Despite the relatively sparse pickings in comparison to past years, 2012 still managed to produce its fair share of memorable favorites. In fact, the sheer variety on display appeals to many different tastes, and it shows in terms of how divided we were in regard to our selections. The soundtrack department saw the return of big names like Michiru Ooshima who scored the majestic Zetsuen no Tempest, a classically inspired tour de force of powerfully romantic themes and we were happy to see several composers rarely seen in the anime-sphere contribute some unexpectedly good music. Taking us all by surprise, Takagi Masakatsu’s Wolf Children delivers a minimalistic but nonetheless heartwarming tale of hardships and happiness alike. Quite a few gems surfaced in the year’s OP/ED collection as well, with fan favorites Kalafina performing the Fate/Zero OP. From such a list of respectable achievements, Anime Instrumentality is glad to present yet another round of awards to show what we thought were the most memorable works of 2012.
Soundtrack of the Year – Tsuritama
The previous Soundtrack of the Year winners can be summed up nicely with the word ‘spectacular’. If we were at a pageant, Fairy Tail would be the one to strut in, proud and brash; Chihayafuru would saunter in, poised and graceful. This year, Tsuritama’s soundtrack marches forth in all its quirkiness and eccentricity, and clinches the title. Truly, in an anime about fishing and aliens, what more can we ask for?
By just being the way it is, Tsuritama depicts the lifestyles of our protagonists perfectly. We get a taste of the laidback and carefree island of Enoshima through tracks such as ‘Tsuritama March’ and ‘Benten Kyou no Wataru’. The playful tunes of ‘Tsuritama March’ weaves the mischief and escapades of our protagonists into a light and cheerful backdrop, while ‘Benten Kyou no Wataru’ hits all the right notes, using its folkish tune and instrumentation to bring the image of a seaside town to life. Among that, the soundtrack also touches on more poignant moments through tracks like ‘Kirei na Hana’, and captures the anime’s idiosyncrasies in tracks like ‘DUCK Honbu, Ootou Seyo!’.
With that, 2012 sees an endearingly humourous and lighthearted soundtrack clinching the title of Soundtrack of the Year because it reminds us of how, at its core, good soundtracks provide (along with many other things) a pleasant listening experience. And honestly, who can’t help but smile upon hearing ‘Kakeashi March’?
Composer of the Year – Yoko Kanno
This year’s composer selection proved to be hotly contested. We had Yasuharu Takanashi continuing his fine form for Fairy Tail and the PreCure franchise while others like Shiro Hamaguchi made inconsistent splashes, doing terrifically well with Tari Tari’s soundtrack, but less so with Girls und Panzer’s. In our for a composer who was both solid and fresh, perhaps it’s a tad ironic that the prize goes to none other than Yoko Kanno.
Honoring Yoko Kanno’s efforts in 2012 feels like we are honoring her discography as a whole; in a sense, her musical efforts this year proved to be a throwback of sorts. The Aquarion franchise continued under her musical vision, where new efforts like “Aquaria Mau Sora” and “a jealous flapper” find themselves at home with glorious, yet familiar themes like the ones shown in “Genesis History #2” to yield an eclectic and enjoyable work. And then there’s her work on Kids on the Slope, which showcases the kind of jazz music not seen since Darker than Black and, if we go even further back, Cowboy Bebop. The caveat: many of the pieces from Kids on the Slope are taken from the jazz canon. Nevertheless, her original compositions are no slouch either as pieces like the eponymous “Kids on the Slope” stirs one’s hearts and warms us to the newfound friendship between Kaoru and Sentaro and “Jazz for Button” is light and whimsical, reminiscent of the tunes from Kanno’s Napple Tale and, ultimately, providing unto us a very memorable musical experience.
Opening Theme of the Year – Sakamichi no Apollon – Sakamichi no Melody
Can a song be so familiar and different at the same time? Kanno’s “Sakamichi no Melody” is certainly very distinct from her previous Jpop outings, or her more exotic pieces. The gentle drumming march, light guitar tones, that trumpet. It’s a little slow for an opening surely? Then, the pace picks up with a snap of the fingers, the strings come in and suddenly, we seem to have stumbled upon something that is quintessentially Kanno. A nod to her Escaflowne and Card Captor Sakura days, the theme is less showy certainly, but maintains a welcome child-like exuberance we don’t often see in openings.
For a veteran Jpop singer, YUKI hasn’t really done that many anime openings. Those she does though, have been very memorable. We know her. She has a voice that’s hard to forget. You listen to that voice and always wonder, ‘What comes next?’ And here, her ability to convey intense emotion and sly whimsy doesn’t disappoint. Paired up with Kanno’s layering, the song bursts into colour and just flies as a standout among the openings in 2012.
Ending Theme of the Year – Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita – Yume no naka no Watashi no Yume
Masumi Itou is a member of a rare breed of anime composers, almost in a category of her own. How many old solo artists compose soundtracks and feature in OP/ED’s for anime? This, combined with her particular brand of airy, fluttery soprano vocals and bold, unpredictable songwriting truly puts her in a class of one. To our ear, she’s outdone herself with Anime Instrumentality’s pick for best ED for 2012: “Yume no Naka no Watashi no Yume.”
The song is a chaotic clutter of awkward instrumental contradictions and rapid shifts in tonality; it seems to be ceaselessly at odds with itself. Hints of elegant Arabia soaring through the harmony are betrayed by a crackling electric distortion guitar carelessly belting out chords; a pulsating shuffle drum kit and a dainty, sparkling string section constantly threaten to make the other realize it’s in the wrong song.
But, oh, how Itou pulls it off. “Yume no Naka no Watashi no Yume” comes together in a beautiful, beautiful mess of clashing ideas and sudden changes of mind. The way Itou plays with your expectations, how she leads you gently by the hand and then pushes you off a musical cliff – that’s as good as it gets. It’s a master work by a master worker whose artistic vision drove the conception, composition and arrangement all the way through to the performance. Such a thing is rare in anime music, and we’re not afraid to give credit where it’s due.
Omake – Best Musical Moment – Girls und Panzer – Katyusha
Musical moments that take your breath away are so rare that when it does happen, there’s a tendency to cherish it all the more. 2012 had more memorable musical moments than most, but the one that totally stood out as being the best in its class is none other than Girls und Panzer’s rendition of the Russian war song “Katyusha.”
Girls und Panzer doesn’t do much to toy with expectations; its story is about as straightforward as can be. But the manner in which it was able to worm into our hearts lies in the earnestness in which it presents itself as it sought to capture the thrill of battle and the incredible depth of knowledge in the realm of tank warfare. So amidst the heavy-duty nerdery in the field of tankery, the anime never neglects the proud, musical tradition that keeps the troops soldiering on, inspiring them every step of the way. And in the scene in which the Pravda girls sing “Katyusha”, their earnestness and relentlessness are on full display. They surge forward, hearts united, spirits and heads held high in their pursuit of nothing but total victory, as they place their stamp upon the year in a way that will never, can never be forgotten.
Note: Feel free to drop your two cents. Do keep in mind that as always, we do intend to touch upon the awesome soundtracks that 2012 offered up in a later post, so until then, stay tuned!