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Sound Decision

by Jonathan Mays,
Happy New Year, and welcome to my final Sound Decision column. Don't worry, the column will be back later this year with a new face and even more soundtrack reviews. But in the meantime, let's have a look at a few more releases:

Super Atragon (Shin Kaitei Gunkan) Original Soundtrack ADV Music (2003-06-03)

The original Kaitei Gunkan movie (based on Shunro Oshikawa's novel in 1963) showcased the music of Akira Ifukube, one of Japan's leading composers. It is fitting, then, for Masamichi Amano to carry the torch in the 1996 remake of the classic sci-fi story. In Super Atragon, today's reigning king of symphonic anime music treats us to an orchestral masterpiece, one of his best recordings yet.

A self-proclaimed Kaitei Gunkan fanatic, Amano jumped at the opportunity to participate in Super Atragon's production, and his passion carries the music to an elite plane. From triumphant battle themes to soft, soothing chorales, Amano demonstrates the full range of his talents. The major obstacle, as in most Amamo music, is to accept the somber mood of the entire soundtrack. For those who seek sentimental warmth and realism, Super Atragon is a godsend, but the music has a distinct classical European structure, so folks with short attention spans are sure to be bored after a few minutes.

I haven't seen the Super Atragon OAV series yet, but after immersing myself in its evocative music for a few hours, I eagerly anticipate the day I'll have a chance to watch it. And if you've already seen the OVA, this soundtrack is a perfect opportunity to relive a modern classic.

Best used as: Acoustic ecstasy.

Ah! My Goddess Original Soundtrack Geneon (2003-04-28)

Close your eyes and become lost in the love story of Beldandy and Touichi. Isn't that what good fantasy music is supposed to do? You don't think about how the illusion was created; you just accept it and relish the experience. Ah! My Goddess is splendid fantasy music, and composer Shiro Hamada should be commended for breathing new life into an otherwise trite franchise.

The ubiquitous Warsaw Philharmonic makes another appearance in Ah! My Goddess, but Shiro Hamada's more personal touch contrasts greatly with the epic rides the orchestra takes with Masamichi Amano. Combined with a healthy dose of bubbly pop tunes, the mood is much lighter than the typical Warsaw Phil recording. Pizzicato and oboe solos are aplenty, each contributing beautifully to the fantasy theme.

Feeling a little down? Ah! My Goddess' music is guaranteed to make you smile—in the way only music can.

Best used as: Dreamcatcher.

Samurai X Original Soundtrack —AnimeTRAX (2002-04-30)

When the time came to choose sides, Taku Iwasaki stood firmly on the line. The music of Rurouni Kenshin is both intimately linked and strangely unconnected to the epic animation, offering a rare blend of subtle accompaniment and boisterous, liberated expression. This makes it difficult to listen to the soundtrack straight through; some parts are virtually worthless without the corresponding images from the film. But it's the other, less mechanical parts of the soundtrack that make Kenshin's music so fascinating.

In these parts, it helps to forget about the movie completely and let the mellow piano solos and brilliant string passages weave their own "threads of imagination" (as Iwasaki calls them). A persistent sense of foreboding and regret enshrouds Iwasaki's music, telling its own story apart from the film.

With fully developed themes, heavy use of the lower strings, and diverse instrumentation, Samurai X is, of course, one of the best soundtracks in anime. But it's really great music, too. You'd be cheating yourself to overlook either part of this masterpiece.

Best used as: Double-edged sword.

Blue Seed Original Soundtrack ADV Music (2003-06-03)

I've heard from many people that Japan's music is about a decade behind North America's. They must have been thinking of Blue Seed. The back of the CD case says 1996, but this music screams 80s. Heavy electric guitar, loud beats, and lots of synthesizer characterize this collection. That's not a bad thing in itself, but in this case, it's a recipe for disaster because the fifteen tracks all sound the same. It's like a full hour of 80s elevator music—dull, heartless, and utterly grating to sit through.

Names like Megumi Hayashibara and Kotono Mitsuishi bring some credibility to this vocal collection, but they don't do much to keep this CD out of the discount karaoke bin. If you're dying for some cheap dance music, or you want to reminisce a little, this might satisfy you, but seriously, don't do this to yourself.

Best used as: Time capsule—bury it.

Thanks for reading! See ya.

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