Organised Sound

It’s funny how the music put times in perspective
Add a soundtrack to your life and perfect it
Luv (Sic) Part 3 – Nujabes feat. Shing02

Music is a passion of mine. I’m not a musician; the dastardly combination of a short attention span and poor hand-eye coordination put paid to any aspirations I had of playing the piano, while my skills with the guitar fall short of even the dodgiest of Oasis tribute bands. Music transcends all societies, all cultures, all boundaries; an African-American slave song can resonate just as strongly with modern day sports fans while a seminal French house album can inspire a living legend of animation. A good soundtrack can make a show a hit, turning what might otherwise be a fairly standard anime into a world-beater. Some soundtracks are so unforgettable, so magnificent, that they become the show’s greatest feature by far, the principle memory one takes from the experience.

The obvious place to start is with the works of Shinichiro Watanabe. I’ve already waxed plenty of lyrical about him and his long-time collaborator Yoko Kanno in my posts on Kids on the Slope, but let’s discuss by far their best work – the Cowboy Bebop OSTs, composed by Kanno and performed by her band The Seatbelts. Tracks like Cosmos and Road to the West perfectly capture the themes of loneliness and desolation, blues numbers like Don’t Bother None are a wonderful accompaniment to a show that owes so much to the genre of Westerns, and then of course there is Tank!, generally accepted as the greatest OP anime has ever produced. Samurai Champloo followed six years after Bebop, with a wildly anachronistic soundtrack produced by various big names on the Japanese hip-hop scene. No Kanno jazz tones here, it’s all minimalist Tsutchie beats (raw Material, Yet? Why Not?) and achingly cool Nujabes tunes (Battlecry, Dead Season). If pressed to pick one word to describe the Champloo OSTs, I would imagine that almost everyone would say “cool”. My god, these songs ooze style from every pore; they fit the tone of the show beautifully.

A very different prospect is the soundtrack to Gainax’s bonkers Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt. Thumping techno and sensual dance music take inspiration from Europe, especially French electro and even Italo-disco of the 1980s. The show itself is utterly filthy, and revels in just how far it goes beyond the impossible. Fittingly, the soundtrack is loud and intense, more suited to the clubs of Ibiza than to considered listening in contemplation. The standout track is undoubtedly Theme for Scanty & Knee Socks, the theme music for the eponymous demon sisters, with a repeated organ-esque motif providing a religious undertone and an imposing bassline emphasising the menace of the antagonists. A close second is CHOCOLAT, a love song with influences from dubstep of all genres – don’t let that put you off – with some surprisingly fluent French lyrics. A ‘sequel’ to the original album, titled THE WORST ALBUM, features audio dramas and remixes, with the outstanding drum’n’bass remix of the ending theme, Fallen Angel, by El Poco Maro being the highlight.

Different again is Yuki Kajiura’s score for Puella Magi Madoka Magica. I’ve seen criticism of her work from some quarters, on the basis that her work is repetitive. I wouldn’t say that this is inevitable, but when one has worked on as many projects as she has – well over a dozen anime, as well as a handful of games and movies – one is bound to cover similar ground. I thought her work on Madoka was without fault; it’s not necessarily the first thing a fan will think of when it comes to the show (in fact, I’d wager everyone thinks of a certain moment in episode three first…), but it captures brilliantly a whole range of emotions. It runs the gamut from calm to danger, from happiness to sadness, from triumph to tragedy. Nux Walpurgis from the third and final album is the most powerful; my heart breaks every single time I hear those pained violins and the formidable double-bass strains. The repeated motif heard in Conturbatio and Decretum, two of the most commonly used tracks in the show, is spine-chilling, while Symposium Magarum’s ballroom-esque swaying mixed with harsh strings lent an ominous sense of menace to the confrontation with Walpurgis.

The final soundtrack I wanted to talk about is Kiyoshi Yoshida’s work on Kaiba. A show as unique as Kaiba needed a score to match, and Yoshida’s work is more than capable. Captivating, haunting and at times even disturbing, Kaiba’s OST stands out for me as the very best soundtrack I’ve heard in anime. The tracks are distinctively beautiful, whether it’s the sorrowful The Tree Song or the intriguing Initialize Me. My personal favourite is Chase to It!, the fastest-paced song of the whole score, used in an iconic chase scene in the very first episode. Somehow I managed to talk about Kaiba in a Twelve Days post without even once mentioning the soundtrack – a criminal oversight. This show is tragic, triumphant and magical in equal measures, and the score is a massive part of why I love Kaiba so much. In the humble opinion of yours truly, it stands above even the best that Kanno and Kajiura could conjure up.

Links to all tracks mentioned:

Luv (Sic) Part 3 – Nujabes feat. Shing02
Cosmos – The Seatbelts
Road to the West – The Seatbelts
Don’t Bother None – Mai Yamane
Tank! – The Seatbelts (full version)
Raw Material – Tsutchie
Yet? Why Not? – Tsutchie
Battlecry – Nujabes
Dead Season – Nujabes
Theme for Scanty & Kneesocks – TeddyLoid
CHOCOLAT – TCY Force feat. Mariya Ise
Fallen Angel (El Poco Maro Drum’n’Bass Remix) – Mitsunori Ikeda
Nux Walpurgis – Yuki Kajiura
Conturbatio – Yuki Kajiura
Decretum – Yuki Kajiura
Symposium Magarum – Yuki Kajiura
The Tree Song – Kiyoshi Yoshida
Initialize Me – Kiyoshi Yoshida
Chase to It! – Kiyoshi Yoshida