K-ON! Anime, Volume 1 Blu-ray (English) Guest Review by Marc M

May 31st, 2011

K-On! Vol. 1 [Blu-ray]You may have noticed recently, I’m soliciting more Guest Reviews. There is one very serious reason why – I love Guest Reviews. ^_^ I’m not being facetious, I really do love having the pleasure of reading your thoughts, and deciding for myself whether I agree with you. As I always say, Okazu readers are really smart, interesting people. I may not agree with you – but I love hearing what you have to say. ^_^

In the case of blockbuster series K-ON!, you may remember that I heard rumors about the Blu-ray…and I don’t watch dubs, so returning Guest Reviewer Marc M. is here to cover these two very important issues. But before I do, I just want to tell you, in case you wondered, common wisdom says that Yui is playing a Cherry Sunburst Epiphone Les Paul Special 100 and, because otaku are easily influenced, TBS actually sells a Hirasawa Yui model.

For those of you who missed it, here is my review of the regular DVD (and subtitles, rather than dub.) 

And now, I will turn it over to Marc!

*** 

Many people have been slamming the Blu-ray version of K-on!, so I’m here today to see if it’s as bad as some make it sound.

The story is about Yui Hirasawa (Aki Toyosaki/Stephanie Sheh) a new high school student who ends up joining the light music club because she thinks it plays easy music. There she meets Ritsu Tainaka (Satomi Satō/Cassandra Lee), Mio Akiyama (Yōko Hikasa/Cristina Valenzuela), and Tsumugi Kotobuki (Minako Kotobuki/Shelby Lindley). They become fast friends, and Yui becomes the guitarist in the band the other girls have put together. The episodes are slice-of-life stories about their daily lives and adventures (such as helping Yui buy a guitar). It’s fun, light storytelling. So if you like that sort of thing, this anime is for you.

But I’m here to specifically look at the Blu-ray and to review the English dubbed version.So let’s get down to it.

The Good:

The visual: I’m a big visual kind of guy. For me, how the picture looks is a big part of whether or not I’m going to enjoy an anime. The quality of the picture on the Blu-ray is superb. It is crisp and clear and shows off the artists’ work. You can see the work that went into designing the landscapes, backgrounds, and buildings. The characters stand out beautifully. I’ve been spoiled by HD, and this anime didn’t disappoint me.

The voice acting: Stephanie Sheh, Cassandra Lee, and Laura Bailey (who play Yui, Ritsu, and Yui’s childhood friend Nodoka Manabe respectively) are well chosen for their characters. Each actress brings their own take on their characters that aren’t exactly like their Japanese counterparts, but still feel like the right fit. You can hear Yui’s ditzyness, Ritsu’s rashness, and Nodoka’s competence. I usually like listening to the original Japanese, but they won me over with their acting.

The Sad (no, that’s not a typo):

The sound: The biggest complaint from the detractors is that the sound quality is poor. Well, it’s not. It’s just not great, and that’s almost worse. Blu-ray technology is supposed to enable companies to add to the quality of their work. There is great potential with Blu-ray technology, and to not use it to that full potential is a waste. With this anime, Bandai wasted that potential. The sound is in plain old 2.0 Dolby stereo. That means you can hear everything: the dialogue is understandable and the background music never overpowers the dialogue (believe me, it’s happened in other DVDs I’ve had). Unfortunately, you’re never immersed in the sound. When you’re immersed in the sound you get more out of the experience of watching an anime. But Bandai decided it wasn’t worth using 5.1 or 7.1 surround. And that’s just sad.

The Voice Acting :Wait, you’re saying to yourself, didn’t he just put voice acting in the good category? You’re right, but there are some problems with the voice acting as well. Cristina Valenzuela and Shelby Lindley (who play Mio and Mugi respectively) both both play their characters as softspoken and shy, which is how they are supposed to be portrayed. However, unlike in the Japanese track where Mugi and Mio are very distinctive, here the two actresses sounded too much alike. At times during the show, if I couldn’t actually see whose mouth was moving when they spoke, I couldn’t always tell which of the two was talking. That was a little distracting.

Only 4 episodes: That’s right, only four. Blu-ray can hold large amounts of data, but they only put 4 of the 12 episodes on this disk. That’s like binding a 500-page book, but only having writing on 200 of the pages and leaving the last 300 pages blank. What was the point? Bandai pays a lot of money for the Blu-ray technology and then does nothing with it that they can’t do with regular DVDs. I don’t get it.

The Ugly:

The extras: Really, I don’t understand some companies. There’s all this space to put stuff on the Blu-ray and they give us one lousy interview with Stephanie Sheh. Don’t get me wrong; I love interviews with the voice actors (Japanese or English), but why only one? Why not all four of the main actresses? It’s not like you couldn’t squeeze them on there. In this day and age, it just feels miserly to not add a few more extras on Blu-ray. It feels like Bandai is trying to milk as much money out of this as possible. And that’s just ugly.

So on to the scores.

The anime: A great big 9. I love this anime. It’s fun, the characters are interesting, and the stories are light and amusing. A terrific anime about friends going through high school.

The Blu-ray: Now things get a little complicated. If you’re big on visual quality, 8.5. If you’re big on sound quality, 7.5 (maybe 7), and if you’re big on all the extra potential, 6.

That averages out roughly to 7 for the Blu-ray as a whole.

But that won’t stop me from buying the Blu-ray of volume 2. Like I said, I’m more of a visual guy.

***

Erica here: Thanks, Marc, for clearing up the issues. It sounds like Bandai doesn’t quite get the point of high-quality disk recording yet. Sort of like burning a scratched LP recording onto a CD. Okay if your requirement is archiving a dying technology….totally uncool for new music.

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10 Responses

  1. Candy says:

    I don’t like how bandai does a lot of their releases. This is a prime example of one of the reasons why. They erked me with how they tried to distribute galaxy angel A (I think it was) like the Japanese distribute with the same kind of pricing too (2 episodes a disk, $50 for said disk).

    I laughed too at the blue ray copy only had 4 episodes. It’s like ‘what’s the point of this?’.

    Honestly it seems the only company who seems to be doing ‘extras’ correctly is rightstuf. I think fundimation on some of their releases has a few good extras and so does media blasters but it’s give and take with them. I don’t believe ‘clean opening and closing’ is an extra. :/

  2. @Candy – I’m with you. Clean opening and closing is not an “extra”

    In this particular case, music videos would have been the perfect extras, but we don’t get them. :-(

  3. Candy says:

    @Erica Yeah, the music videos would have been epic on both dvd and blue ray releases.

    There is a lot of potential for Bandai to sell big with this release IF they market it right (and putting 4 episodes on a BLUE RAY isn’t going the right direction there). I still haven’t had any big urge to go and upgrade my dvd player to a blue ray yet. If they keep treating the anime blue ray releases like this I’ll just be sticking with dvd for a while longer. Now revolutionary girl utena movie on blue ray I may drop 100 to get said player… XD

  4. KAZAMI Akira says:

    To be frank, such a review always sounds to me as if North American anime fans hope from the bottom of their hearts for the death of anime.

    There are things even teens can keep in mind: the quality of a product, its amount contained, and its production cost have to be proportional to its price, or the industry will die.

    As far as you mentioned, you want many episodes, high quality video and sound, and many extras in one product(one Blu-ray disc). But hey, would you pay as much as the price of three volumes of Japanese version of anime Blu-ray disc?

    No, you don’t need to tell me that US anime fans would never pay such a price. I know only a handful of US fans would, so DON’T.

    Think carefully. You paid no more than a third of the price that JP fans did for the product(Don’t forget, you can’t make extras for nothing!).

    JP K-on Blu-ray: 2 episodes per disc, high quality video, high quality sound, and extras; $80.

    US K-on Blu-ray: 4 episodes per disc, high quality video, low quality sound, and no extra; $35.

    Isn’t it fair trade to lose only sound quality and extras when you gain quantity and save your money?

    You can say what you want, you can ask for what you want, and you can refuse what you want to refuse. But remember that you can’t have anything you want without any cost – without losing anything.

    If you want cheap/free stuff, be ready to lose much quality and/or quantity. If you keep asking for quality, quantity and money saving at the same time, I’m very sure you will lose anime industry.

    What do you want most and what do you give up in exchange?

  5. @KAZAMI Akira – That is a very good point you make. Cost is the main reason I did not expect to see the remastered Utena set here in America.

    Bandai is not very good at communicating to American fans. And they clung to Japanese-style releases for a very long time.

    You are right – not every fan would pay more for more content, but some would.

    I think the dissatisfaction here is that they charged more for a Blu-Ray release, but really did not come through with the better quality for the episodes on the disk. (Bandai has also had a history of doing a poor job on sound on American releases.)

    I think there is a middle ground that can be found for both industry and fans.

    The way Nozomi/RightStuf releases things we get good quality at prices that are not unreasonable, we get good enough quality.

    It is true that there are many fans who will not pay – this review is by a fan who *is* willing to pay for better, but when he did, he really didn’t get it. That’s not wishing for the death of the industry – just slightly more sensitivity from the industry.

    If Bandai cannot afford releasing a Blu-Ray will full high quality, then maybe they should not bother with a Blu-Ray?

    I am very curious, though – did the Japanese Blu_Ray have high quality sound? I don’t understand myself the decision to use the lower quality sound on the Blu-Ray.

  6. Eric P. says:

    @Candy–I believe you’re thinking of ‘Galaxy Angel Rune,’ and that was actually released by Bandai Visual.

    Great review, glad to know someone else thought the dub was as excellent as I did.

    Guess this saves Erica the trouble of rewriting the lost review.

  7. Marc M. says:

    @KAZAMI Akira –

    Actually I do know that the Japanese Blu-ray have less episodes per disk. And I have the same argument for them.

    I don’t say that they are any better. When I was in Japan I couldn’t believe the prices. Freaked me right out.

    What my point really was, is that when fans look at the description of what there getting from the Blu-ray and what they are getting from the DVD and see that they are getting only one thing extra (the high quality video), the majority will not pay the extra for the Blu-ray.

    As Erica has pointed out many times, North American fans are fickle. If you want them to by your Blu-rays you’ll, unfortunately, have to make them stand out from your DVDs. If you don’t then the majority of the fans will not buy your Blu-ray and you won’t recoup the money put into it. It’s the way fans are in North America.

    If two things are very similar and one is cheaper, they’ll head to the cheaper one. So Bandai is hurting their sales by not making the Blu-ray different enough from the DVD version.

    It would have been better for them to not waste the money on it.

    And yes, I would pay as much as three volumes if need be, a business needs to make a profit and as long as they aren’t trying to make a 50% profit margin, I’m willing to pay for it. But, I’m a minority when it comes to that. When I buy the French versions of the manga I read, I have to get it shipped from Europe and that nearly doubles the price of the book. But I’m willing to pay it to get something I like and let the company know I want more of the same. I speak using my money.

    As an example, I just bought the Blue-ray of the complete R.O.D series. After shiping and border fees it cost me $170 (I had to pay the border tax). But it let them know that it was what I liked and hopefully make them bring more stuff like it over.

    If more people were willing to do that, we would get more on our Blu-rays.

    Marc M.

  8. Felix says:

    So how is the regular DVD release?

  9. zer0ne says:

    I’m a big fan of K-ON! series.

    As for the disc cover specified their audio as 2.0, the sound is fine by my standard. As for the contents, they should include what the Japanese version of their Bluray version plus the US extras.

    The disappointing for me in volume 1 is the demo music played for Yui near the end of Episode 1. Its totally different from the original. A big disappointment for K-ON! fans…

    d@@b

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