2010’s Anime Music in Review – Soundtrack Edition

In June? Yes, it is a bit overdue, but as we hinted at in the 2010 Anime Music Awards post, the blame is laid squarely at the feet of The World God Only Knows soundtrack, which wasn’t released until April of this year. The irony? It’s not going to be featured since our fearless leader had issues with its musical presentation and those gripes will be revealed if/when zzeroparticle actually gets around to reviewing the sucker.

Anyways, in the spirit of the Anime Music Decades post series, these remembrance posts will be a yearly thing. We’ve decided to break the soundtrack portion and the OP/EDs stuff into two separate posts for ease of reading and (on our end) organization and what we’ll be presenting here are just the soundtrack/BGM stuff that we think people should give a shot if they’re so inclined. So, here’s a list of what we thought were recognizable and remarkable. Clips present will be played in their entirety and we hope you discover something new or get to reminisce over some tune that impressed you during the course of last year.

Master List

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Without further ado, let’s begin!

Sora no Woto
Sora no Woto might not be the most critically-acclaimed series, but it is undoubtedly a work of art that is not only a treat for the eyes, but also for the ears. Michiru Ooshima crafts a soundtrack that is essential in bringing to life the marvelously constructed post-apocalyptic universe in which the anime takes place. Pieces such as “Une Lumiere Envoutante” embody the desolation of a world ravaged by an unkind past. With the strumming of a meditative guitar, the image of an endless and abandoned landscape is formed as the softly-plucked sounds echo into an empty and lonely silence. However, Ooshima also composes many themes that express the boundless hope and joy that the human race is capable of. With a style similar to that of the orchestral works of George Gershwin, she offers a selection of tracks that resound with jubilation. In “Apres la Pluie, le Beau Temps,” a trumpet calls for an end to woe, summoning the sun to bathe the bleak landscape in warmth. The glowing notes drive away any remnants of grief, leaving only a simple, shining optimism. Of course, Ooshima’s arrangement of “Amazing Grace” can’t be forgotten either. The timeless melody speaks of love, friendship, and peace. But, most of all, the gorgeous and pure duet of trumpet and strings sing a profound song of hope. Rarely does a soundtrack capture the sentiments of an anime so well and so beautifully, making Ooshima’s music for Sora no Woto some of the best of the year. [Editor’s note: In case anyone was curious, this was the runner-up to the soundtrack of the year.]

Sora no Woto – Une lumiere envoutante

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Sora no Woto – Apres la pluie, le beau temps

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The Borrower Arrietty
Unusually for anime, Arrietty’s music was written by a foreigner whose love of Ghibli prompted her to send samples of her work to the famous studio. Cécile Corbel, a French singer and Celtic harpist, was consequently told that her music would be perfect for the next Ghibli film. It was a good decision. The Arrietty soundtrack is a wonderful album that uses folksy Celtic music to bring about a very relaxing experience. The music isn’t terribly heavy and has absolutely no bombast, relying mostly on instruments typical of Celtic music, such as harps, guitars, and drums as well as Corbel’s voice. Despite a relatively sparse selection of instruments, the tracks don’t lack any impact when it comes to conveying urgency. “Wild Waltz” is one such piece, where drums and plucked beats create a sensation of movement that draws the listener in along with the notes. Corbel’s singing is also a pleasure to listen to in tracks like “Arrietty’s Song,” which never depart from its mellow and calming tone. All in all, while certainly an unconventional anime soundtrack, Arrietty’s music is all the more enjoyable because of that.

The Borrower Arrietty – The Wild Waltz

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Bungaku Shoujo
If I were to eloquently sum up Bungaku Shoujo’s OST in three succinct bullet points it would be:
• Relaxing
• Beautifully scored
• HGGGGGGGGGNNHHH
If you’ve seen Bungaku Shoujo, you’ll know that weeping strings and doleful piano musings play as the camera sweeps across forgotten corners of a dusty high school. You’ll know that a lonely spirit girl eats the short stories of a frustrated, but talented storyteller as daily snacks in the literature club’s room. You’ll also know that the the girl in question, Touko, has the voice of a goddess. A goddess of moe. Heart-melting, world-ending, hnnngghhh-inducing moe. But that’s just a bonus. Kana Hanazawa lends her golden voice on only a handful of tunes, so the rest of the soundtrack has to stand on its own merits.

And it does just that. Consisting of orchestral arrangements in a semi-modern style, the main feature of this score is its careful sensitivity; it is not afraid of space and even occasional moments of silence, allowing for plenty of breathing room. Masumi Itou’s deft skill conjures forth some awesomely dramatic moments that are not detracted by the quieter parts but are rather greatly enhanced by them. Consider “Sorezore no Asa,” with dramatic string crests punctuated by serene moments sprinkled with a xylophone melody.

Overall, a spirit of lighthearted innocence pervades these soundtracks, movie and OVA alike. That its bright, unyielding optimism melted the heart of this cynical and stressed out writer is impressive in itself, making it his #3 ranked OST of the year. (Oh, and hnnngghhh.) [As a nerdy side-comment, I’d like to complain a bit that nearly every track seems to be in the same key as the next. Maybe this was intentional and is some deep symbol about how life goes on, but it just doesn’t make for dynamic listening.]

Bungaku Shoujo – Sorezore no Asa

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Bungaku Shoujo – Hontou no Saiwai

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Gundam Unicorn
Yes, the orchestrals are overwrought and the bombast can shroud any semblance of nuance, but in context, a part of me wouldn’t have it any other way. This latest addition to the Gundam franchise brings in Hiroyuki Sawano’s underrated compositional talents, and Sawano meets the lofty expectations of scoring a Gundam series by delivering a soundtrack that matches the anime’s scope in spades. While our review of Gundam Unicorn’s soundtrack has already highlighted the majesty of such tracks as “FEAR → SORROW” and the gloriousness of “UNICORN” and “MOBILE SUIT,” there are a few more tracks worth noting. Of those, “U.C.0096” serves as a splendid introduction to the anime as it starts off softly, then ratchets up to the action through the trumpet fanfares, which carry with them the grand scope of the anime. “ON YOUR MARK” capitalizes upon this feeling all the more through its initial serene aura that segues into the orchestral swells that bring out the greatness as it propels you upon a wondrous odyssey. The atmosphere Gundam Unicorn’s music depicts is grand and exciting, demonstrating that Sawano can easily match the standards set by storied Gundam composers including Akira Senju, Yoko Kanno, Kouhei Tanaka, and Toshihiko Sahashi.

Gundam Unicorn – U.C.0096

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Gundam Unicorn – ON YOUR MARK

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Durarara!!
In terms of sheer funky originality and an irrepressible sense of fun, Durarara!!’s soundtrack is difficult to top, and is my (Aftershok’s) number one pick for 2010. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much after hearing the premise, as a hyper-urban Tokyo backdrop almost surely meant a J-pop driven musical edge. But boy, was I glad I was wrong. What impressed me most about this soundtrack was the swath of genres it covered except for pop. As if to doubly exceed my expectations, nearly every track had a different musical slant to it: folky Celtic fantasies, synth roof raisers, Russian line dancing, quiet piano sweeps, and jazz abound. Oh, the jazz. How face-meltingly awesome. But that’s not the only novelties it carries either. If there were ever a stereotype in scoring for motion pictures, it would be that high-pitched strings = tension. If you happen to abide by that fallacy, let me introduce you to “Kayoubi no yoru ni” and “Ikebukuro Saikyo Densetsu.”

What’s most impressive of all, though, is how every track is a subtle deconstruction of every genre it supposedly apes. It never takes itself too seriously, but at the same time is unquestionably intelligent. At once beautiful and exciting, sensitive and brash, Brain’s Base’s Durarara!! will keep me entranced for years to come.

Durarara!! – Ikebukuro saikyo densetsu

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Durarara!! – Kayobi no yoru ni

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Katanagatari
The Taku Iwasaki composer profile we put together a while back mostly focused on the almighty “Bahasa Palus.” And how could we not? “Bahasa Palus” is a sterling example of an Iwasaki track that hits on the badass moments of the show. Channeled through Yutaka Fukuoka’s forceful voice along with Lotus Juice’s rapping, it brings out the scope of the challenges Ichika faces, setting the scene for many a memorable battle to come. But as much as that track seizes most of the attention, the quieter tracks bear mention as well. “Togame,” for example, is sweet in the way it captures the titular character’s personality and tragic backstory. Similar sentiments can also be had for “Thousand Katana’s at Ease” which features a poignant string melody that hearkens towards a long, storied search for happiness, allowing the viewer to strongly empathize with the swordswoman Meisai Tsuruga. Through these tracks and the others, the music melds effortlessly with the sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, but always engaging story that Kanatagatari presents, leaving it as one of the more memorable experiences from last year.

Katanagatari – Togame

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Katanagatari – Thousand Katanas at Ease

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Tatami Galaxy
In the course of watching Tatami Galaxy, this writer laughed, he cried, but mostly, he reminisced fondly over his college years [editor’s note: zzeroparticle is ooooold]. College was a time where the academic pressures and soul searching came together tumultuously and though the situations depicted in Tatami Galaxy are as far from describing this writer’s experiences as can be, the sentiments were definitely there and very identifiable. Michiru Ooshima’s brilliant compositions capture this uncertain period rather well through the myriad of tracks that range from the upbeat to the sorrowful to the idealistic. It opens up with the bouncy “Barairo no Campus Life” which reflects the initial euphoria of arriving at college. As you progress further along, you’ll hit upon other pieces like “Watashi no Theme” which bears the melancholy of disappointment and underachievement, and yet, still has a slice of idealism to temper it, transforming it into one of the most poignant tracks last year. Its message reaches out to the dreamer within, and even though things don’t quite fall in line with what the dreamer had originally expected, there’s a sense of encouragement to seek other avenues and grasp that happiness that seems so fleeting. For even in the darkest moments, Ooshima takes care to remind us through the uplifting strings and brass in “Yojouhan ki Owari” that redemption and a brighter future are just around the corner, as long as you never give up in a fit of despair.

Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei – ”Watashi” no Theme

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Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei – Yojouhan Ki Owari

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Kuragehime
Kuragehime is a mixed bag in more ways than one. The anime, at least, for the first three quarters of its run-time, was able to combine a fun cast of eccentrics into a show that had smatterings of comedy, drama, and romance. In the same vein, Kuragehime’s music makes a similar sort of effort in mixing multiple genres. The soundtrack features some of Makoto Yoshimori’s finest work, even though the oddball sounds that have become a staple of his music still persist. The jazz pieces, though, are stellar, representing Yoshimori’s second wind after the Baccano soundtrack which some of us found wanting. Tracks like the two Amars pieces and “Nana iro no yuuwaku,” mix well with the more charming-yet-melancholy piano and clarinet tracks like “Yugatairo no omoide ni,” and in doing so, shows off the anime’s many facets. While the series leaves far too many of the characters’ situations unresolved, the musical experience is a satisfying one, and it does make some of us ponder of what sort of work Yoshimori will do next.

Kuragehime – Nana iro no yuuwaku

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Kuragehime – Yugatairo no omoide ni

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Angel Beats
It’s a rule of thumb that the use of synthetic instruments is an indication that a soundtrack will A) sound cheap, or B) be overwhelmingly filled with ambience – two things that put this audiophile off a soundtrack pretty quickly. It’s albums like Angel Beats that make this a rule of thumb and not a law. The music is dominated by synthetic sounds, but, like other Key soundtracks, Jun Maeda makes the music for AB intriguing and unpredictable instead of turning it into some hastily thrown together background filler (It also helps that Maeda’s forte, the piano, sounds good in anything). In any case, we get some truly unique tracks that play around with dissonance and rhythms, such as “Decisive Battle”, where unpredictable chords in an influx of noise do a good job of portraying the haywire scenarios in the anime. Aside from the more chaotic compositions, the soundtrack also contains plenty of the soppy, sentimental themes typical of Maeda. In addition to the many instrumental arrangements of insert songs from the anime, there are tracks like “Theme of SSS” which remind the listener of the bonds of friendship holding together the band trapped in purgatory. The track begins with a quiet, almost melancholy introduction, then builds up into an emotional peak that borders on cheesiness. With plenty of standard schmaltzy stuff mixed as well as some well-executed and energetic tracks, this make for a pretty solid album overall.

Angel Beats! – Theme of SSS

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Angel Beats! – Decisive Battle

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Arakawa Under the Bridge
Arakawa under the Bridge was a delightfully silly offering that centers upon one of the more hilarious hippie communes this side of Berkeley, CA. The music, scored by Masaru Yokoyama, gives the impression that we’ll be seeing more orchestral goodness come out of this soundtrack based on his previous works. That would be a mistake, of course. Though “Deep Blue 1” richly delights in the soft, orchestral sound that one might expect out of a man’s rebirth as well as a followup in a light, bouncy section which hints at the zaniness to come, Yokoyama also weaves enjoyably diverse tracks like the guitar sound in “Ookina Hoshi no Hashi no Shita” which captures the mask-wearing Hoshi’s delightfully loseriffic tendencies. Through the range of tracks that Yokoyama brings to the table, Arakawa’s music conveys the zaniness that goes on in the bridge commune, thereby fitting the anime’s idiom nicely while serving as enjoyable standalone fare.

Arakawa Under The Bridge – Deep Blue 1

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Arakawa Under The Bridge – Ookina Hoshi no Hashi no Shita

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House of Five Leaves
Classifying the soundtrack to House of Five Leaves can be a bit of a challenge since the wide range of tracks that it brings to the forefront consist of the sort of traditional/modern fusion, most evident in the eponymous “Saraiya Goyou.” The music is a mix of erhu fare draped across a more modern rhythm, the type that you’d hear if you ever decided to venture into a Asian hairdressing salon. Though this fusion can be a bit jarring if you were expecting more traditional fare from an anime that focuses on a time period where samurai are commonplace, the few times the more modern sounds pop up aren’t jarring enough to detract from the overall experience. With that, the soundtrack to House of Five Leaves should be seen as an opportunity to immerse oneself in the anime’s setting through tracks such as “Edo Sarasara,” which features a longing, nostalgic tone or “Warebe Jidai’s” plaintive piano melody that instills a shimmering of hope later on in the piece.

Saraiya Goyou – Saraiya Goyou

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Saraiya Goyou – Warabe Jidai

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The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya
The much-anticipated sequel to the controversial second season of the unstoppable Haruhi franchise wasn’t a disappointment, bringing with it a blockbuster soundtrack to go along with the acclaimed animation. Weighing in as this writer’s #2 soundtrack of the year, Disappearance’s OST tells a narrative unto itself. It takes the sensitive contrast of Bungaku Shoujo but removes the homogeneity that plagued Bungaku Shoujo by taking the chance of actually creating the tension it seeks to resolve. Some have called it overdone, but considering the all-encompassing cosmic event that the story undertakes, I believe it admirably supports the action without coming off as cheesy. The contrast of tone between tracks can be so severe to the point of almost being jarring, but the excitement it generates is undeniable. Satoru Kousaki and company do a commendable job of writing for texture as much as taste, to use a culinary term. His instrumentation and choice of what is playing seems just as well thought out as what is actually being played; and that is what separates the good soundtracks from the great ones. And how many soundtracks have the courage to end with an acapella, solo vocal number? Not many.

Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu – Gymnopedies Dai 1-ban

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Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu – Itsumo no Fuukei de Owaru Monogatari

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Shiki
Shiki had pretty much everything that I looked for from a horror show, from the atmosphere to the surprise twists and turns to the excellent characterization. As with most horror shows, much of the appeal lies in the atmosphere, and on that front, Yasuharu Takanashi cultivates the suspense through tracks like “Epitaph,” which amplify the mood of uncertainty that settles upon the anime’s setting through their disconcerting tones. The strings and wispy vocals, in tracks like “Pendulum” and “Mosaic,” also reinforce the horror elements as they exude that aura of tragedy and despair, resulting in one of the more engaging horror anime scores out there.

Shiki – Epitaph

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Shiki – Mosaic

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Tamayura
If you’ve ever had the occasion to watch a Junichi Sato anime, you’ll quickly notice the emphasis that he places upon making sure the anime’s music matches with his directorial vision. His track record, on the whole, might not be stellar, but the soundtracks that accompany his shows certainly are. Tamayura is another anime in a long line of Sato-directed works that truly shines in its soundtrack, which takes a light, nostalgic atmosphere carried by the piano, strings, and woodwinds to weave calm, free-flowing music. The anime itself delves very much upon the dualities of nostalgia and discovery, and Tamayura’s soundtrack embraces the warmth, earnestness, and brimming curiosity that the characters exhibit. Most of all, much of Tamayura’s music hearkens towards the Choro Club’s relaxing fare for the ARIA franchise, easily winning many of us over with Nobuyuki Nakajima’s compositional delights. After all, you know how much we adore ARIA’s soundtrack, right?

Tamayura – Tamayura ~ Main Theme

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Tamayura – Kaeranai Hibi

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Letter Bee
Although Ryo Kunihiko’s efforts on the Victorian Romance Emma soundtrack deserves a lot of plaudits, I would still argue that his strengths lie in composing the epic adventurous music heard in Twelve Kingdoms and the Aion MMORPG. The latter work especially plays a big role in Letter Bee’s soundtrack as it channels the concept of high adventure and the ardor of mystery that permeates the anime’s setting of Amber Ground through tracks like the eponymous “Canon of Amber Ground” with its Gregorian chants and “Seirei Kohaku,” which channels the sense of loneliness and isolation through a tension-filled introduction that gives way to the wandering strings around the middle. With their dissonant synth and electronica, the battle tracks aren’t nearly as solid as the adventuring pieces. On the whole, though, the music brings out the action and excitement, making it a very enjoyable ride.

Letter Bee – Canon of AMBER GROUND

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Letter Bee – Seirei Kohaku

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Senko no Night Raid
With a setting revolving around the political and militaristic machinations going on in China in 1931, it’s not surprising to see Senko no Night Raid’s blend of music that fits in with the spirit of the era as well as its cultural setting. What that means is that its score features elements of jazz, Chinese-like melodies, and some of the better-known works of composers Fritz Kreisler and Sergei Rachmaninoff. One of the best examples of this lies in the first track, “Mission to Complete,” which fuses a big-band backdrop with Taro Hakase’s impeccable violin performance to evoke the anime’s many action scenes. Other tracks, like “Order of Infiltration” feel like they’re straight out of some covert ops video game while the Chinese-sounding tracks make use of the erhu to match with the cultural setting. As enjoyable as those are in the overall presentation, I still find myself drawn in by Fritz Kreisler’s “Praeludium und Allegro im Stile von Gaetano Pugnani,” with its melancholy aura, fitting if you view it under the lens of foreshadowing in light of the atrocities that Japan would commit when it occupied Manchuria.

Senkou no Night Raid – The Mission to Complete

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Senkou no Night Raid – Praeludium und Allegro im Stile von Gaetano Pugnani

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Final Notes:
Yes, there is one prominent soundtrack that came out in 2010 that has not yet been mentioned, but truth be told, we just don’t like it very much. We will, however, give a nod to “Champion” though, mostly since it didn’t get discussed in the review itself and the song is actually pretty awesome.

Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt – Champion feat Emyli

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Also, is anyone going to crucify us for not having Heroman or Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru? And what about Kousaki’s Star Driver? Anyways, feel free to drop a comment if you think we dropped the ball for not mentioning those. Also, do look forward to the OP/ED segment which should come out at some point in the next week or so.

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.

16 thoughts on “2010’s Anime Music in Review – Soundtrack Edition

  • June 1, 2011 at 1:09 am
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    Wow, just listening to these tracks brings back some great memories. And some new treats as well, since I never saw Bungaku Shoujo. I really have to get a copy of the DRRR OST. :drools: Of course there are a bunch of CDs I really want to buy, when life gives me a chance.

    And just in case nobody else does it, sure, I’ll give you some grief over not including SoreMachi :angry face: Of course I don’t have a copy of that either, so I’m just going on fond memories of the anime. I seem to remember some “mysterious” bgm, and, of course, for a comedy, some high energy tunes. Maybe y’all will find a copy some day and realize the error of your ways.

    Reply
  • June 1, 2011 at 6:17 am
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    Oh? I’m very surprised to see a no-show from Yosuga no Sora. Imo it should’ve been on this list of top 10… unless it didn’t count as 2010 because the ost didn’t come out until the BDs did?

    ps. Great article :)

    Reply
  • June 2, 2011 at 5:03 am
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    I can see all my ost picks on the list: Letter Bee, Sora no Woto, House of 5 Leaves, Katanagatari and Angel Beats were my favourites of the past year. But Tatami Galaxy and Bungaku Shoujo are noteworthy in my book as well. I really love the piano version of ‘Watashi no Theme’. Listening to it in solitude stirs up some poignant sentiments. I gotta say that there’s something for everyone in all these soundtracks. One might not like every single piece in a single album but one can find something that strikes a chord or two that reminds them of a certain scene in which they were composed for.

    Thank you for putting this review together. Really enjoyable going thru the samples you gaiz put up. *Cheers*

    Reply
  • June 2, 2011 at 11:08 am
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    @Joojoobees
    I’m hoping life gets a chance to drop me some spare change as well, especially in light with all the good albums that are coming out soon. Unfortunately, survival is ranked on a higher plane than anime music at the moment (maybe I have my priorities all wrong).

    But yes, Sore Machi is definitely an album that we do need to check out given its composer does the music for ROUND TABLE (without Nino this time).

    @Lollipop
    Here’s where I privately gripe about the fact that, no matter how hard we try, we always seem to leave something out. And with Yosuga no Sora, I am well aware that the show does have some solid music though I have not listened to it myself (so if you can toss a few tracks my way, that’d be much appreciated!).

    @Ayumikat
    Glad to know we’ve pretty much grabbed all of one person’s selections! I think Watashi’s Theme easily wins for my favorite single piece of the year and the piano version… hard to say whether that’s more heartrending or not, but I love it as much as I love the string versions. Just so beautiful and wonderfully nostalgic~

    Reply
  • June 4, 2011 at 4:41 pm
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    Ah, I see. I thought it was decided that it was not worthy of being in the list.

    Reply
    • June 5, 2011 at 1:08 am
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      @Lollipop
      In all likelihood, it is, but yeah, we just haven’t put it in. That said, I do like that piano track in the beginning……

      Reply
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  • June 13, 2011 at 10:23 pm
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    A Koto/accordion duet in the Ho5L track! My mind was blown.

    Reply
  • June 13, 2011 at 11:29 pm
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    @Telegraph
    Definitely! I’m not sure whether to be awed or amused by the traditional/modern dichotomy that this piece exhibited, but it’s very enjoyable in the way it puts you into the right mood. Also, the erhu tracks are a can’t miss, especially of the traditional music is your kind of thing!

    Reply
  • June 19, 2011 at 11:13 pm
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    I just finished watching the Arrietty movie, and the music turned out exceptionally fitting for the film. The soundtrack was already brought to my attention via several sites (including this blog, of course :P), but the soundtrack really did a great job at adding life to a lot of the scenes in the movie.

    Of course, by itself the soundtrack is still excellent, just in the context of the movie it was even more noticeable and pronounced. Now I just need to get my hands on that OST >:3

    Reply
    • June 21, 2011 at 10:46 pm
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      @Tsuki
      You have no idea how much I’m looking forward to Arrietty’s soundtrack. Or maybe you do! Hopefully I can get my hands on it for some pre-listening before I spoil myself watching the movie. And that’s something I’ll definitely do.

      Reply
  • June 29, 2011 at 1:50 am
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    Glad you gave a shout out to Tamayura. ^ ^

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  • January 2, 2014 at 10:14 pm
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    Would you please tell me what instruments are played on the song Amayo from the House of Five Leaves (http://youtu.be/z3fqzwVasFw) Thank you very much! Amazing website a shame I did not find it before!

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    • January 6, 2014 at 2:48 am
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      @menx64
      Well, from the start, you definitely have the piano taking up much of the melody. After that, a flute of some sort, specifically, a bamboo flute. It’s definitely a wonderful duet! Hope this helps!

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