As a note, the backlog will be on hold until I can get Angel Beats!’s soundtrack reviewed. Right now, I’ve just been letting my ears drink in Jun Maeda/ANANT-GARDE EYES’ musical brew, and listening to it did bring some thoughts that I tossed haphazardly on my twitter account.
Anyhow, that thought received a response! A response that I’ll fully admit I wasn’t prepared to tackle because of how difficult it is to come up with a set of criteria that would differentiate a game score from an anime score. After all, both have their place in setting the atmosphere for their respective media and there’s enough commingling going on that it might as well be useless. (As an aside, when a game soundtrack sounds like something more than just a game soundtrack, I don’t say, “it sounds like an anime soundtrack,” I just say “it sounds cinematic.” See The Unsung War. 😉 )
Still, I did make that statement, I continue to stand by it, so I suppose I ought to explain what I meant.
Considering that my first love for VGM started through playing RPGs, the tracks typical to that particular genre still remain as a sort of unconscious bias that I use to determine whether something does indeed sound like video game music. So once I hear a collection of tracks that consist of battle tracks, character themes, and various locales, all of which that sound like they could be looped, it’s about 75-80% of the way there to being labeled a game soundtrack.
Of those characteristics, I’d say the looping trait is an important one. While anime scores do exhibit the tendency to loop, it’s not quite to the same extent. With games, it’s done practically by design since one can never predict just how long a player will stay within a certain area and how long it will take for the player to complete a given battle. And so, each track will start out with a catchy section, shift over to a variation of the first section and ending it so that it can segue into where it wants to go, be it taking a side path to develop the piece further or just toss its hands up and loop back to the original section to close it out. The game music that I really go for tends to develop the tracks a bit while the ones that aren’t as strong will opt for the latter approach, and that’s when I’ll complain about the music being repetitive and boring.
The other component that puts a soundtrack closer to a game’s would be a wide scattershot of tracks that reflect locales, people, and events, but not the overarching story. Pick out any of the older Final Fantasy scores from the PSX era and back and you’ll see what I mean. Can you listen to FF6 and say with any sort of certainty as to what the story will encompass? It’s hard to figure that out based on listening to the battle themes, town themes, and character themes and the only way you can get a feel for the game’s narrative scope through the music is by actually playing through the game and letting the music instill the nostalgia to provide the mental imagery. In anime, you can figure a lot about the anime’s plot simply by listening to its soundtrack.
You can bring up Angel Beats! heavy use of synth to bring the association closer to game music, but it doesn’t eclipse the two factors. In listening to the soundtrack, you cannot figure out what the story will encompass beyond maybe suggesting it to be a typical RPG plot and the music uses frequent doses of looping, fitting of game music’s idiom. Combine that with the knowledge that Jun Maeda primarily composes music to visual novels and it’s even easier to categorize it as game music.
And Jun Maeda… who knows what his role is in this soundtrack anyways? I’ve had some back and forth conversations with relentlessflame and ETERNAL about ANANT-GARDE EYES’s role and frankly, I’m clueless. There really isn’t a whole lot of information out there about who ANANT-GARDE EYES really is, and so, I’ve taken to mindless speculating.
My thought is that ANANT-GARDE EYES is a group of musicians who primarily take the works that Jun Maeda has composed and arranges them. At least, that was before they were given composer credits to the Angel Beats! soundtrack. After listening to its music, a lot of the tracks credited to ANANT-GARDE EYES carries Maeda’s signature style and so, I have this suspicion that Maeda works as a member of ANANT-GARDE EYES, taking charge of the more poignant tracks on the album while letting the other composers on the team take care of some of the more rhythm-heavy synth-oriented tracks. Each composer is assigned a track, and once complete, the members help each other refine the tracks until they take their current form. Composing by committee if you will.
Of course, I have no way to back it up and credible arguments can be made that the reason their works sound a lot like Maeda is because they’ve worked alongside him so much that they can replicate his style (and let’s be fair here, Maeda’s style is catchy, but not overly complicated). It’s food for thought anyhow.