Sound Decision

by Jonathan Mays,
Hi! Welcome to the Internet's first anime soundtrack review column. We're in the thick of summer, and now is the time to start putting together a collection of CDs to accompany your late-night studying. It's been scientifically proven that listening to anime music improves subject knowledge and test performance (I have the study... around here... somewhere... ), so why not give yourself the early edge?

And if that doesn't work out, well, anime music is a lot of fun anyways. The domestic offerings expand each month, and if you hunt around for a while, you'll find a wide range of genres (rock vs. classical) and quality (Yoko Kanno vs. bad music) among the monthly releases. But poor students and elitist sno--er, "cultured citizens" don't have the time or money to sort the Hellsings from the lesser offerings. That's why I'm here.

Each week, Sound Decision offers you two things. First, you'll find a terribly opinionated, judgmental review of the latest anime Original Soundtrack (that's OST) releases. But more important, I'll also give you a few suggestions for what to do with the good (and not-so-good) CDs. Hint: if I happen to be in Antarctica on April 19th for the next partial solar eclipse, I'll be bringing my Genocyber soundtrack with me.

Ready? Well, it's too late anyways. Here goes:

Tune In
Yuki Kajiura: Fiction

One of Japan's most talented artists offers US music fans a brilliant blend of English, Italian, Japanese, and Latin lyrics in this compilation soundtrack with a couple of new pieces on the side. "Experimental" characterizes Kajiura's musical tendencies, and her daring approach is very refreshing--not to mention a very satisfying listen. You'll love how she weaves classical string arrangements into bass-heavy pop to create a calming sensation that still maintains momentum. Kajiura's songs are so rich with melody; you'll find none of that synthesizer "filler" here. The depth reminds me of Yoko Kanno and the eclectic sound of Lorena Mckennitt. Kajiura borrows the talents, of Yuri Kasahara, Kaori Nishina, and others for the vocals, offering a pleasant variety to the compositions. The music is simply mesmerizing, especially .hack//SIGN's "Key of Twilight." If you're willing to try something new, something that doesn't fit neatly into a genre, check out Kajiura. Now.

Best used as: music to expand your horizons.

Hit and Miss
Lost Universe Original Soundtrack

The music of Lost Universe screams typical late-90s anime. Replete with heavy synthesizer and Megumi Hayashibara performances, it's a largely decent but unremarkable soundtrack that sounds fine with the anime but rather empty on its own. Osamu Tezuka (no, not that one) composed the music, and he's had some success in the past, but it's certainly not his finest hour--or his finest 68 ¼ minutes. You'll be alternately interested and bored by the different pieces, which range from delicate to freakishly loud, and the 41 tracks vary just as greatly in quality. There's plenty of material, so for average music, it's a good deal. If you're a Hayashibara fanatic, it's a no-brainer, as she turns in a couple of above-average themes. If you like that generic "anime sound," it's worth a listen, too. But if you crave original, imaginative compositions and emotional vocal performances, look elsewhere.

Best used as: background ambience.

Tune Out
Patlabor the Movie 3: WXIII Original Soundtrack

Patlabor WXIII has some of the dullest anime music I've ever heard. It's stale, boring, completely unmoving, and a dreadful waste of forty-five minutes. I don't know what happened, because Kenji Kawai clearly has the talent (see: Ghost in the Shell music), but for this one, it really sounds like he didn't care. Rabid fans of classical music should stay far away from this poor representation of orchestral composition; it's unbearably lifeless. Oddly, one of the included tracks is a Beethoven piece, but it's not a very impressive one. If there's one aspect that pushes this OST over the edge from generic to downright bad, it's that there is no theme development at all, no hint of progress to keep you listening. Instead, the tracks just drag on... and on... and on... (I'm talking to you, "Serious Decision.") Anime has some fantastic orchestral music that deserves to be brought west. Hopefully Pioneer's next attempt will be a better showcase of its potential.

Best used as: photo frame.

And that concludes your first SD-guided tour of the OST world. There, wasn't that fun? See ya next week!

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