Finally we come to the end of my (much-loved? hopefully?) Music for Otakus series. I could keep this up for several more weeks, and possibly indefinitely, because I’m constantly watching new anime and discovering new musical delights to tempt any audible palate. But there are other songs to sing, other notes to play, and other scores to settle. And so I can think of no better way to conclude this series than with my personal Top 3 anime soundtracks. Taking T.S. Eliot and turning his words on its ear, I strive to end not with a whimper but with an incredibly loud bang! Or at the very least a ren faire, a mystical forest, and a classical smorgasbord. Read on, little earbuds…
3.) Spice and Wolf (Season One)
Spice and Wolf is a rather odd duck in the world of anime. The story follows a merchant and a wolf goddess in an ambiguously medieval time and place, but with music this warm it’s easy to feel at home while riding on Lawrence’s cart or eating apples with Holo the Wise Wolf. I’ve already mentioned the absolute cuteness of the end credit song, “Ringo Biyori,” but the opening song, “Tabi no Tochuu,” is as lovely as the end song is precious. Yuji Yoshino’s instrumental music throughout the series is all in the realm of ren faire melodies, but there are some impressive differentiations to be found on such a genre-specific soundtrack.
“Shounin to Ookami to, Tabi no Nibasha” is a cheerful, flute-heavy little tune, whereas “Kimi no Moto” is almost bawdy in its jangly peppiness. “Zawazawa Suru” is intense and serious, calling to mind James Newton Howard’s score to The Village with its heavy strings, and the slow and seductive “Ikoku no Shirabe” sounds like a forgotten dance from The Nutcracker with its Middle Eastern touches. Then there’s the upbeat “Shippo Dance,” which would work equally well as music in a chase scene or the background to a rambunctious festival dance. All of these tracks represent the multi-faceted sounds of an intriguing anime, but the song that I choose to best represent the soundtrack as a whole is “Mada Minu Machi he,” a pleasant tune that instantly gives the listener the perfect setting for the story of Holo and Lawrence, as well as fills ones with the urge to dance and drink (but not necessarily in that order). With such a menagerie of medieval sounds, I don’t see how anyone could listen to this score and not feel joyful.
Perhaps uniquely original anime series produce the best music. That would certainly seem to be the case, given the albums on this Top 3. Mushi-shi is yet another strange and unique anime. It centers around a traveling man named Ginko who helps people deal with Mushi problems. Mushi are magical, natural beings who can sometimes cause chaos for people, and Ginko is a Mushi Master, so he has the skills to help calm the chaos. While the opening theme “The Sore Feet Song” is mellow and soothing to the ear, the real gem is Masuda Toshio’s instrumental score. Each track flows with the next, but each is individual, like a variety of amazing trees all in the same forest. Speaking of forests, that’s kind of what listening to this soundtrack feels like: being in a mystical forest alone with only the sounds of nature for company.
Perhaps the track that best illustrates this is the eerie “Mushi.” It’s so simple in its use of instruments, but so completely rich in atmosphere. It’s easy to hear wind, rain, and something else hiding in the shadows in this music. Then there’s the somber “Ri (Kotowari),” which incorporates a familiar piano among the gentle sounds of nature, and “Shinen,” which begins menacingly but evolves into something less than scary but not quite welcoming; this track sounds as though it could easily be a Björk B-side. “Hikari Sake” is more forthcoming with its steady drums and reminds me of the fox wedding scene in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams; meanwhile “Makura Kouji” sounds both retro-magical and nature-based, as though it were the score to a Japanese version of Labyrinth that’s set in the gardens of Kyoto.
The best all-encompassing number on this soundtrack might be “Mushishi no Theme,” which has all the delicate mystery of a journey into the mystical world of things unseen coming across in less than two minutes of sound. However, my overall pick is “Rinkou,” because it manages to be so many things at once: melancholy, mysterious, beautiful, organic, intriguing, and so much more. This track, as well as the rest, inspires me and calms me when things become too chaotic. Listening to this music is as good as having Ginko himself arrive at your door and offer his help. There is nothing better to listen to on a quiet rainy day than the Mushi-Shi soundtrack to wash away the mental cobwebs, or to transport you to that rainy forest of contemplation and discovery. (Editor’s note: since I first posted these tracks, the entire Mushi-Shi soundtrack has, sadly, been removed from YouTube. Instead I found this lovely video made by YouTube user extrasterk featuring photos of Japan and set to a handful of Mushi-Shi tracks, namely “Hikari Sake,” “Kehai,” “Midori no Za,” and my beloved “Rinkou.” While it’s not the same as having all of the above-mentioned tracks for your listening pleasure, this lovely video does provide an excellent taste of what the gorgeous Mushi-Shi soundtrack has to offer.)
1.) Black Butler (Season One)
Bet you never saw this one coming, right? It’s true, I’m a huge Black Butler fan, and I make no bones about it. I’ve posted songs from the Black Butler soundtrack several times now, but I feel that it’s never enough. This anime about a boy who has been wronged and calls on a demon to exact his vengeance is the complete package, and the soundtrack is equally awesome. While it’s true that so much of what makes Black Butler the cream of the anime crop is its varied and colourful characters, there’s a lot of atmosphere in both the artwork and the music. The theme song from the opening credits of season one, “Monochrome no Kiss,” grabs you immediately and lets you know that this is going to be an adventure, and the closing song, “Lacrimosa,” is truly gorgeous. From there we get quirky songs in German such as “Die Hansen!” (which sounds like it should be playing over a sepia-toned silent film involving a train) to tracks that speak to the majesty of high Victorian living such as “La Gardenia.” The many faces of Sebastian Michaelis are brought to light in the lively tune “The Way A Butler Should Be,” with its brisk horns and timely piano keeping you in step, as well as in the dark and mysterious “Coffin Man,” which clues you in that all is not as he seems.
However, Taku Iwasaki’s score isn’t all about the butler. “Di’a’vertiment,” with its crisp and heart-racing strings, brings you along with Ciel and Sebastian as they roam the streets of Victorian London, chasing the shadows that keep Ciel awake at night. You can bask in the easy elegance of “A Diabolic Waltz” with its breezy pace, but the drums boil up from below and keep you from feeling too secure in this dark landscape of nightmares and dreams. And I would be remiss not to mention the richly Indian-tinged music such as “The Stranger From India,” “As You Wish,” and “The Right Hand Of God,” all of which might seem out of place in this landscape until you realize that you must expect the unexpected here. Speaking of which, “Jazzin’” could be right at home in any twenties gangster flick, and “A Cup Of Tea And Scone For Master” actually sounds like you’re waking up in Phantomhive manor, preparing for the day ahead. But there is emotion amidst all of the atmospheric tunes, too. The gentle duet of “Memory For Madame Red One: Lady Red” and “Memory For Madame Red Two: The Color Of Licorice” are so tender and lovely that they bring a lump to my throat each time I hear them.
I could keep listing track after track, because this entire three-disc set is amazing and full of surprises. However, the sounds that best exemplify this incredible anime and always bring me directly into that dark realm are the chanting voices and exotic beats of “The Dark Crow Smiles.” This song is like being in the heart of this story: it’s dark, sexy, mysterious, and powerful. I’ve already posted the original version, so today I leave you with “The Dark Crow Smiles [Remix].” It takes everything from the original and focuses it, funneling all of the waves of black sound into one crushing blow. This album, and this story, are both amazing for their depth, sophistication, and surprisingly, soul. The Black Butler score is a musical journey that I can’t wait to take again and again and again, and that makes it my number one anime soundtrack.
And that’s it for Music for Otakus! I hope that you’ve enjoyed, little earbuds, and perhaps found a new song or two to whet your musical appetites. Though this series is over, fear not, because Miss Pink will continue to bring you scrumdiddlyumptious sound treats from both anime and beyond!