Thursday, August 11, 2011

K-On! DVD (German) vol. 1 review

Wait, what?! I’m reviewing German releases now? Well, yes… but just this once. The thing is, with the criticism Bandai have received for their North American release of K-On!, I thought it would be interesting to see how a European edition fares in comparison. Unfortunately, there is no European Blu-Ray version to examine (Hey! Score one for Bandai, for releasing it in HD!) so I’ll be looking at the first German DVD volume.
You need to be at least 0 years old to watch K-On! in Germany.
First off, the cover art is the same as both the Japanese and the American equivalents, but the design differs. With the red and yellow bands going across the top and bottom of the picture for some reason, the logo being placed in such a way that it partially covers the characters, and the ever-important age rating, the German cover looks kind of messy by comparison.
The cover itself is a clear plastic DVD keep case. The cover inlay is reversible, with the reverse side being exactly the same as the default design but without the intrusive age rating.
Inside the case is, naturally, the DVD itself as well as the only bonus feature of the release: A four page booklet with Yui’s bio. This is the same bio that came with the Japanese Blu-Ray, but in German and with a red background. It seems Kazé, distributor of the German DVD, are almost as enthralled with the color red as the Japanese Blu-Ray’s are with pink.
It’s puzzling that the German edition could get this extra included when the American version could not, but it doesn’t stop there. The DVD itself features the original disc art from the Japanese release, whereas the US discs have had original designs lacking any character artwork.
The DVD menu is animated, showing stills from the episodes (this volume, like the US equivalent, contains the first four) with musical notes flying by in the background to the sound of “Cagayake!GIRLS”. Language options (German dub / Japanese audio with German subtitles) and episode selection is available from the main menu screen.
Watching the episodes with the original Japanese soundtrack (which you should, even if you know German – the dub is awful. As much as I don’t love the American dub, at least they tried… The German voices not only sound nothing like the originals, they also do not match the characters. I can’t really comment on the quality of the dub script, but when it starts out with Ui addressing her Big Sis as “Yui-chan”, you know it can’t be that great), there are a couple of things that stand out.
First of all, the subtitles are yellow. Why yellow? European DVD subtitles are supposed to be white. Please, European anime distributors, don’t follow the habits of American DVD authors when it goes against your own standards, okay?
Secondly, the songs are subtitled, but only in romanized Japanese and not translated. Why even subtitle them, then? Speaking of translated text – the opening and ending credits are left in their original Japanese. I don’t particularly mind the English credits on the US release, personally, but some purists might give another point to the German edition for this.
The big score here, though, is the complete lack of any music replacement. As I’ve discussed before, the US release replaced Mio, Ritsu and Mugi’s performance of “Tsubasa wo Kudasai” with “Aura Lee”, a.k.a. “Love Me Tender”. No such misfortune here – this DVD retains the untouched original song.
As far as video quality goes – well, it’s a DVD. It can’t compare to the quality you get from the HD video of a Blu-Ray. It’s possible it’s a step up from the US DVD if for no other reason than the fact that the PAL system (the European standard for SD video) allows for a higher resolution than the American NTSC system, though without having the US DVD on hand to compare with I can’t really provide an informed opinion. The audio, like the US release, is encoded in Dolby Digital at 192 kbps. Unfortunately, it suffers from PAL speedup – since film (and K-On!) runs at a frame rate of 24 frames per second and PAL runs at 25, the video is sped up by 1 fps resulting in slightly faster audio as well. It appears to have been pitch-corrected to avoid any hint of Chipmunk-voice syndrome, faint as it would have been – unfortunately this has resulted in audible artifacts, particularly noticeable in the music. Point definitely goes to the Bandai release for audio.
Translated credits can be accessed from the main menu, presented as a simple text scroll against a red background, no audio. Oddly, the credits are in English rather than German – and for some bizarre reason, the credited insert song is “Love Me Tender” even though this DVD has the correct “Tsubasa wo Kudasai”!
Finally, the disc contains trailers for four other anime releases; “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya”, “Ouran High School Host Club”, “Vampire Knight” and “Black Butler”. The trailers suck, by the way – they all follow the same formula of setting short clips, selected seemingly completely at random, to a piece of music from the shows they advertise (The Haruhi trailer, for instance, is set to the “Adventures of Mikuru Asahina” theme song, which doesn’t exactly provide for a very accurate representation of that anime) with the exception of the “Ouran High School Host Club” trailer which seems to be made up of little else but that shows opening sequence in its entirety.
Overall, while carrying its own flaws, this German DVD edition of K-On! manages to rectify at least a few of the mistakes made with the US release – with the original credits intact and no music replacement, the episodes are in their original unmolested state, save for the unfortunate effects of the PAL speedup inherent in the European DVD format. When it also includes the original disc art and one of the original physical extras, one can wonder just how much effort Bandai put into their release which contained neither of those things – but on the other hand, it might be a bit unfair to assert that they didn’t “try hard enough” without knowing what limitations were imposed on them by the Japanese licensors, or what else might have gone on behind the scenes. One thing we do know, is that Bandai originally announced Limited Editions of each K-On! volume, which were to come with a CD each. Why that ultimately didn’t come to pass I don’t know, but it does seem to suggest that they had every intention of giving K-On! the right treatment. That makes me want to give them the benefit of the doubt.

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