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.
[audio:Arete Hime – Krasno Sontse.mp3, Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex – Inner Universe.mp3, Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG – Rise.mp3, Fantastic Children – Mizu no Madoromi.mp3, GITSSSS – player.mp3, GITSSSS – date of rebirth.mp3]
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
[audio:Arete Hime – Krasno Sontse.mp3]
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
[audio:Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex – Inner Universe.mp3]
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
[audio:Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG – Rise.mp3]
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
[audio:Fantastic Children – Mizu no Madoromi.mp3]
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[audio:GITSSSS – player.mp3]
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Solid State Society – date of rebirth
[audio:GITSSSS – date of rebirth.mp3]
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.