You know you’ve done it when I can approach a franchise as an “experience.” Down in Orlando, FL, there’s a place called Universal Studios where big-time American film franchises (and increasing, TV shows) get their own “experiences” in the form of a ride or something. In those situations the customers literally put themselves in a place where their senses are surrounded by stimuli that represents that franchise. The Harry Potter theme park down there is probably the best recent example.
I’m not exactly writing the K-ON film review that way, even if there was a K-ON event sort of thing at Universal Studios Japan in order to promote the film back in December 2011. What I’m referring to is that ultimately, K-ON has been about a singular experience. It’s no longer about the story (which in K-ON’s case, the story is not much to talk about in a very literal sense) but more about the way the customer associates and relates to the franchise. Coming in to the film as a voracious consumer of anime media is not the way to go, oddly enough. Coming into the film as a fan of K-ON, however, you will be surely rewarded with both the emotional revisit to that “Tenshi ni Fureta yo” moment and being able to again see the same girls on the big screen that you previously enjoyed seeing.
Well, basically I’m saying is it only works if you buy in to K-ON. I do, so I thoroughly enjoyed the film. However, I was really suspicious before going in to the film–there wasn’t much in terms of encouraging things to say about the film for the most part. After all, the drink-tea-eat-cake reputation is as honest and truthful as K-ON being an anime about high school girls being themselves.
The funny thing is, after all this, I’m not too sure what is particularly moe about K-ON. The girls are cute (in the Hello Kitty sense) and the subject matters they broach (in the movie, that’d be their graduation, music culture, sightseeing London from a Japanese tourist POV, songwriting, etc) somehow don’t quite mesh with that image. It’s a dissonance not unlike what I find attractive in denpa music. On the flip side, tune to “No Thank You!” or in the Movie, “Singing!” and you can see how this girl power band stuff work just like how it does on the Billboard Charts, even to the degree that it projects this illusion to what the K-ON show is about for people who aren’t familiar with the show.
What is K-ON about? It’s easy to take the movie in conjunction with the first two seasons and see how the movie fills in the gap in the overall story and let it continue to build on what we already know. After the credit rolled, I thought about why the movie was about these things, which kind of fall neatly into 3 acts: before the trip, on the trip, and after the trip. That’s the same formula K-ON uses to tell all its stories: pre keion club, keion club stuff, and when after it is all said and done. Supposing myself as a total K-ON newbie, I can probably watch just the movie and get a good idea what K-ON is really about. It does a great job summarizing and boiling down what makes K-ON interesting and attractive.
Part of it, naturally, is the animation. This is the second Kyoto Animation film that I’ve watched, and I am so thankful it is a good 40-50 minutes shorter than the last one. In fact, it feels just right; the statements about the K-ON movie being two or three glorified TV episodes glued together has some merit here, so it is good to see the film keep things tight and not overstay its cake-and-tea-fueled attention span. You can tell the production team scoped out their shots from London and captured the more expressive motifs among the character animation for the Londoners. It probably is as much of a travelogue as it is a matter of sympathizing with potential domestic Japanese viewers on their own personal experiences. Is Azusa really 17 years old? Certainly, in cat years. And that’s just a little thing.
I always thought the most impressive thing about K-ON was its ability to channel zeitgeist. It captures sort of the feeling about life that you wonder about or occasionally witness. Maybe this is why there are more girl bands in schools in Japan today than there were in 2008. Uncharacteristically, the movie almost makes some outward statements about this in the film when Sawako-sensei reflects on her own high school experience. Life was somewhat different then. Life is somewhat different in London. But in the end that may not really matter.