In August? Man, at this rate, the 2012 music roundup post won’t be released until 2014 at the earliest!
Starting last year, we decided that an anime soundtrack retrospective wouldn’t be a bad idea. Doing so serves two functions: it allows people to get an idea for what stuff we liked and think are worth checking out and it allows us to go over worthy soundtracks that we simply could not find the time to review but still want people to know about. Narrowing the list down to 15 was not going to be an easy task, but we do hope you enjoy what’s in store here.
Do note that clips presented will be played in their entirety. We do hope you discover something new or get to reminisce over some tune that impressed you during the course of last year. And for those who like a long playlist that they can listen to while at work, we’ve included the Master List below.
Boisterous, momentous, epic. Those are the words the come to mind upon hearing the fanfare and theme from “Gundam AGE ~ The Story of 100 Years” and its effect leaves one eager to see what new stories this franchise has to tell. Kei Yoshikawa, who performed admirably scoring SD Gundam Sangokuden, once again delivers a work that easily measures up to Gundam scores of years past (setting aside, for a moment, messes like Kenji Kawai’s Gundam 00’s soundtrack). As one delves further into this soundtrack, the bombast succeeds in drawing forth loads of inspiration and capturing all of the action that goes on. So while Gundam AGE’s soundtrack strays pretty far from being subtle and nuanced, fans will find Yoshikawa’s efforts to be excellent on a standalone basis as the action gets underway and the main theme impresses in all of its incarnations.
Mobile Suit Gundam AGE – Gundam AGE ~ The Story of 100 Years
Mobile Suit Gundam AGE – Dogfight
Hunter X Hunter
Yoshihisa Hirano does seem to be getting undeserved flak for his OST for the 2011 remake of Hunter x Hunter. Well, haters can hate, but we stand firm on the opinion that his remake of HxH is every bit as good as the original, and even better in some aspects. Hirano doesn’t fail to satisfy longtime fans of his works by providing his usual graceful waltzes like “Ginpatsu no Shounen,” beautiful requiems like that of “Chichi no Senaka,” as well as the good old orchestral pieces like “Boys, Be Courageous!” But one does not land an OST among the top simply by being consistent. Like Sahashi before him, Hirano took the opportunity to incorporate new genres and styles. Latin spices tracks like “Kijutsushi no Baire,” the sleazy and humourous pieces like “All I Need Is MONEY!,” lighthearted marches in “Get Funky!,” and a number of rock based themes like “Ikkiuchi!” all bring new dimensions to Hirano’s style, making HxH one of the most diverse and enjoyable soundtracks of 2011.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica
There’s always that familiar, stale satisfaction when fans learn that Yuki Kajiura is scoring a show. That’s because Kajiura is as predictable as she is excellent; she never disappoints but is just as unlikely to surprise. I’d rather not delve into another trite tirade of the typical Kajiuran gripes, but a warranty of this nature is necessary for a discussion of Puella Magi Madoka Magica’s soundtrack. The standard descriptions apply, as they do to all Kajiura scores. Dark, moody, and atmospheric? Check. Liberally peppered with hammy moments of grandiose uplift? Yes. Strong whiffs of Celtic and Arabic influence? Definitely. Suffice it to say, it’s a testament as to just how good she’s gotten at her own game that she can write so much similar music time and time again but still be praised for it. Is it good? Well, yeah, but is the sky blue?
Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Sis puella magica!
Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Venari strigas
Last Exile: Fam the Silver Wing
A soundtrack that can tell a tale of world-encompassing proportions on its own is rare, but Last Exile’s OST pulls this off quite remarkably. In pieces like “Amazing Land”, whose rolling swells depict endless horizons stretching into the distance, the music paints a splendid picture of a wonderfully nostalgic world – a place whose vastness keeps adventure within easy grasp. And indeed, there is plenty of adventure to be found. As heard in the likes of “Silver Wing”, a breathless launch into unexplored skies, and “Gamesmanship”, a precipitous fugue of battle, there is never a shortage of the tumultuous action that this soundtrack excels at. Nevertheless, the grandiose nature of the music also serves to enhance the poignancy of pieces like “My Favorite Home”, a wonderfully reminiscent song that perfectly captures the warm feelings of returning home at long last. When considering Last Exile’s skillful use of Celtic themes, no other soundtrack in 2011 portrayed an epic journey through an exotic world nearly as well.
Shiro Hamaguchi’s efforts on Hanasaku Iroha’s soundtrack possess a cheery aura that makes most every track difficult to resist. The soundtrack shines through its themes, many of which reflect the energy and optimism that the protagonist, Ohana Matsumae, packs in spades. Nowhere is that more evident than in “Hajimari no Neiro” which absolutely dazzles through the hopeful-sounding piano solo. And then there are tracks like “Soyokaze ni Nabiku Kusa no Youni” which capture the flow of ordinary life through a slow-paced guitar melody that seems content to let one relax. These two tracks encompass the mix of optimism and relaxing moods that the soundtrack features. While some parts aren’t quite as memorable, it still stands as a competent effort, one that works as a wonderful mood-setter to draw you into the anime and keep you entranced.
Hanasaku Iroha – Hajimari no Neiro
Hanasaku Iroha – Soyokaze ni Nabiku Kusa no Youni
The comparison between Hiroyuki Sawano and Hans Zimmer seems to be the standard reaction whenever anyone encounters one of his soundtracks these days, and for good reason: Guilty Crown’s soundtrack showcases Sawano’s ability to bring the brash and bold Hollywood sound to the anime medium, taking a variety of instruments from orchestra to rock instruments to synthesizers and combining them in a way that delivers some of the most intense experiences you’ll ever have listening to anime music. Tracks like “Ω” and “Βασιλεύς,” for example, feature an intensity that materializes in the purposeful rhythm and the crescendos which have been Sawano’s trademark since… seemingly forever. But while the intense BGMs might be the highlight, let’s not forget some of the songs, like Aimee Blackschleger’s (who worked on the Panty and Stocking OST) soul-stirring “Release My Soul.” So while the anime was a crappy affair, Sawano’s score stands out as one of the show’s few bright spots – so much so that shackling it to this show is nothing short of a travesty.
Guilty Crown – Ω
Guilty Crown – Βασιλεύς
KyoAni couldn’t have chosen better when they decided to have Yuji Nomi contribute the music for Nichijou. Nomi’s expertise in painting whimsically fantastic soundscapes is nearly unmatched, and if anything, Nichijou is definitely a show more fantastic than most. Half of the time, the music is a reflection of the over-the-top nature of the show, such as in “Ooki Suguri Shokku”. In what sounds like an excerpt from a classical symphony, the orchestra passionately plays a requiem of doom, the perfect backdrop for when a character dramatically falls into despair over failing a test. However, while this classical style contributes to the exaggerated nature of the show, it also leads to tracks that are more melodious than what one would normally find in a comedy. “Happi Shinonime Kenkyuujo”, for example, crafts a deliciously warm atmosphere by turning the normally energetic main theme into a lyrically stirring refrain. Nevertheless, the OST never loses the lively atmosphere epitomized by “Choushiduku Yukko”, whose energy matches the crazy antics of the show to a T. If there’s anything to complain about at all, it’s that the soundtrack is a little on the short side. Nevertheless, it’s an insignificant issue in comparison to the delightful themes that populate the OST.
Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai
REMEDIOS (aka Reimy Horikawa) is a newcomer to the anime scene, and her opening act with the score for Anohana is one of deafening softspokenness. Horikawa has dabbled in the past in J-drama soundtracks, and the experience shows. There’s a certain fleet-footed elegance to the way Anohana’s music handles itself; it’s sensitive and dramatic without being unengaging or melodramatic, and, considering the show’s subject material, that’s quite the feat. It would be easy to dismiss some of the offerings here as “sad, tinkly piano music,” but to do that would be a great disservice. The clear distinction here is that Anohana’s soundtrack is sad, tinkly piano music done rather well. It walks that fine line better than most, and that’s enough to get our nod.
Ano Hana – Before It Gets Dark
Ano Hana – Dark Waltz ～ the long tunnel
Break Blade has a score which you would never expect to find in an anime, let alone a full film. It’s one of those soundtracks that sound like it’s trying to capture events indescribably huge or emotions inexpressibly powerful. In just the first measures of the main theme, “Destiny”, the impassioned orchestra and choirs of impending disaster are proven to be the norm for a soundtrack that tells a legendary story on its own. From “Toward Resolution”, a depiction of the thick fog of unease before conflict, to “Prayer”, a restrained but hopeful hymn, to the enthralling battle rush of “Sinfonia on the Battlefield”, the Break Blade soundtrack tells a comprehensively vivid tale. It’s stuff like this OST that makes one wonder why Hollywood music is rarely anything like this. After all, if a mecha anime gets this kind of stuff, why not a movie with ten times the budget?
Ao no Exorcist
Despite his relative inexperience compared to the heavyweights in the anime arena, Hiroyuki Sawano once again shows that he is not to be taken lightly. Within the span of 5 years, he has presented us with stellar works like that of Gigantic Formula, Gundam Unicorn and Sengoku BASARA. 2011 presented us with two more solid projects: Guilty Crown and Ao no Exorcist. Ao no Exorcist was definitely not overshadowed by that of Guilty Crown; its music blended with the anime’s atmosphere perfectly. Sawano’s familiar electronic sounds lent themselves well to energetic tracks like “Exorcist Concerto 3rd Movement,” while his skill at conjuring up reflective and mellow tracks has vastly improved, yielding pieces like “Symphonic Suite DEVIL 2nd Movement” that would give even Joe Hisaishi a run for his money. Recently, he has also included more collaborations with vocalist Mika Kobayashi, whose rich and relaxed voice weaved itself beautifully into many of the tracks in this OST. All in all, Ao no Exorcist is an excellent representation of Sawano’s works, and definitely spiced up the 2011 anime scene.
Blue Exorcist – Dai San Gakushou: U & Cloud
Blue Exorcist – Dai Ni Gakushou: i-AM
Yukari Hashimoto’s track record for compositions has been inconsistent at best, but one should never rule her out entirely, especially when she has the capacity to compose something that’s as heartrendingly beautiful as “The Children of Fate.” With a solo piano giving way to a full ensemble, the chain of tragedies that lie at the heart of the anime comes to light and is reflected brilliantly in this first track from Mawaru Penguindrum’s soundtrack. The other pieces, like “Sparkling’s” sense of innocence to “Penguin Mission’s” jazzy flavor, lack any sort of thematic consistency that would make them memorable beyond their use in complementing the scenes, but at least it plays that role well enough. If nothing else, listening to Penguindrum’s OST serves as an excellent way to relive some of the more heartfelt, tragic moments the anime serves up.
Mawaru Penguindrum – The Children of Fate
Mawaru Penguindrum – Penguin Mission
Ikoku Meiro no Croisée
A good relaxed slice-of-life soundtrack is hard to write without making the music forgettably generic. The anime of 2011 proved this point clearly with the large influx of drama/slice-of-life series that it brought. Out of all of them, very few titles pulled off the enjoyable, laid-back OST successfully (Hanasaku Iroha and Ano Hana come to mind as soundtracks that didn’t do as well in this department). Ikoku Meiro no Croisee succeeds however. With music that becomes catchier with each relistening, Ikoku is soothing without losing the ability to be engaging. Tracks like “So Ra So Mi” and “Hanasakus Machi no Waltz” aren’t obtrusively fancy, but they nevertheless manage to captivate with remarkably simple melodies that stick long after one hears them. The infectiously cheerful feeling that permeates the whole OST in the form of humming oboes and singing violins leaves a warm feeling without fail, an effect that a truly good slice-of-life OST should always have.
There are soundtracks that try to capture the grand and the fantastic. There are others that strive to paint wrenching emotion and tragedy. If you ask me, though, the most difficult to depict most faithfully is that which we are most accustomed to, which is exactly why Usagi Drop’s score is such a success. It displays the frail rituals and delicate routines that we depend on in our daily lives with such sensitive acuity and frank honesty that it’s impossible to not get sucked in. Usagi Drop’s OST carefully builds these precious, fragile vignettes of life that sound like they could topple at any second. It’s not the most exciting or intricate score Japanese animation has ever seen, but it’s certainly among the most genuine and sincere ones.
Usagi Drop – Hitori no Onnanoko
Usagi Drop – Yorokobi
Yumekui Merry doesn’t waste any time in laying out out the setting as it immediately plunges you into its world of nightmares. As you explore the environs further, Keiichi Oku’s score lurks around, delivering a sound that sets your nerves on edge. Yumekui Merry’s main theme is born out of that effort and it does a remarkable job of using dissonance and melodic shifts to capture the sheer unnerving moments interspersed by quieter moments of false calm that fade out, leaving only hidden terrors remaining. That’s not the only track to impress, of course, as others like “Merry no Kunou” work the piano and, later, the violin solo to yield a lonely, melancholy affair that teeters on the brink of despair. It’s by far the most memorable, however, one that grasps the anime in a nutshell and that most listeners will take away from the anime.
Yumekui Merry – Main Theme
Yumekui Merry – Merry no Kunou
A task like whittling all of 2011’s soundtracks down to 15 (Chihayafuru’s soundtrack was highlighted in the 2011 Best-Of post) is fraught with peril as it forces us to make quite a few cuts. After all, who are we to say that soundtracks from shows like Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere and Dantalian no Shoka don’t belong and that some of the ones listed here should have not made the cut? While you wait for us to (slowly) cobble our list of OP/EDs, feel free to voice what impressed, what you thought should have made the cut, and whatever else comes to mind!