K-on! the Movie

Hugh David can’t find his hotel and he’s carrying a guitar…

K-on! the Movie

K-On!, the TV series, adapting the manga about high-school girls forming a rock band at school, has after two seasons on TV spun off into a theatrical feature. A tradition of the TV business internationally, the subject matter is also a typical spin-off tradition: taking the main characters abroad for fish-out-of-water hijinks (see The Inbetweeners for another recent example). Where The InBetweeners has been a raucous success in the U.K. for showing accurately just how vile and stupid teenage boys really are however, K-On! has broken new ground in Japan by being a female-fronted series with considerable behind-the-scenes female talent, who are making a show that eschews fan-service in favour of greater realism, and this has continued with the movie.

Usefully, these qualities help make the film sufficiently accessible for newbies unfamiliar with the TV series itself. Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Tsumugi and Azusa may be realistic, but they still start out from recognisable anime stereotypes, although in the TV series they are fleshed out very quickly. Those types are clear from the beginning of the film to the audience, but so is the depth, and there is no back-pedalling of any sort that forces them to act simplistically to engage the newbies. Even female teacher Miss Yamanaka is more realistic than the usual sexualised stereotype there to service a certain fanboy element in the audience. None of this is to say male viewers aren’t welcome, just that few concessions are made towards them. It certainly hasn’t stopped them being fans!

K-on! the Movie

Kyoto Animation have become one of the most reliable animation houses out there, always delivering style, beauty and humour within television restrictions. K-On! The Movie allows TV series director Naoko Yamada and her team to play on a broader canvas in every sense, creating detailed images accurately reflecting both Tokyo and London. Yes, as a “leaving high-school tradition” the girls decide to go on holiday to London, where there’s also the chance for them to play a gig. Londoners will be hard-pressed to find fault with the depiction of the city and its inhabitants, in particular the cabbie at Heathrow and the details of the Earls Court Ibis Hotel, Aldgate East and Camden Town tube stations, Hyde Park, the British Museum and the South Bank next to County Hall.

K-On! TV was a high-school comedy not overly worried about the usual plots and gags of sitcoms, allowing for more organic comedy growing out of characterisation. The film has a clearer construction given that four of the five girls will be graduating once they return home, and their usual carefree joie de vivre is here tempered by a sense of time running out for them as friends and as a band, provoking the B plotline in which the original four members try to write a song for Azusa. The countdown clock, here represented by their flight departure time from Heathrow, is no longer for just an upcoming festival or gig; instead, the race to complete the song and perform it live (London’s Big Ben clock tower looms large over the finale) symbolises the time they have left together as a group, and the time we have left with them. Do they make it? You’ll have to see the movie to find out, but it wouldn’t be K-On! if it ended in tragedy.

K-On! The Movie is out on now on UK DVD and Blu-ray.

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