Composer of the Month – Yuki Kajiura

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.

Master List

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Biography:
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

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Eat-Man – Bolt’s Theme

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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

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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

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.hack//SIGN – In the Land of Twilight Under the Moon

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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

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My-HiME – Himeboshi

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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

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Elemental Gelade – Tenshou

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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

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Pandora Hearts – Preparation

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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

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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.

Anime Instrumentality Staff

A collaboration between the staff members at Anime Instrumentality to bring you the best of all the anime music out there! Or silliness, whichever it is that happens to come first.

50 thoughts on “Composer of the Month – Yuki Kajiura

  • February 1, 2011 at 2:25 am
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    I wasn’t impressed initially with Kajiura’s score from watching Noir or Madlax. Then I found out the best stuff are left in the last quarter of the anime, and yeah the music got really good to complement the darker hours in the heroines adventures. I think recently she’s gotten much better at arranging the music for the initial episodes of a TV series, and I like what I’ve heard in Puella Magi so far.

    Reply
  • February 1, 2011 at 3:17 am
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    Himeboshi? wasn’t that Ensei?

    Reply
  • February 1, 2011 at 8:48 am
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    It’s technically Himeboshi, but Ensei is another way to say the same word. In any rate it’s OST1 track 1 right?

    As for the composer write up, thanks you aniinstrumental dudes. I enjoyed it and it’s a good overview, albeit not much I didn’t know before. Just one bone i want to pick:

    Still, fans like myself can take comfort in the fact Ishikawa is continuing her solo career and that Kajiura’s style did rub off on her.

    To be fair, Ishikawa is a capable composer in her own right. During their See-saw days both of them wrote songs, and it’s hard to say how much the two collaborated to any real detail, who influenced who, etc.

    What is more interesting I think is Kajiura’s role as an arranger. Nobody ever talks about this, but she does quite a bit of that.

    Reply
    • February 2, 2011 at 12:26 am
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      @mrwan
      It probably helps that she’s gotten more experience for the initial episodes that she scores them better. Or maybe the initial episodes just have a lot more action sequences where she can really strut her stuff with the intensity and bring about a more awe-inspiring experience.

      @deadguy
      See omo’s comment. And yeah, OST1, Track 1.

      @omo
      The aim for this article series is to be the broad overview that means, yeah, for someone with your knowledge, it might be hard to really unearth interesting factoids. Maybe the best hope is to get that through interviews or somesuch if they ever come to US conventions.

      Also, can you explain further into the arranger bits? It’s true no one talks about her arranging and I suspect it’s because people just don’t know much about it to be able to talk intelligently.

      @chikorita157
      Kalafina’s pretty much my girl group of choice at the moment and so far, they’ve yet to let me down aside from… “Progressive” maybe? Well, all the songs on Seventh Heaven are pretty strong as a group.

      And yeah, who isn’t looking forwards to “Magia?”

      Reply
  • February 1, 2011 at 7:44 pm
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    Come to think of it, my introduction to Yuki Kajura’s compositions were the Sora no Woto OP, Hikari no Senritsu. It sounded beautiful. I have also listened parts of “Red Moon,” that released last year and it was very good, but had yet to listen to the whole album. From what I heard, she is a very good composer, especially with her experience.

    That’s saying, I can’t wait to hear the full version of the Madoka ED.

    Reply
  • February 2, 2011 at 2:06 am
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    @ deadguy
    Yep, I am aware that Ishikawa wrote some of the songs for See-Saw and most of her own music nowadays, but within it we often see traces of YK’s style. But like you mentioned, the possibility exists that it could simply be Ishikawa rubbing off on Kajiura.

    As for Kajiura’s works for arrangements, I must say I’m not all that fond of it. The impression of ruined by just one song actually, “Hikari no Yukue” by savage genius. To me, that song just screamed Kajiura in the very beginning but the later parts didn’t quite fit in…

    Reply
  • February 2, 2011 at 5:51 am
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    I end up finding that a lot of her work ends up getting a bit stale after a while, though she always produces, like zzeroparticle points out, some really epic tracks that just remain part of playlist forever. She does a good job in bringing out atmosphere with her compositions. Aside from that, I think her style is distinctive to the point of repetitiveness. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing though.

    Reply
  • February 2, 2011 at 10:01 am
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    Great job on the writeup, definitely filled in the gaps I had about her composing history, especially in her early years. I’m also happy that Elemental Gelade got a mention (though a not-so-good one) as it was my gateway Kajiura score.

    “Natsu no Ringo” isn’t a bad song by any means, but I’m sorta sad that “I have a dream” failed in the selection for the closer Kalafina song for this article… It’s IMO the most quietly hopeful song I’ve heard from her ever, and I feel that it would be a great eye-opener for those who’ve known her stuff to be dark and foreboding; or pulsating and uplifting. Also fitting due to the fact that it closed out the Time of Eve movie and the Red Moon album as well.

    As a sidetrack, the tabloid-seeking side of me found her twitter (http://twitter.com/#!/Fion0806) rather fun to read for little tidbits. Like when she blames gremlins in her home for swapping her CDs into the wrong cases, making mistakes on chords in her scoresheets and hiding her remote control. Also when she’s having fun making emoticons for lazing about on a rest day. 😛

    Strangely, I’m more looking forward to Madoka’s BGM score than “Magia” full-size, I really like some of the s’life family scene music so far.

    Reply
    • February 2, 2011 at 8:20 pm
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      @ omo
      While it is entirely possible that Ishikawa influenced Kajiura in See-Saw, the recent ‘chanting’ in her solo works definitely feels like it was a leaf out of Kajiura’s book. For her arrangements, I feel that most just scream Kajiura a little too loudly. Stuff like Hikari no Yukue completely destroyed my impression of her as an arranger.

      @ Mystlord
      My thoughts exactly, actually. But at least we can take heart in the fact she is good at what she does. =)

      Reply
  • February 3, 2011 at 1:56 am
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    @Mystlord
    I think consistency is something that her fans do enjoy. That is, when they come across a song or soundtrack with her name on it, they know what they’re getting, and for the most part, it’s genuinely good stuff. Catchy rhythms, choruses, the works.

    @ottocycle
    Haha, I tried listening to Elemental Gelade in my car a few times and I just couldn’t find her work too compelling. It’d be one thing if the act of driving made it hard to concentrate on her Gelade music, but I never had that issue getting absorbed by Petit Cossette while driving.

    Anyhow, I’ve unfortunately yet to listen to Kalafina’s entire discog, so I’m to blame for Natsu no Ringo. I should actually try to listen to Red Moon since I enjoyed Seventh Heaven so much.

    Finally, with Madoka, there’s just so much about it that reminds me of My-HiME, music included. I recall My-HiME having some enjoyable slice of life BGM too. That it fares well in context is good, so I’m curious to see how it goes standalone…

    Reply
  • February 3, 2011 at 7:21 pm
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    Yuki Kajiura wrote the op “Silly-Go-Round” for .hack//Roots. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-o_RYGQKP2U)

    Nothing else matters.

    I have an abnormal obsession with this song. Also a fan of her work on the .hack//Liminality ost. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKXNoO_Uqms&feature=related).I also wasn’t aware that she covered a couple of animes I watched a while back, especially Madlax & Tsubasa Chronicle.

    Fascinating and enlightening article. Thanks kindly.

    Reply
  • February 3, 2011 at 9:28 pm
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    I don’t think I’ve never been more torn whether an artist is consistent or just predictable. I think the reason Kajiura has such an ardent core fanbase is that the people who found themselves enjoying Kajiura in one show are pretty much predisposed to liking the OSTs of other shows she’s worked on. As good as Yoko Kanno is, I don’t think her fanbase are as “hardcore” for all her work because it seems they usually have one OST they really like from her that just happens to fall in a genre they enjoy, while they’re mostly indifferent to her other stuff.

    It raises the question of what is more admirable: an artist that consistently churns out excellent works in a way you’re pretty much sure to like or one that is proficient at many things but may not always offer what you’re looking for.

    It’s probably less of a question of being admirable than it is the more personal issue of what you end up enjoying the most often and to what magnitude. I may be a tad disappointed that Kajiura doesn’t stretch out the scope of her genre affiliations as much as I’d like, but I think there are few composers in the anime scene whose works are as consistent in quality throughout the depth of their opuses, even if Kajiura’s breadth isn’t quite where I’d appreciate it the most.

    Reply
  • February 4, 2011 at 5:24 am
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    I like her music but I have to admit that her songs are easily recognizable, and not in a good way. It’s like, whenever you listen to a particular music piece, you can immediately tell if the composer is Kajiura or not. She has certain tunes that she reuses in her background.

    Even so, I still like her music. My-HiME’s “Mezame” and the formation of Kalafina are my favorites.

    Reply
    • February 4, 2011 at 2:35 pm
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      @Rhythmroo
      As much as she’s looked upon fondly for her anime scores, I do think that her pop stuff is just as important with “Silly-go-round” being a good example of her work with FictionJunction that’s turned out well. Heck, I’m not sure there’s any of her pop stuff that didn’t turn out well.

      @AC
      I’d say it’s not a bad thing since I have the same inclination with people like Mozart or even John Williams. In Kajiura’s case, consistency works. We might prefer she varies it up a bit, but few can point to her music and say it sucks. Pretty much look at the quandary that both Aftershok and I have as far as her works go :p

      Reply
  • February 4, 2011 at 7:06 pm
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    You left out a crucial factoid about Yuki Kajiura being mai waifu.

    Salva Nos was her first track that caught my attention. I was watching that fight scene in episode 5 (correct me if I’m wrong about the episode, I watched it 6 years ago), and I had one of those “AM I REALLY HEARING THIS?!” moments. It’s like when I heard Eyes on Me in FFVIII. Are they really singing in a video game? THIS IS AWESOME!

    I’m terrible when it comes to behind-the-scenes trivia. I don’t know studios, directors, writers, voice actors, composers, etc. unless they do something drastic to catch my attention. Yuki-nee succeeded.

    Reply
    • February 5, 2011 at 2:57 am
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      @Baka-Raptor
      Kajiura-Raptor shipping is something I would wholeheartedly approve of. As long as you’re not referring to her as literally your older sister =p

      But yeah, I definitely hear you on Salva Nos since I think pretty much everyone was awed by that action scene backed by that song which resulted in pure acoustic awesomeness all around. The rhythm and energy along with the stirring chorus that poured through did a great job at making those action scenes memorable even if a lot of the anime bored me to tears. But Kajiura’s score? That definitely stands the test of time. It’s got to especially considering that I still give it a whirl, nearly 10 years after the fact!

      I was also pretty awed by Eyes on Me. So fitting within FF8… and you couldn’t imagine the joy I felt when I discovered that you could play that song in any old CD player by popping in the game disc. Made my day!

      Reply
  • February 5, 2011 at 11:55 am
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    Somehow I’ve managed to be pretty unfamiliar with Kajiura’s work! I mean, I’ve heard it in the past, but a lot of what she’s worked on, I haven’t watched. It’s good to know she’s doing Madoka, which I’m in love with.

    Reply
  • February 5, 2011 at 5:29 pm
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    @zzeroparticle: I discovered you could do that with Sonic CD. Best game/soundtrack I’ve ever had that was pre-packaged with a computer system.

    Reply
    • February 5, 2011 at 7:59 pm
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      @Arianna Sterling
      Glad to know that this overview proved useful! She certainly is a good artist in her own right and hopefully people will use this as a guide to check out her other works since they’ve been solid and are easy to get into.

      @Baka-Raptor
      The first time I encountered that sort of soundtrack scenario was with the Warcraft II game disc and it made great homework music when I was in elementary school since I could pretend that those math problems were puny humans trying to take me down. I recall being able to do that with Heroes of Might and Magic 2’s game disc two, and that one would probably be my favorite.

      Reply
  • February 6, 2011 at 7:52 pm
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    yuki kajiura is excellent.i first discovered her existence in gundam seed,since then i cant help myself to adore her.i just love the chants and orchestrated style of her music,the rock,techno gives me chills as well.she’s really good at playing with the piano,flute and violin.i can say she’s one of the best music composer and arranger.no one rivals her.im currently enjoying red moon,ashita no keshiki and hikari no senritsu(though i love all of her pieces).anyway thanks for the write up.i love you yuki kajiura.^_^

    Reply
  • February 7, 2011 at 11:18 pm
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    @murrue ramius
    Glad you enjoyed this write-up! Her ability to go forth and spout off a large diversity of instruments while keeping to her well-honed style that’s easily recognizable is probably one of her greatest assets, allowing her to be endeared upon by fans who pretty much get what they’re looking for when they listen to a soundtrack with her name on it.

    Reply
  • February 8, 2011 at 6:42 am
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    I love Yuki Kajiura. She was the first composer I bothered to actually look her name up. She made me fall in love with Noir. And from there, made me look up a bunch of other series with her music, including Cossette, .hack, Mai Hime/ Otome.

    Madoka’s soundtrack is shaping up pretty nicely too.

    Anyway, it was fascinating to read her biography.

    Reply
  • February 8, 2011 at 7:25 am
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    Awww, No Mezame in MaiHime mentions at least? =x it’ll forever remaining one of the most climatic battle songs imo~
    and yeah… I didn’t even notice she did the OST during Elemental Gelade, and Kajiura’s BGMs tends to bring out even bland series.
    Nevertheless, she’s probably the only anime staff member whose work I consistently love so~ yaaaayyyyy ^o^

    Reply
    • February 8, 2011 at 10:53 pm
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      @Yi
      So far Madoka has been more of the same from Kajiura, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing since it fits Madoka’s atmosphere perfectly, especially once they go into that warped space to hunt those surreal entities. I can’t imagine any composer doing a better job with that seeing how well she delivered through Cossette.

      @Aorii
      Hey now, I wouldn’t want to reveal all my cards for My-HiME. Not when I plan to review that album during the course of this month!

      Reply
  • February 9, 2011 at 7:58 pm
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    @zzeroparticle
    I’d like to interject that the following will almost always hold true:

    “[FILL IN THE BLANK] has been more of the same from Kajiura.”

    Just fill in the blank with a show she scored.

    Reply
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  • February 19, 2011 at 5:20 pm
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    I must be the only one who has found her Garden of Sinners OSTs very overrated and uninteresting. It was mostly a compilation of bland synth effects and new age. The most memorable aspects of KnK’s music is the theme songs but Oblivious my favorite among them, I have the others that I bought from ITunes and they’re entertaining enough. So in terms of your comparison of Pandora Hearts to KNK I must say I find the opposite to be true. Pandora Hearts was a far more variety and interesting soundtrack.

    I also find this to be true when comparing TRC To Mai-Hime, Hime had nice tunes but overall TRC had more pieces that were worthwhile. When it comes to remembering OSTs TRC’s music has left far greater impressions on me than Hime. Think you also have some unsung compositions from her like Fist of the North Star (Admittedly haven’t heard her music for it but it is rarely mentioned even among us Kajiura nuts) and her work for Xenosaga II and III. The delicious award bait song “My Tomorrow” makes me happy :D. Still this is a nice write up on Kajiura good work.

    Reply
    • February 19, 2011 at 6:39 pm
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      @AlexShadow
      Thanks for the long, comprehensive comment. Always glad to hear other voices weigh in (which is kinda the point of these writeups!).

      I’m willing to say that the bulk of KnK’s excellence comes through the atmosphere she sculpts. There are some immersive melodies scattered about to add to the whole atmosphere, but by and large the way the mysteries come across have been really well-done. That said, I won’t have a definitive tab on KnK until the soundtrack comes out in the next few weeks. And yeah, Kalafina shines really well through all of the movies, but that’s a given.

      With regard to TRC, one of our readers, Baka-Raptor, came up with the idea that people remember Mai-HiME’s music better because that anime was better than TRC. I myself prefer Mai-HiME and I’d be lying if nostalgia value isn’t one of the reasons why I loved it (other reasons being a good mix of music from the school life music to the epic choruses in stuff like Mezame).

      Lastly, the only reasons why Xenosaga isn’t mentioned is because this focuses more on her anime music. Otherwise, I’d have gotten my arms around those two games as well.

      Thanks!

      Reply
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