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!

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