Overview: Given the sheer number of anime that Yuki Kajiura has composed for along with a signature style that’s very appealing, it’s not surprising to find her ranked so highly amongst anime fans. For many, their first experience with Kajiura’s music came in 2001 through Bee Train’s Noir where they were captivated by her blend of synth, choral, and orchestral music, especially during the action sequences. Riding that wave of success, she would go on to score many notable anime such as My-HiME, Tsubasa Chronicle, and the currently-airing Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Her works on anime have gotten her involved with composing video game music, most notably for the last two games of the Xenosaga franchise. In addition to her anime and video game scores, she also has her hands full working with various vocalists through the years, from Chiaki Ishikawa through See-Saw to the trio of Keiko, Wakana, and Hikaru who form the current incarnation of Kalafina.
In case you’re here to only listen to the soundclips and not read any of the text, below is the master list of all the pieces featured in this profile entry in order. It’ll save time if you don’t want to have to click through each and every track.
Yuki Kajiura’s first step into music composition was a farewell song she wrote for her grandmother, but from this point all the way up to her late teens, it didn’t seem like music was something she was planning on making a career out of since she composed very little music. Her college studies also bore few hints of this; though her compositions grew, upon graduation, her first job was as a systems engineering programmer. It wasn’t until 1992 that she began to pursue music seriously after quitting her job. Her first successful attempt was the formation of See-Saw which included names like Chiaki Ishikawa and Yukiko Nishioka and saw the release of six singles and two albums by 1995. This progress would garner her enough attention to give her a shot at scoring live action films such as Jun Ishikawa’s Tokyo Siblings. Work slowly piled on, and, through a few connections, an anime producer she knew introduced her to the people in charge of the Kimagure Orange Road movie, which would be her first anime soundtrack.
The music to Shin Kimagure Orange Road is enjoyable, if a bit simplistic. When you listen to the first few tracks, you’ll notice slow piano melodies in the mold of a drama and an upbeat love theme that bears a semblance to one of her later works. Stylistically, her score feels much simpler. The music fits within the mold of a love story; slow melodies abound. With her next anime soundtrack, Eat-Man, the action it carried matched more of Kajiura’s style that most of us are used to and contained snippets of the Wild West-flavored pieces that she’d put to use later on in El Cazador de la Bruja. Eat-Man wasn’t particularly memorable either, but its importance lay in the start of her partnership with Koichi Mashimo, which would result in her music really taking off, especially once he founded Bee Train and commissioned her to compose music to their anime.
Shin Kimagure Orange Road – Love I
Eat-Man – Bolt’s Theme
With Noir came Bee Train’s launching point as well as Kajiura’s entrance into the Western anime fan’s consciousness. Aided to some extent by the growing awareness of anime in the West during that time, Noir rapidly made an imprint on people’s radars with its well-animated action as well as the music that accompanied it. It’s probably not an understatement to say that Kajiura’s score was held in higher regard than the anime series. The mix of quiet, introspective tracks like “Solitude by the Window,” tension-filled fare like “Silent Pain,” and the aloof vibes given off from “Chloe” are all enjoyable, but what ultimately cemented her reputation were the glorious choruses in “Canta Per Me” and “Salva Nos.” The way both tracks conveyed the intensity of the action scenes made for an unforgettable experience, one that got anime music aficionados to cry out for more from Kajiura!
Noir – Salva Nos
Kajiura wouldn’t disappoint. From Noir, she moved on to Aquarian Age which featured a very haunting opener in “Awake” and also incorporated a lot more synth paired alongside the violin and piano melodies, at least in the first half of the album. While enjoyable, it (along with Elemental Gelade and Hokuto no Ken) wouldn’t be talked about all too much, especially when compared to another 2002 offering. That, of course, would be .hack//SIGN. With an OP done by her See-Saw cohort, Chiaki Ishikawa and a boatload of tracks performed by Emily Bindiger, Kajiura’s music instantly complemented .hack//SIGN’s setting by using the ethereal tones to heighten the mystery and drama. As notable as these works are, it’s not until the mid-2000s where she’d release some of her best anime soundtracks.
Aquarian Age – Awake
.hack//SIGN – In the Land of Twilight Under the Moon
A side trip into the realm of psychological drama in 2004 would bear fruit, resulting in Le Portrait de Petit Cossette where she’d partner up with director Akiyuki Shinbo (and not for the last time!). Her 2004 releases wouldn’t stop there either with Madlax’s score coming out, and with it, FictionJunction’s ear-catching “Nowhere” even if the rest of the album was average by Kajiura standards. Still, nothing made a bigger splash that year than her score for My-HiME, which brought with it a great amount of diversity, from the haunting, tragic “Himeboshi” to the intense “Dance of Darkness,” to the action-packed themes, exemplified by “Summoning of Duran” and “Here Comes Gakutenou!” What My-HiME brought forth was arguably Kajiura at her best, but it wouldn’t be long before another of Kajiura’s scores rose to the challenge.
Madlax – Nowhere
My-HiME – Himeboshi
Though Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle is nowhere close to being as highly regarded as an anime, its soundtrack offers My-HiME some stiff competition. With Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle’s theme of parallel worlds in mind, Kajiura deftly handled the task for composing its music which was distinct through all 4 discs of the soundtrack. She showed off her versatility and competence with styles like techno, rock, folk, jazz, and some eccentric mixes between those styles, conjuring forth such pieces as “Guess How Much I Love You” and the glorious “A Song of Storm and Fire.” But while her soundtrack to Tsubasa really shined, Kajiura was drawn into scoring the Elemental Gelade soundtrack, which was, by her standards, fairly nondescript. Well, except for the main theme, heard in “Tenshou” which radiates a sense of freedom, but beyond that, there wasn’t much about it that was too remarkable.
Tsubasa – A Song of Storm and Fire
Elemental Gelade – Tenshou
It took awhile, but she did redeem herself with her next collaboration with Mashimo in El Cazador de la Bruja, where the music remained uniquely her own, but in listening to it stylistically, she was able to blend in a few Wild West tropes in there to fit in with the anime’s theme. That effort was followed by a lackluster showing in Pandora Heart’s soundtrack, which, aside from the most excellent “Preparation” was otherwise bland compared to her usual. But 2009 also saw the release of the last Kara no Kyoukai movie, and looking at it as a complete whole (with an album release come March!) its dark, tragic tones captured the atmosphere of the anime series most poignantly.
El Cazador de la Bruja – The Ballad of a Bounty Hunter
Pandora Hearts – Preparation
But even more important was the rise of Kalafina in Kara no Kyoukai’s shadow. Originally formed to provide the theme songs for Kara no Kyoukai, Kalafina enjoyed much success which led to them breaking into the anime scene, performing songs for Kuroshitsuji, Sora no Woto and Puella Magi Modoka Magica. The differentiating factor between Kalafina and Kajiura’s previous collaboration is the diversity, one that is reminiscent of her works from Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle. Each of Kalafina’s albums feels like a concept album, with the first containing many tracks set to a somewhat European theme while the second is largely Arabic.
Natsu no Ringo
In the winter of 2011, we witnessed the reunion of Kajiura with SHAFT’s Akiyuki Shinbo in the hotly anticipated Puella Magi Modoka Magica. While it’s too early to jump to conclusions, the overall reaction to her work here at Anime Instrumentality is cautiously positive; though pleasantly competent and undoubtedly fitting, we are yet to be floored by Madoka’s music like we were with some of her earlier work. After all, Kajiura’s consistency is what makes her so appealing, but it’s also her undoing. Sometimes, we just wish she was a bit more adventurous with her music rather than stick to the same general sound she’s worked with for the past decade.
And for a quick assessment of how her works have gone, check out page 2 where you get a breakdown by each staff member’s thoughts.