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Sound Decision
Talkin 'bout a Revolution

by Jonathan Mays,
There's so much good anime music in the world. Why do I have to listen to Love Hina?

Revolutionary Girl Utena TV Original Soundtrack Geneon

Kunihiko Ikuhara, accomplished anime director and...bartender? That's what Utena's manga artist, Chiho Saitō, calls him. In Utena's music, Bartender Ikuhara has created quite an exquisite cocktail, forcing classical and 70s hard rock to coexist peacefully. Add a touch of Ikuhara's strange, uncompromising vision, stir, and enjoy. Be careful, though; the final result is intoxicating.

After a sampler overture and Masami Okui's energetic opening theme, we're treated to "Brightened Garden," a serene piano tune and the second-most recognizable of Utena's themes. Like most of the classical music on the CD, it sounds a little rushed and incomplete, but it's fine background music. The rest of the orchestral pieces are quaint and bubbly like "School Lyric," along with a few that sound like colonial dance numbers.

Then the wild anachronisms of J. A. Seazer steal the stage. Ikuhara took a big risk in enlisting Seazer to throw a wrench into Utena's refined atmosphere, and the composer's psychadelic guitar riffs certainly deliver. Distinctive and full of life, Utena's battle themes reveal more of the show's raw intensity. They're so far removed from the formality of Utena's classical dance pieces that they make the more "civilized" music feel like a mere facade. It's truly a striking contrast.

Four years ago, when Revolutionary Girl Utena was locked in Licensing Hell, who could've imagined the soundtrack would get a US release? Against all odds, the stars aligned, and we're finally treated to a vibrant duel between two clashing forms of music. Roses with thorns—exactly how Ikuhara wanted it.

Best used as: revolutionary etude.

Last Exile Original Soundtrack #2 Geneon (2004-04-13)

The second Last Exile soundtrack is every bit as delectable as the first, but for different reasons. The thunderous battle music steps aside this time, opening up space for a lighter, less invasive collection of pieces. That doesn't mean the music's any worse. While the first OST overwhelmed you with the sheer magnitude of the music, this second installment draws on Dolce Triade's creativity and even a bit of humor. It was a wise choice to sacrifice some of the "gung ho" and unleash something more innovative.

Last Exile's vocal pieces are still hit and miss: "Head in the Clouds" is jarring and unpleasant, but "Rays of Hope" is a beautiful, understated tune that reminds me of Lodoss War's opening theme. Also included is an orchestral version of "Over The Sky," which is much more agreeable to the ear than the original arrangement.

Of course, the real gems of Last Exile are the instrumental tracks. A smooth, jazzy drumbeat sets the tone for "Fleet of Littleships," a toe-tapping tune for brass and fiddle. It's so good that they revisit the theme in three other tracks. The harp has a formidable presence (well, for a harp) in "Ground Stream" and "Counterattack," whose opening sounds quite like an old-time soap opera before exploding into a plodding but very well developed theme with plenty of brass to go around. Generally, it's less memorable than the first soundtrack, but it's also more intimate.

If you're trying to decide which Last Exile OST to pick up, you won't find any help here. Springing for both is the only way to go.

Best used as: heroic sequel.

Love Hina Best Collection Geneon (2004-04-13)

Seven seconds into the first track, I cringed. That's never a good sign. As it turns out, "My Song" isn't a bad song, and if you can get past the grating vocals, it's actually cute and catchy.

But it gets worse. Much worse.

Love Hina: Best Collection has earned a special spot in my anime CD collection. It's one of four or five discs I will never even think about listening to again. I imagine the music's a good fit for the two Love Hina films, but on its own, there's almost nothing. It's just elevator music for an hour. The only other possible exception is "Winter Wish," which gets a few points for a decent acoustic guitar part.

There seems to be a high failure rate with all-synth anime scores, but I know it's possible to make evocative music out of a few computer-generated beats. Just take a few minutes to listen to Mahoromatic or Full Moon wo Sagashite. So it's not the format, it's the execution. It stinks. They sound like the demo tracks on my keyboard. I'm completely unmoved by this soundtrack. Will you feel differently? I doubt it.

Best used to: fill that hole in the backyard. (Here's some inspiration.)

Next week it's the conclusion of the Chihiro Onitsuka review. See ya then!

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