Introduction: Winter’s days are cold, dark, but mercifully short, very much like the list of shows that have caught my interest this season. Normally, the soundtrack aspect would give me sufficient cause to add a few more to my watch list, but for whatever reason, I can’t seem to be able to scrounge up the will to sit through subpar shows in the vain hope of uncovering some great tunes. I already have quite a stack of soundtracks to review anyway and people probably want more of my time to be dedicated to that, I’m sure. Besides, if I happen to miss a show with good music, you all will tell me, right?
On the plus side, as you can probably tell from the recent spate of posts, we’re getting back into gear, and a a preview isn’t a bad way to go. With that, here’s a list of what to anticipate from the plot front (slight importance) and, as always, the music front (more important).
Maoyuu Maou Yuusha
Composer: Takeshi Hama
Synopsis: War had long ensued between the Humans and Demons until the unlikely team-up that occurs between the Demon Queen and the Hero seeks to bring all of that conflict to an end. The main challenges: stopping the war without disrupting the positive economic and social impact that war brings to society, abolishing serfdom, educating the serfs, and turn their society into an anarcho-syndicalist commune.
Zzeroparticle’s Thoughts: Takeshi Hama’s anime discography is pretty thin with credits with the only notable shows being Devil May Cry (which probably was only notable if you cared about the video game) and Kobato (CLAMP). Despite my lack of familiarity with his works, I’ve been enjoying Maoyuu Maou Yuusha’s score so far. The scene in episode 1 where the Demon Queen twists the Hero’s hand just a bit had some heartwarming piano music and there were serene moments carried by the strings here and there which stood out enough to catch my ear and leave me looking forward to more. Furthermore, as a dismal scientist, the premise is intriguing enough to keep me around, giving me even more opportunities to see what develops and listen to Hama’s compositions.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 2
Composer: Taku Iwasaki
Synopsis: Joseph Joestar pulls tommy guns out of his pants, just as keikaku’s every villain that he comes up against, and mixes it up with Nazis and Pillar Men like Santana. But that’s the sort of crazy hijinks we’ve come to know and love from Jojo.
Zzeroparticle’s Thoughts: That they switched composers midstream was a bit of a surprise since Hayato Matsuo had been doing a good job with the music thus far. An Iwasaki swap isn’t a bad trade even if I’m not a big fan of his more recent fare like Jormungand, but his contributions to Jojo have not brought any complaints from me beyond them not standing out a whole lot. As for why the composer switch happened, I have the suspicion that it reflects a change in character; Hayato Matsuo’s flowing orchestral melodies are a good fit for Jonathan Joestar, who strived to be a paragon of nobility, elegance, and grace, but a whirlwind of destruction when needed. On the other hand, Joseph Joestar is more of a thug-like character who rules by guts, grit, and plays by his own rules. In that vein, Iwasaki’s harsher fare aligns better with Joseph’s idiom.
Composer: Tomoko Kataoka
Synopsis: The life of a cute girl whose family has been making mochi for generations, her friends, neighbors, and her family. Throw in a self-centered talking bird for some random mischief and that’s about it, really.
Zzeroparticle’s Thoughts: Tomoko Kataoka, who was a part of a group called instant cytron with Goro Nagase, doesn’t have many anime credits to her name, and honestly, with a show like Tamako Market, they really didn’t need someone hugely experienced anyhow. The plainness of the plot (wait, plot?) requires little beyond chippy ambience; you hardly need grand, sweeping orchestrals or layers of counterpoint for a show like this (though I do wish it were more in the vein of a sketchbook soundtrack. But no; repetitive jazz organs pieces, a scattering of muzak, and whimsical half-measures are basically what we get, and it’s not like anyone was expecting remarkable music out of Tamako Market anyhow. Just watch the cute overload, I guess.
Aftershok’s Thoughts: It’s funny how Nichijou sort of changed the game for me where slice-of-life shows are concerned, musically anyway. I never expected much out of slice-of-life, music or otherwise, but Nichijou‘s brilliant score changed all of that. It was exciting where it could have been mundane and clever where it could have been vanilla, and it was one of the greatest soundtracks of that year. Is it so wrong to start to expect the same from other shows of the genre? People like to give anime like these a pass when it comes to the score, but I think it’s an unfair dismissal. The setting isn’t a constraint on writing good music, it’s a unique opportunity to explore different ways to write music. Nichijou proved that it can be done, and done well. Tamako Market is by the same studio as Nichijou, Kyoto Animation, the studio with the absolutely uncanny, downright Faustian ability to create stunning, nuanced animation on a TV budget that no other studio can quite emulate. How about lending some of that magic to the soundtrack, KyoAni?
Mondai-Ji-tachi ga Isekai Kara Kuru Sou Desu yo?
Composer: Shiro Hamaguchi
Synopsis: Three teenagers whose powers exceed those of normal humans are chosen by a mystical telegram that teleports them to a fantasy realm where they must partake in RPG-style minigames and/or combat to gain intangible benefits to their persons.
Zzeroparticle’s Thoughts: The premise is bland, the characters don’t interest me, and worse, Shiro Hamaguchi phones it in from the very beginning. Hamaguchi’s been doing a lot of work as of late, what with 2012 yielding the enjoyable Tari Tari soundtrack and the less-enjoyable-but-still-passable Girls und Panzer soundtrack. The slide that happened with Girls und Panzer continues here. Faults range from the lack of a theme that would make me excited, instruments which feel as though they’re drawn from a sound library, and RPG music made boring. With nothing to capture my attention, I’ll just let this float by the wayside.
Aftershok’s Thoughts: This is Hamaguchi’s third show in the past three seasons, and his record has been irregular at best, downright bizarre at worst. After doing decently enough with Tari Tari, he seemingly decided to call it quits after writing a handful of melodies for Girls und Panzer, copypasta-ing the same material over and over again throughout the score. He doesn’t seem to want to pick up the slack here, either, because what we’ve heard so far feels pretty uninspired. If we can get at least one “Panzer Vor!” from this show, though, I’d call it a success.
Composer: Hideyuki Fukasawa
Synopsis: The Manifestation Engine has solved all of Earth’s energy problems. Unfortunately, that attracted attention from beings called Alone who then invade, forcing Akane and company to turn into Strike Witches/My-Otome knockoffs.
Zzeroparticle’s Thoughts: Much of Fukasawa’s work is centered on the Street Fighter franchise with anime credits going to shows like Kore wa Zombie and Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto. From the description, you can probably guess that I’m not hugely enamored by the premise, but the music so far has the percussive feel of an Ace Combat track and the low brass fanfares that prove to be uplifting and enjoyable, at least, during the fight scenes. The calmer, slice of life fare don’t stand out much, so the score stands a decent chance of falling into mediocrity if the combat-to-daily life ratios shrink.
Composer: Yukari Hashimoto
Synopsis: Sasami lives with her brother and can never summon up the will to go outside and join mainstream society. So instead, she stays at home on her computer, uses some camera to track her brother’s whereabouts, and finds that the world suddenly overflows in chocolate as a weapons system in a high schooler’s body, a teacher, and another student combat this oddity. Did you get lost from that? Well, I feel for you!
Zzeroparticle’s Thoughts: Yukari Hashimoto’s compositions have been inconsistent at best. While she’s known for being capable of writing beautiful music like “The Children of Fate” for Mawaru Penguindrum’s soundtrack, most of the time, she feels content to just go for atmosphere or ambiance. That certainly seems to be the case here, with jazzy bits and electronica come together to create a competent, but forgettable soundtrack. The problem is that I’ve yet to discern any track to anchor Sasami-san@Ganbaranai thematically. Oh well. The anime does look promising, so I’ll have no problems sticking with it for awhile longer to see what diverse set of genres Hashimoto brings to the table and whether any of her compositional efforts will bear fruit.
Aftershok’s Thoughts: Hashimoto’s strength is in her variety. In just the first episode of Sasami-san, the score has ranged from icy-cool synth-based electronica to earthy blues jazz-rock to laid-back piano muzak. Her admirable ability to disregard the pretense of genre and still sound cohesive is countered by her frequent failure to be consistently interesting. “Consistent” seems to be the buzz word for Hashimoto, because if the rest of her work were as good as some of her best efforts (“The Children of Fate” from Penguindrum, “Lost my Pieces” of Toradora!), she would a force to be reckoned with, indeed.
Composer: Yasuhiro Misawa
Synopsis: Shunned girl with ESP meets boy who isn’t weirded out by her abilities and the two become friends.
Zzeroparticle’s Thoughts: If you’ve seen the first half of the show, you’ll know it’s pretty damn depressing, complete with melodramatic music that includes heartrending, tragic piano music. The second half’s mood shifts quite a bit – I’ve seen comments of mood whiplash and agree with them – but the music slides up from being depressing to being more heartwarming and hopeful. That said, none of Yasuhiro Misawa’s melodies have stuck as they seem drawn from the same sort of style that drama anime have used since time immemorial, but if nothing else, that shows his capabilities at doing drama soundtracks (see his work on Kokoro Connect). Still, like with most drama music, once you’ve heard one, you’ve kinda heard them all, and nothing he’s done really differentiates from that kind of stuff as of yet.
Aftershok’s Thoughts: A cursory glance at Yasuhiro Misawa’s previous work reveals a curious trend: he composes almost exclusively for a single director, Masahiko Oota. Mr. Oota is probably best known for the recent shows Yuruyuri, Minami-ke, and Mitsudomoe – basically, gag shows. And with those shows follows a certain musical style, which, up until now, at least, hasn’t been all that impressive. Perhaps he’s grown too used to his own shtick, because his efforts on more dramatic fare, as evidenced in Kotoura-san, isn’t that much more exciting, at least initially. For almost ten minutes in the first half of the first episode, there is a neverending drone of strings and occasional flimsy, almost apologetic piano flourishes, as if to stuff down our throats in the laziest way possible, that, yes, sad things are happening. Eventually, everything just liquefies into this warm, syrupy, viscous ooze that fills your ear canal and blends into the background noise of your viewing quarters. Things pick up (at last) as the first section comes to a close, though, and only go uphill from there. To be honest, I enjoyed some of the songs later in the episode, but ultimately they come off very paint-by-numbers. I can’t speak for Kokoro Connect‘s score, but I don’t have particularly high hopes for this one, though I expect to be wholly competent.
Ore no Kanojo to Osananajimi ga Shuraba Sugiru – “Oreshura”
Composer: Masatomo Ota
Synopsis: Protagonist-with-a-tragic-past Eita Kidou has aspirations to enter medical school, so he has sworn to avoid a love life. Seemingly out of nowhere, the prettiest girl in school, silver-haired, probably-has-a-tragic-past Masuzu Natsukawa, asks Eita to be her boyfriend, much to the chagrin of both Eita and his male peers. Masuzu, though, has her own agenda, and, oh, there’s a childhood-friend-with-a-tragic-past who’s not so happy with their sudden relationship and they form a club together and hilarious things happen.
Aftershok’s Thoughts: If the synopsis turns you off as it did me, let me tell you right now that the show is a pleasant surprise. As far as the music’s concerned, it really is a similar story. Though nothing outright stellar has hit my eardrums quite yet, what’s been exhibited so far at least piques my interest. Many of the tunes have a heavy bluesy jazz bent to them, something not often heard in shows like these, adding some pretty distinct and original flavor to some of the more… colorful scenes. Then again, when they’re not, it’s pretty standard tinkly piano and/or generic synth stuff. Considering this is the composer’s first outing scoring an actual soundtrack (he previously cut his teeth on the various lackluster Nanoha ED’s), I’d say this is one to at least keep an eye on.
Yes, I’m aware there are a few more shows whose composers merit attention (Hakkenden: Touhou Hakken Ibun’s Hitomi Kuroishi, anyone?) but I’ve limited my intake this season, so others can hopefully comment. I’ve also seen some favorable thoughts thrown towards Yoshiaki Dewa’s work on AMNESIA, but I’ll most likely not check it out due to time constraints. Oh, and I guess Kousuke Yamashjita’s excellent work for Chihayafuru’s soundtrack makes a triumphant return for the show’s second season, so that’s always nice to look forward to.
Finally, some people have been asking me when we plan to reveal our anime soundtrack highlights like we did last year. My answer: when Zetsuen no Tempest’s soundtrack gets released (albeit, as an enclosed disc with the DVD/Blu-rays RAGE!!). No anime soundtrack ranking is ever gonna be complete if Michiru Ooshima has composed for a show/movie in a given year and so, given how much we love Ooshima’s work, we’ll delay until then.