Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fan Stuff! Band Edition

One of the things you’ll find a lot of on YouTube, is people doing their own covers of K-On! songs. A lot of the time, you’ll see some guy playing the instrument of his choice with the original recording in the background. Occasionally, though, you may find this type of video where someone had the bright idea to either edit several of these individual covers together to form a full band video, or collaborate with several other people to create one.
Yeah, I know the singer on that last one is a dude.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Episode 1 “Disband the Club!” Music replacement comparison

Okay – I’m not going to keep bringing this up all the time, but yes; this is about the music replacement again. As mentioned in the Volume 1 Blu-Ray review/comparison, Bandai’s US release of K-On! has music replaced in the first episode. For some, it may not seem like a big deal. For others, it’s a huge disappointment. Personally, I think that with K-On! being a heavily music-themed anime, any music replacement is especially unfortunate.
For those who aren’t really sure what to make of this, here is a video that shows exactly what the change entails:
video

Friday, July 29, 2011

News: K-On! Live album to be released

The official K-On! website of Japanese broadcaster TBS has announced a K-On! live album CD will be released. The album will consist of material from the two live shows performed by the anime cast and music crew; “K-On! Live Event – Let’s Go!” from 2009 and “K-On!! Live Event – Come With Me!!” from February this year. No further details have been revealed as of yet.
The first live event, “Let’s Go!” was released in its entirety on DVD and Blu-Ray June 30th of last year, and “Come With Me!!” is scheduled for release on August 3rd.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

CD review: “Cagayake!GIRLS” single

The first two K-On! CD’s ever released were the opening and ending song singles, Cagayake!GIRLS and Don’t Say “Lazy”. Released all the way back in April 2009, they became the first two out of many K-On! singles to hit the Japanese pop charts pretty hard. In fact, in their first week; Don’t Say “Lazy” and Cagayake!GIRLS scored the number 2 and number 4 spots, respectively, selling more than 60,000 copies each.
"Cagayake!GIRLS" Limited Edition cover
Reviewing the song Cagayake!GIRLS would be pointless. There is not a K-On! fan in the world who doesn’t know this song from the TV anime. The difference, obviously, is that the CD single features a full length version of the song as opposed to the 90 second long version featured over the anime’s opening sequence. But it’s the same song, of course, just… longer.

The B-side is an upbeat, somewhat catchy song named Happy!? Sorry!!. Like the first track, it features Yui (Aki Toyosaki) as the lead with the other three main cast members doing background vocals. To finish up the CD, there are vocal-less versions of each of the two songs.
"Cagayake!GIRLS" Regular edition cover
Two different editions of the Cagayake!GIRLS single were released. The content of the CD was identical between the two versions, but the presentation of it differed. While I don’t have the regular edition on hand to review, it had different cover art and came in a slim CD case whereas the Limited Edition comes in a standard jewel case.
Unique to the Limited Edition is the artwork on the disc itself (the same as on the cover), as well as how the cover insert is handled: Instead of the usual little booklet, there is a series of separate inlays, each with a piece of the art work on the front and part of the lyrics or credits on the back. Each of the characters featured on the “main” cover gets their own cover inlay where their picture is separated from the rest, so if you’re one of those weirdos that’s only a fan of a specific character and not the group as a whole (how are you a K-On! fan?) all you have to do is switch the cover and – voilà! – your beloved Ritsu, or whoever, gets all the attention.

The regular edition should still be easily available, but the LE is, sadly, out of print. Fortunately, if you really want it – and why wouldn’t you? – it’s not hard to find it second hand and if you do a little searching you can probably find new and unused copies without too much trouble.

Fan stuff! K-On! MADness!!

Finding K-On! fan videos on YouTube can be brutal. I swear, I won’t subject you to this kind of thing on a regular basis.
The next video features madness of a very different and decidedly more sinister kind.
Now, as offensive as that was, I think the following video is even worse. My advice is; try not to think of it as entertainment. Think of it as a useful tool to punish your children with if they grow accustomed to beatings and regular emotional abuse.
I am truly sorry.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

K-On! manga US vs. JP review and comparison (Vol. 1)


As any fan knows, K-On! was originally a 4-koma manga series created by the mysterious mangaka Kakifly. It consists of four volumes (well – that was the case, anyway, up until the recent re-launch of the series in Japan. New chapters have resumed, but no full volume has been published yet. At this point, all bets are off as to how long the series will go on) and is currently being published in English by Yen Press.
For the readers of this blog that don’t know (I estimate that to be about 0 people), 4-koma is a type of manga not unlike western four-panel comic strips. Wikipedia can explain it better than me (now, nobody go edit it to read “4-koma is a type of ostrich egg best served with chocolate pudding” or some stupid crap like that to make me look like an idiot, okay?). Kakifly’s K-On! sticks to this format most of the time, although each volume opens with a special chapter in the “usual” manga format which is exclusive to the tankoubon collections (that is; not serialized in the magazines like the rest of the chapters).
Reading the manga after first watching the anime is interesting. The anime follows the manga really closely, at least in the early episodes, but expands on it. For example, in the manga when the Light Music Club first visit the music store where Yui falls in love with her guitar; she gets to buy it straight away (thanks to Mugi, of course). In the anime, however, the story is extended by a subplot featuring the girls taking up a part time job to save up money for the guitar – after which, they return to the store and at that point the story picks up the thread from the manga.
Some fans might say the manga is only popular because of the anime. That it is not really anything out of the ordinary and that Kyoto Animation’s anime adaption is what made K-On! good. Personally, I’d have to agree that the anime is an improvement upon the source material but that’s not to say the original manga isn’t good. It is. It’s funny, it’s charming, and the loveable characters are (for the most part) the same as you know them from the anime. In my opinion, any K-On! fan owe it to themselves to read it – after watching the anime.
The first of the four volumes covers, roughly; the first eight episodes of the anime. Which means, if you’re a relatively new K-On! fan who is keeping up with the anime through Bandai’s US release; it’s safe to read this without spoiling any of the episodes that have yet to be released.
Which brings me to the English version, published by Yen Press last November. How does it hold up to the Japanese edition?
On first glance, it seems the Yen Press version is a pretty close approximation of the Japanese original. The sizes of the books are identical, and the cover art is almost exactly the same – except, naturally, for the English title. Personally, I think this English logo is kind of ugly and much prefer the one used for the anime. That’s a matter of personal taste, though, and not a significant complaint by any means.

There is one way in which the two editions differ significantly, as far as appearance goes. The cover you see on the Japanese one is actually a dust jacket, which is not the case with the US book. This is likely due simply to different standards in the industry. When stripped of its dust jacket, the print revealed on the actual cover of the Japanese book is in fact a couple of – I suppose you could call them – bonus pages of the manga. For the US edition, these two pages have been moved to the inside of the book, to the very back. A good decision, as far as I’m concerned. Fun fact: The two pages in question were both adapted into the anime.
Content-wise, there is another pleasant surprise to be found in the US edition. There are several pages throughout the book that are in full color – even though the Japanese edition has them in black and white! In the Japanese book, only the special volume opening chapters are in color. Apparently, these “extra” color pages where published in color when the manga was serialized in Manga Time Kirara, but reduced to black & white for the tankoubon for some reason. So; kudos to Yen Press for not only getting these pages in color for the US edition, but actually going through the trouble of printing them that way as well.
It’s worth noting that the color pages in the Japanese book (what few there are) are printed on glossy paper, whereas the color pages in the US edition are not. Still, with more pages featured with their original colors intact it is not a bad trade-off.
The last thing to consider is how the material is treated in English. Now, I am far from qualified to judge the accuracy of the translation – but I will say that the English text is light and funny, just as K-On! should be. Some might take issue with how the term “Pop Music Club” is used consistently instead of “Light Music Club” and yeah; it takes some getting used to. I might not necessarily agree with it, but the choice is explained in the “Translation Notes” section in the back of the book (there are four pages worth) and it’s the kind of thing where I really could just shrug and say, “Meh… fair enough”.
So, in conclusion – I think Yen Press has done an overall excellent job while bringing the K-On! manga over to the US. And I highly recommend it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

CD review: K-On! Original Soundtrack

Now; I can't claim to be much of a music aficionado, so it's a little strange to be doing a CD review. But then, this isn't your typical music review, it's a review of Hajime Hyakkoku's Original Soundtrack for K-On!. And I am much of a K-On! fan.


The packaging is a standard blank jewel case, and the CD label has the same picture on it as the cover. Based on pictures I’ve seen online, I think the album originally came with a sticker with the same picture on it. My copy didn’t, so I’m going to go ahead and assume that this was only the case with earlier pressings.


When I first got into K-On!, I didn’t think much of the background music. I felt it was rather generic and uninspired compared to a number of other anime OST’s I’d heard in the past. By now, it has kind of grown on me and I enjoy listening to it from time to time. Honestly, I can’t say that it’s really that damn good – but it’s K-On! and I can’t imagine K-On! without this music anymore.
The CD holds a whopping 36 tracks, and has a very healthy total running time of 61:35. Say what you will about the music, but you certainly get your money’s worth! Unfortunately, this lengthy running time can also be rather tiresome – it may just be a little long for its own good. An hours’ worth of short, peppy synth tracks can get rather tedious. Perhaps Hajime Hyakkoku’s K-On! music would be better served spread across two shorter albums (as was done for the second season). Despite the long duration, there were a few tracks in the first season that were left off the album (some were included in the season 2 OST, some were not), these could have potentially been included had they done this.

The running time is not a major complaint, though. After all, there’s nothing here to keep one from skipping a boring track here and there. And on the other hand, there should be plenty of music here that’s of interest to a K-On! fan. An obvious example would be the opening track, “Have some tea?”, which anyone would recognize as the tune that plays under the “next episode” previews at the end of each episode. It has seen a lot more use in the series than that, of course, and one might say that if K-On! has a “main theme”, then this is it. Another rendition of the same theme is “Tea on the night of Christmas” (no points for guessing which episode that one is from).
Another track that has been put to great use in the anime is “Hold on to your love” – that would be the rock’ish, melancholic tune that starts to play every time Sawako begins to reminisce about her past or her broken dreams. It adds such a sense of exaggerated drama to the dialogue, that at least as far as I’m concerned; any scene can be made 100% more hilarious just for having this piece of music in it.

“Hesitation” is another melancholic track, but of a quite different nature. Heard only one time in the whole series, it was featured prominently in one of the very few dramatic scenes of the anime. The scene in question (it’s in episode 9 – I won’t spoil it, as it’s one of the episodes not yet released in the US) may not have been completely successful at pulling at the heart strings, but the music sure is nice.
“Ano hi no yume” (which apparently translates to something like “Dream of that day”) is one of the highlights on the disc. Used several times in the show to great effect, the first and arguably most memorable would be the scene in episode 4 (“Training Camp”) where Yui pretends to rock out in front of the fireworks. This sequence is pure magic to me. The combination of the animation, the dialogue and – yes – the music that makes up the scene just so perfectly create a bittersweet sense of that time when you are young and naïve, full of hopes and dreams for the future. It may be one of those things better appreciated when watched again upon finishing the whole series (both seasons), though.

The final track on the album is entitled, appropriately enough; “Happy End”. It’s easily recognizable because it plays at some point near the end of nearly every episode in the first season. It is conspicuously absent from most of season 2, though, used only during a couple of special occasions.
There are of course plenty of other good tracks as well, like “Ii Yume Mite ne” and “Dress ni Crepe wa Niawanai?” (can you tell that I prefer the more melancholic sounding ones?) to name a couple. With the album running as long as it does – and containing as many different tracks as it does – there should be something interesting here for any K-On! fan. At the very least, it’s a CD most collectors will want. If the list price of 3,150 yen (around 40 USD) seems a bit much, a more affordable Korean edition was released earlier this year (I don’t personally own it, so I don’t how it differs from the Japanese original, or if it does at all) .

And that’s about it for this review! Next time, I will pick a CD that may be of higher interest to many fans… Such as one with actual songs on it. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Movie Countdown App

So, there is a new official K-On! app for iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch. It’s a pretty simple thing, what it does is show you a picture of Azusa, everyone’s favorite keionbu newcomer, holding up a piece of paper telling you how much time there is left before the K-On! movie opens.
Why, thank you, Azusa! Only nineteen weeks and three days to go... Plus a year or so for those of us who don't live in Japan
Well, that, and it also shows you the current time. There isn’t much to be found here aside from the main screen. There’s an options menu that lets you set an alarm (on or off! Such a simple choice), choose the time (presumably for when the alarm is to go off), whether to “repeat” only once or every day, and what sound to play (guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, or school bell).

The picture of Azusa changes every now and then. The main focus, of course, is on the paper she’s holding, so you don’t always get to see her face.

Gee, I wonder who gave her this note.

This is the least bashful I've seen her so far.
So – not necessarily the most useful app, but it’s free, and if you’re an Apple whore and a die-hard K-On! fan, you’re probably going to want it. And you will always know exactly how much time is left until the K-On! movie opens in Japan! Yay!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Fan stuff! For the first, but presumably not the last time!

Well, it’s Sunday, and you know what that means! …no, of course you don’t, since I’m only starting this tradition now. Well, here goes: Each Sunday, I’ll post about some of the many, many K-On! related fan creations that exist out there on the ol’ web.
To start off, here’s a video made by someone named “Kikino!” which is a shot-for-shot remake of the music video for “Rolling Star” by YUI (original can be seen here), but with the K-On! cast taking the place of the original band! Pretty cool, and very nicely done.
Secondly, we have this piece of weirdness. I will not try to describe it, but it’s pretty, uh, different from most K-On! fan videos.
And just because it made me smile – though I’m not really sure why – here’s a little exercise in pointlessness. Enjoy!
Have a happy weekend, and do check out this blog again soon! I’ll try to get some CD reviews up pretty soon.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Buyer beware…

This may be a “well, duh!” type thing for some, but I’m posting it because I have encountered people who got ripped off, and because this is a fairly materialistic blog. What I want to say is: Be very careful when buying K-On! DVD’s on eBay.
A normal search for K-On! DVD’s gives some rather unpleasant results. Aside from a few legitimate copies of the US release, it appears most items for sale on eBay are in fact bootlegs. That’s not to say legitimate releases from, say, Japan can never be found but it’s not at all common.
You do not want to buy bootleg K-On! DVD’s. These bootlegs are not only illegal and unethical, but they are also of very low quality (that’s what I’ve learned from people unlucky enough to have purchased them, anyway). Besides, you don’t want to be a chump and pay for pirated videos – if you want go the piracy route, it’s not exactly hard to find the stuff you want online for free. Not that I’m recommending piracy at all, I’m just saying – paying for piracy is rather stupid.
If you insist on shopping for DVD’s on eBay (and this may apply to other online auctions as well, but I don’t know much about those) make sure you know what the official DVD’s look like and what their specs are. If you’re bidding on an item that differs in any way from the version you can find on amazon.com (or any reputable store); chances are you’re bidding on a rip-off.
A few things to keep in mind:
If the DVD you’re buying has English subtitles and is advertised as being region free, it is a bootleg. The real ones are region locked.
If the DVD you’re buying is in English and is a “complete season” set, it is a bootleg. There is no real “complete season” box set in English. There will be one at some point, but as of now it does not exist.
If the DVD you’re buying is in English but the cover doesn’t look like the ones I’ve shown in this blog before… it is a bootleg.
Bootleg.

Bootleg.

Bootleg.

Real... Just kidding. Bootleg.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Old News: “Come With Me!!” trailer!

“Old” news because this is almost a week old and I never saw it before now, somehow. Not much of a trailer, it’s only 15 seconds long, but it’s footage from the “Come With Me!!” live show that took place this February. It’s the second live show featuring the K-On!(!) cast, and features music from the second season and related spin-off CDs. The first show, “Let’s Go!”, took place December 30th, 2009 and was released on Blu-Ray and DVD exactly six months later.
“Come With Me!!” is released on DVD, Blu-Ray and Limited Edition Blu-Ray August 3rd.

Friday, July 8, 2011

K-On! Blu-Ray US vs. JP review and comparison (vol 2)

So, let’s have a look at the second volume of Bandai’s North American release of K-On!. As with the first volume, I’ll be comparing it to the Japanese versions, but I’ll say this up front: If you’ve seen Volume 1, then you should know what to expect from Volume 2 in terms of quality and extras.

The cover picture is taken from the Japanese volume 2, although the episodes on the disc do not correspond to that release. It doesn’t really matter, though, as the picture is not really relevant to any specific episodes.
The disc art continues the instruments theme from the previous disc, and features a picture of Mio’s bass. Again, there is nothing else to be found inside the case other than the Blu-Ray disc itself.

The disc opens again with the standard FBI piracy warning and the Bandai logo. Not skippable, but fast forwarding works if you’re impatient. The menu screen is much like the first, with the same music and visual style. The featured clips, however, are new ones from the episodes contained on this disc, that is; episodes numbers five through eight.
Audio is still lossy Dolby Digital 192 Kbps, but the video looks very good for the most part. There were a few shots with obvious and annoying color banding, but since this is present on the Japanese version as well, I can only assume it is a flaw inherent in the material itself and not a problem with the video encoding on either Blu-Ray release.

I watched the video with subtitles on, and the English dialogue is quite good in my opinion. I got distracted at one point, however, when Ritsu addresses Mugi as “Mugi” (like always), and the subtitles have her say “Tsumugi” instead – and then “Mugi-chan” about a second later. Another thing I found a bit odd was that the title of the song, “Fuwa Fuwa Time” is left untranslated yet when episode eight comes along and Ritsu reads the set list, the other three songs all get English titles (“Curry, Then Rice”, “My Love is a Stapler” and “Brush Pen, Ballpoint Pen”). Not that I have a problem with it, necessarily, I was more annoyed that the (green) subtitles of Stapler’s lyrics remain on top of the screen throughout the song rather than at the bottom. The subtitles used when playing the dub don’t have this problem, as there aren’t any dialogue subtitles with which to compete for space.
Not surprisingly, none of the Japanese bonus materials have been carried over. Which means, any extras on here will have been original Bandai productions and of interest to dub fans only. We get a seven minute interview with Cristina Vee, who does the English voice for Mio. As with the Stephanie Sheh interview on Vol. 1, it begins with the typical predictable questions (“How do you resemble your character,” etc.) but eventually transitions to other topics.

The other extra is an English dubbed version of “Fuwa Fuwa Time”. A welcome treat for dub fans, I’m sure, as the songs are left in their original Japanese performed by the original voice cast within the episodes themselves (other than scenes where the girls practice in the club room, in which the American voice cast sing their lines in Japanese… weird). It’s listed as a “music video” so I was expecting it to be the music video style performance from the episode, just dubbed, but instead it’s a video pieced together from random clips from all eight episodes released thus far. It runs for a little over a minute, so obviously it’s not the full song but rather the shortened version used in the episode.
In order to compare this release to the Japanese one, we need to look at both the third and the fourth Japanese volume as they only contain two episodes per disc. Episodes five (“Adviser!”) and six (“School Festival!”) are found on Vol. 3:

Unlike the blank inside of the US cover, the third Japanese volume features drawings of Sawako. The disc art features her munching on a snack.

Don't eat it! Can't you read?
Aside from the Blu-Ray, we are given a four-page Sawako Yamanaka biography, a black guitar pick with the K-On! logo on one side and Sawako’s face on the other, a Death Devil sticker, a Mio paper doll and what appears to be sheet music for “Fuwa Fuwa Time” with scribbles all over it. Presumably, it’s supposed to belong to one of the K-On! girls.


The Blu-Ray, as usual, features lossless PCM audio, Japanese subtitles, two audio commentaries per episode and another “Uraon!” episode. This one is called “Mio’s Panties” and revolves around, well, Mio’s panties.

Episodes 7 (“Christmas!”) and 8 (“Freshmen Reception!”) are part of Volume 4:

Ui is the subject of this volume’s disc art and the inside of the cover. Physical extras include a Tsumugi bio, Mugi pick, Mugi paper doll, a sticker with the instrument symbols from the opening sequence, another scribbled-on piece of “Fuwa Fuwa Time” sheet music and a printed promo for the K-On! Desktop Accessories.

Specs are the same as previous volumes. The “Uraon!”  this time is called “Chibi Yui-chan” and has Ui reminiscing about her sister’s childhood.

As I mentioned in the Volume 1 comparison, the Japanese Blu-Ray discs are ridiculously expensive. Keeping that in mind, it makes sense they’d have more to offer in terms of extras than the US release. It’s disappointing that the latter doesn’t get the same quality audio, though, but at least with this volume there is no music replacement to put up with. As for video quality, here are some comparison shots. Japanese screenshot on top, US screenshot below.
 
"Hey! That's not food!"


"Must... kill... demon!"


The crowd turns angry when it becomes apparent there won't be any fanservice.

 
"See this? This is the color a Blu-Ray case is SUPPOSED to have!"


It's not your imagination... it really is staring into your soul.
And there you have it!

K-On! Movie teaser trailers

Thanks to user VideoGameFrontReturn, the two teaser trailers for the upcoming K-On! movie can now be watched in decent quality on YouTube.
The first teaser premiered in April, and consisted primarily of clips from the TV anime. The only new material was a voice over by Yui and brief new animation of her greeting the audience.
The second teaser came out earlier this week, and like the previous one; does not feature any actual footage taken from the film.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

K-On! Blu-Ray US vs. JP screenshot comparisons (vol 1)

As a follow-up to yesterday’s Blu-Ray comparison, I have prepared a series of screenshot comparisons between the Japanese Blu-Ray and Bandai’s North American edition. I’ll say this; if there is one aspect in which the US release does not disappoint, it’s in the video quality. To my eyes, the screenshots from the US disc are remarkably similar, damn near identical, to the ones from the Japanese disc. In fact, in several of these pictures I can’t see any difference at all, and in the ones I do the loss of quality is almost imperceptible even under close scrutiny. And these are single frame screenshots – when in motion, I can’t imagine anyone would be able to tell any difference in video quality at all. But feel free to judge for yourself.
Japanese screenshots on top, US screenshots below. Click to view full size.

RAWK!



It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's... a tired old Superman reference that hasn't been funny in twenty years.



Sparkle, sparkle.



HD is so awesome! The grain is clearer than ever!!



Yui narrowly escapes being raped by Krauser-san.



The power of moe summons a demon rabbit to assist in the stylish musical number.



If a performance by Sakura High's Light Music Club can't calm the inmates down, nothing can.



"Sleepwalking, shmeepwalking! I'm getting tired of following her around!"



Our first glimpse into Ritsu's personal life.



The members of the Light Music Club! Going on a train ride!



This one time at band camp, I played with fireworks and pretended to play guitar.



Ritsu's death marks the beginning of the infamous "Mio on the lam" arc.

And there you have it.