Prelude to a Review – Differentiating Anime and Video Game Music, Figuring Out Who ANANT-GARDE EYES' Really is

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.

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Anime Instrumentality's Founder and Editor-in-Chief. As you can probably guess, I'm a big anime music junkie with a special love for composers who've put out some beautiful melodies to accompany some of my favorite anime series. I tend to gravitate towards music in the classical style with Joe Hisaishi and Yoko Kanno being a few of my favorite composers, but I've come to appreciate jazz and rock as anime music has widened my tastes.

16 thoughts on “Prelude to a Review – Differentiating Anime and Video Game Music, Figuring Out Who ANANT-GARDE EYES' Really is

  • August 5, 2010 at 12:37 pm
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    Well reasoned and exactly what I was looking from you! Not much more to say beyond that, but now I understand what you meant when you made that statement. :)

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  • August 5, 2010 at 12:39 pm
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    I have yet to listen to the Angel Beats OST (probably have a good reason now to listen to the whole thing), but it’s not surprising since the whole premise of the story seems like it was in a virtual world as in video games. I haven’t played RPG games for a while, but where does FF7 compare to the OST?

    I’ll look forward to the review when it comes. :)

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  • August 5, 2010 at 1:51 pm
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    Looping. Yes. Absolutely. Some video game tracks get old fast.

    Similarly, longevity is a bigger issue for video games. Sometimes you’re in an area for a lot longer than you’d like to be. The last thing you want is a track that was only fun the first 20 times you heard it.

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  • August 5, 2010 at 5:25 pm
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    I mute my video games. Honestly, it’s very hard to find anything I could stand being looped endlessly. Rare exceptions exist, like Mario Galaxy, which has awesome background music.

    A problem with game music is that it’s almost always synth. I already have low tolerance for synth, so synth on loop is a bad thing.

    I look forward to the AB! review.

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  • August 5, 2010 at 11:54 pm
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    @Chris Taran
    Yeah, it took me awhile to distill it down to those two characteristics, but I’m glad that it makes some modicum of sense even if it’s not a catchall definition.

    @chikorita157
    That’s another thing that kept coming to my mind when I was watching the show. The setting felt so much like that of a video game that it would be odd to have music that wasn’t video gamey.

    As for FF7, I’m not sure I could really find a cohesive story if I heard the music. The only track that blatantly declares some sort of badassery is One Winged Angel, and all that lets you know is that there’s a badass about. But does the music talk about the cry of the planet or anything else that the story encompassed? I’d say no.

    @Baka-Raptor
    I’ve played quite a few RPGs where the music was so grating in certain areas that my goal was to finish up that certain level and get the hell out of dodge because the music was utterly atrocious. If I had to come up with a title where I was actively repulsed, I think FFX-2’s soundtrack would fit that bill.

    @Yu
    Yes! Now there’s an example of awesome goodness. The Wind Garden track especially. I remember letting the music just flow and had my character stand there while I took that in. Of all the soundtracks for Wii, nothing beats SMG.

    Will be sure to talk about the synth stuff because well… there’ll be lots of it on the AB! OST. As for whether it’s repetitive and grating, well, I’ll be giving it a more thorough listen in the next few days and give my opinion on it!

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  • August 6, 2010 at 5:30 pm
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    I was thinking about how you said if you listened to a video game’s soundtrack, you wouldn’t be able to get a feel for the game’s narrative scope but this would be possible with an anime OST. I don’t really agree with this and I realized why. Chances are, you are going to listen to a soundtrack after having watched the show or played the game. So for me, listening to any piece of music without visuals that was originally used with visuals makes me reminisce and therefore think of the visuals. I can listen to songs from either the Pretear or FFVII soundtracks and picture various scenes where that music took place. I can’t listen to Why by Ayaka because I kept crying during the ending of FFVII: Crisis Core. Had I listened to any of these songs before watching the series or playing the game, I would not feel the same way and have no idea what kind of story someone would weave using them. But after the fact, I think it’s pretty easy to get into the story simply from the music of either a game or a show.

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  • August 6, 2010 at 9:18 pm
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    That’s an interesting differentiation that really holds true. And it makes a lot of intuitive sense too. There is no set time for games like there is for a show.
    I guess in that sense, game music also tend to have weaker beginnings and endings, if there is one at all.

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  • August 7, 2010 at 8:07 am
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    Interesting. I agree with your distinction between anime and game music, but I’m not sure yet how close Angel Beats comes to game music. I never listened to it with looping in mind but it didn’t strike me as odd compared to the rest of the music used in Key games. Then again, you might be right that Key “games” is the key term: it wouldn’t surprise anyone if AB’s music sounds like something from a VN, but that would mean that it probably has more in common with games than anime.

    Anyway. Food for thought, as you said.

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  • August 7, 2010 at 1:07 pm
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    I was always fascinated with how Maeda, with basically no musical experience, became a composer right out of school(?) [wiki says he “started listening to techno during his psych thesis,” so that’s the catalyst]. But I dunno….

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  • August 7, 2010 at 8:03 pm
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    Nice explanation of the difference between VGM and anime music. A lot of smaller game studios probably don’t set aside enough budget for music, which results in the looping trait.

    On a side note, I love cinematic music. “The Unsung War” is awesome, as is the Ace Combat series itself. There’s nothing like epic music while dogfighting in the air.

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  • August 8, 2010 at 12:17 am
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    @Twilightshiva
    I dunno, I’ve had a pretty good track record with being able to figure out what a show’s going to be about just based on the music. There have been quite a few like Tegami Bachi, Kemonono no Souja Erin, and Fairy Tail, where I’ve not seen the show at all, but was able to figure it out from the music and the comments that people gave me indicated that I wasn’t too far off.

    I will say that some soundtracks sound a whole heck of a lot better when you’ve actually seen the anime though, partly because of the fond memories, and partly because you can associate a given piece with a scene, and so, it makes a lot more sense.

    @Yi
    Not sure about the openings and endings since I can easily point to FF7 and FF8 having superb opening themes. Opening Bombing Mission in FF7 was awesome in the way it pumped you up for the mission ahead, and FF8’s Liberi Fatali is nothing short of glorious. Sakimoto’s stuff for Odin Sphere is also very wonderful.

    @ETERNAL
    FWIW, I categorize VN music with game music since it’s only a few combat scenes removed from an RPG really. A few have responded to my initial thought by saying that the music is more VN-ish, but since my experience with VN soundtracks is mostly limited to Key’s offerings, I can’t really say I’ve a huge amount of experience in that arena. However, Angel Beats has:

    1) A fighting track
    2) Tactical planning track
    3) Atmospheric dungeon-ish tracks

    Not too different from the typical sort of music in RPGs.

    @lelangir
    It could be the garage band sort of effect where people teach themselves. I wouldn’t say Maeda’s music is complex or anything, but he sure knows how to make it catchy and stick to the listener’s ear, and as long as he knows how to make music that sounds like stuff in his head, it’s all gold.

    @Reltair
    Well, that might also be an issue as well, though it’s probably more of the unpredictability of a game and that set pieces that run closer to typical musical fare are reserved for cut-scenes.

    And heck yes! Ace Combat music is awesome. That’s what got me into the series to begin with since I wanted to see how the music was used within the game. Boy was it impressive!

    Reply
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  • August 11, 2010 at 5:30 am
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    VGM suffers from several limitations, one of which is looping like you mentioned. Another limitation usually found in older VGM is the console’s limited memory. Fully orchestrated musical piece cannot be put in the game. It must be simplified and it sounds worse than it should.

    That AceCombat5 OST just blown me away!

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  • August 11, 2010 at 9:33 am
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    “The Journey Home” is my fav track from Ace Combat 5, my brother has been a huge fan of the games for a long time.

    Have you ever played “The World Ends With You”? I think it’s one of the few games I have played where the soundtrack actually enhanced my experience of the game, It’s clear that a lot of though was put into making it. Normally I would just turn off the music on my DS.

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  • August 11, 2010 at 9:41 pm
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    @Canne
    The chiptunes does indeed hail from the older era and for a lot of us (myself for sure!), we tend to form that strong association with chiptunes as VGM. The scores from post PSX games have gone more towards the orchestral end, and I’ve been enjoying that transition a lot.

    Is this your first time listening to Ace Combat 5’s OST? I love it a lot! Listening to the Unsung War just sounds glorious and it’s one of my favorite pieces to date.

    @Kc
    While Unsung War may have all the bombast and glory that I love, Journey Home carries that sort of tear-jerking stuff that fits in so well with the context of the game. As I’ve mentioned, the music was what got me to try the game to begin with.

    I’ve neither played nor listened to TWEWY so I’m not too familiar with what it offers up. The only thing I have listened to is SAWA’s stuff, and that didn’t rub me the right way.

    Reply

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