In Memoriam: Origa (1970-2015)

origa-stars
For me, it was the soaring sustained note. The one that emphasizes the word “calling” at the start of the chorus. Hearing that sung made me feel like I was being yanked onto a higher plane of existence, where the past would flicker on by, leaving an exciting, adventurous future to loom large. It also brought a Russian singer to my attention, a singer whose voice had the radiance and purity of a flawless diamond, performing an otherworldly song by Yoko Kanno. Born Olga Vitalevna Yakovleva, she would be better known simply as Origa. That she has passed away on January 17, 2015 marks a huge loss of one of the few (and they are few) capable singers to grace the anime music stage. She died of lung cancer, at the young age of 44.

Note: Full playlist below if you don’t want to listen to the featured tracks one at a time.

Full Playlist

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Even before she worked on the franchise that would make her most famous, Origa’s first performance for an anime was for Princess Arete. The movie, released in 2001, saw the titular character trapped by her father, the King, until she can be married off. In her solitude, Arete yearns for the outside world, and when it seems like she’ll find freedom, she’s shipped off to be imprisoned by a sorcerer named Boax.

Princess Arete – Krasno Sontse

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It is in this movie that Origa makes her anime debut, singing “Krasno Sontse”, written by the soundtrack’s composer Akira Senju. From the first lines, Origa’s voice transports you to a realm long forgotten by time, combining well with Senju’s instrumentation to yield a somber ballad. The song begins wistfully even while its lyrics speak to a beautiful day full of promise. But then, things take a turn for the worse; from the second stanza on, the melancholy tone evolves into a full-blown lamentation, with Origa’s voice soaring to express the grief resulting from the loss of life. Throughout her captivating performance, she showcases her trademark ability to hold those high notes which, when combined with the clarity of her vocals, would play a big role in her next major anime performance.

That major performance would see Origa’s vocals paired alongside Yoko Kanno’s music. “Inner Universe,” the opening theme to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, was a major attention-grabber, with its heavy electronica opener, followed by Origa’s haunting voice. Her tone early on is shrouded in mysticism, with a grave expression that lasts for only a moment. But as engaging as that part is, it’s nothing compared to the dazzling chorus where her voice absolutely ascends to great heights. And by that, I don’t mean simple lilts either. What she unveils are grandiose upswings, as though she were transcending physical barriers to alight upon a serene, heavenly world. Her voice packs an undeniable vividness that is central in creating a splendid, action-packed introduction to a series that examines the concept of what it means to exist.

Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex – Inner Universe

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With such a hit, “Inner Universe” was always going to be a tough act to follow, but nevertheless, Origa soldiered on, collaborating with Yoko Kanno once more to create the equally riveting “Rise,” also used in Ghost in the Shell. In comparison to “Inner Universe,” “Rise” only briefly takes a couple steps into the otherworldly realm during the stanzas. Once you hit the chorus, Origa’s voice becomes grittier, possessing a purposeful delivery that drives ever onward to accompany the song’s relentless rhythm all the way to its end. “Rise,” together with “Inner Universe”, allowed Origa to stamp her mark upon the anime fan’s consciousness through a stunning performance that yields a transcendent experience, drawing viewers into Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex‘s setting.

Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG – Rise

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As much as her fame was wrapped up in the Ghost in the Shell franchise, Origa also worked on a more obscure series: Fantastic Children, which focuses on a group of mysterious white-haired, blue-eyed children. Origa’s contribution to the anime was “Mizu no Madoromi,” the ending theme composed by veteran Ryo Kunihiko.

Fantastic Children – Mizu no Madoromi

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From the first note on, “Mizu no Madoromi” is a perfect fit with Origa’s vocal abilities as it marks her return to the more folksy, ballad-like fare, which characterized her earlier work in Princess Arete. The introduction features a gentle flute melody that sweeps through longingly, setting the tone for Origa to take over. Her entrance and subsequent delivery in the stanzas pulls you into a daydream, as her voice caresses you like gentle ocean waves lapping onto shore. The chorus continues with the gentle tones, but also imparts a sense of distance to the song. Compared to her other works, “Mizu no Madoromi” is grossly underrated, but it nonetheless stands as yet another strong entry within Origa’s anime catalog, as her voice beckons you to travel to someplace far, far away.

Origa would make one last major anime contribution by working on songs for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Solid State Society. In the opening theme, “player”, Origa was joined once again by composer-collaborator, Yoko Kanno, but also a group known as the Heartsdales. The result of this collaboration is a divergence compared to what Origa’s done before; the inclusion of the Heartsdale’s rap doesn’t mesh well with Origa’s more refined vocals, spoiling her sustained notes and grieving timbre with cacophony. The ending theme, “date of rebirth”, has the full power of an electric guitar as a lead-in, and Origa’s emphatic delivery works well in conjunction with the pounding instrumentals. Like “player,” this probably won’t stand up as any of Origa’s best works, but her vocals are nonetheless flawless in their ability to transport you to GitS‘s vision of humanity’s future.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Solid State Society – player

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Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Solid State Society – date of rebirth

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In addition to her anime works, Origa also contributed to notable games such as Aion and Final Fantasy XIII-2. But most of us will know her for her anime works as we marvel at her capacity to sweep you along into fascinating worlds. From pastoral ballads to the harsher electronica that fits with Ghost in the Shell‘s straddling of the physical and the digital realms, Origa’s vocals will take your breath away. To say that Origa’s death is tragic is an understatement. In addition to losing someone just 44 years old, we also lost an amazing artist, one whose lilting voice transcends beyond the anime and games she’s worked on to captivate the hearts and souls of those who’ve heard her sing.

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Anime Instrumentality's Founder and Editor-in-Chief. As you can probably guess, I'm a big anime music junkie with a special love for composers who've put out some beautiful melodies to accompany some of my favorite anime series. I tend to gravitate towards music in the classical style with Joe Hisaishi and Yoko Kanno being a few of my favorite composers, but I've come to appreciate jazz and rock as anime music has widened my tastes.

15 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Origa (1970-2015)

  • February 2, 2015 at 11:26 am
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    Beautiful eulogy. My heart stopped when I heard the news for the first time. It took a while to sink in. Truly a great loss.

    For me, Origa’s “Rise” will always be matchless. It never gets old. An instant classic if I ever saw one.

    Reply
    • February 4, 2015 at 9:43 am
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      @vanthrevolution
      Those pairs of songs that she’s done for GitS will always rank high amongst my favorite anime songs. Such a clear, beautiful voice that so few others had makes her loss an even greater one.

      Reply
  • February 2, 2015 at 12:55 pm
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    Yes, a great loss. :(

    I really love some of Origa’s songs……especially the ones with Yoko Kanno (I own all main GITS osts).

    The first song on this list…..wow, it sweeps you away to an old, classic timeless era. I’ll have to look up her other music, I wonder, did she smoke?

    Reply
    • February 2, 2015 at 3:03 pm
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      Not sure if she did. It’s such a tragedy :(

      Great write up, really captures what we love about her and her talent. Thank you!

      Reply
    • February 3, 2015 at 2:46 pm
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      That’s sad to hear that she passed away, condolences to her loved ones.
      Daquan, it’s unlikely that smoking will cause cancer at this age and I highly doubt that she smoked.

      Reply
      • November 16, 2016 at 12:54 am
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        There isn’t safe age for smoking, after 40 years of age, the changes of developing cancer rises year by year.

    • February 4, 2015 at 9:44 am
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      @Daquan Wright
      I don’t think she did since she was a singer and all that. But yes, her video game stuff is definitely worth pursuing since even when you take her out of the equation, those soundtracks for Aion and Final Fantasy are both excellent too.

      Reply
  • Pingback: Remembering Origa, an Anime Singer - Anime Instrumentality

  • February 5, 2015 at 6:18 am
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    Sad loss indeed. She shall be missed but her beautiful voice will live on in many songs that we loved and got to know her from. Her collaboration with Kanno Yoko will always remained a favourite of mine.

    Reply
    • February 10, 2015 at 11:10 am
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      Kinda makes you wonder how many collaborations they had left. And for that matter, it’ll feel really strange to watch a Ghost in the Shell with her vocals absent.

      Reply
  • February 15, 2015 at 7:59 am
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    Whoa, I’m clearly not in the loop anymore. very sad news. Like everyone else, the first time I heard her from GITS, I loved her songs despite the unfamiliar language. And I thought we’re expecting new GITS :( who’s doing the OP now.

    Reply
  • February 23, 2015 at 3:26 pm
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    Sorry for the semi-thread hijack. Here’s a link to one of her more unknown songs. It took me quite a while to find this album. Had to buy it used off Yahoo JP auctions.

    To my knowledge this is the only song she’s ever done with the anime doujin community. I could be wrong though.

    Reply
    • February 24, 2015 at 12:32 am
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      @Mayheart
      No worries and it’s pretty cool to see her working with onoken. Thanks for the find!

      Reply
  • July 24, 2015 at 4:34 am
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    This guy made amazing dedication… – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYwpbzNp3tE
    And also he wrote amazing article about Olga. Maybe I will translate it and post it here. Or I will contact him and ask to share it with animeinstrumentality. It’s huge.

    RIP ='(

    Reply
  • October 25, 2015 at 3:50 pm
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    I will really miss her songs… I was a fan of her song since Ghost in the Shell SAC came out and I’m still hearing inner universe almost everyday.
    I searched the internet for ages for an instrumental verion but never found one.

    Origa’s songs will always have a place in my heart! RIP

    Reply

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