Anime Instrumentality has rocked and rolled, waltzed and jigged (the latter, possibly in a trance) its way through 5 years of existence. In that time, it has accumulated over 200 anime album reviews, over 10 concert reports, and just very recently, 1 million page views. With all of these accomplishments over this span of time, the 5-year mark stands as an opportunity to reflect at how far we’ve come along and look ahead at how far we still have to go.
2008: A Mixed Identity
Anime Instrumentality started out on a whim more than anything else. When I signed up for webspace to work for a now defunct project, I decided to add another domain: www.animeinstrumentality.net, thinking that I could use it to create a database of anime music (a task that VGMdb has done admirably).
Although the site was called Anime Instrumentality, oddly enough, the first post that appeared was not a review of an album, but a review of Makoto Shinkai’s 5 Centimeters per Second. At the time, my goal was to improve as a writer and to write about things I was passionate about. Reviewing anime was a logical task and seemed much easier than reviewing anime music. However, I wanted to talk about the music side eventually, and after a spate of anime reviews, I finally published my first album review: Chi’s Sweet Home’s Ouchi ga Ichiban (a cute earworm I enjoy to this day).
Again, the choice of an OP/ED single was driven by the fact that they were short and easy to write about. Longer-form soundtracks were comparatively intimidating; there was so much to talk about and, let’s face it, having one semester’s worth of music knowledge doesn’t exactly provide one with a solid foundation upon which to write music reviews. Despite this lack of confidence, I took solace in the fact that 1) no one was really reading this site at the time so I had nothing to lose by stepping outside of my comfort zone, 2) I was really passionate about the instrumental side of anime music, and 3) I found an album that I felt comfortable talking about. All three elements came together and my first anime soundtrack review was none other than Hitoshi Sakimoto’s score for Romeo x Juliet.
Despite this, anime reviews were still the mainstay. Album reviews came out much more slowly and most of the selections had little rhyme or reason for coming into being. I reviewed hits like Macross Frontier’s soundtrack and oddities that seemed out of nowhere like Allison and Lillia’s OP single.
It was around August that I got poached and joined the staff of the Nihon Review. Anime Instrumentality slowly transitioned to its current incarnation because it felt silly to host anime reviews in two places. I credit this event as being the impetus that got me to totally discard the extraneous trappings of the fandom to focus entirely on the music, which has made Anime Instrumentality what it has become.
So as 2008 rolled to a close, the site became dominated by more and more music reviews. It was around September that I added clips to soundtrack reviews to improve the experience by giving people an even better idea of what to expect. Still, most of the reviews that came out focused on anime OP/ED themes as anime soundtracks are difficult (and still are) to write about.
2009: Fresh Voices
2009 continued in due course with me experimenting around here and there. Traffic numbers started picking up once I joined AnimeNano and I even tried a few seasonal summary posts to increase it even more. However, the post that drew the most traction and new readers was one that discussed how Clannad’s music really strengthened a certain scene. About halfway through the year, I made the conscious decision to cut back on reviewing OP/ED singles and focus more on writing soundtrack reviews since I was more passionate about them and my comfort level writing reviews of soundtracks was high enough to push on with confidence. It also saw the first review to earn a Masterpiece rating (Akira Senju’s Red Garden soundtrack) as well as the birth of the now-defunct Anime Song of the Week Contest, better known as the MALKeionbu.
The MALKeionbu made use of MyAnimeList and was a fun club where people nominated music based on a theme and voted for the one they liked best. The club was a way for people to share stuff others might not necessarily listen to and the voting mechanism was a way to force people to actually listen to the songs. It was successful at what it did, opening my previously narrow awareness to bigger and more awesome things. The club itself lasted longer than a year, stopping when my energies were sapped as events in my personal life proved to be a bit of a distraction.
Nevertheless, the most important event to come out of 2009 was when, out of the blue, someone else who enjoyed Anime Instrumentality’s content appeared and really really wanted to contribute. This opened my eyes to the idea that perhaps I’d found a good niche after all and that anime music fans really wanted a good resource on all the various forms of anime music out there. So with the enthusiastic, but ephemeral sung gyu at my side contributing a review of ARIA’s Stagione Piano Collection and Hinagiku singing an ED to the second season of Hayate the Combat Butler, I continued onward with much more confidence than I had previously.
Short and sweet, though that working relationship turned out to be, I continued to advance the cause of anime music further, working with the Eminence Symphony Orchestra for a short, but fruitful period of time.
So if the most important event from 2009 was sung gyu’s joining the cause, giving me that boost of confidence, the most important person to join Anime Instrumentality’s ranks that year was none other than Jen, whose knowledge of J-pop eclipsed mine by a long shot and whose diction was quite sharp. Her writings were concise, making it abundantly clear where she stood with regard to an anime album as she denounced bad singers with aplomb and praised strong performances to the high heavens.
Jen’s arrival wasn’t that evident at first, however. Her first submission was a track by track review of Pandora Hearts’ soundtrack which, if you know the way Anime Instrumentality works, is a big no-no. I promptly sent back the draft asking for a rewrite, expecting that, like many others who had submitted writing samples previously, I’d never hear from her again. But not only did she pull through, she carried on, delivering an excellent review of Pandora Hearts’ soundtrack and becoming Anime Instrumentality’s first fully-fledged, and most importantly, long-term reviewer who never ceases to impress me with her knowledge and insights, especially where J-pop is concerned.
As 2009 drew to a close, Anime Instrumentality embarked upon its most ambitious project yet. Knowing that the first decade was rolling to an end, it was time to look back upon the past 10 years and see what really clicked and resonated with us. This plan brought about one of the most successful posting series where we reminisced on the decade’s music.
2010: Chugging Along
With all those projects (and an ebullient, dedicated writer in tow!) going on, Anime Instrumentality kicked off the year strongly. Our first concert report materialized in the form of a kickass Utada Hikaru performance at the House of Blues in Los Angeles. During that time, we also had a few one-offs, including Burning Lizard’s thoughts on the Fairy Tail soundtrack, and the start of a more well-defined partnership with the Nihon Review. Kevo also came in to add his voice to the chorus, giving us an awesome survey of doujin electronica that one ought to pay attention to and Chikorita157 gave a few thoughts about a few character singles and OP/EDs that caught his interest.
2010 also marked the first year I attended Anime Expo as a member of the press corps, granted, through my work at Original Sound Version. My inexperience showed, but I got some pretty good concert reports out of that. AX that year was a success in terms of musical enjoyability as we had Macross Frontier fully represented by May’n’s and Megumi Nakajima’s amazing performances.
The year wore on without much incident until the very end of the year; the Decades post finished with much fanfare. But just when things looked calm, Aftershok came on board to shake the very pillars of Anime Instrumentality with his knowledge, passion, and his infatuation with jazz and music in 5/4 time.
2011: A Chorus of Energy Unleashed!
Aftershok’s energy that emerged through his writing was a force to behold as his zeal flared, yielding not to a mere inconvenience like arbitrary word count limits! He made his impact felt right away with a stimulating review of the jazz pieces in Cowboy Bebop’s soundtrack before laying out a paean to the Death Note soundtrack. Since then, he has remained an invaluable addition, being the go-to guy for stuff like Platina Jazz, bringing to light the intricacies of “Tank!’s” legendary sax solo, throwing a few sax arrangements for the world to behold, and bouncing ideas off of me to inspire me to greater heights.
And as if Aftershok wasn’t already a handful, Anime Instrumentality had to contend with Yu coming on board. Early on in the year, Anime Instrumentality looked to recruit more writers onto its team and longtime commenter Yu responded to the call, gushing with her love for Mina Kubota’s Kannazuki no Miko soundtrack.
Yu’s comments had already demonstrated a great deal of knowledge about anime music. But when she joined, the scope of her knowledge truly materialized and has been a boon for the site ever since. Her chief role has been to introduce people to composers who are of great merit and induce people to try truly astounding soundtracks that had the bad fortune of being off the beaten track, away from the ears of most anime fans. She’d also prove to be an excellent collaborator when it came to things like group posts, and even an Anime Expo panel, providing excellent insight, sharp analysis, and bringing to light the underappreciated.
That collaborativeness would prove to be crucial as Anime Instrumentality began a (currently hiatused) series of posts focusing on anime composers, starting off with none other than the fan-favorite Yuki Kajiura and stopping after going through Taku Iwasaki. However, the anime decades post did live on, in a fashion, in the form of the Anime Music Awards; our first one anointed wonderful music such as Fairy Tail’s soundtrack, celebrated composers like Michiru Ooshima, and lauded OP/EDs like Working!’s “Someone Else.”
Anime Expo also proved to be quite an event in 2011 with the likes of Hatsune Miku performing as well as Kalafina joining for the festivities. In a stroke of luck, that aligned well with the first time I ran a panel at Anime Expo covering Yuki Kajiura’s music. It was an experience that I took a lot away from and would shape future panels for the better.
About halfway through the year, maskerade made his appearance known and bringing him on board proved to be an easy matter given his extensive music review contributions to a defunct e-zine. His first note took the form of Tokyo Brass Style’s Anijazz First Note. From there, maskerade went on to touch upon the old school fineries of Now and Then, Here and There’s soundtrack, no surprise given that he’s the old geezer of the Anime Instrumentality staffers. Not so old that he can’t do things like attend J-rock concerts and scream his heart out though!
Finally, the biggest happening that drew us more readers was the Aniblog Tourney run by Scamp, who brought forth much drama. However, that event truly pushed Anime Instrumentality into the light and we garnered quite a bit of positive feedback as well as more awareness that we existed. I suspect that had it not been for that moment, we might still be languishing in (relative) obscurity.
2012: Calmer Days, A Time of Transition
2012 opened up slowly and thoughtfully with TWWK from Beneath the Tangles penning a well-researched post on Irish music in Japan, one that spurred me to do a currently incomplete project but that I’m still turning my attention to when I have the time. A few projects also unfolded: we had the Monday Musical Musings, which was an attempt at shorter form content that lasted for a brief period, we awarded Chihayafuru soundtrack of the year (much to the consternation of Madoka fans), and unveiled our first real long-term April Fool’s prank. Here, we converted ourselves into J-Drama instrumentality and shared some of our favorite albums like Michiru Ooshima’s Gokusen and Joe Hisaishi’s Cloud on the Slope.
Aftershok also took it upon himself to episodically blog Kids on the Slope for a while, contributing his insights on jazz here and there while Jen ticked off some names to watch for on the anisong scene. Anime Expo brought energy and mystery/despair with LiSA and Yuki Kajiura with FictionJunction in tow, though the mood felt a bit more reserved. That said, we pulled off a well-received panel that touched on music and its impact on notable anime scenes, covering such iconic tunes from anime as Summer Wars, Gunslinger Girl, Princess Mononoke, and 5 Centimeters Per Second.
But most of all, the second half of 2012 would be seen as a time of transition. Our lives would get busier, our contributions more sporadic. This general atmosphere would continue on into 2013.
2013: The Road Ahead, Rebuilding
Anime Instrumentality would witness a burst of activity early on in the year as staffers took advantage of the winter holidays to churn up some new reviews. Our second round of April Fool’s pranking might have been a bit more zealous than 2012’s J-Drama bit, but it elicited a reaction and showed us just how high in esteem we’ve (had?) been held.
That said, we’ve built a strong foundation and we’re eager to see what the future holds as the unreleased projects running in the background start to materialize and bear fruit. So dear readers, friends, music fans all, thank you for all the support you’ve provided and the insights you’ve shared and thank you for welcoming us into your lives and being a part of our five-year journey! We couldn’t have done it without you!