Introduction: The spring season is, once again, upon us, and for a group of anime music fans, that means out with the cold, out with our spell of Western cartoon music (maybe?), and in with warmer weather (in theory) that envelopes us, leaving us with much good cheer. While the last season turned out to be rather lacking, the spring roster sees the return of many big names like Mina Kubota, Hiroyuki Sawano, Akira Senju, and Yasuharu Takanashi doing something that’s not Fairy Tail or PreCure! There’s quite a bit to cover, so let’s get things under way.
Aku no Hana
Composer: Hideyuki Fukasawa
Synopsis: Takao Kasuga is a bookworm who has a crush on his classmate, Nanako Saeki. He ends up stealing her gym uniform, which creates an interesting situation as Sawa Nakamura, an aloof girl with a creepy aura about her, uses this opportunity to blackmail him and force him into compromising situations.
Thoughts: With credits which include the recently-finished Vividred Operation and some video game work like Street Fighter IV, Hideyuki Fukasawa’s discography is untested at this stage of the game since the former had some exciting militaristic melodies (though without a soundtrack release until June, who knows how things will ultimately turn out) while the latter wasn’t too memorable. And when you look at the first couple episodes of Aku no Hana… well, there’s not a whole lot to go off of. There are some judicious uses of silence and some lonely solo piano music which only serve to create a tense atmosphere to fit with the show’s idiom and a really eerie piece towards the end. Aurally enhancive of the anime? Sure. But a melody or hook to make it more than just atmospheric stuff? Not here.
Composer: Mina Kubota
Synopsis: Armed with his father’s old camera, the spineless Kazuya Maeda begins exploring photography at school and winds up getting recruited by the school’s Photography Club, a group of misfits whose photographic intentions are less than pure. Nevertheless, Kazuya proves to be a valuable asset, given his uncanny and inexplicable ability to bump into and attract many of the school’s hot girls to him.
Thoughts: I’m really sorry to see someone with the prowess of Mina Kubota, whose work on outstanding soundtracks like Kaleido Star and Kannazuki no Miko get saddled with such a project. For one, that effectively rules me out of following this series for more than one episode. For another, the music is actually quite good. Kubota conjures forth charming, soothing piano pieces to start things off before regaling us with her Celtic melodies that, together, create an aura that’s light and optimistic. Thank goodness then, that I can fetch the soundtrack later since this one looks like it’ll get a standalone release (for once!).
Dansai Bunri no Crime Edge
Composer: Yasuharu Takanashi
Synopsis: Kiri Haimura is obsessed with cutting hair and when he gets lost one day, he comes across a formidable foe in the form of Iwai Mushanokouji’s locks which cannot be cut by normal scissors. But as Kiri finds out, the scissors he packs are anything but normal as they effortlessly slice through Iwai’s hair, bringing her much happiness but also much darkness into the world.
Thoughts: It’s been awhile since I’ve heard a Takanishi score that isn’t Fairy Tail or PreCure and I’m glad for that. The music in Dansai Bunri no Crime Edge has been a mixed set of moods with the beginning of the episode packing a more light-hearted affair that’s whimsical and joyful with a smattering of regality about it. But as the story unfolds, Takanishi’s score descends into eerier fare, fitting, given the excellent work he did with Shiki’s soundtrack. With lonely piano solos building up some delicious tension (for what it’s worth, it’s some of the better tension-y pieces I’ve heard this year), followed by some strings to augment that loneliness further to set up for a dose of good ol’ heartfelt tragedy, I expect to see Takanashi deliver once more with a riveting score for a less-than-riveting (at least to me) anime.
Composer: Ryosuke Nakanishi
Synopsis: After being defeated by the Hero in the battle for Ente Isla, the Demon Lord Satan takes refuge in modern-day Japan along with his faithful general Alsiel. Unfortunately, magic is near-non-existent in this world and so, the two must find some way to restore their powers. Until then, to make ends meet, Satan finds himself working judiciously as a crew member at a local fast food joint while Alsiel snoops around in the library to research how to work magic in this strange new land. Little did they know that the Hero followed them to Japan and hilarity ensues when they encounter each other.
Thoughts: Ryosuke Nakanishi’s anime credits are pretty thin on the whole and even if the start of the first episode has promising fare like dark, ominous tracks that hang overhead with its ponderous choral sections, nothing else really sticks out from the drone of urban indifference. The pieces that play during the comedic sections are less than enthralling, which isn’t a bad thing, but when I stick to this series (which I will), it’ll most certainly be for the amusement value and not for the music.
Devil Survivor 2
Composer: Kotaro Nakagawa
Synopsis: Daichi Shijima persuades his friend Hibiki Kuze to try out a new mobile app called Nicaea, which shows faces of people who are about to die. Sure enough, both boys’ faces are shown as being the next victims and sure enough that comes true when a subway derails and falls on top of them. But somehow, the app gives them a second chance at life, and they awake to find that the world is now under attack by demons but that they too can summon demons to defend themselves and the world around them.
Thoughts: This is a bit of a strange turn for Kotaro Nakagawa, whom I associate more with themes that approach grandness and less so on some of the funkier synth that’s on display here. As the episode progresses, he delivers with some tragic-sounding piano music, but once the action comes up, you get some harsh, rhythmic electric guitar tracks that do carry a current of energy, but lack the finesse of something you’d expect out of someone who composed Code Geass’s score. Not that it matters anyway, since I won’t be seeing this show through anyway, but if the soundtrack manages to be good, I may give it a whirl.
Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince
Composer: Toshiyuki Watanabe
Synopsis: Team Rabbit is widely considered to be the lowest performing group at the academy city of Gurantseere, not surprising when it’s made up of Izuru, a starry-eyed idealist, Toshikazu, a rough guy known for getting stage fright, Tamaki, a girl who focuses on love at the expense of nearly everything else, Kei, the serious type, and Ataru, the gun freak. Nevertheless, they get called out on a sortie to rescue a moon colony and succeed beyond all expectations.
Thoughts: Toshiyuki Watanabe is someone I’ve been keeping an ear on, especially given the excellence he’s shown in his score for Space Brothers. And so far, I’ve been pleased with his efforts on Majestic Prince. This anime’s music keeps with the sort of high-minded militaristic themes along with some small ensembles that deliver upon more whimsical fare from time to time to vary things up a bit. Not surprisingly, it’s the majestic tunes that rule the day and the only real worry I have is that it’ll degenerate to become generic space battle orchestral music that won’t stand out in any meaningful way. But so far, the music is sweeping and awesome in its scope and the story piques my curiosity just enough for me to see it through for just a bit longer.
Suisei no Gargantia
Composer: Taro Iwashiro
Synopsis: In a last-ditch effort to defeat a marauding alien species known as the Hideauze, the Galactic Alliance of Humankind sends a barrage of soldiers piloting mecha units to destroy the enemy superweapon. After the attack fails, Humankind’s troops are forced to flee and as Red, a 16-year old pilot attempts to go through the closing wormhole, he’s attacked, narrowly escapes, but loses consciousness. When he awakens, he finds himself surrounded by a primitive group of humans and learns from his mecha’s AI unit that he may very well be on Earth.
Thoughts: Without a doubt, Taro Iwashiro’s soundtrack for Suisei no Gargantia is the best musical offering out of Spring 2013’s anime by a long shot. It’s hard to turn away from something so stirring as the strings draw us into the story and carry an aura that suggests that an epic tale is about to unfold. With credits to his name including the Red Cliff movies and the Fullmetal Alchemist Sacred Star of Milos movie, you really can’t go wrong. With all that Iwashiro is serving up, I can’t help but be swept into the story as the music and the anime work in tandem to bring forth an epic adventure!
Valvrave the Liberator
Composer: Akira Senju
Synopsis: Up until now, Haruto Tokishima had been living a normal high school life where he engages in eating contests with his friend Shoko, a girl whom he’s had a crush on for a while now. As he’s about to confess to Shoko, the militaristic Dorssian Federation attacks his city and lays waste to the school. A stray shot winds up nearly killing Shoko and, enraged, Haruto climbs on board an experimental mecha unit that somehow managed to reach the surface to kill the invaders. In the process, Haruto inadvertently turns into a zombie. Yes, you read that last part right.
Thoughts: Akira Senju is known for composing one really awesome theme and then decent-ish everything else (see his Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood soundtrack), with <em>Red Garden’s soundtrack being a notable exception. Still, they work well within the context of the work and his work on Valvrave is no exception. The series starts off on a dark and dramatic note which fits Senju’s tendencies to a T. Then, things take a slight turn to the whimsical during the eating contest, but once battle rages, the tragic-sounding themes rear their head and, given Senju’s inability to compose hot-blooded action music, we settle for funereal dirges, which nevertheless suit the scenes extremely well. I’m not sure whether the show will deliver in terms of plot, but the music is sterling and with Senju’s pedigree, you really can’t go wrong here.
RDG Red Data Girl
Composer: Hikaru Nanase (Masumi Ito) myu
Synopsis: Izumiko Suzuhara lives with her grandparents at a shrine while her parents are away in the city. A shy girl, she has this strange ability where she cannot interact with electronics without breaking them in some way, exemplified when she causes a blackout at school after fiddling with some computers. At that moment, Yukimasa Sagara, a monk, comes to pick her up. With him is Miyuki, a boy Izumiko’s age who is assigned to be her guardian. Though at first they don’t get along, tensions ease somewhat when Izumiko’s role in the world is revealed.
Thoughts: I’m not sure what to expect out of part of the score for Red Data Girl given my lack of familiarity myu’s music, but Hikaru Nanase is a name that’s relatively near and dear, though I’ve yet to see her deliver anything on the scale of the beautiful Bungaku Shoujo soundtrack. But if there’s anything that’s looking like it’s coming close to that, so far Red Data Girl looks to be it seeing how it’s coming along pretty nicely. The early slice of life pieces consist of nice, pleasant orchestrals that take a calm and mellow tack, but once Izumiko begins communicating with her father, the melodies take a more threatening turn that border on the tragic, especially when that violin solo comes in. There are a few moments of sheer tension in the second episode too and the music rises up to the occasion without being overbearing. Beyond that, the rustic music comes off as quaint and charming, tinged with a mystical edge to capture our senses and fill it with the hope that Izumiko will be able to reconcile herself with her newfound role.
Attack on Titan or Shingeki no Kyojin
Composer: Hiroyuki Sawano
Synopsis: Mankind faces a threat in the form of giant grotesque humanoids called Titans who feast on humans. To safeguard humanity from these creatures, people have constructed cities guarded by tall, thick walls. That has worked for over 100 years, but now, the Titans have renewed their assault on humanity and in their invasion, changes the lives of Eren Yeager, Mikasa Ackerman, and Armin Arlart forever.
Thoughts: I’m not sure whether it’s because the series has just started and there’s not much to show off just yet or what, but so far, we haven’t heard much from the music. Known for bombastic stuff like his score for Guilty Crown and Gundam Unicorn, Hiroyuki Sawano seems to be keeping a rather low profile, dispensing with generic action music for the most part while keeping silent everywhere else. That said, when Sawano puts his mind to it, the music can be extremely impactful such as in the part where the chorus and strings sound out during the Titan invasion. There, the music enhanced the grotesqueness of the creatures while filling viewers with chest-tightening fear, effective when it comes to making the experience all the more visceral. Hopefully we’ll see more of that as the anime continues and that this isn’t just an awesome first impression that’ll falter down the line.
Miscellany: Once again, quite a few anime got left off our list, mostly because this list is already full as it is and I think we’ve hit most of the high points anyway. I wasn’t ready to sit through Arata Kangatari just to see what Kow Otani is serving up since he’s kind of a hit or miss anyway and it’s going to take much from Shiro Hamaguchi for me to sit through Karneval’s plot. Sequels like Ore no Imouto carry with them composers who are effectively known quantities and… ehhh… I just can’t bring myself to care about what Satoru Kousaki and Monaca compose outside of J-pop. Sad, I know.
On the bright side, this does bring our Western cartoon shenanigans to an end, so there’s that to celebrate, I guess! (For those who didn’t look to see what we did last year, SHAME ON YOU! ;D )