The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: K-On! The Movie (Eiga Keion!), A Review, Recommendation and Remarks On Serendipity At The Film’s Ten Year Anniversary

We’re buddies from here on out!
Pictures of us together,
Our matching keychains
Will shine on forever
And always, we thank you for your smile

—Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!

With its theatrical première ten years previously to this day, K-On! The Movie has aged very gracefully from both a thematic and technical standpoint. The film follows Houkago Tea Time shortly following their acceptance to university. With their time in high school drawing to a close, the girls attempt to come up with a suitable farewell gift for Azusa, who had been a vital member of their light music club. Feeling it best to be a surprise, they try to keep this from Azusa. When word nearly gets out, Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi wind up fabricating that their “secret” is a graduation trip. The girls decide on London; after arranging for their flight and accommodations, the girls arrive in London and sightsee, before performing at a Japanese pop culture fair. Upon their return home, the girls perform for their classmates and finalise their song for Asuza. Simple, sincere and honest, K-On! The Movie represented a swan song for the K-On! franchise’s animated adaptation, making the extent of Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi’s gratitude towards Azusa tangible: K-On! The Movie is a journey to say “Thank You”, and as Yui and the others discover, while their moments spent together might be finite, the treasured memories resulting from these everyday moments are infinitely valuable. Ultimately, representing the sum of these feelings is done by means of a song; music is universally regarded as being able to convey emotions, thoughts and ideas across linguistic and cultural barriers, and so, it is only appropriate that the girls decide to make a song for Azusa. However, Yui and the others initially struggle to find the right words for their song. It is serendipitous that a fib, done to keep Azusa from knowing about her graduation gift, sends the girls to London. During this trip, Azusa undertakes the role of a planner. She handles the logistics to ensure that everyone can visit their destinations of choice and on top of this, fit their travels so that they can honour a commitment to perform at a festival. At the top of her game in both keeping things organised, and looking out for Yui, Azusa is exhausted at the end of their travels. Once they agree to writing a song, Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi set about composing the lyrics for it. When they begin to draft the lyrics, they come to realise how integral Azusa has been to Houkago Tea Time, a veritable angel for the club. This is the birth of Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! (Touched by an Angel), an earnest song whose direct lyrics convey how everyone feels about Azusa. Because everyone’s spent so much time together, Azusa’s presence in Houkago Tea Time is very nearly taken for granted. It takes a trip to London for Yui and the others to discover anew what Azusa has done for everyone: from planning out the trip and fitting their itinerary to everyone’s satisfaction, to keeping an eye on the scatter-minded Yui, Azusa’s actions during the London trip act as the catalyst that reminds everyone of how her presence in the Light Music Club has helped everyone grow.

Azusa is also evidently selfless, worrying about others ahead of herself: when the others notice her slowing down in the Underground, Azusa mentions that her new shoes are somewhat uncomfortable. She insists it’s fine, but Yui figures they can buy new shoes for her. Because of Houkago Tea Time’s easygoing approach to things, this detour into an adventure of sorts at Camden. However, K-On! The Movie is not an anime about travel; sightseeing is condensed into a montage, and greater emphasis is placed on the girls’ everyday moments together. Subtle, seemingly trivial moments are given more screen time than visiting the London Eye, or David Bowie’s House, reminding viewers that Houkago Tea Time is about its members, not where they go. While it is likely that any destination would have accomplished the same, visiting London, the birthplace of many famous musicians whose style have influenced the Light Music Club’s music, proved to be an appropriate choice that also sets the stage for the girls to compose their song for Azusa, showing that London had a role in inspiring Yui and the others. With crisp animation, attention paid to details, a solid aural component and a gentle soundtrack, K-On! The Movie is executed masterfully to bring this story of gratitude to life for viewers. Its staying power and timeless quality comes from a story that is immediately relatable: many viewers have doubtlessly wondered how to best express thanks for those who have helped them through so much, and more often than not, found that simple gestures of appreciation can often be the most meaningful. Naoko Yamada mentioned in an interview that one of the challenges about K-On! The Movie was trying to scale it up to fit the silver screen. This challenge is mirrored in the film, where Yui wonders how to create a gift of appropriate scale to show everyone’s appreciation for Azusa; in the end, just as how the girls decide on a gift that is appropriately scaled, Yamada’s film ends up covering a very focused portrayal of Houkago Tea Time that works well with the silver screen: less is more, and by focusing on a single thing, the movie ends up being very clear and concise in conveying its theme. A major part of K-On!‘s original strength was instilling a sense of appreciation for the everyday, mundane things in life; the film’s success in scaling things up is from its ability to take something as simple as finding a gift to express thanks and then meticulously detailing how this gift matured over time into the final product viewers know as Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!. However, while director Naoko Yamada fills K-On! The Movie with the series’ previous sense of joy and energy, the overall aesthetic of K-On! The Movie is unlike that of its predecessors. For the past ten years, I’ve wondered why the film felt different – the film is still K-On! at heart, but there was a feeling of melancholy and sadness about the film that was absent in the TV series. For the past decade, I’ve lacked the words to express this, but here at K-On! The Movie‘s ten year anniversary, it is worthwhile to look at why the film continues to endure – since the film became available, I’ve watched K-On! The Movie once a year, every year.

While K-On! The Movie opens with Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi playing one of Death Devil’s songs to see what things would be like if their band had a different aesthetic, and then segues to the cheerful, Christmas-like Ichiban Ippai!, Yui and the others head off to discard some rubbish from the club room. As they walk through a sun-filled corridor leading into the courtyard, a contemplative piano begins playing in the background. Yui gazes out into the courtyard. The entire scene is faded out, featuring very little colour compared to when they’d been in the clubroom, and Yui opens by saying that she’s feeling that they should do something befitting of a senior. The moment’s composition was quite unlike anything else seen in K-On!; even though colour and joy do return to K-On! The Movie moments later, one cannot help but feel a lingering sense of sadness in knowing that, this is the end for K-On!. Much as how Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi know their time with Azusa is drawing to a close, viewers know that for every smile and laugh the girls share throughout this film, there is a point where things will inevitably come to an end. Moments like these return after the girls come back home from London. Whereas their travels had been filled with colour, upon returning home, the world becomes faded out and desaturated again. The music becomes slower, gentler and carry with it a sort of finality. Those feelings had been set aside among the excitement in London, but back in Japan, they return in full force. This melancholy, however, is not overwhelming at all. Instead, it adds to K-On! The Movie, emphasising the beauty of the girls’ previous experiences together, and that despite its impermanence, the friendship between Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Tsumugi and Azusa is very real. While they might part ways for the present, that it existed at all counts for something. This respect for that which is transient and fleeting creates a very unusual feeling which the Japanese describe as Mono no Aware (物の哀れ, “the pathos of things”): something is beautiful because it isn’t going to last forever. This juxtaposition and seemingly contradictory set of feelings results in a bittersweetness surrounding a given moment, and much as how viewers are aware that after the movie, Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi will part ways with Azusa, the fact is that they will hold onto and cherish the countless memories they have of one another, too. It is because of these memories that everyone is able to accept that they are moving onwards into the future. Yamada’s masterful inclusion of gently wistful musical pieces and choice of colour in K-On! The Movie speak to notions of Mono no Aware, and in this way, weaves a central piece of Japanese aesthetic into the film: nothing, not even friendships, last, but this is just a part of life. Seeing K-On! The Movie capture Mono no Aware speaks to the depth of in this film, and while K-On! might ostensibly be about a group of girls who would rather enjoy sweets and tea over practising, the series also indicates that like all things, friendships do not last forever. In spite of this, and perhaps because of this, such bonds are all the more meaningful.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • This post came about because I did wish to share something at the film’s ten year anniversary, and the observant reader will note that this year is the tenth anniversary to many things, coinciding with when I started this blog and really began writing in earnest. The film opens with Yui and the others acting like Death Devil for kicks (at least, Yui, Ritsu and Tsumugi are in on it, while Mio’s just playing as herself). Once the ruse is up, the opening song, Ichiban Ippai (“Full of Number Ones”), begins playing. This song has a very Christmas-like feel to it, appropriate for the season.

  • Because this revisitation similarly comes a full ten years after K-On! The Movie first premièred, now that ten years’ worth of accumulated experience is in the books, I was hoping to share a renewed set of thoughts about this movie. I’ve previously written about K-On! The Movie on several occasions and explored some of the aspects that made it worthwhile to watch, but reading through these older posts, it feels like back then, I’d only really scratched the surface for what I wished to discuss.

  • When Yui and the others leave the club room, the lighting is diffuse, and colours are faded. In conjunction with the music, this scene spoke volumes to me about what K-On! The Movie had been attempting to accomplish. Whereas Hajime Hyakkoku, the composer for the series’ background music, had previously written joyful, bubbly pieces, the second track on the soundtrack has a more contemplative, thoughtful tone to it as Yui considers doing something worthy of being a senior.

  • It was here that I began to realise that throughout the entirety of K-On! The Movie, a feeling of gentle sadness permeated everything that is shown, even when the characters are caught up in their own antics and creating adorable moments for viewers to laugh at. While Mono no Aware is a part of K-On! The Movie, however, it never overshadows the general aesthetic and mood; there are still plenty of jokes throughout the film, such as when Yui attempts to make a break for it after cheating in the lottery to determine where their graduation trip should end up.

  • On writing about K-On! The Movie in full for the first time in a few years, I’ve come to pick up a few things that I missed earlier, and in conjunction with a keener eye for subtleties, this post is the result; my conclusion about the film’s central theme is a little more specific now, with a focus on Yui and the others crafting a memorable farewell gift for Azusa in gratitude for her participation in Houkago Tea Time. My earlier reviews focused on friendship at a much higher level, and looking back, I think that this review captures the reason for why I enjoyed the movie a shade more effectively than the earlier reviews.

  • Gratitude is the first and foremost theme in K-On! The Movie, with everything else being an ancillary aspect that augments the film’s strengths. The movie, then, succeeds in conveying the sort of scale that Naoko Yamada desired for viewers, showing the extent of everyone’s appreciation towards Azusa. This underlines Azusa’s impact on Houkago Tea Time, and so, when one returns to the televised series, all of those subtle moments suddenly become more meaningful, and more valuable.

  • Mio gives in to her happiness and makes no attempt to hide it when it turns out London is their chosen destination. The movie’s original première on December 3, 2011 is now a distant memory. I vaguely recall concluding my introductory Japanese class and finalising my term paper on the role of a protein in iron transport for bacteria. At the time, I was focused on simply surviving that semester and save my GPA, which had taken a dive after my second year, and for most of the winter term, I was similarly focused on maintaining passable grades in biochemistry and and cell and molecular biology. I exited that term on a stronger note, and with my final exams in the books, I learned that the movie would release on July 18.

  • I still remember when this film became available to watch: it had been a gorgeous July day, and the high reached 26°C. At this point in my summer, I’d spent almost two and a half months studying for the MCAT. The course was under my belt, and I’d been going through practise exam after practise exam. When I did my first exam, I scored a 22 (equivalent to today’s 496). However, a summer of giving up research and hanging out had an appreciable impact on my performance, and by the time K-On! The Movie came out, I was consistently scoring 30s (510 in today’s scoring system).

  • For reference, a good MCAT score is 508 (29 in 2012). I had been worried if watching and reviewing K-On! The Movie would’ve had an impact on my MCAT scores, but in the end, the movie presented no trouble in that area, and I ended up watching the film after a day spent going through a practise exam. Back then, this blog was still relatively new, and I never wrote extensive articles here. Instead, I published my first review to my old Webs.com site: over the course of two days, I wrote out a review that was comparable to the average post here. This never did interfere with the MCAT, and indeed, having the chance to watch K-On! The Movie contributed to helping me relax.

  • I had decided to take the MCAT earlier that year, and this represented a major commitment from my part. From the film’s home release announcement to the day of release, time passed in the blink of an eye. The movie’s first forty minutes are still in Japan, and it provided plenty of time to establish the witherto’s and whyfor’s of how Houkago Tea Time end up travelling to London; here, Ui helps Yui to pack, and their mother can be seen in the background. Until now, Mister and Missus Hirasawa have never been shown on screen in the animated adaptation.

  • The manga would end up doing so in its fourth volume, but since K-On!! had no such equivalent (the events of the anime diverge somewhat from the events in the manga towards the end), Yamada decided to slot Yui and Ui’s parents in as Yui heads off to the airport. The manga suggests that the Hirawasas are a happy family, although the parents are very fond of travelling, accounting for why they were never seen in the TV series.

  • With its slow pacing, K-On! The Movie is very relaxing: as it turns out, Houkago Tea Time ends up overhearing classmates discuss a graduation trip and then, while focused on their own goal of gifting something special for Azusa, hide their plans by saying they’re also doing a graduation trip. This turn of events is precisely the way things Houkago Tea Time rolls, although it is notable that even while planning for the trip takes precedence, Yui’s mind never strays far from their original goal of figuring out how they can give Azusa a memorable gift.

  • In an interview with Yamada, she explains that the biggest challenge the movie format posed by K-On! The Movie was how to scale the series up to fit the silver screen. This challenge ended up being mentioned in film itself, when Yui wonders how they’d make a suitable gift for Azusa that captures all of their gratitude. In the end, much as how Yamada succeeds with K-On! The Movie by being true to the original series’ style, Yui and the others found that a gift for Azusa would mean the most so long as it had heart. The journey to London thus becomes a bit of a sideshow, demonstrating how regardless of where in the world Houkago Tea Time go, they’re still themselves.

  • K-On! The Movie is at its most energetic while the girls are on their travels. The London segment of K-On! The Movie only occupies a third of the movie, but it is here that some of the franchise’s most unique moments are shown. It is the first time anyone is seen heading to the airport and travelling on an aircraft –until now, K-On! had been set entirely in Japan, so having Houkago Tea Time set foot on a plane and becoming, as Yui puts it, a part of the international community, was a monumental occasion for K-On! in showing that the series had taken one giant leap forwards.

  • For the most part, K-On! The Movie was very well-received, with praises being given towards the direction, sincerity and ability of the film to remain true to the atmosphere in the TV series, while at the same time, capitalising on the movie format to do something that could not have been done in a TV series. Criticisms of the film are very rare – I can count the number of the film’s detractors on one hand, and most of the gripes centred on the film’s relatively limited focus on travel, portrayal of London citizens and gripes that the film was protracted in presenting its story. It is with satisfaction that I note the most vocal of these critics, Reckoner and Sorrow-kun of the elitist Nihon Review and Behind The Nihon Review blogs, are no longer around because both blogs’ domains have expired. Reckoner had been a particularly fierce critic of K-On!, but his assertions were unfounded and poorly argued, while Sorrow-kun had written numerous articles claiming K-On! was “objectively” a poor series.

  • As of now, both Nihon Review and Behind The Nihon Review have gone offline: after their owner finally stopped paying the hosting fees, their hosts suspended both sites, resulting in all of Sorrow-kun’s posts becoming removed. In particular, Sorrow-kun had believed Behind The Nihon Review’s goals were to “enlighten” fans on why anime was only worthwhile if it contained philosophical or academic merit, so seeing some of the internet’s most invalid opinions of K-On! become lost forever is something worth smiling about. The comparatively short amount of time spent in London is not a detriment to the film – K-On! The Movie is not a travel show, and London was only an aside, a consequence of a fib to keep Azusa’s gift hidden. With this in mind, it wasn’t particularly surprising that London would be secondary to figuring out what kind of song they should write for Azusa. Throughout the film, Yui’s determination to figure out something and efforts to maintain secrecy lead Azusa to wonder if something is amiss. If she did suspect something, things are quickly shunted aside when the girls’ plan to visit London become realised.

  • Upon arriving in London, the girls enjoy the sights over Hounslow, a district in West London immediately east of Heathrow Airport. It’s been a while since I’ve boarded a plane: the last time I flew was back in 2019, when I attended F8 2019. The last time I was on a plane for leisure would’ve been back in 2017 on a particularly memorable trip to Japan. No matter where I go in the world, there is always a joy about flying over a city and wondering to myself, what are the folks down below doing in their day-to-day lives? Of course, when I’m on the ground and looking up at an aircraft, I find myself thinking of where people might be headed.

  • The flight leaves Yui excited to finally become part of the international community, and she begins bouncing while riding the moving walkway. In this frame, the girls’ hands look quite small; in a cast interview, Yamada mentioned that she wanted K-On! The Movie to appeal to as many people as possible, and to this end, modified the characters’ appearances slightly from the style seen in K-On!!. The end result leaves the characters more expressive than they’d been in K-On! and K-On!! – simple things like facial expressions are able to speak volumes here in the film, whereas in the TV series, such nuances were not conveyed through such a subtle manner. After exiting the plane and entering the terminal, Azusa remarks that they’re going to have to clear customs.

  • Yui and the others are able to get through without any issue, although Yui’s weaker English leads her to mispronounce “sight-seeing” as “side business”, leading to some confusion from the customs official: I’m not sure what the laws in the United Kingdom are, but here in Canada, doing something business-related requires a visa. Fortunately, this mispronunciation doesn’t result in any complications, and all five clear customs without any trouble. The joys and drawbacks of travelling are presented in K-On! The Movie to the girls: while K-On! has long favoured gentle escapism, the movie adds an additional dimension of realism to its story through linguistic differences and challenges associated with travelling, such as the girls trying to figure out which Hotel Ibis their booking was for, or when Mio’s luggage is seemingly misplaced.

  • In the end, Mio’s luggage was placed off to the side, and she tearfully reunites with it, while developing a mistrust for revolving things in the process. Once outside in the brisk London air, the girls set off to find a taxi that will take them to their accommodations. Excitement sets in, and Mio begins taking photographs of everything Yui points at, including this Airline lounge sign for Air Canada patrons. I am Canadian, so seeing mention of Canada in the film put a smile on my face: Air Canada is the largest airline company in Canada and runs numerous flights to London. Even from my home town, there are five direct flight to Londons every week, and the average duration is around nine hours.

  • I am interested in checking out London for myself at some point in the future – aside from minor linguistic differences between Canadian and British English, I could readily do a free-for-all visit without a tour group and navigate on my own well enough. Aside from iconic spots like the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey, I would like to walk the River Thames and visit the same spots in Earl’s Court as the girls of K-On! do. Such a vacation could be done for within four thousand dollars, and in the past, I have considered the logistics of such a trip.

  • After spotting a taxi, the girls board with enthusiasm – the driver asks if they’re going to London City, to which Ritsu answers with a yes. While Azusa has done her reading to ensure the trip was a success, not everything can be planned for ahead of time, and for the girls, the fact that London is broken up into smaller districts is not something that crosses their mind. This bit of miscommunication leads to the girls ending up at the wrong Hotel Ibis, and here, even Tsumugi is unable to keep up with the English.

  • For the most part, my travels have never put me at a linguistic disadvantage because I can get by well enough with English, Cantonese and Mandarin in the places I visit. When I visited Laval in France for the first time for a conference, I had trouble getting around because I could not speak a word of French. Seeing Mugi and Azusa struggle with English might’ve been amusing when I first watched this, but after the humbling experience in France, I took on a newfound appreciation for all of the languages around the world. When the girls reach London City’s Hotel Ibis, it is thanks to Mio who is able to interpret things and set the girls on track for their hotel in Earls Court.

  • Skyfall was screened in November 2012, a few months after K-On! The Movie’s home release and nearly a year after its original screening in Japan. The only commonalities the two films share are that they have scenes set in London, including the Underground. While Yui and the others use the Underground to reach Earls Court, Skyfall saw James Bond pursue Raoul Silva through the Underground after he escapes MI6 custody.

  • On their first day in London, Yui and the others have a busy one as they try to make their way to their hotel. It’s misadventure after misadventure, but in spite of these inconveniences, everyone takes things in stride, going to Camden to buy Azusa new shoes, casually enjoying the Underground and, when trying to grab dinner, end up playing an impromptu performance on account of being mistaken for a band.

  • In spite of their surprise at being asked to perform, Houkago Tea Time’s showing is impressive. While it seems a little strange the girls travel with their instruments, the last several times I boarded a plane, it was with a laptop or iPad in tow, as I was either set to give a conference presentation or be involved in work. Carrying additional gear while travelling is a pain when one is alone, but with others, it’s much easier – one can simply ask their companions to look after their belongings.

  • K-On! The Movie has several moments where Kyoto Animation was able to showcase their craft at the movie level, and clever use of camera angles really brought the performances to life. Aside from the opening, inset and ending songs, there are no new Houkago Tea Time songs in the film: all of the performances in the movie are done with existing songs, and at the sushi restaurant, the girls perform Curry Nochi Rice after Yui spots an East Indian man in the crowd. Back in 2011, I wasn’t too big of a fan of raw fish, but I imagine that my openness to try it began after watching Survivorman‘s Arctic Tundra episode. A few weeks ago, when my office did a sushi lunch, I decided to participate and greatly enjoyed the nigiri: there’s a special flavour about raw fish that makes it delicious, and it goes especially well with a dash of soy sauce.

  • Movies typically are scaled-up TV episodes, with superior visuals and music accompanying it; K-On! The Movie is no different, feeling distinctly like an extended episode. I particularly loved the soundtrack, which features both the motifs of the TV series and new incidental pieces that gave a bit of atmosphere to where Houkago Tea Time was while at the same time, reminding viewers that it’s still K-On!. Here, Ritsu runs into Love Crisis, another Japanese band that was supposed to be performing at the sushi restaurant.

  • K-On! The Movie depicts London with incredible faithfulness, and perusing the official movie artbook, the precise locations of where the girls visit are given. Abbey Crossing, David Bowie’s House, West Brompton, and many other areas are on the list of places that Yui and the others visit. Their travels are set to the upbeat, energetic Unmei wa Endless! (Fate is Endless!) in a montage that highlights the girls enjoying themselves in London in their own unique manner. Throughout the trip, Azusa takes on the role of a tour guide, planning and coordinating itineraries for the others, who end up having a wonderful time.

  • The montage in K-On! The Movie is ideal for showing that while in London, Yui and the others have an amazing time sightseeing: the tempo would suggest that the girls’ experience is very dream like, hectic and dynamic, reminder viewers that when they are having fun, time flies. Vacations often seem to go by in a blur, and so, a montage is a very visceral way to capture this feeling. In condensing out the travel and sightseeing, the montage creates the impression that K-On! The Movie is not about London, but at the same time, it also allows the focus to remain on the girls’ aim of working out their gift for Azusa.

  • London, Japan and Hong Kong share the commonality in that they have left-hand traffic, an artefact dating back to the Roman Empire; right-hand traffic is the result of French standardisation, while Americans used right-hand traffic out of convenience for wagon operators. For Yui and the others, traffic in London would be identical to that of Japan’s, but when they encounter a “Look Right” labels on the road, they conform. These labels are also found in Hong Kong, as well: for folks like myself, they are very useful, since I instinctively look left before crossing most streets.

  • I’ve long held that the best way to truly experience a culture is to experience their food, and so, when I was in Japan, having the chance to enjoy snow crab, Kobe beef, okonomiyakiomurice and ramen was high on the highlights of my trip. In K-On! The Movie, the girls end up stopping at The Troubadour on 263–267 Old Brompton Road in Earls Court. Opened in 1954, The Troubador was a coffeehouse that has since become a café, bar and restaurant. Catching Yui’s eye early in their tour of London, the girls have breakfast here. Their Eggs Benedict is shown: it costs £9.95 (roughly 16.88 CAD with exchange rates).

  • Earlier this year, I did a special tour of London using the Oculus Quest to show how faithful the film had been to details; the real-world locations are portrayed faithfully in K-On! The Movie, although here, I will remark again that London’s skyline has changed quite a bit in the past decade. K-On! The Movie shows The Shard as being under construction, and it was opened in 2013. Some of the areas still remain as they once were. Earl’s Court, for instance, still looks much as it did in 2011, while downtown London is quite different; folks looking to visit K-On! locations in central London now will be hard-pressed to find some locations since they’ve changed so much – the Harper’s Coffee has since been replaced by a Costa Coffee, for instance.

  • After Yui gets her hand stuck in a receptacle for dog waste, the girls set off to find a bathroom and wind up at the British Museum. Here, they take the London Underground’s Central line from the Kensington Gardens: during the day, the Underground is nowhere near as busy as it was when Yui and the others first arrived, and certainly not as crowded as it had been in Skyfall, when 007 pursued Silva through the London Underground after the latter managed to escape MI6 custody.

  • While they’d intended to only stop by for a quick bathroom break, Mio, Tsumugi, Yui, Ritsu and Azusa end up checking out the British Museum’s exhibits, including the original Rosetta Stone. The girls recognise this as the replacement tombstone they’d borrowed from the Occult Club back during the events of K-On!!, when they found Juliet’s headstone was misplaced. The Rosetta Stone replica ended up being a suitable replacement, and the class play of Romeo and Juliet went off without a hitch. To see the Rosetta Stone again shows the kind of care that Yamada put into the film, giving Yui and the others a chance to see the world beyond Japan.

  • Here, Ritsu, Mio, Yui, Tsumugi and Azusa run down the stairs on the Westminster Bridge’s south banks: the location was not hard to find, since the girls end up at the London Eye moments later. There’s a doorway underneath the South Bank Lion sculpture on the left of this image, and this was used as a secret entrance to MI6’s new digs in Skyfall after Silva bombed the SIS Building. One of the joys about K-On! The Movie was that so many locations seen in this movie were also featured in Skyfall, and I myself wondered if the SIS Building would make an appearance. While this never occurred, it was a contrast to see Yui and the others have fun in the same places where Bond was on duty.

  • Mio’s fear of rotating things kicks in when the others suggest boarding the London Eye to gain a better vantage point over central London; she decides to stay on the ground and let the others have a good time. To this, Yui and Ritsu decide to haul Mio off anyways. A longstanding joke in K-On! stems from Mio’s various phobias, although it is typically the case that once Mio is pushed out of her comfort zone, she is able to live in the moment with the others.

  • As such, despite her initial reservations about all things with angular velocity, Mio is convinced to go on the London Eye. With a height of 135 metres, it is more than double the size of Hong Kong’s Observation Wheel and during K-On! The Movie, was the highest public viewing point in London. Since the movie’s release in 2011 (and the home release in 2012), The Shard opened and now offers London’s highest observation deck.

  • The girls rest here near The Royal Menagerie on the west end of the Tower of London, a major landmark that has variously been used as a mint, armoury and presently, the home of the Crown Jewels. Adjacent to the Tower of London is a modern office block and fish and chips shops. While it would be a tight schedule, the girls’ tour is possible to carry out within the course of a day. To really take in the sights and sounds, however, I would allocate at least seven days for the entire trip London, which leaves five full days to explore.

  • One aspect in K-On! The Movie that I enjoyed was that smaller details about travel were presented; most travel shows only highlight attractions and the best eats of a given trip. Conversely, K-On! The Movie portrays the smaller, more awkward moments that result when people are far from home. After their day’s worth of adventure, the group return to Ibis Earl’s Court, and almost immediately, Yui and Azusa end up missing one another often enough to the point where they wonder where the other’s gone. Yui’s just scatter-brained, but Azusa is genuinely tired from having spent the day putting an itinerary together that allows everyone to see as much as they could.

  • In the end, the pair end up running into one another in Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi’s room. Such moments typify the sort of humour present in K-On! as a whole; it’s not over-the-top, and instead, acts to create gentler moments that elicit a smile. Some folks consider K-On! to be a comedy, but this is, strictly speaking, incorrect: K-On! might’ve had origins as a 4-koma manga driven by punchlines, but Yamada’s interpretation of the series allows for more meaningful learnings to be presented; themes like appreciation and mindfulness are more important in K-On! than making viewers laugh.

  • With this being said, comedy does crop up from time to time as a result of everyday occurrences; here, Yui slips after rushing to meet Azusa after wandering off to the Brompton Cemetery whilst considering what the song for Azusa should entail. One small visual aspect in K-On! The Movie that did stand out was the fact that all of the folks in London are uncommonly tall relative to Azusa and the others. While Azusa is stated as being only 4’11”, a quick glance at this image finds that the average Londoner would be around eight feet in height. I imagine this was a deliberate choice to show how small everyone is compared to the world.

  • After Ritsu and the others run into Love Crisis following their performance at the sushi restaurant, they are invited to perform at a Japanese Culture Fair. The girls agree to the performance even though the timing will be a bit tight, and when Azusa hesitates, the others reassure her that it’ll be fine. Because they are to be performing in front of an English audience, Yui and the others feel it might be useful to translate some of their songs to English. Strictly speaking, preserving the meaning is of a lesser challenge than finding the words with the correct syllables to match the melody.

  • The Ibis at Earl’s Court, while being a bit more dated, has attentive staff and is situated in a good location, being close to public transit. By comparison, the Ibis London City is located a stone’s throw to the London city centre and the Tower of London. The choice to have the girls book lodgings at Earl’s Court, in a comparatively quieter part of London, allows the film to also show Yui and the others spending downtime together while not sightseeing. Here, they begin working on translating their songs for their performance at the Japanese culture fair.

  • The performance itself is set at the Jubilee Gardens adjacent to the River Thames and London Eye. The introduction into the culture festival features a sweeping panorama over the area, taking viewers through the spokes on the London Eye. It’s one of the more impressive visuals in K-On! The Movie and really shows that this is no mere extended episode: I’m particularly fond of movies because they provide the opportunity to use visuals not seen in TV series. Here, the girls react in surprise that Sawako has shown up.

  • During their performance, Yui is spurred on by a baby in the crowd and plays with more energy as the concert progresses, even improvising lyrics into Gohan wa Okazu. Whether or not Houkago Teatime plays for the people they know or not, this has very little bearing on the enthusiasm and energy the girls put into their song. Personal or not, each performance is spirited conveys that Houkago Tea Time’s music is universally moving, whether they are playing for a crowd of folks in London, or for Azusa as a thank you gift.

  • It turns out that as a place to have a graduation trip, there is no better option than London, England: Houkago Tea Time’s style draws inspiration from British artists, and the songs produced for K-On! have a mass appeal for their simplicity, earnest and charm found from the saccharine nature of the lyrics. Even now, whenever I see images and footage of London, K-On! The Movie is the first thing that comes to mind; the film had done a phenomenal job of bringing the city to life, and while melancholy gently permeates the whole of the film, the thirty minutes spent in London are K-On! The Movie‘s most cheerful, energetic moments.

  • After the concert draws to a close, the girls depart for Japan; owing to their timing, things are really close by the time Yui and the others have to return to the airport and board their flight back home. In general, it is recommended that one arrives at least three hours before their scheduled departure when flying internationally. This is so one can make it through customs and security checks, which can take a while, and because some airlines require one to check in an hour before their flight. Accepting a concert on the same day they were heading back would be cutting it close, especially in a city as large as London.

  • Fortunately, some elements can be abstracted away, and the girls’ ride over to Heathrow is uneventful, with Azusa falling asleep immediately from exhaustion. A snowfall begins in London, bringing the girls’ trip to a peaceful close, and here, the soundtrack takes on a much slower, gentler tenour. The track that accompanies this scene has a very wistful, reflective mood about it and is appropriately titled “Winter night in a warm room”.

  • Back in Japan, Ritsu and the others attempt to convince Sawako to give them permission to host a farewell concert for their classmates. To her colleagues and other students, Sawako presents herself as professional and caring, attempting to distance herself from her Death Devil days, but in front of Houkago Tea Time, she’s less motivated and occasionally partakes in actions that are of dubious legality. At the end of the day, however, Sawako does care deeply for her students, and so, decides to allow the concert.

  • One of the other teachers is opposed to the idea of a concert and on the morning things kick off, Sawako does her utmost to keep him from finding out. While unsuccessful, this instructor does not seem to mind Houkago Tea Time quite as much, suggesting that Sawako’s Death Devil band were rowdier back in the day to the point of being a nuisance. During this in-school concert, the song Sumidare Love is performed: the song had been on the vocal collections, but until now, had not been played in the series proper.

  • Compared to the more colourful segments in K-On! The Movie, the final segments depicting the girls drafting out their song for Azusa are much more faded, almost melancholy, in nature, hinting that all things must come to an end. Kyoto Animation has long utilised colour to make the emotional tenour of a scene clear in their drama series; from CLANNAD to Violet Evergarden, time of day, saturation and the choice of palette are all used to great effect. Traditionally, comedies have seen a lesser dependence on colour and lighting, so for these effects to appear in K-On! show that the series has matured.

  • Despite having drawn blanks while in London, Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi manage to begin their song once they’re back home; it was Azusa’s actions throughout the trip that really led everyone to see anew how much they’d come to rely on their junior. While this should be a joyous moment, K-On! The Movie reminds viewers that this moment is also steeped in a sort of finality: once they finish their song and deliver it, they will have to part ways with Azusa.

  • The K-On! The Movie‘s home release was only twenty four days from the day of my MCAT, and one of the dangers about this was that reviewing the movie so close to the MCAT might’ve taken my focus from the exam. In the end, watching the movie and writing about it was very cathartic, and I found myself lost in each moment: seeing Mio and the others sprint across the school rooftop with a carefree spirit was a light moment that really captured what K-On! was about. The movie helped me relax, and in conjunction with support from friends, some time management skills and the usual efforts of studying, I ended up finishing the exam strong.

  • Audiences thus come to learn how Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! came about: K-On! had preferred to focus on the girls’ experience together, and things like songwriting were often set aside in favour of having everyone enjoy tea together. This did lead to the impression that Houkago Tea Time were unqualified. However, K-On! did show that Mio spent some of her free time writing lyrics to songs, and to reinforce the idea that Houkago Tea Time’s success is well-deserved, K-On! The Movie opts to show the song-writing process behind Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!.

  • This song had appeared to come out of the blue in K-On!!, but the film shows the process behind how the song the lyrics and heart that went into the song came from seeing how much of an impact Azusa had on the light music club. However, Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! was not written overnight, and because of the timeframes, I would estimate that the film is set over the course of three weeks – the first third of the movie would’ve taken place over the course of a few days as the girls figure out they’d like to do a song for Azusa, and then book a last-minute trip over to London as a graduation trip. The London trip itself is explicitly mentioned as taking five days, and then after returning, some time would’ve been needed to put the song together.

  • While this seems excessive, we recall that in K-On!!, there had been quite a gap between exams and graduation – when Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi head off to write their entrance exams for the women’s college, it would’ve been shortly after Valentines’ day, and graduation itself was in March. This in-between period was never covered in K-On!!, and Yamada expertly used this time as when Yui and the othes came to write out Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! ahead of graduation for Azusa. Through K-On! The Movie, it is shown that the in-betweens in an anime can also have a story to tell. Non Non Biyori Repeat adapted this concept for the entire second season, showing that anime only shows the best moments that impact the narrative.

  • Consequently, while Yui and the others might appear to be pulling songs out of nowhere, and performing like experts without much apparent practise, the reality is that the anime and manga tend to show us viewers moments when Houkago Tea Time are slacking off, but once the chips are down, and the girls get their motivation, they’re quite determined and capable. As such, this is the one criticism of K-On! I can dismiss immediately – folks who hold this against the series have fundamentally misunderstood that anime only show milestone moments, and more mundane details are deliberately omitted for a reason.

  • Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! is the song that got me into K-On!, and after I became curious to know how the series reached its culmination, I stepped back and watched everything from episode one.  With this modernised talk on K-On! The Movie very nearly finished, I note that it was very enjoyable to go back and re-watch this film under different circumstances, then write about it with a new perspective and style. Even a full decade later, the song remains every bit as enjoyable as it had been when I first went through K-On!.

  • Like a good wine, K-On! The Movie improved with age. My original score for the movie was a nine of ten, an A grade. However, revisiting the movie and seeing all of the subtleties in the film, coupled with recalling watching the film to unwind from studying for the MCAT, led me to realise that this film had a very tangible positive impact on me. Consequently, I am going to return now and give the film a perfect ten of ten, a masterpiece: for a story of pure joy that was successful in helping me regroup, and for being every bit as enjoyable as it was ten years ago, K-On! The Movie had a tangible, positive impact on me.

K-On! The Movie remains as relevant today as it did when it first premièred a decade earlier; even for those who have never seen K-On!‘s televised series, the movie is self-contained and the themes stand independently of a priori knowledge. After all this time, I have no difficulty in recommending K-On! The Movie to interested viewers; the film is every bit as enjoyable and meaningful as it was ten years previously. Because of how Yamada conveys Mono no Aware, as it relates to friendship, it becomes clear that K-On! The Movie was intended to be the final act for Kyoto Animation’s adaptation – author Kakifly had written two sequels, K-On! College and K-On! High School, which respectively cover Yui’s life at university and Azusa’s efforts to keep the light music club going. K-On! College was published in September 2012, and a month later, K-On! High School became available. Precedence would have suggested that adapting both of these volumes into an anime could’ve produced a two-cour season with twenty-four full episodes, but this would stand contrary to the aesthetic in K-On! The Movie. At the time, K-On!‘s anime adaptation had exceeded expectations in promoting the manga – the anime had been intended to promote the manga, and in this role, it has certainly succeeded. The manga itself concludes in a fashion that is consistent with the Mono no Aware aesthetic. K-On! College has Yui settling in to life at university and even makes rivals out of Akira, a serious musician whose skill is enough to get her noticed by professional producers, while K-On! High School has Azusa wondering what fun things the future will bring. However, this diverges from the feeling that K-On! The Movie originally concluded with; to bring K-On! back in the present would undermine what the film had accomplished ten years earlier. Six years earlier, I did walk through whether or not a continuation was possible, and back then, I had concluded that such a project would have been welcomed. After all, there had been enough materials to do so, and K-On! would’ve still been relatively fresh in the viewers’ minds. This answer has changed since then – a full decade later, it is safe to say that it is unlikely that Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Tsumugi and Azusa’s stories will be expanded upon. While Kakifly’s spin-off series, K-On! Shuffle, is set in the same universe and built around a similar premise (protagonist Yukari Sakuma is inspired to take up drumming after watching Ritsu perform), K-On!‘s success had largely come from the fact that it had been so groundbreaking at the time. The concept is no longer novel, and as such, adapting K-On! Shuffle is similarly unlikely in the foreseeable future. With this in mind, I imagine that this is the last time I will be writing about K-On! The Movie – as enjoyable as the series is, I do feel that I’ve said everything that needs to be said for a film that has aged very gracefully and certainly stands of its own merits, during the past decade that I’ve been active as an anime blogger.

16 responses to “Masterpiece Anime Showcase: K-On! The Movie (Eiga Keion!), A Review, Recommendation and Remarks On Serendipity At The Film’s Ten Year Anniversary

  1. David Birr December 3, 2021 at 13:44

    So, a couple of months ago I read one of your older commentaries on K-On!, which praised Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!. Idle curiosity drove me to look it up on YouTube, and I found a video full of flashbacks from the series, with lyrics in romaji and English.

    A few of the commenters for that video said they’d cried harder, watching it, than Azusa did hearing the song. I am a callous elderly man, so I haven’t cried any of the times I’ve rewatched … but my eyes are stinging again….

    I just wanted to say, thanks for nudging me toward looking it up.

    Like

    • infinitezenith December 3, 2021 at 14:41

      No problem, and thank you for sharing your story! The lyrics hit hard, and there’s a lot of AMVs out there that showcase the moments that bring back our own memories of those times when we were students, speaking to just how well-done Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! is 🙂

      Like

  2. ernietheracefan December 3, 2021 at 15:49

    Judging from your review, K-On movie doesn’t have some kind of supernatural-esque moment, which is good because I’ve watching Love Live: The School Idol Movie & not really impressed with its supernatural moment. And I hope Sunshine movie would be have a same vibe as K-On has..(they’re go to Italy, so it has to be equally better)

    BTW, have you listening Fuwa-Fuwa Time (Pastel Palettes version) & Don’t Say Lazy (Afterglow version. And Yoko Hikasa is voicing the drummer) ?

    And looks like I’ll trying to watch K-On..

    Like

    • infinitezenith December 3, 2021 at 20:11

      K-On! The Movie is down-to-earth and completely set within a realistic world, free of magic and supernatural elements. The setting ultimately didn’t matter for K-On! The Movie, since the girls could’ve gone anywhere in the world (except maybe North Korea) and still have had a wonderful time; as I mention in the talk, the choice of London was in relationship to music. K-on! overall lacks the same focus on music and idols as Love Live!; the series is less about music and more about friendship in an everyday setting. Drama is minimal, and it’s a show for relaxing to, so I hope this helps you determine if K-On! is your cup of tea.

      As far as the music goes, the original versions are the best versions 🙂

      Like

      • ernietheracefan December 9, 2021 at 03:50

        I’d like to recommended BanG Dream to you, or watching Pastel Life & Garupa Pico (which are the chibified gag series like the next SW anime before RtB) if you want to know the other bands beside Poppin’Party without playing the mobile game (Poppin’Party were the main band in Season1 & I’m digging some information about the other bands from TV Tropes & r/BangDream). And don’t worry, BanG Dream is still quite new franchise comparing with Idolm@ster & Love Live..

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5UVKXgQH0E & https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xg-XWCl23PI (you might hear two familiar voices)

        Like

        • infinitezenith December 9, 2021 at 12:46

          BanG Dream‘s built a series of impressive scale considering its status as a relative newcomer. With the number of episodes, and the fact that I can only watch maybe one or two episodes per week now, I’ll have to figure out how things work before I jump in!

          Like

  3. Jon Spencer December 3, 2021 at 16:34

    It was certainly an excellent film. The series in general was quite good. Enjoyed reading 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • infinitezenith December 3, 2021 at 20:18

      Glad that you could drop by! The series overall is catharsis at its finest, and set the precedent for many of the shows I choose to watch every season to relax. When K-On! first aired and the anime club showed it, I wasn’t interested, but some years later, I heard their music, decided to take a look, and the rest is history.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jon Spencer December 3, 2021 at 21:06

        No problem 🙂 I agree, it is too bad some people write it off for being a moe-blob show, but those folks are missin’ out!

        Like

        • infinitezenith December 5, 2021 at 21:43

          Different people will have different tastes; I don’t begrudge those who dislike the shows I like. For the most part, it’s live and let live. With this in mind, back in K-On!‘s heyday, there were blogs dedicated to critiquing K-On! and other shows of its genre, arguing in quasi-academic purple prose that it was harmful to good storytelling to have shows such as these: these writers attempted to dissuade others from watching these shows.

          I am fine with different opinions, but I am not okay with bloggers telling others how to conduct themselves. I am glad that the age of those blogs have long passed now, and for my part, I expect readers to always make their own decisions as to whether they enjoyed something or not. Things are much better now, especially with the anime blogging community I am a part of!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Jon Spencer December 5, 2021 at 22:12

            Yeah, I agree with you. Some of that stigma still lingers though, and was I was largely getting at with my original comment.

            Like

            • infinitezenith December 5, 2021 at 23:22

              It is true that K-On! has been counted as a guilty pleasure by some because of a fear of being judged for watching it. These days, with the decline of blogs that made it a point to hate K-On!, like Behind the Nihon Review, at least people can watch and write about it in a positive light without seeing flame wars brought to their doorsteps 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

              • Michael Kerpan December 7, 2021 at 14:52

                Nobuhiro Yamashita’s Linda Linda Linda came out in 2005. It portrayed a group of girls planning to perform in their school’s cultural festival. Their initial plan is upset when the guitarist hurts her hand in gym class, which sets off some infighting that leads to the departure of the group’s lead vocalist. They re-group, with addition of a Korean exchange student as their new vocalist — and decide that, rather than their initial planned songs, they will do songs of The Blue Hearts (pioneers of punk rock in Japan).

                The sweet-natured camaraderie of the girl’s group in Linda Linda Linda (in both goofing around, and practicing — sometimes lackadaisically and sometimes seriously) definitely gets reflected in K-On (first the manga and then later the anime). I was watching relatively TV anime when K-On came out — so I did not encounter it until later (after the Moe Wars had subsided). But had I encountered it in a more timely fashion, my first thought would have been how similar in tone and feel it was to Yamashita’s slice-of-high-school-life film. Yes, the assemblage of characters was somewhat different (but both did feature cute, shy, taciturn bassists). I wonder if Japanese readers/watchers would have noticed the linkage — but it seems western ones probably did not.

                In any event, I would have viewed K-On as being in the tradition of Japanese cinema’s tradition of portraying ordinary people, mostly in ordinary settings, doing mostly ordinary things. While usually such shows had more of a focus on adults, there were also movies (made mainly for adults) that centered school-aged children (of various ages). Very often, cuteness was a feature of these films. By and large, these sorts of films of everyday life (which were a huge part of Japan’s movie output) got very little traction in the West — which preferred samurai adventure films, monster movies, and “pink films”. Clearly, this cinematic tradition was mirrored in anime (see the long-running Sazae-san, dating back to 1969). It seems to me (not having been around for the fight) that when western fans finally had to take note of such shows (because more were made and more made it into the west), they went ballistic. I rather suspect that many western anime fans really had (and have) minimal interest in Japanese life — except insofar as discrete items amount to consumables.

                In any event, K-On the series was a delight — and K-On: the movie was equally a delight. I will say that the character designs of shows like these (which were closer to movie anime — such as the Ghibli films — and far from what I considered “typical” early TV anime) is what made (and makes) them appealing.

                Like

                • infinitezenith December 9, 2021 at 11:14

                  I imagine that Japanese viewers would be immediately familiar with the aesthetic and styles of K-On! to the extent where the series similarities to Linda Linda Linda would be noticed very quickly. For them, these commonalities would be a pleasant thing, a case where an older work’s themes is adapted into the animated format. Conversely, for English-speakers unfamiliar with such a work, such a comparison would understandably be harder to draw; having said this, you have piqued my interest, and I would be happy to go watch Linda Linda Linda. Perhaps in the near future, I’ll write about it as well 🙂

                  I am immensely grateful that you’re stopping by with these recommendations and comparisons to other existing works: it is superb to see how different works contribute to the things that I’ve enjoyed, and on that token, it is similarly valuable to hear perspectives on why some of the things I enjoyed might have been so polarising back in the day. In the case of the Moé Wars, I think it was precisely this: people had grown acclimatised to a very distinct Japanese aesthetic, so when things that are more mundane and down to earth came out, the glitz would have appeared to have been taken out of Japanese works. K-On!‘s light and fluffy narrative is a far cry from something like Ergo Proxy, and I can imagine that as the slice-of-life genre began gaining traction, people over here worried that their favourite genres and styles would become displaced.

                  This is, naturally, not the case: the main reason why anime is so popular is because there’s something for everyone. However, folks managed to spin this into a “slice-of-life is harming the industry by promoting mediocrity” argument, and I further add that slice-of-life anime are actually more Japanese than the edgiest philosophical work because they tend to be more subtle about nuances in the Japanese aesthetic. In other words, “nothing happens” because this lets the mind wander and appreciate these more understated aspects. Such anime definitely do have their appeal, and this is reflected in the fact that K-On!-like anime are still being produced to this day.

                  Like

                • Michael Kerpan December 9, 2021 at 13:26

                  Hope you get to see Linda x 3 — and enjoy it.
                  If you do — here is a long-ago article I wrote with a friend that dealt with that movie (and others that starred its lead actress): http://rozmon.blogspot.com/2020/10/we-love-bae-doo-na-how-bout-you-by.html

                  Liked by 1 person

                • infinitezenith December 9, 2021 at 22:46

                  I managed to track down a copy, so I look forwards to watching Linda Linda Linda and subsequently reading you and your friend’s thoughts 🙂

                  Like

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