One of the feelings that I had expressed during Week 18 of the MALKeionbu was how ARIA’s music served as an excellent representation of the city of Neo-Venezia and how the focus on the city succeeded in making us all familiar with the setting. While I watched the series, there never was any doubt how important the music was in sculpting ARIA’s wonderful, charming atmosphere and both Takashi Senoo and the Choro Club deserve accolades for their work on the soundtrack. Being the ARIA fan that I am, I wanted to learn more about how the process of setting ARIA’s music to the show worked and it wasn’t until now that I was able to find the time to watch “The Sound of ARIA” segment on the Extras DVD from the ARIA the NATURAL box set. This segment was conducted as a friendly chat between a moderator and ARIA’s main director, Junichi Sato, his wife and the show’s sound director, Yasuno Sato, singer/songwriter Eri Kawai, the Choro Club’s Shigeharu Sasago, and Takeshi Senoo. More details after the jump.
Part 1: The Music Selection for ARIA
In this first section, Junichi and Yasuno Sato described the process of taking the music and incorporating it into the series. The general way of going about it isn’t too surprising; the director will ask for a general mood or concept like “a bright and sunny day” or “a blue ocean” and will usually leave it to the composers to come up with the music. But where ARIA differs from the normal anime series is that these requests caught Takeshi Senoo and the Choro Club off-guard. This admission surprised me partly because I was under the belief that the process of writing music for anime series was something that the Choro Club had done before seeing that they were in charge of the music for Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou’s OVA (Takeshi Senoo did work on Himawari! along with Kei Haneoka, but that was post-ARIA), so I guess their work process on YKK wasn’t the standard practice used in most anime productions. Compounding the difficulties was that Sato himself didn’t have anything concrete in mind when he made the request and it wasn’t until he heard the music that he was able to confirm that the compositions did indeed fit in with his vision of ARIA and then worked to make sure the music was able to express whatever was happening on screen.
Part 2: Themes of ARIA
The second segment focused on the late Eri Kawai and the role she played in writing the themes for the series. One aspect about her music that continues to surprise me is that the lyrics to songs like “Coccolo” and “Barcarolle” are pure gibberish and that she picks the words based on the sound they make and whether it goes well with the melody. Seeing that Athena’s songs are beautifully sung, the important takeaway is that music doesn’t depend on understanding the lyrics so much as being able to feel the emotions coming forth from the performer (something that I think non-Japanese fans of anisongs have learned to appreciate).
For songs like “Undine” though, the lyrics are indeed real and surprisingly, the use of real words created some difficulty since Kawai had a limited amount of experience of writing Japanese lyrics. But after a good amount of persistence, the song came out really well and its flowing melodies and it’s an understatement to say that the OP helped to create the expectations for the series’ overarching atmosphere.
Part 3: How the Songs Were Used
The third segment went into making sure that the animation would sync up with the music and that wasn’t all too surprising. The process generally touched on what would happen if the piece was too long and how strongly Sato felt the music had to work in tandem with the series to express the sentiments that he wanted people to get from watching ARIA. The most interesting detail to come about from this section was in hearing Takeshi Senoo talk about his work on the ED “Smile Again” sung by Akari’s voice actress Erino Hazuki (see sample below, taken from my review of ARIA the NATURAL Vocal Collection).
Senoo’s intentions for “Smile Again” was to create the feeling one gets as summer comes to a close and that image, combined with the image of Akari in his mind, resulted in a track that was fairly easy to write. According to Senoo, one of the high points was in seeing the finished product play along with the animation and Senoo marveled at how neatly it all came together, especially when he saw President Aria turn into that constellation at the end. He also added that Erino Hazuki was able to perform that song capably by expressing the emotions that fit in with the theme of summer’s end.
Part 4: Zuntaka Pokoten
Before the discussion concluded, the group talked about the song “Zuntaka Pokoten” which can be heard in the first episode of ARIA the NATURAL as Akari and Ai were following Cait Sith. As it turned out, Sawada of the Choro Club was in charge of the piece because it matches his style which tends more towards ad-libbing. The conversation then went into each composer’s relative strengths. Sasago was often left in charge of most of the music, but Senoo’s forte was in the heartfelt, emotional tracks. Given my thoughts regarding Ristorante Paradiso’s Soundtrack, I think Senoo’s added touches were vital in making ARIA’s music as wonderful as it was since the emotional moments was what I felt was missing from Ristorante but was most definitely present in ARIA’s music.
As the presentation came to a close, Junichi Sato wanted to emphasize the importance of the music since he truly believed that it would make or break the series. Furthermore, the emotion that he wanted the listener to keep in mind as the listener explored the soundtrack was the kind feeling that shone forth through the music. Overall, the segment was a very enjoyable watch and while there were a lot of elements one could guess at in terms of how the soundtrack process worked for anime series, being able to hear the composers in their own words was invaluable and allowed me to further appreciate their perspective regarding the music and the music’s power to deliver that calm, peaceful atmosphere that captures the essence of ARIA so effectively.