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Sound Decision
Convention Tension

by Jonathan Mays,
Welcome, my friends, to mid-September. If tradition holds, the middle of the year's ninth month is a drag for just about anybody. The burst of energy cultivated by summer has been expended, the novelty of a new setting (or the return to a familiar one) has faded, and work is beginning to form a very large pile on the far-right corner of your desk. For students, adults, and Cubs fans everywhere, mid-September simply stinks. So, shall we take this moment to commiserate with each other and lament the lethargic passage of time?

Nah, let's talk about anime conventions. They're a lot more fun to discuss, and with two of them coming up this month, attending one might be the perfect way to pull you out of the blahs. Could a con be the key to happiness? Perhaps, but as any con veteran will tell you, it takes a little effort to get the most out of a convention. If you're not careful, you'll be sharing in the misery that accompanies wasting three days of your life playing Dance Dance Revolution in the basement of some old hotel. To shield you from that catastrophic fate, I'm delighted to present a short guide to getting the most out of a convention. Neophytes take note: This is how to save September.

Step one: plan. There's a lot to do at most anime conventions, but chances are you won't be interested in everything that's offered. To start, take a look at the con schedule before you arrive. Find a few events and activities that you absolutely, positively, under-penalty-of-death cannot miss, and then you'll have a solid starting point. Improvising is fun, but it's easy to get caught up in the moment and miss something you really wanted to do or see. You can always change your schedule, but if you wander around aimlessly the entire time, you're almost certain to miss out on something important to you. And don't forget to set aside time for the essentials: eating, sleeping, and such.

Step two: talk. Meet people. Converse. It's good for you. It's also one of the best attractions of any anime convention. Where else would you ever meet so many people who share an intense passion for episode eighteen of your favorite anime series? Or where you can crack jokes about obscure manga trivia and other people actually understand you? One of the keys to having a good time is hanging with the right people. Even if you drag along a few of your friends, don't be afraid to make new acquaintances while you're there.

Step three: experiment. With so many opportunities at your fingertips, what better time to expand your horizons? Break out of that shoujo shell and give horror or sports shows a try. Sit in on a few random panels that discuss topics you know nothing about. Sure, you may find a few things aren't your cup of tea, but if a little adventure opens you up to another anime-related love, it's worth conquering the fear of trying something new.

It should go without saying, but be sure to do everything you can to maximize the fun factor. Take in everything you can. If you do your best to have fun, it'll be an awesome experience. And, hey, don't forget to pick up an anime soundtrack or two, like these:

Lupin the 3rd: Sideburn Club Mix —Animetrax (2003-01-28)

Can you make a good CD out of only three original songs? Probably not—unless it's the Lupin Sideburn Club Mix. With two decades and over two hundred different spins to choose from, Pioneer carefully selected a baker's dozen of the best Lupin mixes out there. The result is a fantastic CD that truly embodies Lupin's undeniable coolness.

Don't confuse "mix" for "remix," because these tracks are much better than the miserable revisions you usually hear these days. The three Lupin '80 mixes are part-original, part-improv, all-awesomeness. Most notable is the Club Escape Mix, which is a ton of QUACK! fun once you BAAAAAAAAAAAA! learn not to be distraBOING!cted by the random DING! PLING! MOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! noises. If animal sounds don't jive with you, give the Sunaga T Experience 9849 mix a shot. You're sure to love how writer Yuji Ohno plays around with the beat while keeping the theme strong and catchy. On most of the other selections, randomness reigns supreme as moods and themes change without restraint. Bizarre? You bet. But it's still a lot of fun to hear.

Listen up, Bebop fans: this is the real thing, the old-school jazz goodness that inspired Yoko Kanno's compositions. If you have even a passing interest in Bebop beats, I guarantee you'll fall in love with this fantastic Lupin set. For jazz fans—actually, for anybody—this one's a no-brainer.

Best used as: Lup-Lup-Lup-Lupin loopin'.

Slayers Try Treasury BGM 1 —Animetrax (2002-06-25)
Slayers Try Treasury BGM 2 —Animetrax (2002-06-25)

Slayers Try BGM offers a different kind of musical experience. Normally I'd condemn this kind of stuff to the bargain basement abyss, but an innovative idea saves these discs from a shameful fate. How do you make a pair of third-season soundtracks appeal to someone who's never seen any of the series? Here's an idea: use the composer and sound director's notes to create a "music menu" describing the scene and mood of each track. It sounds crazy, but it's a brilliant way to bridge the knowledge gap.

Here's how it works. Open the inside cover, and you'll see:

16. The Shadow of Death <TM-16>

Then, flip to the music menu (in the CD insert) to find the matching description:

TM-16/ Fillia speaks of the "divine oracle that announces destruction." She talks about inauspicious shadows approaching the land of the outer realms. From the level of 33", the source of the woes projects its uncanny image; it's the ruler of the Dark Star, who's called Darkness Dragon Dark Star. The music is a narrative of fear brought upon the world and the contents of the divine oracle. (#1 C-68-C-84) [1'30"]

And there lies the blueprint for making BGM discs worthwhile. It's a little confusing at first, but once you master the indexing system, you'll be rewarded with a wealth of information at your fingertips. Listen to the CD in order and follow along in the booklet, or browse the music menu for something that sounds interesting. Either way, you're guaranteed to get a lot more out of the CD. I've never seen a minute of Slayers, but the track descriptions were good enough that I could follow along and enjoy the music regardless.

Of course, the best music menu in the world can't do much for a rotten soundtrack, so that's where composer Hidetoshi Sato's vision comes in. Small orchestral ensembles account for most of the 145 minutes across the two discs, with vocal pieces sprinkled in from time to time. There are also a few surprises, like the "Wanderer" acoustic guitar solo and even some synthesizer funk. It's the ideal background music: articulate, engaging, and not too repetitive. A touch of Megumi Hayashibara never hurts, either. The second BGM is probably the better of the two, as it's hard to beat the quirkiness of "Invatation to a Ball" and the intensity of "Dark Star." I highly recommend giving both discs a chance, especially if you're looking for a more active way to listen to anime music.

Best used as: BGM boundary slayer.

Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko Song Collection —Animetrax (2002-06-25)

Yamamoto Yohko's soundtrack is just another example of what happens when a composer leaves one or two good pieces to drown in a sea of blahness. Even from the start, it's not very promising. Masami Okui always turns in a capable performance, but her Utena pieces are much more imaginative than the charmless cookie-cutter "Shake It." Minami Takayama's "Seize the Universe" is equally expendable. On the other hand, "Never Say, I Love You," is a breath of fresh coastal air, a leisurely song reminiscent of the 60s Beach Boys. It's not Megumi Hayashibara's style at all, but the piece is enough fun that you won't have any problem overlooking the choice of vocalist. The laid-back bass is a blast.

The real star of this collection is "The Devil's Cha Cha Cha," a tantalizing tune that begs you to grab a partner for some salsa dancing. If there's any reason to invest in Yamamoto music, it's right here. After another three tracks of dull monotony, the CD comes to a cruel conclusion, as "Shake It" successfully manages to occupy another four minutes of the listener's life. (Why, oh why did that stupid song have to take up a fifth of this CD?) You may want to buy Yamamoto for "Cha Cha" alone, but unless you're a salsa fanatic, it's a tough call.

Best used as: dancing diversion.

Samurai Girl Real Bout High School —Tokyopop (2002-05-21)

Do you like Mortal Kombat music? Didn't think so. Well, the Real Bout High School soundtrack is even worse. Take the synth-heavy tones of the utterly pathetic Mortal Kombat soundtrack, suck out whatever trace of life accidentally found its way in there, throw in some truly lame piano solos, and you've got Real Bout High School, one of the sorriest excuses for a "soundtrack" I've ever had the displeasure of hearing.

Dismal. Flat. Humdrum. Take your pick. Even if you set aside the 36 tracks of pseudo-Techno synthesizer crap, the remaining piano and vocal pieces are far below what you'd expect from an anime soundtrack. Normally, the mere inclusion of a piano solo would be enough to elevate an OST to the "bearable" level, but mind-numbingly simple and predictable writing ruins that idea. The opening and closing themes are completely unmemorable. So what does that leave? Nothing. At. All. Takeshi Yasuda and Tokyopop give us forty tracks and 77 minutes, but in the end, there's nothing. Please, I beg you, don't buy this soundtrack.

Disclaimer: my CD was scratched, and thus, I didn't get to hear the final 27 seconds of "Fanfare of K-Fight." Who knows, maybe those were 27 seconds of brilliance, enough to justify buying the CD. Yeah, right.

Best used as: hell, I dunno. Just stay away from it.

*Gasp!* No new releases next week, either? Could that mean we're going to be rumaging through the archives again? Indeed, 'tis likely. See ya then.

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