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It was sad news when, just before noon on August 4, 2008, singer-songwriter Eri Kawai passed away. She contributed songs to Aria the Animation, Air and Tales of Symphonia, among others. A memorial tribute album, Himawari! (Sunflower), was released on December 24, 2008. The album features songs from Aria, Bamboo Blade and Sketchbook ~full color'S~. Four live tracks from ARIA The CONCERT, which were never intended to be released to the public, complete the present to Kawai's fans.
The a capella tune “Barcarole,” an insert song from Aria the Animation, opens Himawari! with an overwhelming beauty. It takes a very talented singer to properly sing an entire song a capella without losing the key or the timing. Kawai not only accomplishes this but she also takes your breath away with the absolute angelic sound of her voice. Even someone who dislikes a capella music would be blown away.
In contrast to the instrumental-less “Barcarole,” “Mangetsu no Dolce” (“Cake of the Full Moon”) features Kawai singing with a simple piano. However, there are no lyrics to the song. Kawai simply ‘la's her way through it. Yet, somehow, it is still lovely. Kawai's soft voices makes you feel at peace and, while some people would find the song boring, it proves that a song does not need to be complicated in order to be beautiful.
“Undine (zougoshi version)” (“Undine” (Lyrics in Coined Words)”) is the first special track on the album. The original version of the theme songs for Aria the Animation, Aria the Natural and Aria the Origination was performed by Yui Makino. This version is a sample track that Kawai made for Makino. Complete with backing music, Kawai's version of the song could have easily been used in place of Makino's. As a matter of fact, this one seems a little more finished than the one we hear in the anime.
A calming instrumental song, appropriately titled “Yuunagi” (“Evening Calm”), originally appeared on thesoundtrack for Aria the Natural. The main instrument is, strangely, a bandolim (or mandolin). It isn't often that are used as the focal point in a song. Backed by an acoustic guitar, piano, contrabass and some light percussions, an ethereal beauty can be heard. It's obvious that Kawai isn't only a talented singer but also an accomplished composer.
Another insert song, “Coccolo (Organ version)” was used in Aria the Natural. While this is a slightly different version from the one used in the anime, it is still just as lovely. A reed organ has replaced the piano as the backing instrument. With a sound similar to an accordion, the reed organ gives an entirely new sound to the song. There's a bit of an ‘old time’ feel, even though the vocals are almost exactly the same. I wonder what the inspiration for the change was.
Once again, a lyric-less song, “Santa Claus no Sora” (“Sky of Santa Claus”) from Aria the Animation, appears. This time around, a Rhodes piano tinkles its way behind Kawai's ‘ah's. The song is still very slow and soothing, allowing images of snowflakes falling softly outside your window to fill your mind. As the sixth song on the album, we aren't even halfway through the album yet. While all of these songs are beautiful, it would be nice to have something just a little faster to keep us awake.
The second special track on Himawari! is “Lumis Eterne,” an insert song from Aria the Animation. Here Kawai is singing a sample to help Hirohashi Ryou learn the song. Considering that this is a sample track, it's amazing to hear the harp and string instruments in the background. Most sample tracks consist of a simple piano and the singer. I guess that's just not good enough for Kawai!
“Second Season ~kibou~” (“Second Season ~hope~”) brings us to the halfway point in the album. It is another song without lyrics, another insert song for Aria the Natural, and another song featuring a Rhodes piano. The song is, as usual, soft and soothing. If you created an album with only the lyric-less songs, it would be a perfect lullaby mix.
Track numbers nine and ten are “Aria” and “Mizu no Kagami” (“The Mirror of Water”) from Aria the Animation. Even though both songs are lyric-less, “Mizu” waits almost a full two minute before the vocals appear. “Aria” has a rather angelic sound to it, while “Mizu,” heavily featuring stringed instruments, gives us images of a babbling brook. This proves that two songs can be somewhat similar yet completely different at the same time.
Finally ending the Aria songs for now, the second ending theme for Sketchbook ~full color'S~, “Tanpopo Suishi” (“Dandelion Waterwheel”), helps ease our sleepiness. This is the last of the sample songs and I think this is much more beautiful than the anime version. Just like the ‘original’ version of the song, this one is backed by a simple piano that perfectly matches Kawai's soft voice. I wish she would have performed more of the theme songs on her own instead of writing them for other people.
The last original track on the album is “Sunflower,” an insert song from Bamboo Blade. Unlike the other sample songs, this is one that she made at home. Armed with this information, Kawai's sample version is even more beautiful and heartfelt. This is how she sounded when she was at home with her music. There isn't anything more to say than it is absolutely gorgeous.
From here, we are given the four live tracks from ARIA The CONCERT. “Mangetsu no Dolce,” Coccolo,” Barcarole,” and “Santa Claus no Sora” have all been heard earlier in the album. Despite being lyric-less, “Mangetsu” is even more powerful live. Instead of an organ, the live version of “Coccolo” uses a piano as the sole instrument, besides Kawai's voice. Much like “Mangetsu,” this simplicity makes the song even more moving. After a few opening notes on “Barcarole,” Kawai leaves the piano behind to let her voice soar over the audience before bringing the piano back about halfway through the song. There is one spot where it sounds like her voice wavered but it is possible that was a microphone problem and not a problem with her voice. ”Santa Claus no Sora” finishes the album with the help from an acoustic guitar, contrabass, bandolim and piano instead of a Rhodes piano. Just when I thought this would be a beautiful instrumental piece, Kawai's voice rings in at the three minute mark, filling out the song.
The good thing about Himawari! is that it is an absolutely brilliant album. I believe that any fan of Kawai, or any fan of music period, should have this in their collection. Even in the songs that were never intended to be released to the public, she sounds perfect. On the other hand, this album reminds us of how much the world has lost with her death. It makes me sad to know that we will never hear her songs or her voice again. At least her music will live on.
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history