for now I’m going to concentrate on the first two: The Yui and Mio ones, which were released all the way back in June 2009.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Monday, December 26, 2011

It’s Nodoka’s birthday!

That’s right! Today, everyone’s favorite bespectacled student council member turns some-kind-of-number years old. So here’s to that ever reliable, (usually) incredibly patient, almost motherly best friend I’m sure a lot of people would wish they had growing up!
Wow… first Jesus, now Nodoka. What a month for birthdays, eh? Next up is Mio on January 15th… So you Mio fans out there better start planning your parties!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Well, it’s Christmas, and season’s greetings are in order. And perhaps an apology for a rather severe lack of activity on this blog for the last two weeks or so. In any case, my Christmas resolution this year is to get that CD review I’ve been putting off done before New Year’s (and yes, I know it’s supposed to be “New Year’s resolution” and not “Christmas resolution” but since the point is to do it before New Year’s, that doesn’t really work in this case, does it).
Until then, please have a happy holiday (or not, if you don’t celebrate such things) and for those that can, enjoy the K-On! movie (if you’ve already seen it, go see it again for those of us who can’t, okay?). And I’ll be back with some more updates here soon!

Monday, December 12, 2011

“Ho-kago Tea Time in MOVIE” album track list revealed

The official K-On! website has revealed the content of the upcoming movie insert song album. Note that this list, obviously, gives away which Ho-kago Tea Time songs are heard in the movie – so consider this your SPOILER warning!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

K-On! manga US vs. JP review and comparison (vol. 4)

The fourth and final (for now, at least) volume of Yen Press’ English version of the original K-On! manga has arrived! So is it good, or does it suck shimapan? And how does it compare to the Japanese edition? Let’s have a look and find out!

Monday, December 5, 2011

(Non-)News: TBS has “no plans” for a third season

Honestly, this is of so little consequence that I didn’t know if I should bother posting it or not, but what the hey. According to AnimeNewsNetwork, a TBS website staffer responded to a question about a potential third season of K-On! by saying there are “no current plans” for it.
Well, shit – I could have told you that much. Come on… the movie has been out all of two days, and Kakifly’s continuation of the K-On! manga still hasn’t quite gotten off the ground yet, story wise, so the material isn’t even there at this point to make a satisfactory TV anime season out of it. It’s still much too early for another K-On! TV anime. Honestly, I’d be worried if they did announce one at this point – worried that it would be a rushed cash grab with little regard to the integrity of the franchise.
I’m sure there will be those who interpret this piece of non-news as meaning there will never be more K-On! anime, but “no plans” doesn’t necessarily have to mean anything beyond “it’s not in production at the moment”, which is a good thing, because right now frankly is not the time for it.
There may be another K-On! TV series at one point, or there may not be, but really… We don’t know anything now that we didn’t know yesterday. And certainly nothing that’s worth panicking over.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

K-On! a flop in America?

Hey, so how about some bad news for a change? No one likes being happy all the time, right? Well, here goes… Ever since Bandai Entertainment first announced in the summer of 2010 the license to the K-On! TV anime, American (and other English speaking) K-On! fans everywhere have been hoping that this would lead to an eventual release of not only the first season, but eventually also the second season as well.
Of course, Bandai did not license the second season at the time when they licensed the first – which makes sense, it would have been foolish to invest in it that much without knowing how well even the first season would perform in the American market. It is safe to assume, then, that a potential license of season 2 would depend entirely on the sales numbers of the first season.
Now – I have no idea how well the first season has done, be it in the US or any other market where the English language version of K-On! has been released. But in the last couple of days, there has been some internet chatter about this very topic, originating from a couple of tweets from Manga UK which more than suggested that K-On!‘s sales numbers have been pretty bad. If this is the case, then the prospects of a season 2 license are looking pretty grim.
I don’t want to play Chicken Little here, as there has been no official comment from Bandai or anything. But if sales are really as bad as they’re being made out to be, then K-On! fans in the US and other English speaking markets may very well need to be prepared for the possibility that the second season (not to mention the movie) may never see the light of day in our part of the world.

Watching K-On! Episode 6 – “School Festival!”

When Yui loses her voice, a nervous Mio has to fill in as the band's vocalist for their performance at the school festival.

Fan stuff! Come With Me AMV

Okay, I’ve long since given up on weekly posts about fan videos from YouTube, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still do it from time to time. And some times, there might be a fan creation so mind blowingly awesome that I can’t not post it. This weekend, YouTube user kiteburg uploaded an AMV of “Come With Me!!” – the song, not the live event (duh) – though to simply refer to this as an “AMV” doesn’t quite do it justice. With all original artwork and animation, I can only imagine how time consuming the creation of this video must have been, and I have to congratulate kiteburg on a job well done.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

News: K-On! movie opens, new Ho-kago Tea Time album announced

The day is finally here, and the K-On! movie is now showing in Japanese movie theatres. For all of us K-On! fans not living in Japan, however,  the wait continues for an as-of-yet-unknown amount of time… In all likelihood, the earliest we get to see it for ourselves will be when it is eventually released on DVD and Blu-Ray, whenever that will be.
But there’s more! With the release of the movie, a new album with insert songs from the film has been announced. Coming out on January 18th is “Ho-kago Tea Time in MOVIE”, in the form of both a regular and a Limited Edition with two CDs. Price tag is set at 2,500 yen plus tax.
I’ll say this right now; I’m not going to review this album when it comes out. Eventually, yes, but not for a while yet. In fact, I will not even listen to it. Not until I have seen the movie. For one thing, because hearing any new songs performed in the movie beforehand would be a huge spoiler. But it would also spoil the experience of listening to the album. Thinking back to the release of the insert song album of the second season of the TV anime, it was such a fantastic experience to hear it for the first time, and it would have been significantly less so had I not watched the anime first. Because of the anime and how the album tied into it, it had emotional resonance it wouldn’t have been able to achieve as a stand-alone musical experience. Now – I don’t expect quite the same thing from the movie album, but still… I feel that you’re not really supposed to listen to these things outside of the context (hence why it’s being released a month and a half after the movie and wasn’t announced prior to its release).
So, yeah. That’s why the album (and probably the other movie related CD releases as well) will have to wait, as far as I am concerned.
That’s my rant for today. Now, those who can, enjoy the movie. While for me, and the majority of the people reading this, the wait is still on…

Friday, December 2, 2011

Upcoming releases

It’s that time of the month! So, here’s the updated list of upcoming K-On! media. Again, only Japanese and English language versions listed.
December 3rd“K-On!” movie theatrical release (JP)
December 5th“K-On! Vol. 3” anime DVD (UK)
December 7th“UnmeiwaEndless!” (K-On! Movie theme song & OP single) CD/Limited Edition CD (JP)
December 7th“Singing!” (K-On! Movie ED single) CD/Limited Edition CD (JP)
December 13th“K-On! Vol. 4” manga (US)
December 21st – “K-On! Movie Original Soundtrack” CD (JP)
January 9th“K-On! Vol. 4” anime DVD (UK)
January 11th“K-On! Vol. 4” anime DVD/Blu-Ray (AUS)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

CD review: “K-On!! Live Event – Come with Me!!” Live CD

With the first K-On! live event having been as big a success as it was, it was only a matter of time until the second anime season had a follow-up show arranged in its honor. “Come with Me!!” took place in Saitama Super Arena on February 20th this year, and was in pretty much every way bigger and better than “Let’s go!”.
The spectacular and long show was released as a 2 disc Blu-Ray (and a 2 disc DVD) set in August, and this month saw a 3 disc CD version released alongside a 2 disc CD version of its predecessor. The live album has been released both in a regular and a Limited Edition, and I’ll be checking out the latter version.

Monday, November 28, 2011

CD review: “K-On! Live Event – Let’s Go!” Live CD

After the first season of the K-On! TV anime had finished airing, and a crapload of music CD tie-ins had been released, the cast featured in a grand live event of music and fun in Yokohama Arena on December 30th, 2009. Six months later, the show in its entirety was released on DVD and Blu-Ray, and found enough success for the Blu-Ray edition to obtain a rank of #1 in the Japanese Blu-Ray music charts in its week of release.
Flash forward to November 2011, and that show has finally also been released in the form of a 2 CD live album. I’ll be having a look at the Limited Edition, which comes in a slightly more elaborate package than your regular CD album.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Happy Birthday Yui!

Hey, it’s Yui’s birthday today! And I would’ve known even if the K-On! movie app hadn’t reminded me! Of course, it helps that my birthday is in November as well. Now – I am not really a collector of anime figures, but I did acquire a Yui ALTER figure for the occasion. Either that, or I actually ordered it months ago and it just happened to arrive at an appropriate time. Anyway, go forth and celebrate! But don’t party too hard, mmkay? Tomorrow’s Monday.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

CD review: Ho-kago Tea Time (mini album)

Shortly after the first season of K-On! ended, and several Light Music Club / Ho-kago Tea Time CD singles had met considerable success in the music charts, it was finally time for a full album release… well, sort of. A self-titled Ho-kago Tea Time album was released, and a 2 CD album at that – containing all of four songs. Specifically, all four of the “canon” songs – that is, the ones that actually exist within the story as opposed to the opening and ending theme songs, B-sides, character singles, etc. – from the first season.
A limited number of songs didn’t hinder the albums success, though, and upon release it found its way to the very top of the Japanese album charts – a first ever for a fictional anime band. That was two years ago, but the album is still readily available for purchase for new fans – like, say, anyone who might have become acquainted with K-On! through this year’s US release of the series.
Don't worry, the real thing doesn't look like a photo taken with a crappy iPad camera
The album comes in a clear jewel case, with a largely pink and white cover design. The first pressing – which I don’t have – also came with a white slipcover that fit over the whole thing with a heart-shaped hole cut out in the front, exposing the faces of the characters on the cover.
The album actually comes with a few physical extras. Inside a sort of cardboard envelope – which is not physically attached to the CD case, but rather comes bundled with it – are paper foldouts with the sheet music for all four songs from the album.
Inside the CD case, in addition to the actual CD booklet, is a nice glossy picture of the four senpai (you may recognize the picture from the Fuwa Fuwa Time CD single cover) and a promotion for the (long since over-and-done-with) mail-in contest where they gave away the Fuwa Fuwa Time (Chorus Husky Yui version) CD.
The album itself, as I mentioned before, consists of the four songs HTT actually perform during the first season of the anime. Personally, I like to think of these particular songs as the “classic” K-On! songs, if there is such a thing. The first disc, labeled “StudioMix”, contains not the exact versions heard on the show but cleaner, professional studio recording arrangements.
1. Curry nochi Rice
Out of the four songs on the album, this is the one that got the least exposure in the anime. It’s easy to miss the fact it was even there – it’s only heard very briefly, and only the last few seconds of it, during their stage performance in episode 8 “Freshmen Reception!”. To be completely honest, this is one of my least favorite K-On! tunes, so I don’t particularly mind the fact that it wasn’t given a lot of time.
2. Watashi no Koi wa Hotchkiss
This, on the other hand, is one of my two favorite songs from the first season. Also known as “My Love is a Stapler”, this sweet tune was first heard during that same performance in “Freshman Reception!”, but was more the main focus as far as songs go. For the Studio Mix, Yui sings the first verse and Mio the second.
3. Fudepen ~Ballpen~
My other favorite song from the first season, due in large part to the very catchy chorus – and, I suppose, the very memorable scene in episode 12 “Light Music!” during which it was first heard. That does beg the question, though – Mio did the vocals in that scene, so why is Yui the one singing on the album? It sounds good, don’t get me wrong – but I do miss Mio’s voice here.
4. Fuwa Fuwa Time
Now, this version of “Fuwa Fuwa Time” is not the same as the one on the previously released single. The most obvious difference is that Yui is doing lead vocals on this version whereas Mio did them on the single, but the song has also been somewhat re-arranged to add a second guitar since the band now has one more member in Azusa.
The second disc, labeled “LiveMix”, contains the same four songs, but mixed to sound like live performances – in fact, these are the versions heard in the actual episodes with the main difference being that they are full length versions rather than the shortened ones actually heard in the anime.
“Curry nochi Rice” and “Watashi no Koi wa Hotchkiss” are from their performance in episode 8 “Freshman Reception!”, meaning the latter track has Yui forgetting the lyrics at the beginning of the first verse and Mio filling in for her. Otherwise, Yui is singing solo throughout both tracks.
“Fudepen ~Ballpen~” and “Fuwa Fuwa Time” are from the performance in episode 12 “Light Music!”, with Mio doing the vocals on “Fudepen” and Yui doing lead vocals on “Fuwa Fuwa Time”.
All in all, the two discs combined have a running time of roughly half an hour. Maybe not a terribly impressive duration, but for a K-On! fan who collects K-On! related music I can’t imagine it not being worth what it would take to get a hold of this album.

Friday, November 25, 2011

K-On! Blu-Ray US vs. JP review and comparison (vol 4)

The fourth and final volume of K-On! on Blu-Ray (and DVD) arrives in North America on November 29th (delayed a week from the original release date – an odd choice, since several online stores have already had it in stock for a while). Containing the “final” episode “Light Music!” as well as the two “bonus” episodes “Winter Days!” and “Live House!”, this release finishes up the first season much as one would expect after having seen the previous three volumes – but before I get to that, I’ll have a look at the final Japanese volume.
Volume 7 of the Japanese Blu-Ray release contains the two “bonus episodes” (episode 12, or the “final episode”, was included on the previously discussed sixth volume) and follows the standard set by the series so far. As usual, the disc comes with a number of physical extras, the biggest this time being the big art box intended to hold all seven volumes.
When first opened, it comes with a sort of cardboard wrap-around which extends from inside the box, keeping the Blu-Ray case in place. The part that wraps around the outside of the box displays the cover image of the seventh volume. When this is removed, the remaining six volumes fit nicely inside.
I can’t truthfully say that I think this art box is a thing of beauty, exactly, but hey – at least you get a box in which to keep the BDs, which is more than I can say for the US release. Disappointing, really, considering most markets in which K-On! was released – be it on Blu-Ray or DVD, or both – got one or more nice boxes to house the collection.
Inside the actual Blu-Ray cover this time are some printed promo materials for K-On! related goods, another four page bio (this time with Ui and Nodoka sharing the spotlight), yet more outfits for the paper dolls that came with previous volumes, another version of the “Fuwa Fuwa Time” sheet music, a Ho-kago Tea Time sticker with the newly designed logo on it (see episode 14) and an Azusa guitar pick. The disc art features Mio, and the cover reverse features Azusa.
Disc specs are more or less the same as usual – 51 seconds’ worth of forced, unskippable company logos on startup, a static background menu screen, AVC encoded 1080p video and uncompressed PCM stereo audio, Japanese subtitles. Bonus features include the expected two audio commentaries per episode – one featuring members of the production staff and the other featuring the cast, another Uraon! short (this one about the HTT girls’ winter days) as well as creditless versions of the ending animation sequence and the second opening sequence.
With that out of the way, it’s time to check out Bandai’s US version and see how it fares in comparison. First of all, the cover art is the same as that of the final Japanese volume, fittingly enough.
As before, the US edition comes with absolutely nothing in terms of physical extras. The disc art this time features – as one might guess – Mugi’s keyboard. The company logos on the disc are, mercifully, skippable and the menu follows the established style with clips from the episodes contained on this volume playing in the background.
The episodes themselves are presented again with lossy Dolby Digital audio at 192 kbps which, again, is not at all surprising at this point although it’s still unfortunate. Video looks good for the most part, although there is the occasional ugly banding (in fairness, this is also present on the Japanese disc). The subtitles are good, although there are a couple of oddities – for one thing, during the flashback scene in episode 12 where young Nodoka is seen watching a kids show on TV, the dialogue from the TV is subtitled but at one point they stop translating and say “Kid’s show continues until cut, but it’s ad-libbed”. That’s fine, but why even bother to explain that in the subtitles? The dialogue is inaudible anyway, no one would have noticed. My guess is, this line was never meant to make it into the final disc and someone made a mistake. The second oddity is a little inconsistency in regards to how the title and the phrase “Fuwa Fuwa Time” is handled. In previous volumes, and in episode 12 here; it is left untranslated. In episode 14, however, it’s subtitled as “Fluffy Time”. Now, I have no problem with the fact that they give the song an English name – after all, they did the same with the other HTT songs so it’s actually rather strange that they didn’t do it for this one until now – it’s just puzzling that, well, they did it at this point.
As before, the disc contains absolutely none of the bonus features from the Japanese Blu-Ray. Bandai confirmed on Twitter recently that they “weren’t allowed to” include the textless opening and ending sequence, and it stands to reason that the same is true for the other extras as well. This is very unfortunate indeed, as it ensures that the only bonus features on here are the ones produced by Bandai themselves and thus only of (possible) interest to dub fans. In other words, there is nothing here for fans of the original version, like myself.
As for what is here – well, I won’t criticize it too harshly because it’s better than nothing, and I know there are some people who do enjoy this stuff though I can not for my dear life understand how. We get a “music video” (read: a senseless montage of random clips from the episodes on this volume) of an English version of “Brush Pen, Ballpoint Pen”. Oddly, the song is not performed by Cristina Vee even though it’s Mio who sings this song in the anime. I can’t quite place the voice that is singing – if it’s Stephanie Sheh, which is the most likely candidate, then I have to say she fails pretty hard at singing with Yui’s voice, if she is even attempting to do so. She sounds absolutely nothing like Yui, even American!Yui, here. Next we get an interview with Shelby Lindley, the American dub voice for Mugi, in which she is asked the same boring questions as the other three cast members were asked in their interviews. Finally, there’s the same trailers for other anime DVD releases as the first three volumes contained.
Screenshot comparisons: (Japanese BD first, US BD second)
This marks the end of Bandai Entertainment’s American release of K-On!’s first season, and although it has been disappointing in some regards it’s still nice to finally have it complete. And I, for one, hope that a license of the second season won’t be too far behind.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Watching K-On! Episode 5 – “Adviser!”

Upon learning that they are not recognized by the school as an official club, the club members attempt to recruit Sawako as a faculty adviser. Meanwhile, their upcoming live performance at the school's culture festival draws close…

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

K-On! Vol. 3 US Blu-Ray vs US DVD comparison

Every so often, you’ll come across some know-it-all jackass who will insist that Blu-Ray is just a gimmick and really no better than DVD, or a misguided person who believes anime can’t benefit from the HD presentation Blu-Ray is able to provide. In the specific case of K-On!, a reviewer at a renowned anime related website even went as far as to suggest K-On! looks better(!) on DVD. Such statements tend to fall flat on their own stupidity, but even so; I think it could be interesting to take a look at one of Bandai Entertainment’s DVD volumes – specifically, the most recently released volume 3 – and see how it compares to the Blu-Ray equivalent. Note that I am only comparing the US DVD to the US Blu-Ray here – for a look at the Japanese Blu-Ray, see the previously posted review.
Now – I won’t go into too much detail about the DVD packaging. It’s basically the same design as the Blu-Ray version, only formatted to fit a standard DVD case (resulting in the cover artwork being cropped for the DVD version). As with the BD version, there are no printed inserts or a reversible cover. The DVD itself features the same picture of Ritsu’s drums as the Blu-Ray disc, but differs in that where the BD label has a white background, the DVD doesn’t.
The DVD features the exact same episodes and extras as the Blu-Ray does, but (obviously) in SD video only. The menus, however, are different – where the Blu-Ray menu featured animated clips from the episodes contained on the disc, the DVD main menu only features a still image, as do the submenus.
Because the Blu-Ray release had lossy Dolby Digital audio, there’s not much point in comparing it to the DVD audio – it’s the same. Where the Blu-Ray truly makes a difference, as one might expect, is in the video quality. The difference in quality should be apparent to anyone with a functioning pair of eyes – it really is obvious.

In addition to the difference in quality due to the increased resolution of the HD picture of a Blu-Ray disc, DVDs are generally more prone to other problems such as visible compression noise. In this specific case, I also noticed occasional ugly interlacing when playing the DVD on my HD TV from an upscaling DVD player (though depending on equipment, this won’t be a problem for everyone).
The conclusion here is the obvious and expected one: The Blu-Ray version of K-On! is clearly far superior to the DVD. For anyone who’s in doubt over which version to buy – if you can get the Blu-Ray, do it.