Answerman
Why Are Anime Soundtracks Missing Songs?

by Justin Sevakis,

Pearl asks:

Sometimes I wait months for the release of a certain anime soundtrack just to hear one specific piece of BGM, only to find that it's nowhere to be found on the disc! For example, Yona of the Dawn has several tracks that are missing from the original broadcast. It's also frustrating when they don't have the different version of a track that's already included, even though the former was the more favorably received. Is it a matter of the composer only wanting to include "the best of the best" in the final release, or are they simply given a cut-off limit?

Soundtrack albums for anime are a big business. In fact, it's such a big business that oftentimes a music publisher will actually be on the production committee just to have a say in crafting a franchise that will lend itself to music sales.

One might think that, in crafting a soundtrack CD, one must simply take the audio files delivered by the composer for the show, slap them on a CD in a certain order, and then mass-produce. Of course, it's not that simple. Each soundtrack release will typically have its own producer, who coordinates the song selection, the running order, and of course, all of the packaging, artwork and liner notes for the physical release.

The soundtrack producer will work with the producer of the show to determine what songs to include. Typically opening and ending themes and other vocal tracks are the hot commodity, but also any iconic themes will be singled out for inclusion.

In many cases, the music delivered for the show isn't quite "finished" enough for a CD release. The songs might need something resembling a beginning or end -- even if that's just a fade-up and fade-down. Often the composer will go over the tracks before they see a soundtrack release, and tweak small things in the mix, equalization and overall production. After all, the way we listen to a song by itself is very different from hearing it under layers of dialogue and sound effects. The music can be much more dynamic, and probably should be, now that there's no worry that it'll muddy up some dialogue.

While they're slowly on the decline, Japanese music fans still buy CDs, and so most anime soundtrack releases will be limited in running time to a CD's standard 80 minute ceiling. Most anime series have more incidental music than that, but if there's not enough for a second soundtrack album, or the publisher doesn't see the demand for more, certain songs are simply going to be left unreleased.

Other times, songs will be contributed by certain artists who have record contracts or a high asking price that makes clearing the song for inclusion on a soundtrack CD either impossible, or cost-prohibitive. This leads to issues like the recent American pressing of the Perfect Blue soundtrack, which was released on vinyl but without any of the film's iconic Cham pop songs. But that's pretty rare. Most of the time, the artists are specifically selected from a record label affiliated with the production in some way, specifically to avoid this problem.

I've personally gone to great lengths to track down certain classic anime scores, only to find that my favorite music cues from that film weren't included. It is indeed a bummer. This actually used to be much more of a problem in the 80s and early 90s, when anime soundtracks were released on vinyl, limiting the running time to only 30-40 minutes. There's really not much to be done about it, I'm afraid.


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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.


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