|Anime Song Orchestra
|December 30, 2010
|01. Moon Signal
|02. Hare Hare Yukai
|03. Level ∞
|04. Level 5 -Judgelight-
|05. Renai Circulation
|06. Higurashi no Naku Koro ni
|07. Makka na Chikai
|08. Sousei no Aquarion
|09. Strike Witches 2 ～egao no mahou～
|10. Ai Oboete Imasuka
Review: As difficult as it may seem, when it comes to orchestral arrangements of anime themes, I’m actually not that hard to please. All the music has to do at the bare minimum is take the theme and transcribe it in such a way that it’s melodically pleasing. Doing so gets you more than halfway to an arrangement that’s listenable, but given the scope of disasters like TAMusic’s pitiful efforts that are far from enjoyable, this must be a harder task than how I’ve envisioned it. Because of this, the bar for orchestral arrangements has been set pretty darn low.
That said, a doujin group arranging under the name Melodic Taste, has been able to meet this low bar through their Anime Song Orchestra album. Their arrangements are fairly innocuous; they might not consist of grand, orchestral flourishes, novel interpretations, or dynamically-arranged pieces that sweep you off your feet, but they get the job done. What you get are arrangements that are about as straightforward and orthodox as can be; pieces that generally don’t strive to be anything more than their originals.
So given the orthodox nature of these arrangements, the key to enjoying this album is the curiosity in hearing how these songs turn out. The opener, “Moon Signal,” is a straight-up transcription of the original, featuring the woodwinds in the early parts of the verses before letting the trumpets take over about halfway through and going all the way up to the end of the chorus. “Moon Signal” maintains its intensity and exuberance as it sticks steadfastly to the verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure, making it faithful if just a bit repetitive.
[audio:01 – AnimeSongOrchestra.mp3]
As you can probably guess from my earlier remarks, this faithfulness is pervasive throughout this album, with very few deviations. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya’s “Hare Hare Yukai” still retains its bouncy, fun melody, though novelty does come through the bassoon’s delivery during the bridge. To Aru Kagaku no Railgun’s “Level 5 -Judgelight-” successfully translates fripSide’s trance-pop into a saxophone-driven arrangement. Although there are no meaningful departures from the original, this take is still enjoyable because it draws strength from the original’s catchiness.
The best two tracks, however, materialize in the much-loved “Renai Circulation,” and “Higurashi no Naku Koro ni.” The former’s interpretation is very straightforward, but it does an excellent job of capturing the bubbly cuteness that made the original such a joy to listen to. In addition to using the xylophone’s and the flute’s timbre to convey a sense of child-like innocence as well as depict Kana Hanazawa’s little vocal outbursts, the most unexpectedly delightful section is when the snare drum and brass join the flute during the “KOI TSURU KISETSU WA YOKUBARI circulation” chant because I just didn’t think Melodic Taste would actually try to arrange that part nor did I think that it’d turn out so well.
[audio:05 – AnimeSongOrchestra.mp3]
In “Higurashi no Naku Koro ni’s” case, the differences between this and the original are slightly more pronounced. The screechy, dissonant flutes in the introduction are a tad annoying, but once the piece gets underway, the lower-registered instruments come in, emanating an aura of doom and gloom. The pizzicato from the strings add to the tension, giving this arrangement a creepy feeling, before the bombast takes over during the chorus to evoke a sense of dread borne from imminent destruction. Given what the eponymous anime focuses upon, this arrangement captures the harrowing atmosphere of the anime well.
Higurashi no Naku Koro ni
[audio:06 – AnimeSongOrchestra.mp3]
As enjoyable as some of these arrangements are, there are going to be quite a few duds. Tracks like “Strike Witches 2 ～egao no mahou～” comes off sounding the way you’d expect an upbeat, generic pop song to sound if it were orchestrated: like a generic orchestral arrangement of an upbeat, generic pop song. Tautologies aside, there’s nothing in this arrangement or the original that’s so engaging that it’d make me want to pay closer attention. Other problems include messy harmonies, which keep tracks like the perennial favorite, “Sousei no Aquarion,” from being enjoyable (it doesn’t help that the woodwinds during the bridge sound a tad off). Finally, “Ai Oboete Imasuka,” the only track that isn’t bombastic or energetic, falls short in delivering the original’s sentiments. This is a great example of a case in which an orchestral library is unable to deliver upon a song’s emotional components. The inflections and nuances of a human performer are where this piece can shine, and the sound samples used here just cannot replicate that human performer.
Strike Witches 2 ～egao no mahou～[audio:09 – AnimeSongOrchestra.mp3]
Ai Oboete Imasuka
[audio:10 – AnimeSongOrchestra.mp3]
In spite of the faults and the album’s tendency to play it safe with its arrangements, Anime Song Orchestra still represents a competent effort. Having experienced so many terrible doujin orchestral arrangements, if the work that Melodic Taste displays here doesn’t put this group at the top of the heap in this tiny niche, then they surely are very close to the top at least. And what this proclamation does is say more about the state of the doujin orchestral music scene than it does about this particular group or these arrangements.