I thought I would write about my favourite anime openings and endings, but where to start? I trawled through some recent anime, but if I’m honest, they weren’t doing it for me. I love all different types of music, but in my heart of hearts, I’m a rock fan, and it feels like most recent anime is skewing towards Jpop. I’m not feeling it. I needed to go further back, to the winter of 2006 and a certain dystopian science fiction anime called Ergo Proxy.
I was first introduced to this wonderful band through “Crowds”, the OP of Gatchaman Crowds (which I still haven’t finished) and instantly fell in love with the edgy, deep voice of the female vocalist. But after looking for the song on YouTube, I discovered that the vocalist is actually a male, a very geeky looking one, at that.
Lately, I’ve felt a little empty. Waiting for something to spark a little inspiration in me. So, as I often do, I ended-up on YouTube, listening to music, when The Blue Hearts appeared with their song, Linda Linda. It’s a Japanese punk-rock song that you’ll have heard before if you’ve seen the film Linda Linda Linda (which I reviewed years ago.) Anyway, I’ve always liked punk music, aesthetics and all, and it’s interesting to see such a Japanese take on it. Ripped jeans, snarling faces and funny dancing.
Remember when goth, and by extension Hot Topic, reigned supreme? Ergo Proxy is basically an anime peopled by fans of Hot Topic. The setting is gritty, and the main character wears black outfits, steal tipped boots and heavy mascara. The color palette skews towards grey and black, and even when the show uses other colors, they look muted. In the years since Ergo Proxy’s release, goth fans have moved toward the sparkly vampires in Twilight. That’s a shame because I found the ugly, dirty world of Ergo Proxy compelling. The show did not live up to the promise of its premise, but I much prefer the version of goth culture it embraces to the more recent version from Twilight.
This whole Hatsune Miku thing fascinates me.
Ling Tosite Sigure (凛として時雨) just seemed to creep up on me in January. Now one of my favourite bands, they are, I’m convinced, Japan’s best rock group since Supercar. Their music is fast-paced and aggressive; songs that may sound like a wall of noise at first, but that make sense (melodically) on subsequent loops through. That’s why I described it as if they crept up on me; I was listening to them at work one afternoon, the dots suddenly connected and now, I’m head over heels.
Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad. Talk about a mouthful. The name may be a tribute to the author’s favorite band, Red Hot Chili Peppers, which also has four words in its name. In any case don’t be scared away by the name, this series about a rising rock band is a treat even for non-music fans.
Something has always bothered me about the ending of Samurai Champloo. It was an ending that haunted me for nearly a year after finishing the series, its memory resurfacing every time I thought about it. Midicronica’s “San Francisco” was in many ways a fitting ending for an anime which drew so heavily from hip-hop and reggae culture, but there was somehow a disconnect. Samurai Champloo’s ending always struck me as unbearably happy, like the colors on the screen and the chords of the song were attempting to sweep something under the rug. As the anime ends, the journey is over, and its end is just like its beginning: three people, alone. Continue reading
If I had to condense my love for anime into one single moment, I’d choose the scene when `Space Lion` begins playing in the 13th episode of Cowboy Bebop (Jupiter Jazz.) It is one of the first times I can remember feeling a pang of bitter-sweetness whilst watching anime: the sadness of Gren’s passing tempered by Spike’s and Faye’s return to the Bebop; that Jet can’t really hide the fact that he truly gives a shit about them but, like a grumpy Dad, is too up-tight to admit it, and Gren’s death-wish to be cut adrift amongst the stars and sent drifting towards Titan. Alone.
“I see. You are Spike. Julia was always talking about you… That your two eyes were of different colours… That’s what she said… That you get a strange feeling when you look into his eyes.” — Gren
A strange romance springs forth from the snow-capped streets and cold, gray clouds, and from the elegant, softly-voiced Gren himself, an angelic hermaphrodite in love with Vicious, yet broken by the betrayal of their friendship. His sad, tired eyes and knowing smile are captured and carried beautifully by `Space Lion`’s warm tone of resignation. It’s a spine-tingling moment.
Not sure how I missed this, but the full soundtrack for Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann was released recently; that’s 51 tracks of epic, exciting, heavenly music, and even better, it contains the one song I’ve be longing to hear since late-July. I’m talking about track 13 on Disc no.2; the translated title is “The Days Become a Traveller of a Hundred Generations”. For such a haunting, ethereal tone, it’s heard only once in the anime itself, during the first half of episode 18, but this single sequence, just a mere few minutes in length (may as well be an eternity), and the awe-struck feelings it conjured inside me, have long since remained close to my heart.
We begin around the 5:40 mark. Simon’s in the Gurren-Lagann, frantically searching for Nia. Before he can launch into the neon-lit sky-line of Kamina City, he’s curtailed by (the now-teenaged) Darry and Gimmy in their colourful Gulaparl mecha. They try to persuade Simon from needlessly worrying the citizens by flying around in the iconic Gurren-Lagann, its heroic image having come to represent the desperation of humanity’s recent past. In response, he just separates from the larger Gurren and brashly explodes into the clouds above, continuing his search for Nia regardless of their complaints.
The atmospheric music really kicks in as Simon tours the sprawling Kamina City, its concrete streets and sky-scraping buildings bathed in the warm, comforting glow of electricity. The architecture is strange and fascinating, having been influenced by the Gunmen style of design, strange faces; giant and carved from stone, protrude from the buildings, expressions half concealed by shadow. The Spiral King’s huge fortress, the smiling Dekabutsu, overlooks the rapidly developing city below, as worried search-lights scythe through the starry night sky.
The thing about this sequence and why it sticks in my memory isn’t anything to do with the characters or drama. It’s the clash of TTGL’s surreal reality with our conflicted, modern world. The way everything looks so familiar and yet, it’s dream-like too. The oppressive stature of the city, the huge stoney faces passing judgement on and manipulating the residents below. We immediately sense dystopia; a city that’s grown cold, twisted and without feeling. Suddenly, this is a world that’s alive with texture and detail. The song speaks of those feelings, a kind of knowing, regretful, beautiful sadness.
A Gabriela Robin Site have posted an awesome acoustic live set by regular Yoko Kanno vocalist/collaborator Steve Conte. Performed songs include “Heaven’s Not Enough” (my favorite), “Living Inside the Shell”, “Words We Couldn’t Say”, “Rain” and “Call Me Call Me” – so that’s some of the best music from Wolf’s Rain, Stand Alone Complex and Cowboy Bebop. Light those lighters and head on over there right now.
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.
Standing on the brink of a new era for Naruto, I’ve turned back the clock to look at my favourite moments from the series; fair warning – hyperbolic fanboyisms ahead. I started watching the show in 2003 with a cheap 15″ CRT monitor and two tinny sound blasters, at the time I wasn’t interested in anime and hated bloody subtitles. 4 years on and I find myself hooked up with a 24″ LCD flat-screen, 6.1 Dolby Surround Sound system and I’m writing on my own anime blog. What the hell happened?! Honestly, I blame Naruto.
— 5. Haku “killing” Sasuke
“What’s with that face, you total moron?” utters an impaled Sasuke, as the stunned Naruto wakes to discover his arch-rival has probably saved his live at the cost of his own. “Why did you save me?”, “How should I know… I hated you…”, “But… Why? Why me? I never asked for this!”, “I don’t know! My body just moved on its own… Idiot”.
I love that dialogue, it beautifully epitomises their begrudging respect and friendship without getting all sappy on us. When I first sat through this scene I was stunned, on the edge of my seat, completely captivated by the drama unfolding before me.
— 4. Gaara breaking Rock Lee’s spirit
To say this fight was awesome is probably the understatement of the decade. Amidst the sheer surprise of seeing Rock Lee go all out for the win and Gaara playing up to his sick, sadistic personality type, I was blown away by how exciting and unpredictable it all was. Tragically, it ends with Rock Lee losing. He is the Rocky Balboa of anime; mediocre talent but limitless determination and GUTS, and I mean a whole lot of GUTS. The match-up was perfectly balanced between Lee’s physical martial arts and Gaara’s long-range, supernatural control of sand; the ensuing carnage is a credit to the visceral brilliance and inventiveness of Naruto at its best.
— 3. Naruto becoming a hero
Up until the Invasion of Konoha arc, Naruto had been a bit of a punk, an adorable one, but still quite yappy and annoying. Fighting with Gaara he comes of age; fulfilling his obvious potential of becoming a true (super) hero.
Hated and ignored for most of his young life by school mates and neighbours alike, the outcast, without a moments hesitation, proudly lays his life on the line to protect them all. It’s a powerful and moving sentiment, a feeling that’s beautifully conveyed by the biggest action set-pieces seen in the series.
— Brief Interlude: Favourite Opening Theme
Opening Theme No. 5
Song: Seishun Kyousoukyoku
Sasuke leaves Konoha in Orochimaru’s barrel-o-evil with “the five” ninja slash friends sent to retrieve him; looking back on it, the mission was never going to end well for our heroes; after all, it was Sasuke’s decision to leave. No, I’m still not over it. SASUKE YOU BASTARD1!!11!
I loved this OP within 5 seconds of glimpsing the moody artwork; the clear look of seriousness, regret and dejection reflected on the faces of Naruto and Sasuke as the shaky camera blurs in and out of focus on their silhouetted shapes. The next scene is “the five” standing a-top of cliff, all noticeably concentrated and composed, while the camera spins around their circle formation; it feels utterly cool. We hardly ever see Chouji without food, and here he’s not only empty handed, but running too. The fat dude is running.
— 2. Zabuza’s last stand
“Don’t look away; it’s the end of a man who lived desperately”.
The climax of Zabuza’s and Haku’s story is the strongest section of Naruto, that it comes so early in the series means that it’s often forgotten; this is an injustice. Episode 19 is especially heart breaking for the previously cool-as-ice Zabuza’s (knife in mouth) tearful breakdown and uncontrollable rage; he comes to a brutal, bitter sweet end, having been stabbed dozens of times in the back, the swords still hanging from his flesh, lamenting Haku’s sacrifice, regretting their parting of ways. In short, Zabuza was a fucking cool character, and this episode made me the anime fan I am today.
— 1. Sasuke defeats Naruto, the end
Looking back on it now, I feel stupid, but the truth is that I never expected “my hero” Naruto to lose against Sasuke. Yet again, Kishimoto dealt me a back hander; well done good Sir. I was majorly deflated by the outcome, a depressing feeling only amplified by the ensuing years of unrelenting filler beginning immediately afterwards.
To this day I’m still in awe of episode 133; its theatrical animation quality, explosive drama and most of all, fist pumping action choreography. If you’re yet to be convinced of what Naruto has to offer, this is the episode to watch; an all too short, flashy tour-de-force that is not only the dramatic peak of Naruto’s ever bubbling story, but also one of the single best episodes of pure action anime produced for a decade.
So then Naruto fan boys and girls, let’s get emotional; what are your favourite moments from Naruto? Your favourite opening or ending theme? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
For what seems like forever, I’ve been a hopeless follower of Yoko Kanno’s music. I adore almost every single one her soundtracks, from the jazzy Cowboy Bebop to the sweeping, epic sound of Vision of Escaflowne.
With a lot of anime composers, I tend to blow hot and cold – meaning I can love a soundtrack for a few weeks, but once the show has finished, my interest in the music gradually fades too; clearly an emotional attachment to the music, connecting it with certain dramatics, can cloud one’s objective judgment on the ultimate quality of sound. You could say I’ve picked up more glass shattering JPOP than I’d like to admit.
It’s different with Yoko Kanno though – I have songs from Macross Plus (“VOICES”, “MYUNG Theme”) stored on my portable MP3 player, I listen to these songs every day, and the last time I watched Macross Plus was three years ago. That’s the best tribute to her work I can offer – that it stands alone, divorced from anime, as simply great music, period.
Now I’m going to spotlight two of her songs. Since you’re reading this blog, I think it’s safe to assume you’ve already heard Yoko Kanno’s music in either Cowboy Bebop, Stand Alone Complex or Wolf’s Rain (if not, you are a broken person, go and get fixed). First up is “Kissing The Christmas Killer” from the “The Other Side of Midnight” soundtrack (a.k.a 23-ji no Ongaku: NHK Rensoku Dorama “Mayonaka wa Betsu no Kao”).
Kissing The Christmas Killer (4m 27secs) is an elegant, fragile ballad beautifully sung by one of Kanno’s long time vocalists Maaya Sakamoto (RahXephon OP, Vision of Escaflowne OP, Wolf’s Rain ED). Beginning with little but a sparsely played piano, Sakamoto’s angelic voice gradually ascends from the cold seasonal background; the song becomes a yearning, lyrical fairy tale perfectly at ease along side Kanno’s shimmering, magical sound.
Lyrics from “Kissing The Christmas Killer” (Anime Lyrics dot Com)
- I was heaven sent
Traded for the words I swore that
Every piece of me would still belong
Forever and a day
To someone who cared
Whatever there may be
Ever there may beYou came along
Now I’m going all against the
Promises that I made, and here I am
Falling for your love
Or am I lost in heaven
I don’t know any more
Don’t know any moreJudgement will be made
On a Christmas day
Hiding in the snow, he’s prying me”Toys if you’ve been good
Knives if you have not”
Better steal a kiss ‘fore I’ll be gone
I’ll be gone
The intense “The man in the desert” (4m 15secs) is from her (1st and only) solo album “Song to fly” (1998). For this song Kanno worked with the world famous Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, fleshing out rising, grandiose themes with a sweeping, operatic sound. The result being a song that feels important and profound; at first rural, layered and confused by single instruments, yet driving ever onwards with a vital sense of hope, climaxing with the intense dueling of a choir and orchestra.
Rest assured, these two songs are but a small taste of Yoko Kanno’s rich back catalogue of diverse music. To sample it all is one of my missions in life!
MP3 & shop links
I’m sitting here feeling like I can take on the world, I’m listening to the Death Note soundtrack. This is the music that makes Light scribbling in his notebook"¦, hell, eating a packet of crisps, rock us like it’s an earth shattering moment. Understand then that this music is overblown and melodramatic, and love it for that.
I’ve only had this soundtrack for a few days but I’m already in-awe of its grandiose foreplay. The instrumental rock tunes were created by Hideki Taniuchi, while Yoshihisa Hirano composed the prayer-style orchestral themes. Atmospheric, haunting and ambient — I’ve been totally sucked in by Taniuchi’s first half, drowned under waves of distorted electric guitar and pin-point melody. This is instrumental music suggesting of imagery and emotion, almost totally separate from Death Note — only during Hirano’s somewhat formulaic second half of operatic guff are we reminded that this was indeed attached to an anime series.
At the risk of sounding painfully impulsive, this is the soundtrack of 2006 and I only picked it up 2 days before the end of the year. Even if you’re not into Death Note but consider yourself a rock expert, give this one a listen. Just don’t be surprised if it inspires you to do something positively epic, like let’s say, scrub the world of all evil (or write a melodramatic blog review)!
Looking back on 2006 we have seen a handful great series come and go, but even fewer great soundtracks have enlightened our senses. And when I say great, I mean music you can listen to at home, at work and on the bus.
Toshio Masuda’s beautifully sparse work on Mushishi was a relaxing and naturally magical listen, but my favourite right now is quite clearly the soundtrack for the recently concluded Welcome to the NHK. So far it’s been spread over two albums and three singles, and there are an escalating number of stand out tracks. My favourites (MP3 links at the bottom of the post) include:
- The sugary sweet “Madokashii Sekai no Ue de” by Makino Yui (otherwise known as the voice of disturbed N.H.K. character Misaki) is an absurdly high pitched, gleaming example of perfectly manufactured JPOP with an ultra catchy tune; often repeated through out the show in various forms – including a quite beautiful piano-based rendition.
- Puzzle by ROUND TABLE (featuring Nino) is the colourful and exhuberent opening theme of the show. Again featuring a stunningly spotless female vocal, what really makes this song so fun and energetic is trumpet in the background and a euphorically upbeat tone. No trace of cynisism here, just pure joy. Which is odd, considering the depressing nature of the anime it opens! Perhaps it’s meant to be ironic?
- So far I’ve spotlighted the fluffy opening and ending themes, but Pearl Kyoudai’s – who contributes to the majority of this soundtrack – heart-felt insert song “Youkoso! Hitori Bocchi” leaves me in awe every time its grungy melancholy kicks in; its grim acoustic strumming and nostalgic chorus conjuring up memories, the feeling of a golden, warm autumn. This is the song that really defines Welcome to the NHK for me – a resigned look back on life; a reluctant urging to continue onwards.
- If novelty tunes are your thing, Fushigi Purupuru Pururin Rin! by Shishido Rumi should be quickly scribbled on your list – a ridiculously cute song featuring angelic vocals and a head ache inducing chorus chant “Purupuru Pururin Rin, Purupuru Pururin Rin x 20” – this is intended as a parody of otaku flavoured anime anthems and it’s just about absurd enough to come off as a successfully odd, surreal and funny little number.
What is striking about this soundtrack is how well it blends sickly JPOP with grungy acoustic rock and psychedelic metal without sounding horribly uneven; it captures the dramatic themes and moods of Welcome to the NHK, but more than that, many of the songs stand on their own as dreamy, heart felt and imaginative pieces of music.
Soundtrack MP3 Downloads
Is an opening theme enough to reignite interest in a series? I guess it is for me because I’ve just seen the third opening sequence for mediocre vampire slasher Blood+ and suddenly I’ve been persuaded to give this show another chance.
First time around I discovered Blood+ was terribly predictable, but if Production I.G devote as much passion to the story telling as they have this vivid opening animation, I’ll happily return.
The OP in question is a wonderful mixture of experimental, gritty gothic visuals with enough cool looking poses and sword slashing, blood dripping action scenes to convince even the most skeptical of fans this so isn’t the watered-down mainstream series it started out as; but you don’t have to take just my word for it- stream it over at YouTube now.