In 2009, Kyoto Animation along with production partners TBS & Pony Canyon broadcast a series adapted from a 4-coma manga that wasn’t widely known, nor was it given an established supervisor to work with. Considering these three partners worked with the Key visual novel teams to produce 4 well-known and well received shows, this was quite a risk. That little-known manga became a surprise hit, spawning two live concerts, a 27 episode sequel, and appears to have concluded with this movie. Naoko Yamada gives us one last look into the high school lives of Yui, Mio, Ritsu, Tsumugi, and Azusa in K-On! The Movie! (Similar to my treatment of KyoAni’s last movie, this post will detail my thoughts on the movie itself while a later post will review the LE BD) Of course, this post will contain spoilers.
Where does one start in K-On!? A series that is lightly about music and entirely about friendship and bonding is difficult to put into words. Quite simply, this movie details the final high school moments for our original quartet that were not covered in the second season. We see how/why they decided to make a song for Azusa and how/why they decided to go on a trip. I’ve heard a lot of people be disappointed that the actual trip itself was not the focus of the movie despite the promotion. Personally, I think the way that Yoshida/Yamada scripted the movie was much better than if the movie was about their trip to London.
How many people get caught up in a lie while trying to hide something from someone else? It’s something a lot of people are familiar with, but usually, it doesn’t involve traveling around the world. That’s what happened to our seniors. They played off a meeting to discuss her present as planning a graduation trip and Azusa called their bluff. Incredibly realistic for the series without making anyone look bad. This allowed the production to take the series in a new direction: a foreign trip. Of course, this has been built up in the second season, but the reactions of the seniors showed they never thought too seriously about it prior to the film. (Having gotten a passport for a trip that never was, I can relate)
I’ll confess that the middle scenes, especially the sushi bar, were too contrived and didn’t fit the more realistic aspects of the rest of the film. Yes, it was nice to see the band play in London, but the mechanisms to have them play felt forced. I think the movie could’ve been a little better without having to shoehorn new tracks in to sell an additional album. Having said that, the songs they played fit the scene (especially Yui focusing on London/rice in the final performance). It would’ve been nice to see more foreign scenes and sightseeing, but that wasn’t the focus of the film. I’m happy they were able to fit in as many new locations as possible without overwhelming the Japanese audience with new scenery.
I’m a huge fan of the way the movie ended. We see Azusa’s reaction to the song they played for her again, but now we see what wasn’t shown in the anime; why she reacted so strongly. She knew instantly that their secret was this song and they wanted to surprise her. It was a perfect way to conclude the overall story portrayed in the film. It was also great that they left out her reaction (“It wasn’t very good!” as new audiences would not have gotten the reference). Amazingly, one of my favorite scenes is the very last segment due to the animation and the quality that Kyoto Animation put into this work. By only seeing legs/walking styles, you know exactly who each person is due to how they walk. The attention to detail there is something only few studios are willing to put in the effort to do.
Speaking of animation, this film is a weird hybrid. The film itself looks tremendously well done, especially the background art, but the series itself has never been defined by jaw-dropping animation/art quality. This leads us to a film that should look much more detailed than it is, yet at the same time remains consistent with the style from the television series. Even with that, there’s still much to be impressed with due to how Kyoto Animation focused on improving the quality of movements/expressions. While the scene with Azusa/Yui looking for each other was hilarious, I found myself in wonder at how well the animator(s) were able to capture the full “sleepiness” feeling Azusa had at the time. The music scenes themselves looked good as well. In conjunction with the uptempo songs they played, the visual components were also able to convey a great sense of energy.
Audio-wise, the movie sounded great. I loved the variations of the original “have some tea” track played at the beginning of the film and when they first arrived in London. The OST has always been a strength of the K-On! franchise, and it continued to sound amazing this time as well. Song-wise, everything was normal. We had new recordings of old tracks, and the three new songs fit perfectly into the franchise. Singing!! is my favorite track from the movie and the ED animation fit it very well. Ichiban Ippai fit the usual series OP theme but was a little bit slower than the previous three. Unmei wa Endless fit well in the sightseeing montage and sounded more like the past OPs. Given the other tracks, I’m somewhat saddened that Ohaiyou, Mata Ashita didn’t get played.
Overall, this was quite an enjoyable experience to watch. If there is no more K-On! animated, this movie puts the franchise out on a high note that would’ve been very difficult to top. Kyoto Animation went above and beyond for this movie and continued to improve on their skills from the prior film. While I had a lot of fun and it kept my full attention for the ~2 hour long feature, it just couldn’t go over the barrier to my “excellent” mark. Final score: 88