Although I’ve been writing this anime blog for a long time now, over 6 years, in fact, I’m still not sure of the kind of blogger I am. I’m not disciplined enough to write every few days, nor do I enjoy deep analysis of anime. I don’t even really enjoy discussing it to any great lengths. But even still, here I am. This has become my home, and I don’t know why. An anime blog.
I first watched Wolf’s Rain in 2003, just as I was beginning to ramp up my interest in anime. I remember a few things about it: being absolutely traumatised by its ending and being spell-bound by Yoko Kanno’s music. Following on from the similarly fondly remembered RahXephon, it made a fan of Studio Bones out of me, too. Which is to say, Wolf’s Rain became one of my favourites and just last week, nearly 10 years on(!), I finally re-watched it.
If I had to condense my love for anime into one single moment, I’d choose the scene when `Space Lion` begins playing in the 13th episode of Cowboy Bebop (Jupiter Jazz.) It is one of the first times I can remember feeling a pang of bitter-sweetness whilst watching anime: the sadness of Gren’s passing tempered by Spike’s and Faye’s return to the Bebop; that Jet can’t really hide the fact that he truly gives a shit about them but, like a grumpy Dad, is too up-tight to admit it, and Gren’s death-wish to be cut adrift amongst the stars and sent drifting towards Titan. Alone.
“I see. You are Spike. Julia was always talking about you… That your two eyes were of different colours… That’s what she said… That you get a strange feeling when you look into his eyes.” — Gren
A strange romance springs forth from the snow-capped streets and cold, gray clouds, and from the elegant, softly-voiced Gren himself, an angelic hermaphrodite in love with Vicious, yet broken by the betrayal of their friendship. His sad, tired eyes and knowing smile are captured and carried beautifully by `Space Lion`’s warm tone of resignation. It’s a spine-tingling moment.
A Gabriela Robin Site have posted an awesome acoustic live set by regular Yoko Kanno vocalist/collaborator Steve Conte. Performed songs include “Heaven’s Not Enough” (my favorite), “Living Inside the Shell”, “Words We Couldn’t Say”, “Rain” and “Call Me Call Me” – so that’s some of the best music from Wolf’s Rain, Stand Alone Complex and Cowboy Bebop. Light those lighters and head on over there right now.
I’m a big fan of Yoko Kanno’s music; be it the atmospheric electronica of Macross Plus (1994) or the acoustic style contributed to Wolf’s Rain (2003), it’s hard to ignore the core emotional beauty of her work; a quality that, not matter which musical style she borrows, ensures that she captures our attention (and often, hearts too!). For the means of this poll, I picked out three series which distinctly represent Kanno’s diverse talent.
For example, lets consider her soundtrack for Vision of Escaflowne (1996), an epic and exciting orchestral set (“Dance of Curse”) that emphasizes fantastical themes of life-changing conflict. Then we have Cowboy Bebop (1998), arguably a career defining fusion of American jazz and blues; cinematic, moody and bitter-sweet (“Adieu”, “Space Lion”, “Rain”, “Blue”), it’s a superlative collection of songs that undoubtedly have their own story to tell and stand alone as great music, regardless of Cowboy Bebop itself. Finally, we have Stand Alone Complex (2002); this time it’s an interesting mash-up of her previous work. Being scored for science fiction anime, there is an overriding use of up-tempo and rousing electronica (“Cybermind”, “Rise”) as well as dreamy vocal tracks (“Christmas in the Silent Forest”, “Psychodelic Soul”, “Mikansei Love Story”) that echo an ethereal trip into a starry-eyed unknown. For the means of this vote, I ended up plumping for “Cowboy Bebop”, but I particularly love a lot of her work for “Stand Alone Complex” and if just for beautiful “Voices”, I was tempted to include Macross Plus too.
At the time of writing, Kanno’s most recent effort is Darker than Black (2007); being another attempt to capture an American rock feel, it’s doomed to living the shadow of Cowboy Bebop and rarely reaches the emotional heights we expect of her craft, only “ScatCat”, “Kuro”, “Deadly Work” and “In no Piano” hinting at the beating heart hiding beneath the superficial front of up-tempo, slick rock and muzak.
It’s also interesting to note that whether coincidence or not, a high number of Kanno’s soundtracks have contributed to landmark anime productions; I need not extol the virtues of the likes of Cowboy Bebop or Escaflowne, but I do wonder if her presence elevates and influences those around her to create the kind of anime that will be remembered for years to come.
Lately, I’ve been running a little low on inspiration. Blogging can be great fun, but it’s hard work when the ideas aren’t flowing as freely. In the last week alone, I’ve scrapped two half-written articles simply because they felt like a chore to write, and after all, dear reader, the last thing I want to do is infect you with is my apathy. I’m thoroughly enjoying the likes of Gurren Lagann, Seirei no Moribito and Toward the Terra, yet I’m finding it increasingly difficult to write about any "current" anime at all, if just because I feel like my voice is drowned out by the sea of fandom; you know, I want to say an episode is cool, but its kind of pointless when dozens of others have already said the same thing.
By way of those feelings, over the weekend I started watching Turn A Gundam. Despite its obscure reputation, respected opinions have assured me that Turn A is the best of the post-UC Gundam productions and to be completely honest, the fact Yoko Kanno composed the music is enough to merit a substantial leap of faith anyway.
As of writing, I’m four episodes into the series and so far, I’ve enjoyed it. For a Yoshiyuki Tomino anime, the lead character (effeminate, white-haired teen called Loran played the stellar Romi Paku) is remarkably pleasant, and that the story has so far unfolded on Earth lends a dash a colour and diversity to Tomino’s typically oppressive, space dwelling back-drop. His ideas continue to fascinate me, as does the depth of the universes he creates; personalities, technologies, cultures, rituals; its easy to lose yourself, to believe in the story — the little details are so important.
Turn A is clearly influenced by a Miyazaki style environmental paranoia. The story begins as three kids (from a splinter human settlement on the moon) land on Earth with a mission to investigate the lush green planet and its industrial society. Two years later the army, mobile suits in tow, invades. Based on these four episodes, there is an obvious lamentation of both advanced technology and its irresponsible use, ultimately leading to the pointless desecration of nature as a power struggle escalates into an all out yet completely pointless war. A number of subtexts can be read into the invasion and occupation of Earth by "foreigners", not least of all a post-WWII fear of Western culture and technology occupying traditional Japan.
Yoko Kanno’s soundtrack is another highlight, epic and sweeping as ever, I’m looking forward to further acquainting myself with the OST. High amounts of nudity not withstanding, the animation is fine, clearly hand-drawn and evoking the sense of depth and life that today’s CG dominated, artificial fare has somewhat misplaced.
To quote rubbish rockers Staind, it’s been a while. Of course I haven’t stopped watching anime, I just don’t have much to say. I could write boring episode reviews, but you know, that’s boring! More than anything I seem to rely on inspiration to write and the feeling now is that I’m either burnt out or just couldn’t care less.
Death Note was great, but it’s fast becoming a weak parody of itself; Light and L locked together – it’s like some stupid sitcom. Code Geass is superficially exciting and features some colourful animation, but it’s mostly just absurd, camp trash; a retooled Gundam for the motaku generation.
Red Garden is one of the few shining lights to emerge from the horrendous winter season. A novelty for TV anime these days; it has a story to tell, it has female characters with integrity and it doesn’t look like it was animated for pedophiles. Score!
Eyes then turn to the spring ’07 season and hope springs anew. I better not be the only one looking forward to Bokurano; imagine an alternate version of Evangelion where Shinji and his giant robot accidentally squish Father Ikari (and his car) underfoot, while Asuka’s a child prostitute and after every victorious mecha mash up, the pilot curls up and dies. As long as the production values are up to scratch (we’re depending on GONZO here, so it’s a flip of a coin really), Bokurano will stun, surprise and shock anime fans not prepared for such cold, hard brutality.
It’s nice to see a couple more TV shows from Studio BONES are gearing up for launch too. I do enjoy dark science fiction and as far as I can see, Studio BONES are up there with the best. “Darker than Black” (with a Yoko Kanno soundtrack!) and “The Skull Man” may sound corny, but coming from the brilliant animation house behind the likes of Wolf’s Rain and Kurau Phantom Memory, expectations are sky high.
For what seems like forever, I’ve been a hopeless follower of Yoko Kanno’s music. I adore almost every single one her soundtracks, from the jazzy Cowboy Bebop to the sweeping, epic sound of Vision of Escaflowne.
With a lot of anime composers, I tend to blow hot and cold – meaning I can love a soundtrack for a few weeks, but once the show has finished, my interest in the music gradually fades too; clearly an emotional attachment to the music, connecting it with certain dramatics, can cloud one’s objective judgment on the ultimate quality of sound. You could say I’ve picked up more glass shattering JPOP than I’d like to admit.
It’s different with Yoko Kanno though – I have songs from Macross Plus (“VOICES”, “MYUNG Theme”) stored on my portable MP3 player, I listen to these songs every day, and the last time I watched Macross Plus was three years ago. That’s the best tribute to her work I can offer – that it stands alone, divorced from anime, as simply great music, period.
Now I’m going to spotlight two of her songs. Since you’re reading this blog, I think it’s safe to assume you’ve already heard Yoko Kanno’s music in either Cowboy Bebop, Stand Alone Complex or Wolf’s Rain (if not, you are a broken person, go and get fixed). First up is “Kissing The Christmas Killer” from the “The Other Side of Midnight” soundtrack (a.k.a 23-ji no Ongaku: NHK Rensoku Dorama “Mayonaka wa Betsu no Kao”).
Kissing The Christmas Killer (4m 27secs) is an elegant, fragile ballad beautifully sung by one of Kanno’s long time vocalists Maaya Sakamoto (RahXephon OP, Vision of Escaflowne OP, Wolf’s Rain ED). Beginning with little but a sparsely played piano, Sakamoto’s angelic voice gradually ascends from the cold seasonal background; the song becomes a yearning, lyrical fairy tale perfectly at ease along side Kanno’s shimmering, magical sound.
Lyrics from “Kissing The Christmas Killer” (Anime Lyrics dot Com)
- I was heaven sent
Traded for the words I swore that
Every piece of me would still belong
Forever and a day
To someone who cared
Whatever there may be
Ever there may beYou came along
Now I’m going all against the
Promises that I made, and here I am
Falling for your love
Or am I lost in heaven
I don’t know any more
Don’t know any moreJudgement will be made
On a Christmas day
Hiding in the snow, he’s prying me”Toys if you’ve been good
Knives if you have not”
Better steal a kiss ‘fore I’ll be gone
I’ll be gone
The intense “The man in the desert” (4m 15secs) is from her (1st and only) solo album “Song to fly” (1998). For this song Kanno worked with the world famous Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, fleshing out rising, grandiose themes with a sweeping, operatic sound. The result being a song that feels important and profound; at first rural, layered and confused by single instruments, yet driving ever onwards with a vital sense of hope, climaxing with the intense dueling of a choir and orchestra.
Rest assured, these two songs are but a small taste of Yoko Kanno’s rich back catalogue of diverse music. To sample it all is one of my missions in life!
MP3 & shop links
The ever reliable ICv2 recently posted up a list of the “ten most powerful people in the North American anime industry“. The run down makes for interesting (if a little predictable) reading and sitting at the top is Gonzo’s bestest buddy Gen Fukunaga (of FUNimation), who managed to visciously kill off any competition with his company’s swelling ranks of mediocre action anime to become “the one” (or should I say, Jyu-Oh).
This got me thinking about the people who have had the most influence on my development as an anime fan, or more specifically; which sick bastards transformed me into the hardened anime junkie I am today?
The list of shame
4. Yoko Kanno – Cowboy Bebop
Soundtracks play a great part in my love of anime and no one does it better than Yoko Kanno. I first heard her work in Cowboy Bebop and have since been totally and utterly defeated by her varied tunage and heart wrenching, nostalgic stylings.
3. Chika Umino – Honey & Clover
At a time when I was feeling seriously jaded about anime (I couldn’t even make it through the first 3 minutes of Gonzo’s Black Cat), along came a funny slice of life series called Honey & Clover that completely refreshed my enthusiasm for the genre. This was a geniuenly funny, life affirming drama with colorful, original animation and a wonderful soundtrack to boot. Chika Umino wrote this story, so deserves credit first and foremost, but irregardless of that, everything about Honey & Clover is brilliant.
2. Kentarou Miura – Berserk
Berserk was the first anime I fell head over heels in love with and Kentarou Miura is the genius behind it all. In combining though-provoking philosophy with an extremely violent, complex cast of characters, Miura will forever be the brilliant mind behind my favourite anime of all time.
1. Masashi Kishimoto – Naruto / Shonen Jump
Although it is with something of a guity conscience, I simply wouldn’t be watching anime today if it wasn’t for Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto. This was the first ever fansubbed series I got my mits on and to this very day I still remember the nerve-wracking, sweat-inducing climax of the Zabuza story arc. After sitting through around 50 episodes of Naruto, I realised I had to check out more anime. And furthermore, I realized subtitles should always be the way to go with foreign film and TV.
Great music and great anime usually go hand in hand, but the sign of a great song is that anyone can enjoy it, irregardless of their love (or lack there of) for anime. I remember thoroughly enjoying the music used in Honey & Clover, but on its own it is a disappointing, minimal experience I often compare with the dull instrumentation of easy listening elevator tunes. Within the context of falling in love with the Honey & Clover anime, I imagined this soundtrack would mean so much more to me.
From back to front, there are few anime soundtracks that truly transcend the chains of being locked to their respective TV series. Without stating the obvious example of Mistress Yoko Kanno, I genuinely feel Toshio Masuda’s ethereal Mushishi score is a consistently lush and driving musical master class. I can play these songs at home, in the office at work and even to my damn family- everyone (relative to their undeniably bad taste) will love it.
Of course, as is their nature, soundtracks aren’t designed to be stand alone albums anyway but it’s certainly a bonus to know that in sixth months, hell…, six years down the line, I can still enjoy listening to some of this music without having to revisit the TV series first.