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.
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