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Sound Decision
California Dreams

by Jonathan Mays,
Later this week I'm off to Pacific Media Expo in sunny Anaheim, California! Why should you care? Well, you'll see exclusive interviews of T.M. Revolution and Nami Tamaki in the coming weeks, which should prove interesting enough. Don't worry, I'll ask them something more interesting than, "What has your US experience been like?" or "What's your favorite midnight meal?" I'd tell you what I am going to ask, but since I don't know yet, it's slightly difficult to do that.

Last week's Keiko Kitagawa sighting got positive reviews, so I think I'll try something like that again soon. Will T.M.R and Tamaki contribute? You know I'm gonna try.

Read or Die OVA Geneon (2004-06-08)

It looks like Yoko Kanno might have some competition for the title of most diverse anime composer. Not content to sit on one of anime's most magnificent soundtracks in Rurouni Kenshin, Taku Iwasaki changed directions completely with a subtle, haunting score for Witch Hunter Robin, and now he's taken another leap with Read or Die. There's still a ghost of his simple yet striking piano melodies, but they step out of the spotlight in favor of a jazzier theme.

A spy-thriller opening theme with a touch of parody is the perfect introduction to a show like Read or Die, which is much more comical than Iwasaki's past canvases. What really surprised me is that Iwasaki sounds completely at home with his jazz themes and lighter atmosphere. Kenji Kawai tried a similar stylistic 180 when he went from Patlabor to Gunparade March, but it still sounded unnaturally heavy, like how Shostakovich used to take subtle jabs at Stalin, except Kawai's plodding marches weren't so devious. Iwasaki, on the other hand, sounds like he's been composing jazz for years.

Much like his previous works, Iwasaki starts with three or four core themes and then mixes and matches variations into a full soundtrack. That, of course, leads to a fair amount of repetition, so listening from start to finish in one sitting isn't recommended. He also wrote a couple of pure background tracks—music directly "connected" to the show, according to Iwasaki's Kenshin comments. These aren't worth more than a cursory listen. Everything else, though, is fun and entertaining.

Spriggan ADV Music

Spriggan's music is ripe for an outlandish sci-fi series. Sure, it has a fair share of trance and techno-pop, but most of the Spriggan OST review's I've read have completely ignored the real core of the soundtrack, the elegant, heroic string pieces. You know the sound: foreboding cymbal rolls, triumphant brass chords, otherworldly choral explosions, and high-pitched trembling from the strings. Think ET, or Star Trek, or Babylon 5. This is the sound that anchors the soundtrack at the beginning, middle, and end.

From there, we get into the experimental compositions, which sound more reasonable with the structure of the string pieces. Primal tracks like "FFF•Cross" and "Noa" are truly shocking to the senses, as they burst from a quiet hum into a violent cacophony of brass and synth. The closing song, "Jin Lin," is in Mandarin and will surely draw inappropriate comparisons to Yoko Kanno's "Stand Alone Complex" themes. This one's drab and clumsy—not even in the same league as Kanno's work.

Be sure to take note of how carefully Spriggan's soundtrack is put together. While most techno that finds its way into anime is garbled nonsense, this one feels like Kuniaki Haishima had a purpose in mind. While there are plenty of sudden changes and unexpected turns, you'll still notice a story progressing, which is more than I can say for most "edgy" soundtracks.

Healing Series: Progress Geneon

Ever wake up from the middle of a good dream, rub your eyes, wander around your room for a few minutes, look in the mirror, lie back down, and try to get right back to sleep? Yeah, it usually doesn't work too well. Three months ago I listened to Beginnings and Gemini, the first two discs in Geneon's New Age trilogy. I finally got a chance to hear the third, and I found it very difficult to jump back in.

This kind of music isn't made for background in anime, or even your car stereo. It requires you to fall under its spell to work; otherwise, it's just lowly elevator music. With all the time between discs, the spell didn't work for me this time.

So can I still write a useful review? I think so. Progress is part of a natural, well, progression of music from world-famous pianist Yuriko Nakamura and violinist Norihiro Tsuru. It's different from most classical music you hear because it's very minimalist. The instrument selection is also slightly off-center, like a plaintive oboe instead of the hollower clarinet. Whether you like it at all depends on your mood and your personality.

If you can't buy into the spirituality of music, this isn't a CD for you. If you want to give it a try, get Beginnings and Gemini first, and then spring for Progress if you're hooked.

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