Composer of the Month – Yuki Kajiura


Jen’s Thoughts:
Yuki Kajiura was the first composer I listened to upon venturing into the anime music scene, and she immediately drew me in with the amazing work for Tsubasa Chronicle. However, the soundtrack of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle turned out to be a double edged sword; the high bar it set means that most of her other works that I’ve checked out would fail to impress me since they lack the diversity.

That said, Kajiura remains as one of my favourite composer of anime OP/EDs, mostly due to her very unique style. Her current group, Kalafina, never fails to impress me given Kajiura’s willingness to experiment with this group. While I am still mourning for the departure of Maya, it is clear that Kalafina is going down the right direction, making them the group to keep up with right now. However, the weakest link in Kalafina is currently the vocalists, as the sheer diversity of the songs would require great dexterity on their part. Being all rather young and inexperienced, some of the experiments were a hit or miss.

Another group that needs mentioning is arguable Kajiura’s most famous collaboration to date: FictionJunction. This collaboration achieved commendable success as FictionJunction YUUKA, though my personal take on their works is that most are catchy enough but do not age well. YUUKA’s pursuit of a solo career (which I have been very critical of) came in conjunction with the merger of FictionJunction to form a group of 4 vocalists: Kaori, Keiko, Wakana and Yuriko Kaida. This formation raises some eyebrows since two of the vocalists are already full-time members of Kalafina while one more often does backing vocals for Kalafina. Add that to the fact that FictionJunction’s songs are largely inferior in terms of composition, and one starts to wonder why FictionJunction still exists in the shadow of Kalafina.

The final must-mention is more of a session of Kajiura history lesson than anything else: See-Saw. Nonetheless, my personal take is that See-Saw remains the most distinct of Kajiura’s vocalist collaborations, due to the rather subdued nature of See-Saw’s compositions and the fact that Chiaki Ishikawa remains the only vocalist to date who can carry Kajiura’s music, and not vice versa. See-Saw has given us a fair few timeless masterpieces such as “Anna ni Issho Datta no ni” and “Seijaku was Headphone no Naka,” which makes it a real pity that the group has been on hiatus since 2005. Still, fans like myself can take comfort in the fact Ishikawa is continuing her solo career and that Kajiura’s style did rub off on her.

Gundam SEED – Anna ni Issho Datta no ni

[audio:Gundam SEED – Anna ni isshodatta no ni.mp3]

Aftershok’s Thoughts:
Admittedly, Yuki Kajiura was not a composer I was at once familiar with (she appeared nowhere on my top ten list), but I understood she was quite popular in the anime community. Having never really encountered her before, I was taken aback to learn that she is very prolific. After scrolling down Kajiura’s Wikipedia page, I realized why I was unfamiliar with her works: I had avoided or ended up dropping all the shows Kajiura worked on without ever realizing she scored them.

Then, I noticed a trend in the anime she worked on: Bee Train. Succinctly put, Bee Train is my kryptonite. Their shows have proven to be a cancer to my general well-being (Requiem for the Phantom basically gave me clinical depression) and unfortunately, Kajiura worked on a lot of Bee Train anime; a shame because, after doing some intense listening these past few weeks, I’ve really warmed up to her music.

Though not quite a jack-of-all-genres like Yoko Kanno or a master of less-is-more like Kou Otani, Kajiura has carved out her own individual sound without being too homogeneous across the board. That said, Kajiura teeters precariously close to being tiresomely repetitive, almost always sticking to the one style she does very well. Her delightfully bizarre harmonic vocabulary and varied, off-the-wall structure keeps that label off. It helps that her songs give the sensation of great space; themes never tend to be overbearing, and she knows just when to drop a few instruments or to cut to silence to achieve great effect. To be overly broad, her work on Noir particularly impressed me, as did certain selections from Madlax. Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles had excellent music to offer, too.

How many songs can you name that feature Gregorian chanting, heavily distorted electric guitar, a drum set, tubular bells, and synthesizer voices? I can name one: “Les Soldats” from Noir. Kajiura’s use of diverse instrumentation makes it difficult to peg her songs to a genre. Actually, “difficult” is a word that can come up often with Kajiura.  As thoughtful and complex as her compositions are, sometimes they’re too intelligent and esoteric for their own good. I’ll occasionally find myself listening to a selection of hers not because it’s particularly pleasing to the ear but because it’s so intricately, purposely strange that it’s a curiosity, a spectacle. It should be noted that many of her songs feature vocals sung in a language she invented (“Kajiuran”), which is cool but doesn’t make her songs any more accessible.

Thankfully, it’s not frequent to find myself thinking this. In the end, Yuki Kajiura is among the top composers in the industry, despite needing to take just a wee break from an increasingly homogeneous sound. I just wish I had discovered her sooner (and that she’d stop working with Bee Train).

Noir – Les Soldats

[audio:Noir – Les Soldats.mp3]

Zzeroparticle’s Thoughts:
Yuki Kajiura isn’t a composer I can listen to for endless stretches of time; she exhibits a lot of stylistic similarities from one anime soundtrack to the next with her penchant for using synth, grim, melancholy violins, the occasional piano melody, and, of course, her epic choruses. Outside a few forays into music thematically suited for different genres (Westerns, as demonstrated in El Cazador de la Bruja or romances, as in Shin Kimagure Orange Road), she’s fairly consistent. If you see her name in the score’s credits, you effectively know what you’re going to get.

Where Yuki Kajiura tends to shine is in crafting atmosphere, especially for darker-themed anime. I remember being absolutely captivated by the loneliness that was so fitting in describing the two female leads as well as the tracks that displayed an undercurrent of darkness that lay at Noir’s roots. She continues to deliver that heavy atmosphere in some of My HiME’s darker moments and brought out the mystery in the Kara no Kyoukai movies.

But all of that takes a back seat once the epic choruses materialize. Every time I come across a Kajiura album, that’s the first track I automatically look for. Her ability to bring out the intensity of the action scenes through the chorus is absolutely sublime, taking you away from the humdrum of wherever you happen to be sitting watching the shows that she composes for and tossing you right into the middle of the action. I’ve highlighted a few of her really awesome choral tracks in articles past, but it never hurts to do so again. With tracks like Noir’s “Salva Nos” and Kara no Kyoukai’s “M12+13” it’s difficult to forget the sublime beauty of the choreography as we watch Mireille and Kirika dispatch their assailants or Ryougi Shiki’s hauntingly beautiful dance of death as the spirits are cut apart one by one until they no longer pose a threat.

Kara no Kyoukai – M12+13

[audio:KnK – M1213.mp3]

Final Notes:
A lot of Kajiura’s biographical information was taken from, always a good source for fans looking to delve deeper than the summaries and quick looks that we tossed about here. Obviously, we were shooting for breadth over depth, but by casting such a wide net, we do hope that you’ve found some new soundtracks to check out or are reminded by a few oldies that need a re-listen. Over the course of this month, we’ll have a few Kajiura-related reviews coming down the pipeline, so watch for that. Given the how the biographical page has opinions scattered about, we welcome any and all discussion related to all things Kajiura.

Anime Instrumentality Staff

A collaboration between the staff members at Anime Instrumentality to bring you the best of all the anime music out there! Or silliness, whichever it is that happens to come first.

50 thoughts on “Composer of the Month – Yuki Kajiura

  • February 1, 2011 at 2:25 am

    I wasn’t impressed initially with Kajiura’s score from watching Noir or Madlax. Then I found out the best stuff are left in the last quarter of the anime, and yeah the music got really good to complement the darker hours in the heroines adventures. I think recently she’s gotten much better at arranging the music for the initial episodes of a TV series, and I like what I’ve heard in Puella Magi so far.

  • February 1, 2011 at 3:17 am

    Himeboshi? wasn’t that Ensei?

  • February 1, 2011 at 8:48 am

    It’s technically Himeboshi, but Ensei is another way to say the same word. In any rate it’s OST1 track 1 right?

    As for the composer write up, thanks you aniinstrumental dudes. I enjoyed it and it’s a good overview, albeit not much I didn’t know before. Just one bone i want to pick:

    Still, fans like myself can take comfort in the fact Ishikawa is continuing her solo career and that Kajiura’s style did rub off on her.

    To be fair, Ishikawa is a capable composer in her own right. During their See-saw days both of them wrote songs, and it’s hard to say how much the two collaborated to any real detail, who influenced who, etc.

    What is more interesting I think is Kajiura’s role as an arranger. Nobody ever talks about this, but she does quite a bit of that.

    • February 2, 2011 at 12:26 am

      It probably helps that she’s gotten more experience for the initial episodes that she scores them better. Or maybe the initial episodes just have a lot more action sequences where she can really strut her stuff with the intensity and bring about a more awe-inspiring experience.

      See omo’s comment. And yeah, OST1, Track 1.

      The aim for this article series is to be the broad overview that means, yeah, for someone with your knowledge, it might be hard to really unearth interesting factoids. Maybe the best hope is to get that through interviews or somesuch if they ever come to US conventions.

      Also, can you explain further into the arranger bits? It’s true no one talks about her arranging and I suspect it’s because people just don’t know much about it to be able to talk intelligently.

      Kalafina’s pretty much my girl group of choice at the moment and so far, they’ve yet to let me down aside from… “Progressive” maybe? Well, all the songs on Seventh Heaven are pretty strong as a group.

      And yeah, who isn’t looking forwards to “Magia?”

  • February 1, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    Come to think of it, my introduction to Yuki Kajura’s compositions were the Sora no Woto OP, Hikari no Senritsu. It sounded beautiful. I have also listened parts of “Red Moon,” that released last year and it was very good, but had yet to listen to the whole album. From what I heard, she is a very good composer, especially with her experience.

    That’s saying, I can’t wait to hear the full version of the Madoka ED.

  • February 2, 2011 at 2:06 am

    @ deadguy
    Yep, I am aware that Ishikawa wrote some of the songs for See-Saw and most of her own music nowadays, but within it we often see traces of YK’s style. But like you mentioned, the possibility exists that it could simply be Ishikawa rubbing off on Kajiura.

    As for Kajiura’s works for arrangements, I must say I’m not all that fond of it. The impression of ruined by just one song actually, “Hikari no Yukue” by savage genius. To me, that song just screamed Kajiura in the very beginning but the later parts didn’t quite fit in…

  • February 2, 2011 at 5:51 am

    I end up finding that a lot of her work ends up getting a bit stale after a while, though she always produces, like zzeroparticle points out, some really epic tracks that just remain part of playlist forever. She does a good job in bringing out atmosphere with her compositions. Aside from that, I think her style is distinctive to the point of repetitiveness. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing though.

  • February 2, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Great job on the writeup, definitely filled in the gaps I had about her composing history, especially in her early years. I’m also happy that Elemental Gelade got a mention (though a not-so-good one) as it was my gateway Kajiura score.

    “Natsu no Ringo” isn’t a bad song by any means, but I’m sorta sad that “I have a dream” failed in the selection for the closer Kalafina song for this article… It’s IMO the most quietly hopeful song I’ve heard from her ever, and I feel that it would be a great eye-opener for those who’ve known her stuff to be dark and foreboding; or pulsating and uplifting. Also fitting due to the fact that it closed out the Time of Eve movie and the Red Moon album as well.

    As a sidetrack, the tabloid-seeking side of me found her twitter (!/Fion0806) rather fun to read for little tidbits. Like when she blames gremlins in her home for swapping her CDs into the wrong cases, making mistakes on chords in her scoresheets and hiding her remote control. Also when she’s having fun making emoticons for lazing about on a rest day. 😛

    Strangely, I’m more looking forward to Madoka’s BGM score than “Magia” full-size, I really like some of the s’life family scene music so far.

    • February 2, 2011 at 8:20 pm

      @ omo
      While it is entirely possible that Ishikawa influenced Kajiura in See-Saw, the recent ‘chanting’ in her solo works definitely feels like it was a leaf out of Kajiura’s book. For her arrangements, I feel that most just scream Kajiura a little too loudly. Stuff like Hikari no Yukue completely destroyed my impression of her as an arranger.

      @ Mystlord
      My thoughts exactly, actually. But at least we can take heart in the fact she is good at what she does. =)

  • February 3, 2011 at 1:56 am

    I think consistency is something that her fans do enjoy. That is, when they come across a song or soundtrack with her name on it, they know what they’re getting, and for the most part, it’s genuinely good stuff. Catchy rhythms, choruses, the works.

    Haha, I tried listening to Elemental Gelade in my car a few times and I just couldn’t find her work too compelling. It’d be one thing if the act of driving made it hard to concentrate on her Gelade music, but I never had that issue getting absorbed by Petit Cossette while driving.

    Anyhow, I’ve unfortunately yet to listen to Kalafina’s entire discog, so I’m to blame for Natsu no Ringo. I should actually try to listen to Red Moon since I enjoyed Seventh Heaven so much.

    Finally, with Madoka, there’s just so much about it that reminds me of My-HiME, music included. I recall My-HiME having some enjoyable slice of life BGM too. That it fares well in context is good, so I’m curious to see how it goes standalone…

  • February 3, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    Yuki Kajiura wrote the op “Silly-Go-Round” for .hack//Roots. (

    Nothing else matters.

    I have an abnormal obsession with this song. Also a fan of her work on the .hack//Liminality ost. ( also wasn’t aware that she covered a couple of animes I watched a while back, especially Madlax & Tsubasa Chronicle.

    Fascinating and enlightening article. Thanks kindly.

  • February 3, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    I don’t think I’ve never been more torn whether an artist is consistent or just predictable. I think the reason Kajiura has such an ardent core fanbase is that the people who found themselves enjoying Kajiura in one show are pretty much predisposed to liking the OSTs of other shows she’s worked on. As good as Yoko Kanno is, I don’t think her fanbase are as “hardcore” for all her work because it seems they usually have one OST they really like from her that just happens to fall in a genre they enjoy, while they’re mostly indifferent to her other stuff.

    It raises the question of what is more admirable: an artist that consistently churns out excellent works in a way you’re pretty much sure to like or one that is proficient at many things but may not always offer what you’re looking for.

    It’s probably less of a question of being admirable than it is the more personal issue of what you end up enjoying the most often and to what magnitude. I may be a tad disappointed that Kajiura doesn’t stretch out the scope of her genre affiliations as much as I’d like, but I think there are few composers in the anime scene whose works are as consistent in quality throughout the depth of their opuses, even if Kajiura’s breadth isn’t quite where I’d appreciate it the most.

  • February 4, 2011 at 5:24 am

    I like her music but I have to admit that her songs are easily recognizable, and not in a good way. It’s like, whenever you listen to a particular music piece, you can immediately tell if the composer is Kajiura or not. She has certain tunes that she reuses in her background.

    Even so, I still like her music. My-HiME’s “Mezame” and the formation of Kalafina are my favorites.

    • February 4, 2011 at 2:35 pm

      As much as she’s looked upon fondly for her anime scores, I do think that her pop stuff is just as important with “Silly-go-round” being a good example of her work with FictionJunction that’s turned out well. Heck, I’m not sure there’s any of her pop stuff that didn’t turn out well.

      I’d say it’s not a bad thing since I have the same inclination with people like Mozart or even John Williams. In Kajiura’s case, consistency works. We might prefer she varies it up a bit, but few can point to her music and say it sucks. Pretty much look at the quandary that both Aftershok and I have as far as her works go :p

  • February 4, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    You left out a crucial factoid about Yuki Kajiura being mai waifu.

    Salva Nos was her first track that caught my attention. I was watching that fight scene in episode 5 (correct me if I’m wrong about the episode, I watched it 6 years ago), and I had one of those “AM I REALLY HEARING THIS?!” moments. It’s like when I heard Eyes on Me in FFVIII. Are they really singing in a video game? THIS IS AWESOME!

    I’m terrible when it comes to behind-the-scenes trivia. I don’t know studios, directors, writers, voice actors, composers, etc. unless they do something drastic to catch my attention. Yuki-nee succeeded.

    • February 5, 2011 at 2:57 am

      Kajiura-Raptor shipping is something I would wholeheartedly approve of. As long as you’re not referring to her as literally your older sister =p

      But yeah, I definitely hear you on Salva Nos since I think pretty much everyone was awed by that action scene backed by that song which resulted in pure acoustic awesomeness all around. The rhythm and energy along with the stirring chorus that poured through did a great job at making those action scenes memorable even if a lot of the anime bored me to tears. But Kajiura’s score? That definitely stands the test of time. It’s got to especially considering that I still give it a whirl, nearly 10 years after the fact!

      I was also pretty awed by Eyes on Me. So fitting within FF8… and you couldn’t imagine the joy I felt when I discovered that you could play that song in any old CD player by popping in the game disc. Made my day!

  • February 5, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Somehow I’ve managed to be pretty unfamiliar with Kajiura’s work! I mean, I’ve heard it in the past, but a lot of what she’s worked on, I haven’t watched. It’s good to know she’s doing Madoka, which I’m in love with.

  • February 5, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    @zzeroparticle: I discovered you could do that with Sonic CD. Best game/soundtrack I’ve ever had that was pre-packaged with a computer system.

    • February 5, 2011 at 7:59 pm

      @Arianna Sterling
      Glad to know that this overview proved useful! She certainly is a good artist in her own right and hopefully people will use this as a guide to check out her other works since they’ve been solid and are easy to get into.

      The first time I encountered that sort of soundtrack scenario was with the Warcraft II game disc and it made great homework music when I was in elementary school since I could pretend that those math problems were puny humans trying to take me down. I recall being able to do that with Heroes of Might and Magic 2’s game disc two, and that one would probably be my favorite.

  • February 6, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    yuki kajiura is excellent.i first discovered her existence in gundam seed,since then i cant help myself to adore her.i just love the chants and orchestrated style of her music,the rock,techno gives me chills as well.she’s really good at playing with the piano,flute and violin.i can say she’s one of the best music composer and one rivals currently enjoying red moon,ashita no keshiki and hikari no senritsu(though i love all of her pieces).anyway thanks for the write up.i love you yuki kajiura.^_^

  • February 7, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    @murrue ramius
    Glad you enjoyed this write-up! Her ability to go forth and spout off a large diversity of instruments while keeping to her well-honed style that’s easily recognizable is probably one of her greatest assets, allowing her to be endeared upon by fans who pretty much get what they’re looking for when they listen to a soundtrack with her name on it.

  • February 8, 2011 at 6:42 am

    I love Yuki Kajiura. She was the first composer I bothered to actually look her name up. She made me fall in love with Noir. And from there, made me look up a bunch of other series with her music, including Cossette, .hack, Mai Hime/ Otome.

    Madoka’s soundtrack is shaping up pretty nicely too.

    Anyway, it was fascinating to read her biography.

  • February 8, 2011 at 7:25 am

    Awww, No Mezame in MaiHime mentions at least? =x it’ll forever remaining one of the most climatic battle songs imo~
    and yeah… I didn’t even notice she did the OST during Elemental Gelade, and Kajiura’s BGMs tends to bring out even bland series.
    Nevertheless, she’s probably the only anime staff member whose work I consistently love so~ yaaaayyyyy ^o^

    • February 8, 2011 at 10:53 pm

      So far Madoka has been more of the same from Kajiura, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing since it fits Madoka’s atmosphere perfectly, especially once they go into that warped space to hunt those surreal entities. I can’t imagine any composer doing a better job with that seeing how well she delivered through Cossette.

      Hey now, I wouldn’t want to reveal all my cards for My-HiME. Not when I plan to review that album during the course of this month!

  • February 9, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    I’d like to interject that the following will almost always hold true:

    “[FILL IN THE BLANK] has been more of the same from Kajiura.”

    Just fill in the blank with a show she scored.

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  • February 19, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    I must be the only one who has found her Garden of Sinners OSTs very overrated and uninteresting. It was mostly a compilation of bland synth effects and new age. The most memorable aspects of KnK’s music is the theme songs but Oblivious my favorite among them, I have the others that I bought from ITunes and they’re entertaining enough. So in terms of your comparison of Pandora Hearts to KNK I must say I find the opposite to be true. Pandora Hearts was a far more variety and interesting soundtrack.

    I also find this to be true when comparing TRC To Mai-Hime, Hime had nice tunes but overall TRC had more pieces that were worthwhile. When it comes to remembering OSTs TRC’s music has left far greater impressions on me than Hime. Think you also have some unsung compositions from her like Fist of the North Star (Admittedly haven’t heard her music for it but it is rarely mentioned even among us Kajiura nuts) and her work for Xenosaga II and III. The delicious award bait song “My Tomorrow” makes me happy :D. Still this is a nice write up on Kajiura good work.

    • February 19, 2011 at 6:39 pm

      Thanks for the long, comprehensive comment. Always glad to hear other voices weigh in (which is kinda the point of these writeups!).

      I’m willing to say that the bulk of KnK’s excellence comes through the atmosphere she sculpts. There are some immersive melodies scattered about to add to the whole atmosphere, but by and large the way the mysteries come across have been really well-done. That said, I won’t have a definitive tab on KnK until the soundtrack comes out in the next few weeks. And yeah, Kalafina shines really well through all of the movies, but that’s a given.

      With regard to TRC, one of our readers, Baka-Raptor, came up with the idea that people remember Mai-HiME’s music better because that anime was better than TRC. I myself prefer Mai-HiME and I’d be lying if nostalgia value isn’t one of the reasons why I loved it (other reasons being a good mix of music from the school life music to the epic choruses in stuff like Mezame).

      Lastly, the only reasons why Xenosaga isn’t mentioned is because this focuses more on her anime music. Otherwise, I’d have gotten my arms around those two games as well.


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