As a followup to the list of my 5 Favorite OP/EDs for Fall 2008, here’s my list of the favorite soundtracks that I’ve had an opportunity to listen to last year. Granted, all of the albums listed are based on when the soundtrack was released, which is why a certain album makes the cut this year despite the fact that the series ended last year. Naturally, this also means that there are some series that have been released this year, but because we’ve yet to see a soundtrack release, I won’t be including it (I’m looking at you, Xam’d).
Before we begin, the commentaries over at the Nihon Review’s 2008: A Year in Review article indicated that 2008 wasn’t a stellar year as far as anime goes and I agree with this sentiment. Furthermore, the number of enjoyable soundtracks weren’t exactly that high either, which essentially leaves us with the list below along with the few honorable mentions that I was able to scrounge up. Like with the OP/ED article, this list doesn’t take into consideration every soundtrack released in 2008 because of my tendency to only listen to soundtracks from series that I’ve seen. So despite all the good things I’ve heard about the Code Geass R2 OST, it’s not on this list. Furthermore, this list it doesn’t completely cover every single series I’ve seen either. For example, I haven’t listened to the Hidamari Sketch x365 OST which means I’m not yet able to judge whether it’s any good or not though I’ve heard a favorable opinion of it. Now that the usual disclaimers are now out of the way, the ranking is as follows:
#1. Romeo x Juliet Original Soundtrack
This soundtrack is the very first soundtrack review that I’ve written on this blog and it also happens to be my favorite one from 2008. Its composer, Hitoshi Sakimoto, demonstrates his brilliance in bringing forth the medieval setting of the anime series through his music in such a way as to make the world feel vibrant. I especially enjoyed the way he captures the many facets of Neo Verona through “Red Storm” as well as the eponymous track “Neo Verona” in addition to bringing the intensity of the action scenes to life through tracks like “Recovery.” Overall, this soundtrack is filled to the brim with breathtakingly beautiful pieces and even when you consider his body of work in the world of video game music, Romeo x Juliet stands out as one of his best works to date.
#2. ARIA the ORIGINATION Original Soundtrack tre
You’d think that after two installments of ARIA, that the music for the third would be pretty boring because there is only so much you can do with ARIA’s music while preserving the series’s unique atmosphere. Thankfully, this album manages to dash those expectations by delivering a memorable listening experience. Somehow, the music manages to remain fresh with new piano and guitar pieces that complement the mellow mood of the series and the credit for that goes to the Choro Club and Takeshi Senoo for their compositions. And of course, a special mention goes to Alice’s song on the soundtrack which brings a sense of warmth and joy that completely matches the wonderfulness of the scene that I consider to be the most endearing moment in anime in 2008.
#3. Macross Frontier Original Soundtrack – Nyan Furo
Here’s the crowd favorite, and after listening to this soundtrack, it’s not particularly hard to see why. Yoko Kanno draws a lot of inspiration for her themes from Western film music and blends them into a masterful work that brings out the intensity of the combat scenes through tracks like “The Target” which has the feel of an epic space battle (probably because the music reminds me so much of John Williams’s Star Wars music). The instrumental pieces on here are really top notch and and give off a majestic feel that is fitting of Macross Frontier’s epic story. Unfortunately, the downside to this album is May’n, whose performances lack the emotional impact necessary to hold my interest and her inclusion brings down the quality of this album.
#4. Natsume Yuujinchou Original Soundtrack
Natsume Yuujinchou’s album is a strange one in that it’s got more in the realm of atmospheric tracks than tracks that can really stand up well in the absence of context. Furthermore, some of the tracks take the atmospheric vibes a bit far by using actual environmental sounds like animalistic moaning noises and even the sound of mosquitoes buzzing around. Nevertheless, the weirder tracks do pack a certain degree of charm and overall, this soundtrack succeeds in capturing the easygoing nature of the series as Natsume bounces from one supernatural encounter to another while meeting new friends in the process. It might not be the most conventional soundtrack out there, but it’s enjoyable all the same.
#5. Spice and Wolf Original Soundtrack – Ookami to Tabi no Ongaku
The music from Spice and Wolf didn’t exactly jump out as me as I watched the series, which is why when this album came out, I was expecting a lackluster album. Much to my delight, this soundtrack caught me off guard with a bevy of melodies that took me straight into Spice and Wolf’s medieval setting. The pieces use a variety of old-world instruments that, when put to music, brings the image of a medieval marketplace to mind. The melodies themselves are different from what I’m used to such that I can find something interesting to enjoy in each track. Spice and Wolf’s music might be subtle, but it’s hardly boring and its choice of genre fits the series perfectly while making it feel like a breath of fresh air and creating a novel listening experience.
Kurenai Original Soundtrack
This soundtrack suffered from being a tad bit on the repetitive side, especially on the lackluster ’emotional side’ disc. But the ‘swingin’ side’ made up for that by delivering upbeat melodies that were enjoyable. Though I still don’t like this album as much as Muramatsu’s efforts on Sketchbook ~full color’S~, it’s still a competent one nonetheless.
Shion no Ou
If there’s one thing about this soundtrack that shines, it’s the sheer amount of variety that composer Kousuke Yamashita managed to put into the series, ranging from the softer, more reflective melodies to the fast-paced tracks that play during the intense shougi matches. Moreover, it’s consistent from beginning to end, which, when combined with all the variety, keeps it from being dull.
true tears TV anime Original Soundtrack
I have an affinity for piano pieces and Hajime Kikuchi manages to deliver some very beautiful ones in this soundtrack, especially with the arrangement of the already excellent OP song “Reflectier.” A lot of the tracks will tend towards the drama-y side, which makes sense given the way the show is, but there’s still plenty of variety (such as the festival music) to break things up and keep the soundtrack interesting.
Though 2008 was hardly a banner year in the realm of soundtracks, I am looking forwards to what 2009 will bring. We’ve yet to hear from Michiru Ooshima’s work on Xam’d: Lost Memories and it wouldn’t surprise me if she was going to be on board for Full Metal Alchemist 2. Tytania’s soundtrack, full of bombast and orchestral fare will definitely be something to look forwards to and some of the early pieces that have flowed in from Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou have been promising. Because of this, I have great hopes that more enjoyable soundtracks will be released in 2009. As for the anime soundtrack community, well, that’s another story, but the amount of discussion in that arena has given me hope, so I eagerly look forwards to see where that will go this year.