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’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.
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.
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!