Off-beat Anime With Endearing Characters

One of only six anime films submitted for Oscar consideration this year, On-Gaku: Our Sound is an off-beat indie project hailing from Japan. The lo-fi animated movie is about a trio of high school delinquents forming a rock band with no real musical experience and the comedic journey getting there.

On- Gaku: Our Sound is based on the manga by Hiroyuki Ohashi. Crudely but warmly animated with hand-drawn techniques done almost entirely by director Kenji Iwaisawa using rotoscoping, it’s a low-budget movie that took almost seven years in the making. The film was originally launched through a crowdfunding campaign. Noted Japanese alt-rocker Shintarō Sakamoto voices Kenji, the main character.

There is a lot to like about On-Gaku: Our Sound with its portrayal of high school thugs comically discovering music

The quirky musical comedy is no animated spectacle with its simple character designs and limited palette. On-Gaku: Our Sound is entertaining for its enjoyable laughs and unique slice-of-life charms. It’s a relatable high school adventure about music.

Kenji and his friends Ota and Asakura are the most feared high school delinquents in town. Kenji grows bored with no threats on the horizon and spontaneously decides to form a band with his friends. The problem is none of them have any real musical experience.

Stealing guitars and a drum kit, the friends start banging away at the instruments. It’s a musical awakening for the trio when they create a heavy, droning primal rock sound almost by accident. What they make isn’t complex music but has a certain raw energy. The trio are eventually talked into performing at the local rock music festival with a hilarious finale that ties everything together, including Kenji’s rival from another school causing trouble.

There is a lot to like about On-Gaku: Our Sound with its portrayal of high school thugs comically discovering music. There are some great moments, including a perfect climactic jam that brings all the characters neatly together. The script could have easily been made into a live-action film, though the designs are lifted more or less from the original manga.

On-Gaku is funny and has some nice nods to rock music. There are references to Kurt Cobain and King Crimson for rock fans. It’s not a groundbreaking anime, visually or thematically. The indie comedy’s sharply-drawn high school characters are endearing with laid-back, friendly storytelling. This is a down-to-earth movie that offers an original and unique perspective on the power of music to bring disparate people together.

Video

The 1.78:1 presentation by GKIDS looks fine, if not great, receiving a thoroughly excellent technical transfer. On-Gaku: Our Sound uses sparse, simplistic hand-drawn animation with a few splashes of vivid primary colors.

Nothing in the 1080P video is going wow anime fans. It has basic artwork with minimalist character designs. Those expecting intricate Studio Ghibli-type animation will be sorely disappointed. A top-notch AVC encode flawlessly captures the line art and backgrounds without artifacts.

Anime usually conjures visions of beautifully rendered art with colorful, dynamic lighting and palettes. On-Gaku: Our Sound reflects its independent, crowd-funded approach. The rotoscoping processing adds a healthy sense of reality and framing.

Audio

The 5.1 Japanese DTS-HD MA audio offers intelligible dialogue reproduction and an adequate surround mix that nicely highlights the song performances with excellent dynamics. Ample bass creates Kenji’s one-note songs with authority.

No English dub is offered but the tight integration of Japanese musical performances would have made for a tough task.

Optional English and Spanish subtitles play in a white.

Extras

On-Gaku: Our Sound arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of GKIDS and Shout Factory, falling in line with the label’s prior anime releases. The Blu-ray and DVD combo package comes with a slick, glossy slipcover. The BD is coded for Region A.

This is a disc loaded with special features which take a deep dive behind the scenes, covering the laborious hand-drawn animation and rotoscoping process in some depth. Everyone involved in the project shows up, including extensive participation by manga author Hiroyuki Ohashi and director Kenji Iwaisawa.

The Making of On-Gaku: Our Sound (59:20 in HD; Japanese w/ English subtitles)

Our Movie: Behind the Scenes (15:10 in HD; Japanese w/ English subtitles) – The crew visits locations and the director introduces the film at launch.

Live Musical Performance (10:12 in HD) – A performance by The Dress Codes, who sing On-Gaku’s theme song, from November 2019.

On-Gaku: Demo (05:36 in HD) – An early demo reel showing off the animation.

Rock Festival Pencil Test (02:46 in HD)

Storyboards Gallery (01:41 in HD)

U.S. & International Trailers (02:36 in HD)

Short Films by Kenji Iwaisawa:

Mountain (09:05 in HD)

Mourning Ice Pop (03:52 in HD)

Nicky (01:59 in HD)

Taro Wanted to be Water (05:14 in HD)

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

On-Gaku: Our Sound
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

Warmly entertaining indie anime with funny high school characters coming together over music.

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User Review
4.67 (3 votes)

[Ed note] My mistake – not Chris’ – that led to no screenshots for this review. Sorry!