It wasn’t the worst of times, but it wasn’t exactly the best of times either. Perhaps that’s why this writeup took a bit longer for us to do than usual. 2013 was unusual in that there weren’t a huge quantity of musical standouts that would cause long debates about whether or not to include such and such soundtrack in this writeup and which equally-deserving score would have to be removed. Instead, things fell together pretty neatly and predictably. It’s a tad disappointing since it does rob us of the fireworks in our internal chat. But you can’t have everything.
So once more, we at Anime Instrumentality step into the fray, 3D maneuvering gear and all, to cut deep in search of the best soundtracks of 2013. And here’s what we found:
All pieces are in their entirety. If you want to just sit there and be enchanted while listening to a playlist, you can do so below:
The opening chords to track one’s “Gotchaman ~ In the name of Love” describes the album perfectly. Bold, brash, and a melting pot of EDM, dub-step woops, guitar wails and exciting orchestration, this is a fantastic listen. Iwasaki has always been in the forefront of anime soundtracks with varying success, but he scores a goal with Gatchaman Crowds, merging his trademark orchestration with catchy futuristic electro-beats. Tracks like “Milestone” and “Firebird” feature heavy beats with hits of instrumentation, while “Tutu” slows it all down with cutesy voice samples amidst a more chilled-out background. “Why I kissed him?” and “Love” go back to Iwasaki’s roots, featuring beautiful, flowing strings, but the main stars in this soundtrack are the massive EDM tracks. None are more massive in scale than “Ziel der Hydra”, with a soaring soprano singing German, pushed forward by giant brass and heavy dub-step beats. Nevertheless, nothing tops the joyous “Music goes on”, where early quiet strings build into this explosion of colourful electric beats, playful strings and rocking pace. The song is an absolute delight to listen to, and sums up the energy of the anime it’s based on. BIRD GO! GATCHAMAAAAAN!
Gatchaman Crowds – Gotchaman – In the name of Love
Gatchaman Crowds – Music goes on
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet
Better known for his game and film scores, Taro Iwashiro’s compositions for Gargantia encapsulates the nautical and epic feel of the anime with thumping drums, emotional strings and a pan flute or two. These drums are featured in many pieces, but are displayed best in “Crusade Dedicated to Tomorrow”, where they’re partnered with rising horns and rhythmic strings which drive the piece forward to battle. The battle themes continue; in fact, the first disc features too much tense, loud battle music which unfortunately drown out gems like “Sea Breeze! Ocean!” and “Swirling About the Rough Seas”, where the orchestra has more fun and brings about more variety.
Disc two fares much better, with the large orchestrations giving way to something sparser. Less is more, and songs like “Festival Dream Dance” and “End of the Feast” use the fiddles to display much more colour while “Laundry weather” showcases a fun guitar and ocarina duet. “Mark of Twilight” brings back the orchestration but retains the balance of quieter, slower strings supporting a lone flute in this gorgeous piece.
Although weighed down by extraneous same-sounding pieces, the sublime performance of the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra helps Iwashiro’s score out tremendously, making it a pleasant and enjoyable surprise.
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet – Crusade Dedicated to Tomorrow
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet – Mark of Twilight
For a mecha anime soundtrack to transcend beyond being merely good requires both composer and director to understand that mecha anime is more than just a series of heavy-handed action music. As a result, few mecha anime are able to realize their potential, but Majestic Prince is one of the few that succeeds in seamlessly blending the action music together with the more intimate human component. Much of the credit goes to Toshiyuki Watanabe, whose excellence on 2012’s Space Brothers score makes a triumphant return here. Ominous pieces like “Wulgaru Army Invasion” mesh comfortably with more glorious fare like “Reinforcements” and thrilling battle themes like “Counterattack.” But as I alluded to above, Majestic Prince never neglects the human side of war. There’s a section of Majestic Prince’s soundtrack that’s devoted to more introspective fare like “Consultation,” thereby providing a well-rounded view of conflict, complete with the fears, struggles, hopes, and moments of sheer courage on display during the course of the show.
Majestic Prince – Sortie Preparation
Majestic Prince – Consultation
Little Witch Academia
There’s more to the comparison between Little Witch Academia and Harry Potter than just their magic academy settings: both succeed in their use of music. Harry Potter gets a bigger nod for having part of its soundtracks composed by the legendary John Williams, but Little Witch Academia’s score isn’t a slouch either as Michiru Ooshima’s compositions instill a sense of grandeur that is as enthralling as the magical effects flying about on screen. “Magic Show”, with its swelling string section and trumpet fanfares, cultivate an audacious spirit that pushes one onward to greatness. “Magic Show’s” motif then pops up in the calming “At the Dorm” and the bold “Here We Go”, before culminating in the rousing “Battle” theme, where the brass and strings’ dissonant waves capture the movement, danger, and tension in the anime’s most memorable scene. In lesser hands, the anime’s magic might wind up dwarfing everything else, but with Ooshima’s efforts, the two work together in perfect harmony.
Little Witch Academia – Magic Show
Little Witch Academia – Battle
I’m not sure what to make at Kyousogiga’s soundtrack. At times, Go Shiina’s compositions are an assault upon the senses, bombarding the ears with such a potpourri of instruments, vocals, and musical styles that they leave you stunned by the chaos they create. Electronica rides alongside soaring choruses and the concept of rocking violins is as bewildering in theory as in reality. So if you’re looking for novelty, there’s no shortage of it here. But for those who prefer more traditional fare, Kyousogiga’s music can also be sublime. Nowhere is that more evident than in the anime’s overarching theme, one that’s so steeped in love and warmth that it beckons you to delve into its world of mystery and wonder. The motif winds its course throughout the score and in doing so, it shakes aside the quarrels and moments of anger, leaving the bonds between the four disparate siblings to grow and endure.
Kyousogiga – City of Eternity
Kyousogiga – The Wind and Clouds and Sunset
Kin-iro Mosaic’s divergence from the moe slice of life genre’s tendency towards lackluster atmospheric music is a major plus as Ruka Kawada’s compositions prove to be ambitious without being overbearing. “Overture ~ England He” is more grandiose than most moe slice of life tracks as it starts off on a sleepy tone before dousing the world with a radiantly charming melody. Further in, tracks like “Bokusouchi wo Nukete’s” upbeatness channel a child-like innocence that augments the show’s adorability. Also notable is “Saigo no Yoru”, which takes a different tack through a delicate piano melody that sighs with contentment in the beginning before dropping off into lush dreamscapes that grow more optimistic by the minute. The strings eventually arrive to top things off, and in so doing, infuse this moe slice of life soundtrack with a magical energy that’ll allow your mind to simmer in those warm memories of childhood.
Kiniro Mosaic – Overture – England he
Kiniro Mosaic – Saigo no Yoru
The Wind Rises
In the soundtrack for The Wind Rises, the legendary Joe Hisaishi composes a soaring accompaniment to Hayao Miyazaki’s deeply reflective final work. Hisaishi’s masterful orchestration practically tells the story on its own, and is often given the room to express the setting and mood in the movie’s scenes, apart from any spoken lines.
Hisaishi utilizes several main themes to accompany the different sections in the story of Jiro Horikoshi. While being introduced to each of the stages of Jiro’s life, we have the wistful, yet determined theme of “Journey (Dreamy Flight),” revisited heavily throughout the movie in multiple reprises. To capture Jiro’s boundless imagination and dreams, we have the grandiose yet curious theme seen in “Caproni (Illusory Giant Machine),” where a stately brass fanfare gives way and joins an inquisitive melody which is passed between strings and woodwinds. Finally, to reinforce the tension in Jiro’s romantic encounters, Hisaishi pours out his emotion in the “Naoko” theme and its various renditions, such as in “Naoko (Crossing Paths).”
Those themes, along with melodic interludes like the imaginative “Falcon Squad,” and the “Benefactor’s” low clarinet call that beckon to moments ahead, make Hisaishi’s work in The Wind Rises worth a listen to relive Miyazaki for one last time.
The Wind Rises – Journey (Dreamy Flight)
The Wind Rises – Naoko (Crossing Paths)
The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Joe Hisaishi’s first score for an Isao Takahata film brings much simpler, softer, mystical themes to Princess Kaguya. He incorporates a strong flute presence throughout the pieces, seen in tracks like “The Sprout” and “Li’l Bamboo”, with a playful orchestra and an exuberant tuba section providing support. The flutes play about more joyfully in “Spring Waltz”, backed by more layers of lush orchestration but can also slow the pace in the more peaceful “Going Home”. For mysticism, we have “The Little Princess”, carried by a lone piano theme both mysterious and sad, moods which becomes heightened in “Moon” to round out the soundtrack. The lone piano is used to great effect once more in “Mountain Hamlet”, a simple series of notes ushering in warm strings and producing a sumptuous, gentle piece. However, in “Despair”, a skewed version of these opening notes are paired with loud discordant chord bursts to show the coming adversity. And that’s how it is for the soundtrack. While repetitive at first listen, the themes weave themselves into the other instrumentations and the variations reward you for your patience.
Tale of The Princess Kaguya – Mountain Hamlet
Tale of The Princess Kaguya – Spring Waltz
Non Non Biyori
Nyan-pasu! In this countryside slice of life anime, Hiromi Mizutani beautifully captures both carefree and nostalgic feelings with this playful, yet heartwarming soundtrack. Where this soundtrack really shines is in Mizutani’s various pastoral tracks. Through his use of both warm string melodies, like in “The Country” or “Meet You Tomorrow”, and flowing guitar lines, like in “Small Hill” or “Spring has Arrived”, these songs vividly paint a picture of the show’s nature-heavy setting. Furthermore, by weaving a few central themes among several tracks in the soundtrack, Mizutani produces a sense of nostalgia and comforting familiarity that permeates the pieces, even if their instrumentation, tempo, and mood may differ.
Finally, it wouldn’t be iyashikei without its tender moments. Mizutani enhances these moments wonderfully with his introspective, piano-centered pieces featured in the soundtrack, such as “Sunny Road” and “Puzzled.” It’s these beautiful, relaxing pieces, combined with rock-solid recording quality, that serve to create the wonderful moments in this memorable show, and what makes this soundtrack stand out far above so many other slice-of-life soundtracks.
Non Non Biyori – Meet You Tomorrow
Non Non Biyori – Sunny Road
Garden of Words
When listening to Kashiwa Daisuke’s compositions for Makoto Shinkai’s The Garden of Words, I’m enthralled by how well he’s able to evoke a rainstorm using the piano. “Greenery Rain” is a superb example, where the piano starts off as a soft trickle that soon becomes a mild downpour before turning into a restless torrent which slowly meanders off. While captivating on its own, “Greenery Rain’s” melody becomes even more potent when paired with both the visual component – namely, the many rains that fall upon the characters’ refuge at the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden – and the turbulent emotions the characters experience. But even the most turbulent storm will run its course. That’s where “The Afternoon Of Rainy day” comes in, letting loose its pent-up emotions in small, soft bursts. The piano trio’s performance is exquisite. Although the music approaches a fevered pitch at times, the release is cathartic and you feel the characters have learned how to cope with their troubled pasts to move on to greener gardens… or wherever their dreams will take them.
The Garden of Words – Greenery Rain
The Garden of Words – The Afternoon Of Rainy day
Patema Inverted‘s music instills a sense of wonderment, just as the movie weaves its melodramatic tale through the strange world in which the story takes place. Michiru Ooshima is no stranger to creating unique musical environments in fantasy settings, and she does so in Patema Inverted with a combination of short, but sweeping orchestral soundscapes, as well as mysterious, often percussion-heavy electronic ambient pieces. While music is used fairly sparsely in the movie, Ooshima’s poignant, string-heavy orchestrations accentuate the climaxes and developments they accompany. In tracks like “Flying Escape!,” we’re thrown into an adventure as the piece bounces into action. During “Ceiling of the World,” and “The Future of the Two People,” we are called to maintain a sense of awe, questioning if there are yet more things to be discovered.
Perhaps the strongest composition in this soundtrack is the vocal insert song sung by Estelle Micheau, used during the credits of the movie: “Patema Inverse.” Here, Ooshima maintains a mystical tone as Micheau’s beautifully clear vocals, sung in Esperanto, further beckon that otherworldly feel.
While this isn’t one of Ooshima’s stronger works, as most tracks are not given much room for development, she still employs music effectively to maintain a mood of intrigue throughout the movie.
Patema Inverse – Flying Escape
Patema Inverse – Patema Inverse
Yes, yes, a certain titanic soundtrack was snubbed, and that wasn’t on accident since we did label it an underwhelming affair. AKB0048 also proved to be on the edge, but ultimately didn’t manage to sneak in. As always, there’s probably something we missed, so feel free to plug your favorites, and let us know what you think deserves to be highlighted in 2013.