Picks of the Week #13

  • Miyuu – ‘Southern Waves’

Reminiscent of the honey-toned personality of YUI, Osaka-based singer-songwriter Miyuu makes her major debut with ‘Southern Waves’. A warm guitar-pop vibe shimmers after every harmony and strum on the guitar, tinged with a hazy ambience from Miyuu’s delicate vocals. From those days playing covers of Maroon 5 and Bruno Mars at temples and shrines around Kyoto, Miyuu has paved the way for what is surely a bright future ahead of her.

  • Fumika – アオイトリ ‘Aoi Tori’

Recently, 久保帯人 Kubo Tite said his farewells with the end of his popular manga series ブリーチ Bleach. アオイトリ ‘Aoi Tori’ (‘Blue Bird’) by J-pop singer Fumika is a throwback to the days I enjoyed watching (& reading the manga) the anime of Bleach. (For the avid fans, you will recognise the series of episodes this track was used as the closing theme song). Anime can often open people into a world of musical wonders, and ‘Aoi Tori’ is one of many songs I have had the pleasure to uncover.

  • サカナクション Sakanaction – ワード ‘Word’

There is just something about サカナクション Sakanaction’s music that draws many listener’s senses into a unique musical atmosphere within a blink of an eye. ワード ‘Word’ is no different. Its infectious rock motor married with a dazzling kaleidoscope of electro-pop colours stimulates every rhythmic muscle of the listener to get in sync with the track. Find out more about Sakanaction in my blog post here, and hear another track by them here.

© Isaku Takahashi

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アニソン – Anime Songs

My recent feature on Mizuki Nana has reinvigorated my interest towards anime culture, and the collaborative potentials between music and one of the most distinctive entertainment forms. Bearing in mind the never-ending list of awesome anime songs, here is just an introduction to some great anime songs (past and present) that have come to enlighten the popular consciousness.

  • Linked Horizon – 紅蓮の弓矢 ‘Guren no Yumiya’

The recent craze and popularity of Attack on Titan has propelled ‘fantasy band’ Sound Horizon/Linked Horizon to new heights. ‘Guren no Yumiya’ was written as the opening theme for the first thirteen episodes of the anime series. The epic nature of the song, where symphonic language meets progressive and metal rock encapsulates the energy and feelings of conflict and determination conveyed through the action-packed narrative.

  • 大野雄二 Ohno Yuji Lupin the Third

We have the mastermind of Ohno Yuji to thank for one of Japan’s most recognisable anime theme tunes. The turbo-geared vibe of the theme song for Lupin the Third is full of colourful harmonies, textures and melodies. The 1978 and ‘79 versions lob similar propulsion; echoing the classic funk idioms of Curtis Mayfield or Earth, Wind and Fire, with Mancini-style string melodies weaving through the ensemble. The addition of radiant synths distinguishes the ‘79 version to the former. On the other hand, the ’80 version propels a zestful big band sensation full of swing inflections and a spotlight on the vibraphone, expressing a rather brazen Pink Panther-esque personality. (The clip here is a comparison of the three different arrangements)

  • T.M. Revolution x Mizuki Nana – 革命デゥアリズム ‘Kakumei Dualism’

This tune is arguably the quintessence of modern anime song. Its high-speed breathtaking sonic atmosphere captures the futuristic atmosphere and action-packed story of the anime Valvrave the Liberator. A symphonic rock idiom forms the backdrop of the song: voltage-charged guitars meet grandiose string melodies, and the aggressive vocal behaviour of T.M. Revolution meets the operatic yet fierce vocal magnitude of Mizuki Nana.

  • 平野綾 Hirano Aya – ‘God Knows’

Featuring in the anime The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, this tune reverberates a high-octane exuberance emitted by the grumbling bass line, ferocious guitar virtuoso, bustling drum rhythms and a gust of fire from the penetrating vocals of Hirano Aya. While the song serves a particular purpose as part of the narrative, it has a catchy sensation that perhaps would attract attention as an autonomous piece of ‘J-Pop’ without the aid of the anime. (I for one haven’t followed the manga or anime, but feel comfortable or get along with the song without any knowledge of the story. Perhaps this is a clear example of how anime songs can play a role on the effect, but also act as a result of a particular anime).

  • 高橋洋子Takahashi Yuko – 残酷な天使のテーゼ ‘Zankoku na Tenshi no Tēze’

One of the most influential anime tunes to come out of the country, ‘Zankoku na Tenshi no Tēze’ has transcended generations and cultures, and is now recognised by audiences of many ages and cultures. The music is bursting with unapologetically kitsch dance/disco features, vintage sonic shades and timbres, pronounced heavily by the neon-tinged synths and drum machines. While director 庵野秀明 Anno Hideaki’s original idea to use Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances as the opening theme got dismissed, one cannot help but see subtle resemblances between the vocal melody of Takahashi and Borodin’s ‘orientalist’ idiom.

  • きただにひろし Kitadani Hiroshi – ウィーアー! ‘We Are!’

Alongside Evangelion and Lupin the Third, this is perhaps one of the most iconic tunes of today’s anime culture. Originally sung by Kitadani Hiroshi, this jolly tune has been covered by various J-Pop artists including pop group AAA (SKY-HI is also a member of the 7-piece unit), a testament to the song’s universal charm. Both versions listed here are brimming with an energy driven by fanfare trumpet stabs and electrifying guitar solos, and while the Kitadani version comprises of a classic band line-up, AAA embraces a wide scope of synths to enrich the heroic vibe and high spirit conveyed through the music and lyrics.

(AAA Version)

Realising that fact that this post has omitted many more unforgettable, iconic anime songs, this only gives us some perspective of the diversity in musical flavours to come out of the anime sphere. Throwing yourself in the eclectic mix of fantasies is the best way to grasp the weird and wonderful world of anime.

© Isaku Takahashi

水樹奈々 – Mizuki Nana

Japan is the birthplace of manga and anime, and since its creation domestic success has propagated into global adoration. It was also a natural progression for pop music in Japan to play a part in the marketing of such a distinctive visual medium that is of great importance to the nation’s cultural identity.

Perhaps one of the current leading figures of the ‘anime song’ genre is Mizuki Nana. Originally coming from an enka (early form of traditional Japanese song) background, she maintains her heritage by making the most of vocal techniques associated with the traditional enka genre. In 深愛 ‘Shin’ai’ (‘Deep Love’), Mizuki often embellishes the tails of some melodies with a Japanese style of vibrato called kobushi. The sentimental mood that pours out of her vocals is further enhanced by a symphonic ballad foundation made up of serene harp phrases and glissandos, opulently scored strings and lamenting oboe melodies.

(*It is also worth pointing out that Mizuki often features as a leading voice actress in the anime/video games the song is tied to)

However, one of Mizuki’s signature talents is arguably her capability to handle menacing anthemic EDM numbers with an extremely fast, aggressive tempo (which at times has reached around 200bpm). ‘Synchrogazer’ exemplifies her vocal mastery under scrutinising musical circumstances. Providing the opening theme for the fiery anime series Senki Zessho Symphogear, the propulsion of this track is not only launched from the main drumbeat, but also stimulated by the eruption of radiant synths, and piercing, rapid rhythmic crescendo and energetic solos just before the ‘middle 8-like’ section. Perhaps one could also mention the dramatic collapses into soothing elegiac vocal melodies as pivotal in the dramatic nature of the song, as it makes the anthem that much more volatile and unpredictable for the listener.

Mizuki’s groundbreaking collaboration with T.M. Revolution took both names to stratospheric heights in the anime song world. Written for the first series of Valvrave the Liberator, ‘Preserved Roses’ is a classic EDM ‘synth-symphony’ that has a striding momentum like a relentless treadmill. The urgency and blazing spirit (from the magical array of synths, the heart-pounding beat and the harmonic camaraderie between two powerful vocalists) that bolsters the track is simply thrilling.

Music for anime is not simply just for commercial benefits, but is also part of the experience, the journey of encountering these wonderful fantasies. Mizuki Nana’s pivotal role as the “Queen of Anime Song” has no doubt helped in maintaining a healthy existence of the unique entertainment form in Japanese popular culture.

Other Listening:

  • METRO BAROQUE
  • 革命デゥアリズム Kakumei Dualism (‘Revolution Dualism’, ft. T.M. Revolution)
  • PHANTOM MINDS
  • 純潔パラドックス Junketsu Paradox (‘Pure Paradox’)

© Isaku Takahashi