Anime Soundtracks: The Good, The Bad and The Terrible
June 17, 2011 2 Comments
Soundtracks, by and large we all know that they are pretty important when it comes to films, I can’t remember many films that I have liked that don’t have a brilliant soundtrack, the same applies for anime.
A good soundtrack is as important as a good story or good animation since the music often is the mood setter and acts as emotional makers to let the viewers know what is going on. If I had a top 10 anime (I don’t, but I have anime I truly love) then they would most likely all include soundtracks which I would not mind buying. Seto no Hanayome, Ao no Exorcist, Asobi ni Iku Yo, Ghost in the Shell, Cowboy Bebop, Macross Frontier, any Studio Ghibli film, the list of anime with pretty good music goes on, and unfortunately it would take up too much space.
Cowboy Bebop for example is probably my favorite anime of all time and has what has become my favorite soundtrack of all time. The Jazz, Swing, Blues etc in that soundtrack are simply sublime and really help set to tempo and mood of the anime and its characters. I would go so far as to say that without the excellent soundtrack the anime would not be as good as it is.Now this is not set in stone, I am sure that there are plenty of bad anime with good soundtracks or good anime with bad soundtracks even though I haven’t watched them all (I wish I had the time to watch that much anime, but sadly I don’t). Although there have been anime that on the face of it were just generic oppai/pantsu shows, but were great fun to watch and the soundtrack helped a lot with creating a good atmosphere during the show. I admit to liking Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou for example, partly due to the soundtrack.
There have been many anime that I honestly cannot remember their soundtrack. Recently finished watching Dragon Crisis but for the life of me I cant remember what the music sounded like. Cant remember the music from Rune Soldier Louis (cant remember what that show was about come to think of it). IF i cannot remember the soundtrack then it is very likely that i wont remember the anime since music acts as a form of marker, it can provide little points of reference to help us remember scenes and characters.
To take the example of Cowboy Bebop a little further, the soundtrack itself helps with the mood and the overall feel of the show. For starters it includes a significant number of jazz/blues songs fitting into the ‘Bebop’ in the title. But what is also important is how the different pieces help to set the mood.
During the faster paced, action sequences we will get up-tempo jazz pieces in more of a big band style, however during the slower and more dramatic sequences we will get classic bar room jazz or other slower pieces. Interspersed between these there are various pieces of stripped down blues on single guitars/harmonicas that help to create a sense of loneliness in the vastness of space and we get a soundtrack that adds such a large amount of emotion and feeling to the series that I believe it wouldn’t have been quite as good without it. Not to mention that songs can add comic moments by being suitably exaggerated and silly (see Seto no Hanayome as an example).
What is so interesting about anime soundtracks however is that there are such a large number of them that become hit singles. In fact it often appears that the soundtrack, while it has been composed for the anime, has also specifically been composed as a potential no.1 single. This I think is backed up by the sheer number pop groups/acts that are employed to perform (I am not entirely sure how many of them actually compose the songs) the songs.
So essentially without a good soundtrack a lot of the mood within an anime can be lost, in fact a good soundtrack is an important part of making a good anime, along with good animation quality. A good story is preferable, however I have watched many anime with a ropy story at best but have enjoyed them nonetheless (hello Asobi ni Iku Yo!), but for me a good soundtrack is very important.
What was most surprising for me while writing this post is that some the anime with soundtracks that I particularly like, namely Cowboy Bebop, Macross Frontier, Ghost in the Shell, have all been composed by Yoko Kanno. And I do think that it is immensely important to have a good composer/soundtrack within an anime. Incidentally I have found the concept of Macross to be ludicrous for many years, and yet I continue to watch it, Macross Frontier was actually quite enjoyable and while my music taste tends to shy away from pop music (being more of a rock and metal person, although I am a Jazz musician who loves jazz and blues as well) I admit that I rather enjoyed the soundtrack to this particular anime. There have been terrible soundtracks, but since they were terrible i cannot remember them at all, lightly problematic when trying to write a blog post, but that’s life.
And finally my favorite song from any anime soundtrack probably has to be Gotta Knock a Little Harder from the Cowboy Bebop Movie, it was the ending credits theme and is brilliant, but quite frankly i loved that entire soundtrack. And yes I know this post is a little heavy on the Bebop, it just happens to be my favorite anime soundtrack and I think it is an excellent example of soundtrack and story mixing to make something special.