In 2009 Kyoto Animation released their 12th work and the first without a Key visual novel when partnered with Pony Canyon/Movic. They chose to adapt a manga that had began just under 2 years before and only had two volumes published. Little did they know that this work was to become a phenomenon to all ages in Japan as well as international anime fans. At Anime Expo in 2010, Bandai Entertainment announced that they had aquired the North American rights to the work and released the first volume of four on April 26th, 2011. For the first time, K-On! was released to an English audience.
This first volume is packed in a thin BD case with the cover art for the first Japanese volume on the front (with adapted logo from Bandai). The back lists the summary, episodes, and features included on the disc. The only thing included is the disc itself.
The first volume contains episodes 1-4, which serve as an introduction to the four main characters as well as the beginning of their high school band.
Disband the Club! introduces us to the motif of the show: unexpected yet realistic. We see the formation of the Light Music Club from Ritsu/Mio asking about it to Mugi joining and finally to Yui’s acceptance of her application. It’s soft, yet poignant at the same time.
Instruments! shows us how Yui obtains her guitar as well as how each of the other members chose their instruments. The trials that the girls take so that Yui can play begin their bond of friendship. While they’re not close now, you can see how they are beginning to get along well.
Cram Session! is an episode that builds on their friendship from the last episode as well as highlights how Yui can learn anything in a short period of time. The band members arrive at Yui’s house and meet Ui and Nodoka for the first time. I had forgotten how much this episode actually highlights in the overall story.
Training Camp! is the first launch of K-On! as a music show. The motivations of all four members begin to improve as they practice for the first time together. It’s after this trip where the band practices on a regular basis in the show. When I first watched K-On!, it was this episode that turned my opinions around. It’s one of my favorite episodes in the entire series.
Visually, the show ranges from finely detailed to chibi-fied with a lack of quality for certain jokes. It’s evident that KyoAni was working on many projects at the time this was being animated as the final two episodes on the volume are much better about maintaining quality. The backgrounds also look different from the second season with less detail as well. I do expect better from KyoAni and later parts do improve, but this was a let-down for me visually. I didn’t notice any problems with Bandai’s transfer of all four episodes.
Audibly is where all of the fuss is about. The orignal JP release had LPCM tracks for each episode while Bandai compressed both JP/Eng audio into Dolby Digital format. I can’t say that I personally noticed any problems, but my setup is not of the caliber to detect any differences. Other than that issue, it sounded fine to my ears. Each voice is clear and I love the background music.
I’ve only seen the dubs for a few shows, and fewer that I can remember analyzing, but K-On! takes the top spot on my list of dubs. While Stephanie Sheh’s voice has a different pitch than Aki Toyosaki, she carries over the light-hearted feeling for Yui. Christina Vee, Cassandra Lee, and Shelby Lindley perform very well as Mio, Ritsu, and Mugi with suited voices for each character. Besides my personal preference of no “-chan”s in dubs, the only line I have any issue with is the adaptation of “Moe, Moe, Kyun!” into “The power of cute compells you!” and that’s my own issue. I greatly enjoyed listening to the dub and would recommend it to anyone.
The English subs are good, but very liberal in translations of lines and meanings. I did like how the yellow subtitles were not obtrusive, but not hard to see as well. The green for the opening/ending took my eyes away from the animation and would be better as another color.
The only extras included are some trailers for Bandai’s other works (in 480i for The Girl who Leapt Through Space and Tales of the Abyss and 1080p for The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya) and a 10 minute interview with Stephanie Sheh about Yui, the show, how she was chosen to play Yui, and the fandom at large. In contrast to my last point on dub actor commentary/interviews, I greatly enjoyed hearing her take on those subjects. She was knowledgeable about the series and has great respect for the fans.
Before I got my own copy, I was prepared to write a blistering review of how bad it was due to the audio issues. Instead, I found myself really liking this volume and surprisingly recommending it. The flaws it has are easily overcome and aren’t that bad in comparison to others (I’m looking at you Gekisou!). I’m leaning towards keeping my order out for Volume two and hope it’s even better. More screencaptures can be found at this Photobucket album.