There is no instrument that has dominated the soundtrack scene quite like the pianoforte. If you think about it, it’s not really that surprising. Practically thinking, using a piano cuts labor costs – whereas it would normally take around five violinists (or ten piccoloists, but no one wants to listen to that many piccolos anyway) to sound ten different notes at once, one pianist can handle that, no sweat. But that’s beside the point. With a clear and crisp tone that can duplicate the delicate shimmering of bells or summon an impassioned thundering of notes, the piano is truly beautiful in its own right.
Since anime is also awesome and this post is on an anime music blog, I have to connect my obsessing over the instrument to anime somehow. That’s where notable piano solos in anime come in. Below are ten tracks (in no particular order) that I believe represent the best of piano in anime BGM. Before someone asks me “where’s Hisaishi’s ‘One Summer’s Day’, ‘Ashitaka and San’, ‘Sixth Station’, etc. etc..?”, let me clarify. When I said solo, I meant it literally. I know that a solo can still have an accompaniment, but to prevent myself from being overwhelmed by the sheer number of options, tracks with anything other than piano weren’t considered. With that cleared up, let’s get started!
One crucial role the piano has come to serve in anime BGM (well, BGM in general, now that I think about it) is the performance of those melancholy pieces that usually accompany the emotional and/or gloomy parts of a show. It isn’t too much of a surprise that the pianoforte has risen to this task, since even in quiet solitude it never sounds “empty”. Such is the case in “Watashi no Theme”, a piano rendition of Tatami Galaxy’s protagonist’s theme. I love the wistful ache in this track because it speaks of so many things, be it loneliness, unreachable dreams, or nostalgic pasts. It conveys the kind of sadness that’s associated with wandering alone on a busy street pondering what went wrong in life (did I mention it’s raining? Well it is). All of these notions are packed in without the music ever rising above its restrained atmosphere. That’s pretty impressive, considering the standard emotional work establishes mood with dramatic displays of passionate zeal.
Watashi no Theme (Piano ver.) – Tatami Galaxy
Of course that doesn’t mean a depressing piece has to hold itself back to be impacting. Case in point: “The Will (Piano ver.)”, from the Rurouni Kenshin ~Tsuiokuhen~ OVA. In all aspects, the piece resembles a requiem, a composition for the dead, and it definitely isn’t taking the celebratory approach to the funeral. The deliberate funerary march chords tread on with heavy steps, until things finally escalate into powerful and impassioned hysterics as all the guests burst into tears. It’s an absolutely dismal piece that is depression incarnate, adept for darkening my spirits further when I’m in a foul mood.
The Will (Piano ver.) – Rurouni Kenshin ~Tsuiokuhen~
But enough with these dreary tracks, let’s move onto something a little more lively! I’ve always enjoyed Mina Kubota’s melancholy piano compositions, but I like her upbeat tracks just as much. “Sora no Theme (piano ver.)” has a spring in its step that’s ridiculously infectious to the ear. After the bouncy beginning, the vivacity only slacks off in a middle portion that’s symbolic of obstacles and hardship with its downer atmosphere. Nevertheless, the contrast when things pick up again is wonderful, giving the end a soaring finish that’s confidently triumphant. After listening to “The Will” one too many times, this is the perfect, refreshing pick-me-up.
Sora no Theme (Piano ver.) – Kaleido Star
The buoyantly jazzy “Livremente ~ Chiisana Itazura” will always be on hand, just in case I need backup, though. In this animated piano tune, the notes dance, quick on their feet. The resultant sprightly and frolicsome sound gives the piece a charming spontaneity that I’m terribly fond of. Coupled with the addictive rhythms, this is music that wants you to move right along with it. Indeed, practically all of Ken Muramatsu’s catchy piano jazz deserves some mention here, since I had such a difficult time choosing one out of the many options he’s composed.
Livremente ~ Chiisana Itazura – Kurenai
The next piece doesn’t just want you to dance, it is a dance. A waltz to be more precise. “Introduction & Waltz”, once it begins with its showy chords and scales, quite obviously derives its inspiration from classical music. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is what I appreciate the most about it. Adorning a spirited, regal melody with a generous amount of florid flourishes, the solo sounds much too fancy and dramatic to be anything but in good fun. In the end, all I’m able to do is tap my feet and savor the melodramatic music.
Introduction & Waltz – Ouran High School Host Club
The next selection is a relaxed piece fittingly titled “Bartender” (guess what anime it’s from. You get one try). This track is the kind of laid back composition that you’d expect to hear playing in perhaps, well, a bar. It doesn’t aim to have you experience an emotional catharsis, an ecstatic high, or anything extreme of the sort. It’s simply a pleasant piece that opts to create an easygoing atmosphere which conveys a contented and unhurried sensation that’s enjoyable, especially as a break. After all, listening to sentimentally weighted stuff all the time can become a little tiring.
Bartender – Bartender
“BARTENDER” might have been nonchalant, but compared to the next solo it’s as turbulent as a stormy sea. From the anime franchise Aria, “Soshite Fune wa Iku” is sublimely bucolic in a way nothing else has quite been able to match. The aural experience is so enchanting; the music gains a picturesque beauty, turning silence into calm water and sound waves into shimmering ripples on a crystal surface. It’s so wonderfully soothing that listening to it is akin to an emotional cleansing. Take my word for it: it becomes very hard to entertain any heartfelt ugly thoughts when this is playing within hearing distance.
Soshite Fune wa Iku – Aria the Animation
From Binchou-Tan, “Ameoto” is also notable in its serenity. However, it possesses a different kind of calm. This little composition has not the serenity of water but the dreaminess of air (it’s air-headed! Get it?). Instead of following a very distinct melody, the notes, like a breeze, seem to wander, meandering from one half-formed reality to the next, only lightly brushing existences and never closely interacting. I think of the music as Impressionist in nature – the concepts are formed, yet they do not have distinctive boundaries. It’s as if they’re not quite there. All of this makes for a very unique ethereal and otherworldly aura that’s incredibly well-crafted.
Ameoto – Binchou Tan
Of course the top ten would have to include some selections that expound on love, the emotion humans have been obsessed with since forever. What better way to start than with a track from the anime adaptation of the classic love story Romeo and Juliet? “Deai”, or “Encounter”, chooses to depict the innocent side of the sentiment. While the music remains quietly affectionate for the entire duration, it also conveys a sensation of movement. How this quickening influences the flow of the music, thereby capturing the sensations of first love, is truly this piece’s strong point. It creates the perfect portrait of two enamored lovers, hearts stirring as they spend brief, stolen moments of time in each other’s company. Thinking of these images, I get mushy every time hearing the heartwarming sentiments this piece gushes.
Deai – Romeo x Juliet
And finally, Tenmon. This guy knows how take a lovely tune and arrange it into an even lovelier sounding piano work. “One more time, One more chance (Piano ver.) is probably my favorite out of them all. The theme itself is quite beautiful already, but that isn’t what I consider the forte of this track, especially since it repeats so many times. Instead, what makes this work unique is the feeling with which it is performed. Every rendition of the theme is different – sometimes it’s played delicately and tenderly, other times it’s performed powerfully and passionately. Consequently, the melody is transformed every time it’s repeated, capturing a different aspect of love every time.
One More Time, One More Chance (Piano ver.) – Byousoku 5 Centimeter
So there we are, ten notable piano solos from anime BGM. As I said before, there were many, many tracks that I wanted to include but couldn’t either because of lack of space or inclusions of other instruments (Albergo from Gunslinger Girl, anyone?). I may have also clear-out forgotten some well deserving compositions (which you can feel free to remind me of in the comments).