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The Most Underrated Anime Soundtracks

Welcome, all you tankobon-toting, animation-loving, OVA-watching (ha!) denizens of the internet, to this month’s anime collaboration article. In these halls, the humble yet phenomenal cast of Geeks Under Grace’s anime writers will bring sweet music to your ears. More specifically, we aim to upstage the immediate classics and find some anime soundtracks that are unfairly neglected by the limelight. Most otaku have heard the works of composers like Yoko Kanno, Hiroyuki Sawano and Shirō Sagisu, yet there is also undeniable skill lingering in the peripheries of the industry. Music can come in many different shapes and styles, and perfectly decent songs risk being forgotten due to circumstances outside their quality or influence. We are here to do our part in alleviating this tragedy.

Be sure to grab your favorite pair of headphones.

Casey Covel

Reading Tsutomu Nihei’s manga Blame! is akin to being dragged into the abysmal underbelly of someone else’s nightmare—a self-evolving, sentient world of mechanical dread that keeps the reader subconsciously fighting for survival without ever granting them respite to breathe. But Blame!’s apathetic distortion of time and space is its true source of cerebral terror.

Braving the cybernetic catacombs of the ever-expanding City is an exercise in mortal peril and all-but-assured insanity. Riding an elevator from one sector of the vast Megastructure to the other takes a few human lifetimes—meaning those mortal souls from previous chapters are now bones and dust in the best case scenario. If the spindly-legged Safeguard don’t spear trespassers down for daring to leave their dwindling food supplies and claustrophobic conditions, then a few accidental dives into an alternative universe via black hole is sure to strip survivors of any sense of self they might have possessed.

It’s fascinating, then, that though the 2017 Netflix original film Blame! features an isolated human colony on the brink of extinction trapped in an inescapable, solar system-sized City, the film almost entirely does away with its source material’s sense of morbid madness—largely due to its cautiously-composed score.

Blame!, much like its protagonist, Killy, is at its hardly-human core, a story about hope—one undying loner’s thousand-year, extra-dimensional journey to find the elusive Net-Terminal Gene and restore power to the endangered mortals that created him.

Killy is a humanoid of silent stares and weighty steps who allows music to convey his poised and powerful persona. Amidst a score that merges the likes of Harry Gregson-Williams’ mystical nuances and Hans Zimmer’s digital discord with Nobou Uematsu’s sonorous sweeps across the music staff, Killy’s theme is the great neutralizer. He strides into the heat of mechanized chaos and threadbare hopes, heralded by a meek, piano-led largo that may well be the musical manifestation of the heavy-booted, high noon gait. By the time the victorious violins, swelling resonators, and shrill synths fade with the dancing dust and debris, it’s Killy’s vigilant form that stands untouched. The ever-unwavering keys and haunting howl of his theme testify to this outcome, long before the human eye beholds it.

Despite its Netflix-netted production budget, Blame! features sound-mixing and music with the scale of a big blockbuster spectacle, composed by Psycho-Pass and Ajin’s Yugo Kanna.

In a film where music doesn’t simply set tone but also constructs an existentially-enormous world with every somber and soaring note, the soundtrack pulls the viewer in and not only keeps them immersed but also uncannily hastens their return after the credits roll. They long to become a part of Blame!’s world—not out of some nihilistic fascination with the macabre, but because the narrative poses a solution to the inevitable horrors of the universe.

In view of the film’s final setpiece—a panorama of the vast Megastructure—timorous hope blooms into a promise of undeniable deliverance. As Killy’s solitary back strides into the cataclysmic crypts on behalf of humanity, the score swells into an assuring climax. In that instance, gazing upon an awe-inspiring and intimidating view of unexplored existence, the viewer becomes a believer—even if for a moment—that in the infinitely wide universe there is a Killy who will fight for the future until time begets eternity. And as long as we choose to believe in the One who has gone beyond where frail humanity can only dread to tread, our faith will be our salvation.

Author’s Note: This article is partially reproduced from its original publication at Geekdom House: “Blame! and the Transformative Power of Music.”

Michael Morejon

Michael is a teacher who is a life long gamer. When not conquering distant worlds via console, he can be found reading, watching anime or Netflix, writing for Beneath the Tangles, or just enjoying life as a geek in the city. He aspires to travel to Japan and possibly…never leave.

An anime’s music should represent the feeling or scenery of the situation. If a character is walking through a forest, in a battle, having a conversation, or mourning a loss, I should have a connection to these events through what I am hearing. Sometimes a show pulls this off, but other times all I hear is noise in the background. At best, the opening and ending songs are memorable.

One anime that I really enjoyed for its music is Noir. This is an older series from 2001 that many anime fans have not heard of, but I highly recommend it! It’s about two assassins who are hired for various hits, and for the first few episodes they are just completing hit contracts until more is revealed about one of the main character’s backstories. The protagonists are Kirika and Mireille, while Chloe serves as a secondary character who helps occasionally when they are in dangerous situations.

Yuki Kajiura is the composer and music producer behind Noir and many other more popular anime (Sword Art Online, .Hack, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero, Tsubasa). I wasn’t aware she also created music for SAO, among other anime soundtracks I enjoy, so no wonder it was the same composer! What I really enjoy about her music is how it reflects the culture of the anime itself. Her style is to create music that connects with the setting or tensions being felt in that moment. When I listen to certain tracks of Noir, I can clearly see some parts of the anime where that song is played. Certain tracks are nostalgic, as well as nice additions to my playlists.

The instrumentals make me feel what the girls are going through, whether it’s “Solitude by the Window” when Kirika is lost in thought, or “Canta per Me” when they are in the middle of a life-threatening fight. Chloe’s anthem has a tender rhythm to it, which always plays when she arrives to save the day. “Romance” has beautiful French-inspired instrumentals which sound like I am walking through a Parisian street, while the intro song, “Coppeira no Hitsugi”, gives off an allure of danger and mystery.

Overall, it’s a great soundtrack that flows well with the anime. I leave you with the listing below, and be sure to check out this classic anime at Funimation!

Noir OST Tracklist *Click to here on Soundcloud*

01 – Coppeira no Hitsugi 4:03
02 – Les Soldats 2:28
03 – Snow 2:12
04 – Canta per Me 3:14
05 – Corsican Corridor 3:49
06 – Ode to Power 2:56
07 – Solitude by the Window 3:10
08 – Romance 3:45
09 – Silent Pain 2:03
10 – Lullaby 3:18
11 – Melodie 2:00
12 – Chloe 2:25
13 – Whispering Hills 3:25
14 – Zero Hour 2:38
15 – Liar You Lie 3:15
16 – Sorrow 2:43
17 – Salva Nos 4:30
18 – Kirei na Kanjou – Arai Akino 4:17  (Performed live)

Robert Miller

My vote for an underrated anime soundtrack goes to Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad, especially the English dub. (Click to listen.)

Let’s start at the beginning of the soundtrack. The one disappointing thing is the songs are not actually attempts to create the music from the manga. Instead, songs from various bands were licensed and then re-recorded by the band Beat Crusaders in order to provide a more consistent sound. Then the voice actors provided the vocals. While it would have been nice to hear the songs from the manga, as done in other music anime (K-On and Fuuka, for example), the amount of effort put into finding songs that fit Beck’s style and then having them re-recorded by a single band to create sonic uniformity is still an incredible feat.

As for the English dub, I will admit most of the time I am not fond of English versions of Japanese songs because, frankly, they tend to sound terrible. In Beck’s case though, the songs were most often in English to begin with, which meant in the original Japanese dub, the voice actors were basically singing in “Engrish,” as it has been termed. I believe this detracted from the songs. However, the American voice actors give a greater quality to the songs, and they have excellent singing voices to boot. So much effort was put into this soundtrack, and yet Beck tends to be an anime that slips under most people’s radars.

Categories
Action/Adventure Animated Anime Movies Reviews Sci-fi/Fantasy

Review: Blame!

Distributor: Netflix
Director: Hiroyuki Seshita
Writers: Tsutomu Nihei and Sadayuki Murai
Starring: Takahiro Sakurai/Kyle McCarley, Kana Hanazawa/Christina Vee, Sora Amamiya/Christine Marie Cabaonos
Genre: Action, Sci-fi, Psychological, Drama, Mecha, Seinen
Rating: TV-14
Netflix original movies tend to catch my eye (because I’ve enjoyed many of them), so when I saw a manga-adapted anime being promoted on my Netflix recommendations list, I was immediately drawn to it.
Blame! was originally a ten-volume manga series by Tsutomu Nihei (published in 1998) that was later adapted into a six-part anime in 2003. Netflix’s 2017 version of Blame! aims to be a feature film-scaled adaption of part of the manga.
Since I don’t read manga (and haven’t seen the 2003 anime), I entered Blame! completely “fresh” without any preconceptions about the film. I only knew from trailers and artwork that the world of Blame! was set in a dystopian future, where technology had gotten the best of humanity, forcing them to rebuild and survive.

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: A “shrine” is merely mentioned, without any religious connotation. Characters briefly discuss their superstitions (or lack thereof) regarding a “ghost” that can control people with its voice (a central character’s great-grandfather supposedly fell to his death at the whim of the ghost’s siren call). In the end, though, the “ghost” is little more than a malfunctioning android.
Violence: Blame! teeters on the edge of a PG-13 and R rating. There are scenes of intense violence that are often “censored” by careful camerawork, leaving some of the more grisly moments to the viewer’s assumptions. For example, there’s a scene were an Exterminator cuts off someone’s head. While the severing itself is censored, a blood splatter (complete with sound effect) and head rolling across the floor (concealed by a mask/helmet) leave little to the imagination. Elsewhere, an Exterminator kills a girl it is holding, with sound effects and blood detailing what the eye doesn’t explicitly see. On-camera violence includes someone’s hand being blown off, people being pierced through by laser guns, an all-out brawl between a main antagonist/protagonist, and scenes of dead bodies littering the wreckage.
Language/Crude Humor: Mild language (d*mn, h*ll) is used moderately.
Sexual Content: None
Drug/Alcohol Use: There’s a scene of adults drinking during a party. Some admit they have “had too much.”
Positive Content: A strong sense of hope prevails throughout the film, as characters act on hope in order to help people live (and fight) for a better future.

Review

What first caught my attention about Blame! is the world it introduces and the animation that brings it to life. The story immediately sets up its environment for its cast to explore, surrounding them by ancient and seemingly unused metallic structures and revealing a bit of the world’s history in the process. The underground containment vibe of the atmosphere melds well with the suits and weapons that the characters utilize–somewhat “old-fashioned” for the technological advancements of the world of Blame!, but far more futuristic than our own.

The animation is fantastic when choppy motions don’t distract the eye–the broken frame rate being an obvious artistic nod to traditional anime. Ultimately, the segmented animation stands in small contrast to an otherwise beautifully-animated world.
There’s a strong sense of familiarity to the story and characters, and revelations come to light as the plot progresses along. The opening is particularly sturdy, with the environment, technology, weapons, music, and introduction of a mysterious character named Killy immersing the viewer in the world of Blame! and giving off some strong Final Fantasy vibes in the process.
The soundtrack varies in style and sound, but it definitely adds to the mysterious and epic tone of the story. Even though there are moments where the film wields big, motion picture-esque scores to highlight intense battle scenes and the like, my favorite piece in the whole soundtrack is Killy’s piano-led theme. Again, bearing resemblance to some of Nobou’s compositions in Final Fantasy, Killy’s theme is a gentle and whimsical tone that contrasts sharply with the world and the scenes it’s used in, making Killy’s presence known in a very subtle, yet powerful, way. 

Killy piques the viewer’s interest from the moment he enters the screen. Able to destroy a whole line of Exterminators (robots designed to destroy humans without the “Net Terminal Gene”) with one blast from a weapon called a Gravitational Beam Emitter, having a mysteriously silent-but-awesome vibe, and having robotic features that only the viewer is privy to at first makes Killy an immediate point of interest–an intrigue that only grows as the viewer and other characters attempt to “figure him out.”
Director Hiroyuki Seshita implements some neat perspective shifts throughout the story. The “camera” jumps back and forth between first and third person at times, allowing the viewer a glimpse through the character’s suits and Killy’s robotic eye scanner (an unknown feature to the rest of the cast).

It’s not just Killy’s unique “vision” that makes him interesting, though. He’s searching for humans who possess the “Net Terminal Gene,” doesn’t need a suit to walk around the lower parts of “The City” (exposing human faces to the “Safeguard” activates the Exterminators), and carries an unbelievable backstory and arsenal of unique technology (like a small brick that can be instantly turned into a giant block of food when contacted with water). It’s hard not to be fascinated by his presence on the screen, which helps maintain the viewer’s interest in the unfolding story.
Interestingly, the Blame! manga tells the story from Killy’s perspective (according to my research). In the film, however, the community’s perspective is more prominent, which prioritizes the outsider’s perspective of Killy, rather than Killy’s perspective of the world around him. It’s an odd storytelling choice, given that Killy has the habit of wandering from community to community, and Blame! is a chronicle of his individual adventures, though it does ultimately make him more of a mystery. Without establishing Killy as the primary point-of-view, the story implies that Zuru is the main character of Blame!. I was actually surprised to find out that Killy was the main character in the source material.
Killy sets the momentum that drives the entire story. He claims that he’s able to connect the humans back to the technological world that went against them, enabling them to control it once again, if only he can find a human with the Net Terminal Gene. Thus, the fighters from the community join his hunt, with the help of another ancient robot/human named Cibo, as they search for a way to artificially connect back to and gain control of The City.

This is the most riveting aspect in the film: going through the adventure with Killy and co. and seeing things slowly unfold as they learn more about the world. The contrast of humanness (the community, especially Zuru), part-human and part-robot (Killy), and a robot with human traits (Cibo), is a fascinating mixture throughout the story that adds weight to the universal goals of each demographic. The community wants a better future for humanity, Killy (being a part of both the human and the cybernetic cultures) wants to restore control back to the humans overall, and Cibo (being a robot) wants both. This whole interaction leads to some interesting discussion points: What does it mean to be human? How far should humans go with technology? Do we rely and trust too much in technology? What are the consequences of control?
However, despite all it has going for it, Blame! leaves some pretty big questions unanswered, and solutions to simple dilemmas are often stretched for the sake of drawing out the plot. The overall story the film aims to tell doesn’t seem to “conclude” at the end. Though a sequel is in store to hopefully complete the main arc, newcomers to the series will no doubt feel Blame! is incomplete as is. In many ways, this is proof of how compelling the storyline is, as the viewer will likely be left desperate for answers and ready to continue the journey.
Again, this issue is most evident if you’re brand new to the entire world of Blame! (coupled with the differing perspective from the manga). Those familiar with the source material (or even if you just read the main synopsis) will most likely have a better understanding of where the creators are going with the story and not feel as unsatisfied by the end, because it’s ultimately a part of a much bigger story.
Overall, I really enjoyed Blame!. The characters and world drew me in, the unfolding story kept me interested, and the nice balance between action and deep themes will no doubt lead to some good philosophical discussions after viewing.