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August 1, 2012 / Bradley

There’s an Oft-Abused Word Missing From This Short Review of K-On!: The Movie. See If You Can Find It.

For about thirty minutes, K-On!: The Movie feels like K-On!: Another TV Episode. The girls go through roughly the same routine (don’t practice, eat cake, become local rock stars), and the story even echoes a storyline from the second season. Four of the five members of the Light Music Club are graduating in a matter of weeks, and they want to do something special for the junior they’ll leave behind. But what could possibly be an appropriate gift for little Azusa, their fan who became a member of the band? No points for guessing correctly here. If they could only overcome a crippling case of senioritis, they also might have guessed the obvious much earlier, but for now, they’re more concerned about eating cake and playing pranks. The movie slips into the easy-going, gentle comedy that made K-On! such a seductive show in the best moments of its TV run.

“Slice-of-life” cartoons are also fantasy, but K-On! is more realistic than others because of how closely it can mimic the conversational patterns, habits, and quirks of the best part of high school: hanging out with your friends. There’s no organization to something like that, and in the spirit of that charming, gentle chaos, the girls decide they’ll take a senior trip to London. Like, next weekend.

I can remember the exact moment that the movie felt cinematic. The girls exit the train, enter the terminal, and the screen expands like a firecracker. Up until this point, the movie’s visuals are composed just like the TV series: close-up, small, and intimate. And when the girls walk across the terminal, every detail of a busy airport gets animated. It’s big, busy and exciting. Is that… exhilaration I feel? That’s a novelty for a sitcom that celebrates and revels in stories of the smallest scale possible for popular entertainment.

The venue changes, but the characters can’t, and the same easy-going chaos that defines their decision-making in Japan is what makes their trip to England memorable. When I’ve taken trips to foreign countries, my family lived similar vacations to what plays out on screen, because, like the Light Music Club, my family is not made up of adventurous people. We ate food that was familiar to us, got lost and a bit scared about that, failed to communicate effectively with anyone who didn’t speak English, stuck closely to brightly lit streets and public parks, and marveled at little details like the differences in traffic signs. A friend of mine complained that England felt under-utilized in the movie, but I think he missed the point. Most tourists under-utilize their chances when visiting a foreign country. We take our habits and our fears and our prejudices with us and we’re not going to let them go just for a four day stay in a pretty city. Tourism is always a shallow endeavor.

And England really isn’t the point of the movie. They could have just as easily gone to Europe (“Europe, Europe?” “England is in Europe, Yui.”) and the story would have been the same, because it’s not about where you go or even the music you play but who you’re with that means your time was well spent. That theme has been simmering throughout the franchise’s two TV series, and here it crescendos, making it a satisfying conclusion.

K-On! is a series where my opinion often swings from admiration to boredom, probably because a sitcom with ambitions so small can’t possibly sustain itself on 40-something episodes. But the best of the series felt lively and relatable, and the movie really embodies that. It’s no surprise that the franchise has found mainstream success in Japan, because it’s not so much about cryptic stereotypes regurgitated for a sub-culture as it is about celebrating the mundane we all live in. It takes moe‘s fetish for youth and innocence and makes it a reflection of a social life that even the most introverted of us have had the privilege of experiencing from time to time. K-On!: The Movie has filtered out most of what could make the TV series a test of patience, and what’s left is something worth sharing with friends. Please watch in groups for the best experience.

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2 Comments

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  1. wavedash / Aug 1 2012 6:03 pm

    First guess (before even reading the article) was “moe”, but you managed to squeeze it in at the end. Second and third are “pacing” and “plot”, but I’m not so sure those two are abused so much.

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