The Lunar New Year: (4) Music in anime

Thenightsshadow just wrote a new post in his updated blog. I know this because I was talking with him yesterday; the post deals with character music. He quipped:

However, I feel that people have overlooked a gem of the characterization of anime characters; that is, their character music.

This statement reminded me of James Joyce. It’s quite far-fetched, right?

James Joyce was the seminal author of the 20th century. He transmogrified the modern novel with his writing especially with his final two novels. Many of us may disdain him: in our literature classes, or our English classes he has always been a scourge. His works are not fluid: they are not page-turners. More often than not they are mired in some form of stream-of-consciousness, which makes it a lot more difficult to interpret. He was a genius to me, though, not because of his latter works but of his Dubliners and Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. There were studies and researches made, however, which stated that Joyce wrote the way he did especially in his latter novels because he was going blind. He had bad eyesight, even from a young age, and his sense of hearing compensated for this. It can be noted that his novels are impressionistic novels; in addition, there is always a musicality with the words that he uses, and this is very evident in his Finnegans Wake (but this musicality is not to be equated with poetry, because his works have none). Sound is very important when one searches for meaning in his novels: this is exemplified with thick critical works entitled Joyce’s Grand Operoar: Opera in Finnegans wake and The Role of Thunder in Finnegans wake. All this comes from a novel with mostly portmanteaus.


This absolutely tore me apart.

I believe the same goes with anime. Music is very important (or aids, at the very least) in the procuration of meaning. Music may be ignored in anime, but as can be seen, it can be a mercurial messenger of ideas. I think this is very evident in Honey and Clover, where the Waltz ED of Suneohair reflects the lives of the friends in search of meaning in their lives. The music in Shinichiro Watanabe‘s anime, Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, are also pivotal cogs of the plot’s development. The flashback scene of the first episode wouldn’t have been as evocative as it was without the Memory of Yoko Kanno. Likewise, an insight on Fuu can be seen on Who’s Theme, by Minmi (which was the ED after a Fuu-themed episode).


Notice that the lyrics closely mirror the life of Fuu.

They may seem like superfluities, but I could never imagine Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo without a soundtrack. Or Honey and Clover without Suga Shikao songs. Can you?

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15 Responses to “The Lunar New Year: (4) Music in anime”

  1. Ryan A Says:

    I forgot how good that ED was… I’d never forget that opening Bebop sequence though … bullets

    A large part of my draw with Bebop was the music, same with Champloo. Music does so very much, though there are times when it isn’t really noticeable. Recently, the bgm on true tears gave the experience great edge, esp. nearing the end.

    Sometimes the music seems arbitrary, but even if it is good, it matters more that it is fitting and/or meaningful. ^^

  2. Michael Says:

    This was totally what I was thinking. Only, I had to relate it to literature to show that it also happens in other media.

    The show becomes very inviting when the music is excellent, and it does a lot, whether subtly or blatantly (often times subtly, though). Yeah, it may seem at times that the music’s arbitrary, but they have a language all their own also. 🙂

  3. Baka-Raptor Says:

    You really can’t overlook sound in general. When I was first introducing my brother to anime, he said something along the lines of, “we don’t need to plug in the speakers because it’s subtitled.” He quickly learned otherwise.

    On another note, your first line after the quote cracked me up. Does anything NOT remind you of James Joyce?

  4. Michael Says:

    HE’S MESSING WITH MY HEAD! AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!

    So that’s why he’s the 20th century’s most influential writer.

    Yes, Baka-Raptor! Oh, so you’re also introducing your siblings to anime! Great work.

    (All I can tell you is, something that triggers this in my memory always reminds me of him.) 😛

  5. Nagato Says:

    Hum, I don’t think anyone thinks music or sound in anime is superfluous. (Well, except for Baka-Raptor’s brother, who knows better now.)
    Though I don’t engage in seiyuu fan-ism myself, there’s definitely a reason it exists. I also frequently take anime OPs and EDs and put them into my mp3 player for casual listening. 😀

  6. Lelangir Says:

    Yes, holy….there is a god called Suga Shikao. And I can’t see how I overlooked that ED of Champloo; I really enjoyed that singer’s voice. But really, I think that if it were to be someone else instead of Shikao, or if you switched OP’s between Baccano and Bebop, its not like we’d question it – insofar as in that hypothetical past where those were the real soundtracks. That’s the hermeneutics of art and the connections it creates. But then you can wonder why such music was picked in the first place – is there some kind of “connection” that only one song will fit it – assuming there is some kind of hermeneutical “fate” inscribed in art.

  7. anime|otaku » Blog Archive » The Lunar New Year: (5) On nouveau bloggers Says:

    […] anime|otaku hopefully incisive and intellectual disquisitions on anime « The Lunar New Year: (4) Music in anime […]

  8. Michael Says:

    @Nagato

    Although I have my favorite seiyuu (Sugita Tomokazu, for one), I love it whenever the OP or the ED are so apt to the show that it makes the show a lot more enjoyable (ex. Bebop and Champloo). Oh, I do the casual listening too. 🙂

    @Lelangir

    MINMI is a great singer, and I think Who’s Theme remains to be one of my most beloved EDs (with Waltz).

    Hermeneutics is a great thing. While we may murder what we try to analyze, as I’ve tried to point out, it’s still a great thing – it expands knowledge.

    Yeah, sometimes I think why it’s such a perfect fit … and I’m still wondering.

  9. Ryan A Says:

    Ooo, going to read your new post, but reminded of the time when I would mix-listen to one or more OST’s… two I found that go really well together … Wolf’s Rain OST with Kano influences, and… and.. Gustavo Santaolalla’s Diarios de Motocicleta OST… revolution!

  10. Michael Says:

    Isn’t Gustavo Santaolalla the guy who did the soundtrack in Babel?

    He’s an awesome creator of music … honestly. The guitar solo was an alienating, yet beautiful feature of that movie.

  11. nckl Says:

    *After typing all this out I realized I wasn’t actually saying anything that hadn’t been already said. Oh well!*

    One reason why I love Family Guy is because of the music. In one the Family Guy DVD extras, Seth MacFarlane talked about how he puts a lot of emphasis on the music (even though it may be ignored by a lot of people) because by itself it *can* make or break a scene (or even a show). If the music isn’t right or is missing, dramatic scenes can be less dramatic, action scenes less action-ness, suspensful scenes less suspensful, and so on. One reason I love 80’s series so much is because the BGM’s and vocals from that era create a warm and fuzzy sense of nostalgia in me, which I totally dig. If you took that element away, I can almost guarantee you that my enjoyment of 80’s shows would plummet immediately.

    It’s great to see some people realize that anime music (and I’m not just referring to OP’s, ED’s, insterts, and character songs) is just as important as the story, characters, animation, etc. Kudos to anime|otaku for this post.

  12. TheBigN Says:

    Music won’t turn me off to a show, but it sure can turn me on to it. 😛

  13. Lelangir Says:

    And then sometimes silence is a good thing. I was watching Crest of the Stars and never seemed to notice any silence even in deep space. There was always some kind of bubbly repetitive music to accompany two characters talking or just doing something, but I think in this case it wasn’t really damaging.

  14. Musings in Anime Music Part 9: Yakumo’s Theme « “Lelangiric”, or so they say… Says:

    […] earlier, wrote about how essential character music is to, well, the character. I can agree, and I find this picture particularly appropriate, perhaps […]

  15. Tona Says:

    Great post, thanks for the info

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