Hey there, fans! This week an announcement came over from Japanator.com about three big pieces of news that are just music to my ears! According to an article released Tuesday, two new albums are being released sometime in the near future and there will also be a concert (that is sold out, much to my sadness), all concerned primarily with Japanese video games:
First up is Symphonic Fantasies, featuring live symphonic medleys of some big franchises and composers, including Yoko Shimomura (Kingdom Hearts), Hiroki Kikuta (Secret of Mana), Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross) and of course Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy). Recorded at a live show in Cologne and edited in Abbey Road Studios, this is sure to be a must-have for fans. It’ll be available September 17th.
Also coming out September 17th is a new collection of piano tunes by Benyamin Nuss. The title Benyamin Nuss Plays Uematsu should be pretty self-explanatory. This one features music from Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon, Final Fantasy and more.
Finally, if all this SquareEnix stuff isn’t enough, you can get your Nintendo fix at Symphonic Legends. Well, that is you could if it wasn’t already sold out. This will be held September 23rd at the Cologne Philharmonic Hall and will hit on series like StarFox, Metroid, Super Mario Bros. and Zelda.
Now, as awesome as all of these pieces of news combined are, they all reminded me of one thing: Japanese music! Admittedly, Japanese music in relation to their popular culture, but music nonetheless. I find it fascinating that such great music can come out of some of the most unexpected places; had any of you talked to me about great music in video games as a kid, I would have looked at you funny and run away screaming, “STRANGER DANGER!!!” My point is that over the past few years, places in popular culture that have long been disassociated with good music, like the video game industry and the animation industry, for example, have “grown up” to reach that level of art, so much so that it’s become something of an event itself. Video Games Live is a testament to this fact, as is announcements to these events and releases such as this one. Have a listen:
This got me thinking about other places in Japanese culture where such awesome feats of musicality take place. This train of thought, along with Google, Wikipedia, and remnants of a project I did in Japanese 101 class, brought together several interesting examples of Japanese music that have been flying under my radar for a while that highlight the aforementioned awesome. Let’s get to listening, shall we?
“One Winged Angel” by Nobuo Uematsu (Japanese Role-Playing Games)
Oh, Sephiroth. The infamous villain of one the best Final Fantasy games out there also has one of the coolest-sounding themes any character in a video game could ever want. Everything is in here: a deep, booming choir that could scare little children, strings that would give the theme of Jaws a run for its money, and a guitar riff that screams several levels of evil. However, I did cheat a little in selecting this specific piece, for it’s the new version of “One Winged Angel” made for the Final Fantasy VII movie Final Fantasy: Advent Children and not the original piece found in the video game. There are several orchestral versions of the original piece, but I was drawn to the sweet, sweet riffs off the guitars in this particular piece; they are just too epic. This is a song you listen to when committing indescribable acts of evil, and, boy, is it delightfully sinful.
“Rising” by The Yoshida Brothers (Classical Japanese Instruments)
When I heard that a friend who was going to this year’s Otakon in Baltimore was going to listen to The Yoshida Brothers perform live, I was extremely jealous. Why, you might ask? Because I’ve always wanted to hear someone play the shamisen, thus broadening my cultural horizons by experiencing the music made a classical Japanese instrument, and play it with strains of rock guitar in the background, which would have added to the experience and multiplied its awesomeness tenfold! Now, it’s nothing new to see someone bring an ancient instrument and give some pep and rock, but to have it done to a shamisen is nothing to be scoffed at, and The Yoshida Brothers have gained some celebrity in Japan and overseas by doing it so remarkably well. That, and there’s something to be said about how well the aforementioned guitar riffs fit in so well with the super-fast twanging of the instrument.
Phoenix Wright in Turnabout Trial: The Truth Reborn by The Takarazuka Revue (Musical Theatre?!)
I don’t remember where I first heard of it, but I do remember feeling a little stunned when I looked it up and watched the opening number. Basically, a famous, all-female, Japanese, musical theatre troupe known as the Takarazuka Revue adapted a visual-novel style video game known in the United States as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney as a full-on, show-stopping musical, complete with songs, complicated dance routines, gravity-defying hair, and much gender-bending on the part of the actresses. The result is nothing short of impressive, and I’d gladly bet that the production values of this musical is nothing short of the successes found on Broadway. And the best part of it all? There’s already a sequel.
“Mi-Ya Sa-ma/ A More Humane Mikado” by Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert (Opera)
Before people start taking out their shurikens to throw at me, let me explain this choice! Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta The Mikado, or The Town of Titipu, while being a thinly-veiled satire of the current English government and royalty therein, uses the English view of Japan in the 1800s to great and comedic effect. In fact, due to its current status as being in public domain, it’s easy to say that the operetta’s been done to death. However, this particular number and production of the show caught my eye on YouTube, simply because (a) it’s one of the few songs in the operetta that had Japanese lyrics and (b) it’s ridiculously funny.
Now, I had hoped to add several examples of really good music from anime in this post, but the number I had in mind grew to the point of warranting a separate post! So look out for my next post, about the same time next week, when I make a little list of anime music that really gets me humming!