The local film festival always brings in a fresh haul, so I got to see this deadpan comedy at a screening last weekend. On-Gaku is a movie about some high schoolers playing in a band. It’s also about really guttural power of rock music and the comedic timing. Japan Times has a heaping-praise of a review on this, which does way better job reviewing the movie than I will. But, at least I won’t spoil it for you.
As a piece of anime, it’s probably as un-anime as it gets. It’s refreshing in the way that American animation that poses as anime is the opposite of, I guess? The jokes, the cultural concepts, the timing, the setting, the plot is all extremely typical of Japanese high school comedies. In that context, On-Gaku is exactly what makes an anime not-an-anime, yet it is infinitely more Japanese than, say, non-anime stuff that poses like anime.
But those are just the baseline in which the humor springs from. On-Gaku is a gag anime. Its straight-face plot is merely the path in which we start at the head of the joke and eventually arrive at the butt of the joke. If we are to take the notion of the “gap” and apply that analogy liberally to the movie, then much of On-gaku is just the viewer traveling the gap chronologically with still animation to fill the void. I wonder if this is an artifact of being an adaptation of a manga.
They say this movie took seven years to complete. I believe it because it would be a funny gag, and appropriate of character. Animation masterpieces like Jin-Roh took seven years to complete, too. On-Gaku is not quite that, but it is a rarity, if not an unique thing, this day and age given the style of animation it uses.
It is also a movie that can be spoiled badly, so I recommend you avoid any spoilers if you want to see it eventually. Just be prepared to go through a lot of deadpan jokes. This is the most deadpan piece of anime I’ve seen, possibly ever.
Is it good? I think it’s worth your time. It is definitely extremely Japanese in the non-stereotypical way, so if you are into it for the weeb factor, maybe this movie is not up your alley. If you are into animation, Japanese high school, rock and roll, and open-minded takes on music, then there’s something here. Oh, if you like anime comedies, too.
PS. After going to CG7th Osaka I have a deeper appreciation of rock music, so this movie was timely.