Sound Decision
Animetoonz, Madlax, His and Her Circumstances

by Jonathan Mays, Dec 28th 2005


Madlax #2 Geneon

Now here's something new: a producer's note about the composer that spoiled the show for me. I guess this is what I get for playing around with the music before I've seen an episode. Consider yourself warned!

Of all the anime composers out there, only Naoki Sato and Yuki Kajiura have shown the ability to properly mix synthesizers and a full orchestra. (Not even reigning goddess Yoko Kanno has it down, though she hasn't seriously tried since Macross.) Kajiura wrote the music for Madlax, so this latest soundtrack from her is a rich opportunity to indulge the best of both musical worlds.

We are One opens the disc in spectacular fashion, with an arrangement somewhere between Manheim Steamroller and a madrigal dinner. Kajiura uses bells better than anybody else in anime, Sato included. Those bells, and the generous use of cello balances her layered vocals and keeps the songs from becoming top-heavy.

Take note also of Friday, a drum-heavy round with the cello leading the way. Kajiura's compositions have a history of stalling from time to time, but this one has all the momentum it needs.

Since I haven't made nearly enough comparisons already, it's worth noting that Kajiura relies more on her strings and less on melody, while Sato drives home her brief themes by bringing a lot of brass to the table. But in Lost Command, Kajiura does her best Sato impression with a somber trumpet march and mournful chanting. It's very much like "Hana no Nai Bara" from the Utena musical. Surely somebody out there has seen the Utena musical.

Is this Madlax disc better than the first one? I don't know—haven't heard the first disc yet. But I do know its sequel could find a very nice place in your library.



Animetoonz 3: Kristine Sa —Jellybean Recorings

You may not believe me, given Animetoonz's well earned reputation for trashy remixes, but their latest installment is a quality effort with reasonably good results. I'm hesitant to give Jellybean Recordings too much credit, as their previous disasters with established talents Kikuko Inoue and Maria Kawamura probably left them few options other than indie artist and celebrity anime fan Kristine Sa. And even then, asking somebody who doesn't know Japanese to record two full hours of songs in that language does not sound like a wise move. But Kristine and her producers stepped up to the challenge, and they should be proud of themselves for pulling the Animetoonz franchise out of the gutter and into the spotlight again.

On paper, the collection of remixers ranges from exceptional (Billboard kings John Creamer and Stephane K) to questionable (anime radio jockey DJ Jinnai). The music breaks down the same way, except, and I swear I'm not pulling some contrarian crap, Jinnai and Game Boy performer Bit Shifter steal the show, while Creamer and K offer little more than generic dance beats.

Kristine Sa, the sister of Vietnamese pop star Tam Doan, is just as surprising at times. In Shifter's Game Boy rendition of the Urusei Yatsura theme, for example, she pulls out the squeaky "anime girl" voice to do an extraordinary impression of Hiroko Matsuya. And as brilliant as Mika Nakashima was in Gundam Seed's Find the Way, Kristine holds her own with some help from an unassuming Jinnai backbeat. I say that after putting Kristine's version to the ultimate test: back-and-forth play with the original recording. It's by far the best track on either "flavor" of remix album.

But the biggest knock on Kristine has always been her consistency, and it's hard to listen to these discs without noticing some of the same old problems. Inu Yasha's Every Heart starts strong but then she lands a little flat at the end of some phrases, and vibrato sounds like a struggle for her. The other major issue, though the fault is split between Kristine and her producer, is when her voice goes hollow in places like the chorus of Cowboy Bebop's Real Folk Blues.

Speaking of the Bebop song, Jinnai did a lot of awesome things in this collection, but the piano improvisation towards the end of that song was not one of them. It's one thing to throw together some lame piano tune if you're remixing a boring song by a no-name composer, but Yoko Kanno is all about improv, so pulling that kinds of stunt in her most popular work is kind of insulting.

There are other issues: five versions of Every Heart is a few too many, and padding the "Lime" edition with a track from last year's Animetoonz tells you which album to try first. But Animetoonz 3 is still a huge improvement over its predecessors—big enough that you may want to pull out the wallet this time.

Despite the company name (Jellybean) and the album themes (lemon and lime), no portion of the included materials is edible. They should think about it next time.



His and Her Circumstances 2.0 Geneon

There is a dense fog that engulfs nearly everything composer Shiro Sagisu writes. If you've heard his Evangelion score, you understand how even his most cheerful songs have a subversive twist. This is a man who is clearly in touch with his inner Dvorák.

Which reminds me, did you know the second half of Yukino's theme is a straight rip of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto? I didn't figure it out until eight months after I reviewed the first Kare Kano soundtrack and heavily praised Sagisu for writing such a fantastic piece. I'm still embarrassed, but at least I've come clean about it now.

Like so many sequels, this installment of Kare Kano music is a stripped-down shell of its predecessor. If you fell in love with the "Kanon" string quartet and "Nocturne" piano solo from round one, you'll be crushed by the arrangements on this one. "Kanon" is hollow as a piano solo, and "Nocturne" sluggish for the quartet. And that's the best this disc has to offer.

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