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 na├»ve, 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!

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