4th Annual Anime Music Awards – The Best of 2013

Attack on Titan Band

Introduction

Anime music fans have long been spoiled by the sheer quality of anime music that have come out with each passing year. There would always be something special that seizes the year, whether it’s an epic soundtrack or a catchy J-pop/J-rock number that would have us humming the melody forever and a day. So when you have a down year like 2013, it’s only natural to feel a bit slighted.

When OP/ED themes lean towards genericity and soundtracks are either overblown in their pomposity or overly atmospheric to the point of boredom, finding those hidden gems becomes a more trying task. Whether 2013’s musical material represents what anime directors/producers are looking for, or that this is simply a blip upon an otherwise strong musical run and we’ve simply been spoiled, is hard to say. That said, we do bring gems from 2013, and of those gems we’ve unearthed, these are what shine brightest:

Soundtrack of the Year – Tanken Driland

Tanken Driland OST

Tanken Driland’s music greets you with a whirlwind of notes so grand, with an atmosphere so epic, that you’d never expect the anime to have had its roots in a card-based mobile game. Yoshihisa Hirano’s compositions far exceed those humble origins, delivering a fantastic adventure that is among his most thematically cohesive works. “Welcome to Driland”, with its orchestral fanfares, instills an adventurous spirit in its music while also laying out the soundtrack’s leitmotif. And with the anime’s origins in mind, tropes like “Raid of Monster’s” suspenseful cacophony and “King’s Appearance’s” dread choruses are a given, but what you don’t expect is greatness like “Getting over Sorrow”. Here, the piano and orchestra take your breath away in the way it poignantly channels grief and man’s fervent desire to transcend the tragedy to achieve greater heights. Finally, if you’re looking for that furious violin music, look no further than “Confrontation”. “Confrontation” is reminiscent of older Hirano compositions like Break Blade’s “Sinfonia on the Battlefield”, where the thrilling violin rushes you through from start to finish to leave you exhilarated and in awe by this fantastic soundtrack that stands out as the best of 2013.

Welcome to Driland

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Getting over Sorrow

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Confrontation

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Composer of the Year – Yoshihisa Hirano

If Tanken Driland’s soundtrack wasn’t enough of a feather in Yoshihisa Hirano’s cap, then his music for Hunter x Hunter’s movies makes him the undisputed choice for the best anime composer of 2013. No other composer in 2013 has demonstrated as much excellence as Hirano; Tanken Driland, with its inclusion of piano, orchestra, chorus, and even electric guitar riffs, remains one of the few scores in 2013 to remain comparable, if not superior, to highlight works from previous years. With his musical pedigree as a graduate of both the Julliard School and Eastman School of Music, you can hear the classical influences in Driland, where tropes like the “O Fortuna” chorus surface. And, of course, one ought to not forget his compositions for the Hunter x Hunter movies, where his versatility gives rise to tension-filled electronica, funky intermezzos, and even rock music fusing with traditional Japanese fare to go alongside his more classical themes. What the cheerful adventure prevalent in Tanken Driland and the darker edges in the Hunter x Hunter movies illustrate is that Hirano’s compositional mastery ensures that his anime soundtracks are worth a shot, source material be damned!

Opening Theme of the Year – Red Data Girl – Small Worldrop

While it’s oftentimes the flashy or earwormy anime themes that capture one’s attention, none have affected us on an emotional level quite like Annabel’s vocals in Red Data Girl’s “Small Worldrop.” Her introduction is delicate, but the piece then takes a somber turn, with a deliberateness that hints of heavy responsibility in the stanzas. That said, this is but a brief glimpse into the future. Rather, the song’s aura of innocence is what really makes this piece stand out, especially when Annabel’s enchanting voice proffers a sense of adventure through a quiet, yet energetic delivery. Annabel’s soft lilts and delicate touches fuse “Small Worldrop” with much emotion, and by doing so, demonstrates that songs seeped in nuance can be far more preferable to in-your-face music that leave you exhausted and apathetic.

Opening Theme Runner Up – Attack on Titan – Guren no Yumiya

What’s there to say about this OP that hasn’t already been discussed? From one of the most talked-about series, we have a song that takes bombastic to a new level. In a good way. X 1000. From a choral intro, to sudden blasts of orchestration punctuating that same mad, screaming chorus, to an even madder keyboard and electric guitar solo, this is a song that has destroyed all other openings in 2013 with jaegers and titans. We’ve not even gone into the Ali-Project styled vocals, bumblebee-like strings and German Vincent Price voiceovers. And have I mentioned the jumps in melodies? I mean, the song’s just over five minutes, but has three distinct themes while still being able to hold onto that insane, frantic pace. And when it all finally ends, my friends, it ENDS, with the chorus making a last push and climaxing into this right hook of sounds that sends you reeling. A perfect KO at the final bell that leaves you down for the count, and wondering what the hell just happened.

Ending Theme of the Year – Space Battleship Yamato 2199

‘Kioku no Hikari’ has always intrigued me, because its form is quite unlike anything I have generally heard in J-pop. The way it repeatedly draws forth, then recedes feels far more purposeful than having it just as embellishment or differentiation.

Feel the opening bar welling forth, then withdrawing into a brief silence, and rising again while getting progressively stronger. Notice the way KOKIA’s opening stanza contains two melodic lines that interlace with each other, the receding line being met with an oncoming one, and the two melting seamlessly into one. Feel the waves of emotion well up and withdraw, rush forward and recede, repeatedly and tirelessly. Lyrically, this is mirrored with dualities that ought to counteract, but often find ways of interacting with the other: memories and the future; pain and love. Like waves, they build on to one another, and the receding wave is always brought forth again by the oncoming one.

Subsequently, let the chorus at 1:31 take you beyond the present. With expressed conviction, cast your eyes upon the horizon. Then, let the aria and instrumental segment at 2:08 carry you above the wind towards it. Borrowing the lyrics, gaze to the sky and the neverending universe. Let the light of the stars guide you, the light that helps you see the world in the way you do.

This is the light of memories: ‘Kioku no Hikari’.

Ending Theme Runner Up – The Wind Rises – Vapor Trail

He admires the sky, is dashing through the sky
Vapour trails are his life

I’ll admit. For a period of time, I was obsessed with this song. The quiet opening plinks of piano keys and organ chords, the simple bass and drum beats, and I’d be lost in its themes of nostalgia, memories and dreams. Originally sung in 1973 by Yumi Matsutoya, “Vapour Trail” is used with great effect for the Ghibli film, The Wind Rises. There’s a quality to Matsutoya’s voice that’s proud and optimistic, yet subtly fragile. But she still hits the notes with full confidence and makes the climax all the more powerful. And that ending gets me every time, with its light notes floating away into the air, making this soft song and its simple design so much more different from what’s offered over the year. It goes back to what’s important, tugs at the emotions, and is just what it is: a genuine pop song.

Notes:

Yes, we’re late. Very late. It’s been a trying couple months, but as you can see, life has stabilized and we’ll be able to continue with our musical ways. Expect the frequency of writeups to return to normal. In the meantime, feel free to drop your two cents. Do keep in mind that as always, we do intend to touch upon the awesome soundtracks that 2013 offered up in a later post, so until then, stay tuned!

Anime Instrumentality Staff

A collaboration between the staff members at Anime Instrumentality to bring you the best of all the anime music out there! Or silliness, whichever it is that happens to come first.

11 thoughts on “4th Annual Anime Music Awards – The Best of 2013

  • February 9, 2015 at 2:53 pm
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    Ha, at first I didn’t get that the ‘Kaze Tachinu’ ending theme is an original song performed in my birth year, that explains the unusual instrumentation and arrangement; I instantly liked it, though, and agree that the singer did a good job.

    Reply
    • February 10, 2015 at 11:06 am
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      A lot of those decades differences are kind of lost on me, so I didn’t pick up on the instrumentation. But overall, the song delivers a lovely simplicity that feels like such a breath of fresh air.

      Reply
  • February 9, 2015 at 5:45 pm
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    2013 was a pretty solid year for Michiru Oshima too. She started the year with the second half of Blast of Tempest and followed with four anime film scores: Aura, Little Witch Academia, Hal, and Patema Inverted. All of which were performed by orchestras in either Russia or Paris.

    I’m a big fan of both Hirano and Oshima so 2013 was golden for me.

    Reply
  • February 10, 2015 at 8:48 am
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    Spot on with Kokia’s ‘Kioku no Hikari’, that song really is amazing in every way. As far as the Red Data Girl song, well I really enjoy listening to Annabel, however, I made the mistake of actually trying to watch that show. Since I did not enjoy the show and ended up dropping it after 6 or 7 episodes, I keep thinking about the show whenever I hear the song and I think I can’t enjoy it to it’s fullest. I do have the song on a playlist I listen to though, as it is a good song. As far as Tanken Driland, I will have to acquire that OST and give it a listen.

    Reply
    • February 10, 2015 at 11:08 am
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      Ha. Yeah, Red Data Girl was an underwhelming show for sure. I took a few things away from that series, but pretty much all of it was music-related.

      And Tanken Driland, for many of us, just kinda came out of nowhere. But with Hirano at the helm, you can’t go too wrong there.

      Reply
  • February 11, 2015 at 8:34 pm
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    *Looks at own unfinished 2013 Awards list* Nope, you are definitely right on time with these 2013 awards.

    It’s interesting to see how the emphasis on the actual music (and the general greater knowledge of music by the staff) yields a completely different list of winners then what I, a visual learner who’s often more impressed by the animation, picked. The closest overlap is the Attack on Titan OP which I almost would have picked as well.

    Of the other songs presented here I was most surprised about the ending song ‘Kioku no Hikari’. I didn’t even remember the song, even though I watched and loved the parent anime. Separated from the ending sequence of the anime I can’t believe I so easily overlooked it because it’s really a great song.

    My pick for best ED for 2013 would have been Aku no Hana. Not the easiest on the ears by itself but it did work perfectly on the Halloween mix CD I made last year.

    How’s the 2014 Awards coming, if I may ask?

    Reply
    • February 12, 2015 at 11:30 pm
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      Well, I’ll still need to do the soundtrack highlights before we can definitively close the book on 2013. And after that? Time to listen to every soundtrack under the sun from 2014! I think we’ll be lucky if we get all that done in a year.

      Reply
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