All four episodes of ‘K-ON!!’ that have aired so far were truly impressive in terms of production quality and very enjoyable as well. Somehow I feel that Kyoto Animation has changed a bit since their last series (Haruhi 2009), maybe it’s the experience of working on a theatrical movie. There has always been this absence of technical limitations in their approach – like how they don’t shy away from animating really complex shots that (nearly) nobody else would dare to attempt in TV anime – which is somewhat more noticeable in ‘K-ON!!’. I guess it’s indeed the spirit of their first movie project that carries over. Judging by the staff’s comments, KyoAni put even more effort than usual into ‘The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya’, so considering that they worked on it directly before ‘K-ON!!’ I’m not really surprised that their directors and animators still seem to stick to a more detail-oriented and movie-like approach.
As great as the first three episodes were, I still found episode 4 to be the most satisfying up to now. Katsuhiko Muramoto‘s script moved along in a nice pace and added some nice touches to the characters (particularly to Mio). The staging was really great as well since no one less than Ichirou Miyoshi aka Yoshiji Kigami was in charge of episode direction and storyboarding. As expected of such a great veteran animator with 30 years of experience, Kigami visualized the script with his usual care for details and fine sense for framing. There’s always something going on on the screen plus dense and nuanced movement everywhere, so quite in the tradition of Shin-Ei Douga (Shin-chan, Doraemon, etc.) where Kigami began his career. It’s not just one character that moves at one time (like in most other anime series), but several characters move at the same time which makes for this warm and lively mood. What I’ve always appreciated about KyoAni‘s work is that they keep the typical anime/manga exaggerations at a bearable minimum and concentrate instead on more or less realistic low-key acting. Investing so much effort into the acting makes even ‘K-ON!’s unrealistic characters seem more believable and adds a lot to their personality as well.
Anyway, Kigami and animation director Futoshi Nishiya filled this episode with wonderful animation that is quite effective in expressing the characters’ comical interplay. Really loved how Mio laughed and such, I felt that they paid extra attention to her drawings in this episode. The countless nuances both in the acting and staging probably originate in Kigami‘s detailed storyboarding. Just have a look at the maniacal preciseness of his storyboard of ‘Kanon 2006′ #17, these drawings have almost the quality and exactness of key frames.
The key animator list was quite short this time with only seven people credited. Chise Kamoi was there, I’m pretty sure that she animated the scene in the girls’ room near the end when they go to bed and Ritsu scares Mio with the flashlight. Those wobbly lines and red cheeks leave little doubt (the picture at the top of this post was drawn by her, btw). Kigami drew some key animation himself, though I’m not sure which parts he did since the whole episode feels pretty much like him. If I had to bet, I would say that he animated the pillow fight. For some more information on Kigami, check out this post.
Besides its impressive animation quality, it’s also the background art of episode 4 that caught my attention. They sure drew some beautiful artwork based on Kyoto locations. The backgrounds were created both in-house (Naoki Hosokawa) and external (Anime Workshop Basara). I assume that Hosokawa was in charge of the more recognizable Kyoto locations (like the temples) as they really stood out. And it shouldn’t be too difficult for Kyoto Animation‘s in-house staff to go location hunting in Kyoto…
Script: Katsuhiko Muramoto
Episode Director / Storyboard: Ichirou Miyoshi aka Yoshiji Kigami
Animation Director: Futoshi Nishiya
Key Animation: Yoshiaki Urata, Teruyoshi Shidou, Fumie Okano, Kunihiro Hane, Chise Kamoi, Ichirou Miyoshi, Futoshi Nishiya