Title: K-ON! Movie
Company: Kyoto Animation
Format: Movie; 110 minutes
Dates: 3 Dec 2011
Synopsis: Yui, Ritsu, Mio, and Tsumugi of the Light Music Club are graduating. The gang are anxious about finishing high school, moving on to the next phase of their lives, and leaving their younger clubmate Azusa behind. To cap off their high school career and leave a lasting memory of a lifetime, they collectively decide to take a graduation trip to London. What fascinating adventures and hijinx await the girls in this city known for its iconic musical figures?
Chemistry: Assumes the audience are familiar with the characters — little to no meaningful interaction that leads into character development
What to expect: Literally the same as the two series.
Humor: Amusing and light-hearted, but dependent on whether you actually like the cast.
There is no doubt the K-ON! Movie is made for fans of the series. There are no introductions or setup to get new viewers oriented; viewers are basically expected to be familiar with our cast of Azusa, Yui, Mio, Ritsu, and Tsumugi. I found the movie mildly charming and amusing for the same reasons I enjoyed the series, but I could not help but feel disappointed. I feel that the K-ON! Movie had the potential to really take the franchise somewhere unexpected, but it ends up as a typical and unremarkable series-extending film.
Immediately, we are thrust back into the K-ON! universe and listening to the girls talk about tea and whatnot. The movie’s marketing firmly establishes the fact that the K-ON! Movie is about the girls going to London for their graduation trip, yet it takes an excruciating amount of time for the girls to actually go there – almost 30 minutes of screen time. The girls’ thought processes seemingly meander; they realize they are graduating, decide to take a trip, drink tea, decide where to go, and, when they do, decide what they are going to do in London. Like the series, narrative is unraveled with a series of set-piece gags, featuring light dialogue and occasional minor slapstick. More often than not, humor is derived from one character acting stupid in (in a silly but oh-so-cute manner) and another character comically reprimanding her (in a silly but oh-so-cute manner). The formula was fine for the show, where the audience was more focused on the journey than the destination. In a movie setting, this structure makes the pacing derivative and grating, because viewers are impatiently awaiting the girls’ arrival in London.
When they do finally arrive, London is beautifully recreated in the K-ON! Movie; Kyoto Animation did a great job reproducing the rich and cultural city faithfully. But while the premise of the K-ON! Movie was the cast going to London, the movie completely fails to explore the city as a setting. Outside of a few (admittedly clever) vignettes of the girls at cultural landmarks, there is nothing distinctively British about the K-ON! Movie. In a movie about five high school girls hanging out in one of the most iconic cities in the world, could they at least have a scene of them sightseeing?
The most glaring shortfall of the K-ON! Movie is the fact that it’s little more than an episode of K-ON! set in London, rather than the club room. There’s no sense of ambition, no inkling of adventure, no suggestion of curiosity in a work that appears so eager to explore its characters by placing them in an unfamiliar setting. There is one scene following a trite “I don’t understand English” routine where Yui accidentally agrees to the girls playing an unplanned gig at a sushi bar. Afterward, they are disheartened about this laborious affair. What was really offsetting about this exchange is that the characters end up scared of British people. Do they overcome this mix-up to seek understanding of a culture different from their own? Do they even make a British friend or have a single meaningful conversation with a Londoner? They even packed ample snacks from Japan so they wouldn’t have to sample to local fare. Outside of brief exchanges with stock background characters, everyone the girls interact with in London is Japanese. Rather than expanding their horizons, they withdraw towards what is familiar. The plot does nothing to explore real cultural understanding: it does the opposite.
Ultimately, the K-ON! Movie is only as good as the franchise. People who enjoy the way the K-ON! series works will most likely enjoy the movie as well. It’s light and moderately entertaining if you are attached to the characters. And while I generally found the K-ON! Movie to be bubbly and fun, I wish the film made an effort to be something more – something that distinguishes itself. I know K-ON! isn’t the most provocative title, but does it have to dumb itself down so much?
The Rating: 5
Reviewed by: kevo