Polling Yoko Kanno’s best soundtrack?

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I’m a big fan of Yoko Kanno’s music; be it the atmospheric electronica of Macross Plus (1994) or the acoustic style contributed to Wolf’s Rain (2003), it’s hard to ignore the core emotional beauty of her work; a quality that, not matter which musical style she borrows, ensures that she captures our attention (and often, hearts too!). For the means of this poll, I picked out three series which distinctly represent Kanno’s diverse talent.

For example, lets consider her soundtrack for Vision of Escaflowne (1996), an epic and exciting orchestral set (“Dance of Curse”) that emphasizes fantastical themes of life-changing conflict. Then we have Cowboy Bebop (1998), arguably a career defining fusion of American jazz and blues; cinematic, moody and bitter-sweet (“Adieu”, “Space Lion”, “Rain”, “Blue”), it’s a superlative collection of songs that undoubtedly have their own story to tell and stand alone as great music, regardless of Cowboy Bebop itself. Finally, we have Stand Alone Complex (2002); this time it’s an interesting mash-up of her previous work. Being scored for science fiction anime, there is an overriding use of up-tempo and rousing electronica (“Cybermind”, “Rise”) as well as dreamy vocal tracks (“Christmas in the Silent Forest”, “Psychodelic Soul”, “Mikansei Love Story”) that echo an ethereal trip into a starry-eyed unknown. For the means of this vote, I ended up plumping for “Cowboy Bebop”, but I particularly love a lot of her work for “Stand Alone Complex” and if just for beautiful “Voices”, I was tempted to include Macross Plus too.

At the time of writing, Kanno’s most recent effort is Darker than Black (2007); being another attempt to capture an American rock feel, it’s doomed to living the shadow of Cowboy Bebop and rarely reaches the emotional heights we expect of her craft, only “ScatCat”, “Kuro”, “Deadly Work” and “In no Piano” hinting at the beating heart hiding beneath the superficial front of up-tempo, slick rock and muzak.

It’s also interesting to note that whether coincidence or not, a high number of Kanno’s soundtracks have contributed to landmark anime productions; I need not extol the virtues of the likes of Cowboy Bebop or Escaflowne, but I do wonder if her presence elevates and influences those around her to create the kind of anime that will be remembered for years to come.

Author: bateszi

A huge bloody nerd. I apologise in advance. I live in Cambridge, England. That's not an excuse, by the way.

33 thoughts on “Polling Yoko Kanno’s best soundtrack?”

  1. Ugh, it’s really hard for me to say… Both Cowboy Bebop and SAC have such good soundtracks. I think overall, Cowboy Bebop has the better soundtrack even though the best song in SAC is better than the best one in Bebop…

  2. @zoku88 whoa… what song on SAC is better than TANK? or Real folk Blues? or Rain? or Ballad of fallen angels? or adieu?? i cant even begin to imagine what song your talking about. because the best song on SAC is “i do” and its pretty good, but not as great as those from Bebop.

    @bateszi no love or shout outs for wolfs rain? so many great songs on there “rakuen” dogs and angels, leaving on red moon, could you bite the hand, or tell me what the rain knows.

    Id rate her best:
    1 – Bebop
    2 – Wolf’s Rain
    3 – Escaflowne
    4 – GITS – SAC

  3. Well, I tried to mention Wolf’s Rain in the opening paragraph. I love that soundtrack too, it’s just I could probably write too much for this article and I wanted to emphasize the her diversity more than anything else. “Strangers” is another great track from Wolf’s Rain, too.

  4. I’ve a habit of watching everything Yoko Kanno has ever worked on, whether I was aware of it at the time or not. (I didn’t know Kanno did Darker Than Black’s soundtrack until I saw a review. Hehe, ^^;;) Except for Escaflowne, I’m trying very hard to find the will to watch Escaflowne and I’m failing miserably. Convinced that Kanno’s music made Wolf’s Rain as good as it was, it’s hard to imagine any of these shows without her. There’s definitely something to her presence that makes a show exceptional.

    I tried not to be biased towards Bebop when voting, but I chose it in the end anyways. I’m in love with the show, I’m in love with the soundtrack, I’m in love with every single thing about Bebop. I really couldn’t help it in the end. “Adieu”, “Blue”, “Tank!”, “The Real Folk Blues” I can go on and on and on, heck, every single track on the Bebop soundtrack made it reason enough for me.

    GiT was good, but it didn’t captivate me the way Bebop, or even Wolf’s Rain, did. And, as a random sidenote, I liked “Gravity” and “Strangers” from Wolf’s Rain and found “Guy” from the new DtB OST to be indecently catchy.

  5. It’s a close call between Bebop and Macross Plus for me. Bebop has the better soundtrack that i can listen to outside the show. Call Me with Steve Conte is a fantastic song and one of the best on the Bebop Soundtrack. But then in Macross Plus the scores just add so much atmosphere to the scene and the transition from orchestral to electronic is seemless and brilliant. As close as it is, i’m still going to have to go for Bebop.

  6. oh yes! call me is such a great song. when u guys refer to macross, which one exactly?? also xerox escaflowne is very good. it still is magnificent after 10 yrs.

  7. @kauldron26

    Quite frankly, I don’t like real folk blues that much (notice lack of respect for the song by not capitalizing it.) In fact, I almost don’t like it at all. The song I was thinking about, however, was Cyber Bird. Probably my favorite Kanno piece besides Rakuen ~ Secret Garden.

    I really don’t think Tank is the highlight of Bebop’s soundtrack, either. I’d say my favorite songs would be Kanno’s version of Ave Maria, Rush, and Road to the West.

  8. Fighting over individual song superiority is silly. All Yoko Kanno songs are good. Likewise, I think that the soundtrack is only as good as the anime — which means that the amount of love you have for a soundtrack is directly proportionate to the love you have for said anime.

    Which goes without saying that Escaflowne tops every single soundtrack she’s done in my book, with the exception of Darker than Black. While some of the pieces are crafted by Hajime Mizoguchi so they technically aren’t hers, the string pieces in Escaflowne are particularly moving. There are those that still leave a lump in my throat like “Hitomi’s Theme”, “Romance”, “Farewell”, and “Again”.

    Then there’s the brash battle themes, soaring pieces that still capture the majesty years on. “Flying Dragon”, along with the various, not-so-favourite Gregorian monk Escaflowne pieces, come to mind.

    Evil personified was never better than it was in “Shadow of a Doubt”. The rackety, clanking electronica of “Machine Soldier”. The wistful melancholy of “Cradle Song”.

    I don’t know what makes me prefer Escaflowne over GITS:SAC, or Wolf’s Rain, or Cowboy Bebop. They were all good soundtracks. It’s probably the earnest, soulful feel behind Escaflowne that endears me to it time and again. “The Story of Escaflowne” is a mood-evoking, moving theme of splendour that her later works haven’t managed to capture just as well. But it’s all about the anime like I said, so there’s the chance that Darker than Black might make the cut. Just might.

  9. Its a tough choice, but i think i am going to go with Bebop. I do love all of Kanno’s works, be it from her anime works or otherwise, she seems to produce great musical scores. But with bebop, i think its because of songs such as Space Lion and Call me that really made me go with it, and they’re tracks which i would listen to again and again.

  10. @zoku88, cyber bird is great. it actually compelled me to get the SAC soundtrack. thank God for boxtorrents.com what would i do without it. Buy Guys, seriously when u have a girl over, wolf’s Rain is the ultimate shit to play. especially rakuen. just remove all the songs with lyrics in them and ur golden lol. If u told me 4 years ago that i would be using a “cartoon” soundtrack with the ladies i would have laughed in ur face. For that i am eternally grateful to yoko Kanno for playing a part in my college experiences. lol.

  11. Owen: “Likewise, I think that the soundtrack is only as good as the anime — which means that the amount of love you have for a soundtrack is directly proportionate to the love you have for said anime.”

    I agree to a point; sometimes you can’t help your feelings for a story bleed into your interpretation of the soundtrack too, however, I think the beauty of Yoko Kanno’s music is that it does stand alone. I haven’t seen SAC: 2ND GIG but I love the soundtrack and it’s close to my favourite. Similarly, I’ve never seen .hack//SIGN but I totally love Yuki Kajiura’s songs like “Obsession” and “Key of the Twilight”; for all I know, both of those series could be poor, but the music is great anyway. Also, it’s interesting when you get cases of a good anime but not such a good soundtrack; I totally loved Black Lagoon but I was somewhat disappointed when I came to listen to soundtrack, same thing with Honey & Clover.

  12. Two words: Green Bird

    Aww, screw it, here are some more: Tank, The Real Folk Blues, Piano Black, Want it All Back, Mushroom Hunting, Cosmic Dare, The Egg and I, What Planet is This… I guess it looks like pretty much every song on the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack is genius. I’ve got the whole thing in my CD collection (yes, I like it so much I bought them all) and never get tired of listening to them.

  13. but which macross plus are u guys talking about?? also bateszi ur right about black lagoon. phenomenal show… but the soundtrack is no yoko. however u cant deny that the ED was powerful as hell. with revy walking on the beach. roberta’s theme, world of midnight, and tad pole dance. u didnt like the h&c soundtrack? i thought it was great, and there were so many jazz numbers in there. however the welcome to nhk soundtrack is way better. didnt yoko kanno do rahxephon too??

  14. This was a difficult decision!

    I voted for the Stand-alone Complex as my personal favourite but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s her best. The thing is, SAC’s music is more along the lines of what I normally prefer – namely hard-edged rock and electronica (I love the dual guitar jam of Yakitori and Fish~Silent Cruise feels like a story told in music). Similarly Bebop appeals to me but it’s rock-blues theme takes away some of the eclectic variety which is one of her trademarks.

    Macross Plus is awesome though – experimental, with plenty of orchestral numbers and some superb vocal tracks; I can’t remember the music from Escaflowne very clearly since it’s been a while since I’ve seen it. I do recall it having a very folk-tinged and other worldly vibe though.

    The Wolf’s Rain OST isn’t what I’d call her best but the Darker than Black score feels like a change in approach – it’s quite understated and you can all too easily overlook it if you get engrossed in the visual side of things.

    My favourite aspect of Kanno’s work by far is that of the vocal material. Inner Universe, Voices, Gravity and Some Other Time are among my favourite songs, soundtrack or otherwise.

  15. Great post!

    Umm I feel a little left out lol. CB’s music never clicked with me..I mean it might’ve been very appropriate but I just wasn’t a fan of Yoko Kanno’s after the show. What made me her fan was Her many Collaborations with Maaya Sakamoto. (Its too bad they’re not together anymore I’m finding sakamoto’s latest outings very underwhelming) Rahxephon’s Hemisphere, Escaflowne’s Yubiwa, Wolf Rain’s Cloud 7 and many more. They’re really fantastic as instrumentals too hence leading to my liking of Kanno’s music after that. By far my favorite has to be Wolf’s rain. The music in that show somehow created the emotional depth needed to entrance us as the audience and it WORKED! I never thought anime as a medium could do such a thing but it did, thus making Kanno one of if not the best anime composer. Sousei no Aquarion was ok nothing too mind-bloggingly great just good. As for Darker than Black, I might be one of the few people to say this..but I like it better than CB. Theres just a strange feeling while watching the show as that piano piece starts playing in episode one at the very beggining, really lovely. I was sold there and then lol , maybe I’m just shallow I don’t know but that doesn’t change the fact that Kanno is a great composer. Heres for more great pieces from this very very talented woman, cheers.

  16. @kauldron26: We’re talking about this Macross Plus. There are a few other Macross shows, like Macross Zero and just plain old Macross, but Macross Plus is the awesome OVA series co-directed by Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo etc). You must have seen it? It’s a classic, anyway.

    @Ivy: I agree with you on Wolf’s Rain, but we’re going to have to disagree on Cowboy Bebop… Why don’t you like that soundtrack, anyway? The DtB soundtrack is fine, but it doesn’t stand out in the same way as her greatest work. For example, I don’t think you could have that OST to a complete stranger, but on the other hand, people would need a heart of stone not to love the Wolf’s Rain soundtrack. “Gravity” is one of the finest ED sequences, ever; I remember when I first started watching Wolf’s Rain, that one song (set against Kiba running in the snow) convinced me that this would be worth the effort.

  17. ah, i never saw macross. guess i got something new to watch. when will watanabe come out with a new anime?? lord knows how much i love Bebop and Champloo. Cowboys/Jazz, Samurai/Hiphop. I think i would go insane when i hear about his new work. can you even imagine what it would be like?? the only japanese people i know and give a damn about behind anime are watanabe, Dai sato and taniguchi. those 3 gave us planet es, escaflowne, champloo, cowboy bebop, eureka seven, wolfs rain, infinite ryvius, ergo proxy.

    and yes bateszi, kiba running in the snow with gravity in the back ground is by far the greatest image/montage in anime.

    i’d give number 2 to when spike gets shot and falls from the window and glass is everywhere. as he falls he thinks of julia and “green bird” is playing in the back ground. when he wakes up, he’s covered in bandages looking up at faye and he says… “u sing off key” lmao… greatest anime ever. the dubs for both were magnificent as well. then again i never saw the jap version.

    number 3 probably goes to escaflowne, when Van realizes he loves hitomi and his wings bursts out of his shirt as he flies to save her from isaac goddamned newton lol. the escaflowne chant is playing in the back ground. you remember the very last scene at the end of the anime where she sees van for like 3 seconds and she says ” i still think of you” i swear just remembering that chokes me up every damn time. and im a grown ass man.

  18. My reply is kinda late but whatever. Lol. I voted for Stand Alone Complex as the best Yoko Kanno soundtrack in my opinion. I might be bashed for saying this. Oh well…

    My Top 5 SAC Songs:

    1. Cyberbird (Blows any CB song out of the water. You say Green Bird, I say Cyberbird.)
    2. Fish ~ Silent Cruise (The comment made by Martin says it the best “Fish~Silent Cruise feels like a story told in music”.)
    3. Run Rabbit Junk (I’m surprised that no one mentioned this one.)
    4. I Do
    5. I Can’t Be Cool

    I also liked Take a Little Hand, Get9, Europe, Yakitori, Beauty is Within Us, Lithium Flower, Velveteen.

    As much as I would have loved to I just couldn’t get into the Cowboy Bebop music. There are some songs in CB that I did enjoy however. But as it stands I feel that SAC’s soundtrack overall is better than CB’s. I was more emotionally driven by SAC’s music.

    My Top 5 CB Songs:

    1. Road To The West
    2. Adieu
    3. Words That We Couldn’t Say
    4. Farewell Blues
    5. Green Bird

    I guess maybe you can say that I’m just not a jazz fan judging by my chosen list of songs. Seems like I’m more into the blues. Lol. And as for Tank and The Real Folk Blues, I’d choose SAC’s Inner Universe, Rise, Player, and Lithium Flower over those two.

  19. Hmm… maybe I’ll repost here, whoops, sorry.
    Did anyone else notice that Kanno’s song “Where Does The Ocean Go” has striking similarities to the Bjork song, “Hyperballad”?

    By the way, the other awesome song that Kanno wrote (I think she wrote it, and Emily Curtis only did the voice) was “What’s It For”?

    I have listened to both soundtracks extensively (Bebop and Ghost in the Shell) and I think I have fonder memories of Bebop, although, strangely the soundtrack(s) for Ghost in the Shell work better as a stand-alone than Bebop, which is a wonderful accompaniment for the anime.

  20. I never noticed the “Where does the ocean go” similarities, and I’m a big Bjork fan too. However, I can’t help but agree that “What’s it for” is a really beautiful song, definitely one of my favourite Kanno vocal songs – has any one heard any of Emily Curtis’s other songs?

  21. Where was the OST 4 from?? Has another GiTS SAC series been made unbeknownst to myself?

    How is it possible that you didn’t see the similarities… the two songs are basically carbon copies of each other!

  22. I have to say for me it is Macross Plus as a soundtrack it offered so much variety, and for me it is the only soundtrack I immediately associate with her particularly because of “More than 3cm”…just a very moving piece of work…

  23. yoko is the best….im kannoadict, since i downloaded all her anime work i found….Wof´s rain, Cowboy bebop and Arjuna (no one mention it i think) are my favourites, but i hav to go to Wolfs ….ok bebop is freaking good but i dont like jazz that much, love acoustics specialy intrumentals :P

    Favorites:
    from wols rain my favorites :
    1.Mouth of fire
    2.scape
    3.vision o flame
    all the ost xD

    CB:
    1.Piano black (freaking gud)
    2.be waltz,
    3.cat blues
    4.autumn in Ganymede.

    Arjuna:
    1.Diving
    2.Chikyuu Kyoumei
    3.2nd life.

  24. Yoko Kanno is definitely the best composer and musician ever for me.
    She created so much different songs with different styles but it’s always an awesome quality.
    Her godlike music deserves an own music category.

    So my favourites are: Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex OST 1-4, Ghost in the Shell Solid State Society OST, Arjuna – Into the Another World, Wolf’s Rain OST, Cowboy Bebop OST’s, Escaflowne OST’s, Macross Frontier OST, Macross Plus OST, Song to Fly and 23 Ji No Ongaku.

    But I can truthfully say that I love all her music.

  25. I haven’t watched Cowboy Bebop, but I’ve went around and heard some of its soundtracks. It’s a bit too soft and jazzy for me, so I prefer Ghost in the Shell. Cyberbird is fantastic, but I really liked Christmas in the Silent Forest. Macross Plus has some pretty awesome songs by her, too.

  26. I do is still the best for me
    kinda help to lift you up when u’r down,
    or at least that’s how I feel

  27. Better late then never! I’m from India where anime has slowly started taking a prominent place in the last two-three years only – on tv/mass media that is… still there’re dedicated anime fans here. What made me one was the music and story of Cowboy Bebop. Were it not for it’s music, though still quite impactful, the show would have been robbed of it’s classic nature! Yoko Kanno really was the only composer I could’ve followed ever since! My favourite OST is of course the Bebop soundtrack – mind you I’m considering the effect it had at the time of it’s release too! A true classic.
    I loved the Wolf’s Rain track as well – really feeling the music w/o watching the series!!
    Looking forward to listening to DtB st too now!
    YOKO!!!!

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