A decorated composer and orchestrator, Kaoru Wada hails from a traditional background that demanded technical mastery of the orchestra. Given my interest in in the classical genre, I was elated to see that Wada would be coming to Anime Boston as a musical guest. The convention didn’t disappoint- his panels were handled smoothly and the concert was a great performance.
Below is a summary of interesting details Wada imparted during the various panels and interviews as well as a quick report of his half of the Wada & Williams concert.
Wada’s career began quite early at the age of 17 at which he began teaching himself music fundamentals. Shortly after, he entered Tokyo College of Music to study contemporary music. There he was mentored by Akira Ikefube, the original composer for Godzilla. Wada assisted Ikefube with with the music for the iconic monster films- his early experiences with Ikefube no doubt contributed to Wada’s penchant for grim and foreboding music.
Unsurprsingly given his background, Wada says that he prefers to compose for the standard western orchestra above all else. Though he is well versed in traditional Japanese music (the shamisen featured in Inuyasha is played by him, he adds), he likes to use an orchestra for his own compositions. As in the case of Inuyasha, Samurai 7, and others- he will call on his experience with Japanese music to add the right setting when required.
Over his career, Wada has contributed music to all sorts of media. When asked about his composing process, Wada says that he will typically research the original material explains each type of media had its own constraints and timelines. In the case of anime and TV, he is usually given the uncolored scenes and tasked with writing a staggering 50-80 pieces in the span of a month. The sound producer will then pick from the pool when setting music to the animation.
In the case of video games, the volume of music he must write is even larger. Due to the many different scenarios, scenes, and routes that a video game involves, Wada typically has to write many variations of the same piece- an exercise he says can be quite tedious.
On the other hand, Wada says that he is given the most freedom with films. Typically he’s given the video before he begins to write which allows him to adjust the music to fit the scenes. He is allowed more time as well, usually working on the score for up to a year.
Good news for fans, Wada is involved in quite a few projects in the coming year! He will be contributing music to an upcoming season of Puzzle & Dragons as well as the next season of Ace Attorney. Though he was circumspect in confirming it, he will be arranging for Shimomura for Kingdom Hearts III. Lastly, fans will get to hear his arrangements live during the Kingdom Hearts World Tour concert series happening this year.
A smaller volunteer orchestra with musicians from New York and Boston was assembled for the concert. Despite the ensemble’s smaller size, its sound nevertheless carried well throughout the performance venue. The use of two screens projecting closeups of the musicians on the left and right sides of the stage and a third screen behind the orchestra displaying piece titles made it easy to enjoy the show without obstruction.
As for the music itself, the concert setlist contained a variety of themes from Wada’s popular works. Wada’s favored style was immediately apparent in the first piece, an arrangement from Inuyasha titled “Inuyasha Youkonten”. The music was ominous and foreboding, but powerfully so. One could definitely see how Wada’s experience with Godzilla shaped his later work.
The orchestra then ran through some of Wada’s other popular themes- playing a few variations on Kindaichi’s Main Theme, Saint Seiya Lost Canvas’s main theme, and a medley of various D Grey Man pieces. A piece from Samurai 7, “Samurai Sagashi”, was a fun change of pace with its working rhythm and Japanese influences. A rendition of the Ace Attorney main theme added a fun change of pace with a funk guitar rhythm backing the fun melody.
The piece best received by the Inuyasha fans in the audience was definitely Affections Touching Across Time II, a rendition of the series’s iconic love theme (many fans in the audience shed a tear or two). Unlike most of the other pieces performed, ATATII was not foreboding, but tender and wistful. The orchestra performed the piece skillfully, capturing the simultaneous warmth and grandiosity of the piece perfectly.
Altogether, the concert was a thoroughly enjoyable introduction to Wada’s work in anime performed by a capable and enthusiastic orchestra. Thank you for coming to Boston, Mr. Wada! We hope to hear your work in the coming year!