Nearly 3 years ago, TWWK over at Beneath the Tangles wrote about Japan’s connection with Irish/Celtic music where he observed how many anime series also use music from that broader Celtic region. The biggest takeaway for me was why the music appeals to Japanese listeners: its ability to evoke a nostalgia tied to simpler times, be it childhood or a romanticized past.
In short, Celtic music, with its yearning tones, evokes images of that romantic past remarkably well and popular fare like “Danny Boy” made inroads amongst the Japanese pretty easily. Not surprisingly, many Celtic conventions have crept into anime music, particularly traditional Celtic folk music and dynamic dance music. With that in mind, I decided to search through anime titles for instances of Celtic music. And this is what I came up with.
All pieces are in their entirety. If you want to just sit there and listen to this curated playlist, you can do so below:
The Twelve Kingdoms – Fuushun
Celtic music touches on a broad spectrum of subgenres, but its most basic form lies in traditional folk music. This form is exemplified by “Fuushun” from The Twelve Kingdoms by Ryo Kunihiko. Throughout this piece, many Celtic instruments and conventions are heard. Early on, the Irish harp strums the rhythmic foundation for the piece. The fiddle and the flute duet build off of this foundation, sounding their characteristic drawl when they play in unison. As the piece progresses, there’s an entrancing flute solo worth listening to in the middle, especially the lilts which carry a yearning for fantastic worlds based on Earth’s nostalgic past.
The Borrowers Arrietty – Our House Below
This drive towards nostalgia takes on a more localized feel in Cecile Corbel’s “Our House Below” from the soundtrack to Arrietty. Unlike the wider-ranging sort of nostalgia in “Fuushun”, Corbel dispenses with a peaceful, homey piece. Its simplicity is sublime; in listening to it, the yearning melody evokes imagery of a wonderful childhood in the countryside. I especially love it when the accordion combines with the backing harps and guitars to let the melody flow with love and warmth. In doing so, the music as a whole sets the tone for Arrietty’s life with her parents under the old country home.
Victorian Romance Emma Second Act – Silhouette of a Breeze
Celtic pieces need not be as serious as Twelve Kingdom‘s “Fuushun”. There’s a lot of exciting Celtic-styled tracks to be had, and this next example comes courtesy of Twelve Kingdoms‘ composer, Ryo Kunihiko. In this example from Victorian Romance Emma Second Act, Kunihiko arranges the somewhat somber “Silhouette of a Breeze” opening theme from the first season by giving it a Celtic flavor. The harp carries the early part of the melody, then cedes it to the flute and, later, the accordion. These instruments gives off that Celtic backdrop, one that rises to its best when the whistle draws out its elongated, yearning drawls between 1:32-1:47. Through all that, the piece’s upbeat melody and the exciting atmosphere gives us hope that the show’s eponymous character will find happiness as she seeks to reunite with her lover.
My Otome – The First Town, a Lovely Encounter
And before we depart from Celtic folk music, this piece, My Otome‘s “The First Town, a Lovely Encounter” is a perfect segue into the next section: Celtic dances. And the reason is because the measured delivery by the fiddle in the introduction sets the tone for what sounds like a slow Irish dance. The flute joins the fiddle after that section to lend a folksy air to the piece before the two alternate by letting the fiddle introduce the theme, letting the flute take over, and then having the two play in unison to create a charming melody. It’s a pleasant surprise too: you get to see Yuki Kajiura step away from her usual melancholy pieces, suspenseful music, and tense themes to compose something that’s light and heartwarming.
Someday’s Dreamers – Home Country of a Water Imp
One of the most dynamic, exciting parts of Celtic music is the reel, a type of Irish dance that is a bit faster than its better-known counterpart, the jig. And nowhere is that better represented than in “Home Country of a Water Imp” from Someday Dreamers‘ (Mahou Tsukai Taisetsu Koto) soundtrack. While the soundtrack is eclipsed by “When the Sky and Earth First Meet”, it’s the reel present in “Home Country of a Water Imp” that makes this soundtrack come alive. The piece is thrilling, especially once the flute comes in to nudge you into motion with its endless store of energy and vivacity.
Turn A Gundam – Guin Lineford’s Limousine
Given Yoko Kanno’s propensity towards diving into many varied genres, it’d be shocking if she left Celtic music untouched. But indeed she has with Turn A Gundam‘s “Guin Lineford’s Limousine” which also takes the form of a spirited reel. Without knowing too much about the context in which the piece is used, I can only say that I love how Kanno opens the piece with Turn A Gundam‘s primary motif before letting the violins and whistle loose to shower the listener with their lively atmosphere. The piece only gets better, especially once the tempo’s slow increase leads to a full-blown sense of exuberance that makes you want to get up and dance in celebration!
Kemono no Souja Erin – Ginyuu Gakudan
Although this list’s dance forms have been dominated by reels thus far, Kemono no Souja Erin‘s soundtrack gives us a change of pace through an example of the other well-known Irish dance: the jig. In “Ginyuu Gakudan”, the jig form appears right away in the introduction’s motif as the melody swings up and then returns back to its origin. Its atmosphere is initially solemn and takes a while to build to the lively section. But once the piece introduces the flute, the dance becomes much more animated as a cavalcade of instruments ride in to bring the piece to a nostalgic, but rousing finish.
Fairy Tail – Fairy Tail Main Theme
Like with many folk music, Celtic music gets blended with other musical genres. So for all the relaxing or nostalgic fare you’ve heard here, Celtic music can still take its pent-up energy and release it with the power of rock. When those two genres are combined together in an anime context, I can only be referring to the music to Fairy Tail. The ass-kicking vibe required of the show is channeled perfectly through the harsh percussion and electric guitars which accompany the the fiddle, flute whistle and accordion. It works to set the stage for endless battles and larger than life personalities.
Ah! My Goddess TV – OPEN YOUR MIND ~Chiisana Hane Hirogete~
And after Fairy Tail‘s Celtic-rock blend, it shouldn’t surprise you to find that Celtic music also blends well with J-pop. Yoko Ishida’s performance on Ah! My Goddess TV‘s opening theme, “OPEN YOUR MIND ~Chiisana Hane Hirogete~” is a beautiful example of that. Her singing is where the pure J-pop surfaces. The parts where the fiddle steps in, particularly during the bridge, is reminiscent of an Irish reel. So when the Celtic and the pop combine, you get a dreamy, optimistic song that stands out on the strength of Yoko Ishida’s clear vocals and the instrumental’s ability to draw you into the song’s hopeful atmosphere.
Durarara! – Green Memories
But as appealing as the modern fusions are, I find that Celtic music’s biggest strength is in invoking images of the Emerald Isles. And so, I return to tracks like Durarara!‘s “Green Memories” which makes use of a slow fiddle and flute duet to let you drift back into times long past. The yearning introduction instills a wondrous sense of nostalgia. Through it, you can imagine Celty, the motorcycle-riding dullahan in Durarara!, dreaming of her past life. What seals this piece for me is the lovely violin solo halfway through which proffers a flowing melody to capture your heart and send you back to those verdant lands.
And that’s the list of 10 notable Celtic pieces in anime. Being restricted to 10 tracks means there’s a whole lot more we can’t cover. If you have any suggestions or other pieces you’d want to highlight, feel free to do so in the comments section.