I thought I would start out with my favorite artists or songs, but I was inspired about anime OSTs today. I look at OSTs in two different ways. Firstly, do they serve their purpose, meaning, does the music do its job to convey the mood or emotion of the scene and also the anime. One of the reasons I may prefer watching anime to reading manga is because of sound because music can move me to tears, make me feel happy or give me fear and anticipation. Secondly, in an OST, I look at the individual pieces--are their themes or distinct songs that you can listen to alone and find beauty in it as music, separate from its original context.
My favorite Japanese composers are Joe Hisaishi, most famous for all his Studio Ghibli compositions. I call him the John Williams of Japan (Hisaishi and Miyazaki Hayao are like John William and Steven Spielberg lol...), and of course Yoko Kanno. Yoko Kanno is most famous for her compositions in Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in a Shell, Escaflowne, Sousei no Aquarion and Wolf Rain. She can do anything from orchestration, like in Escaflowne to more jazzy sounds in Cowboy Bebop or light pop like in her works for Maaya Sakamoto. I am actually more of a fan of her orchestration and choral works but that's just my taste.
I write about OSTs today because lately when I watch TV, especially Korean TV, I often here snippets of anime OSTs and they always make me smile. There was a Korean commercial and a bgm from Card Captor Sakura came on. CCS OST (I to IV plus movies and character singles) is a good example of an OST that everything is done right. The bgm conveys the giddy, feel good moments like with Sawayakana Asa(A Fresh Morning), the grandeous magical feeling when Sakura seals a card in Sakura's Theme, the suspicious mysterious feeling when there is a Clow Card lurking with Card no Keihai or the lonely feeling of the triangle when Sakura is heartbroken in "Heartbreak." Even Sakura's "Hoe" song is classic. Even the brief eyecatch and subtitle when the episode title shows up and during halftime captures the mood of the show so well. Because everything is done so well, the CCS soundtrack is something I feel like I underappreciate; but I also can't listen to it because it brings back every moment of the anime so vividly. Of the bunch, OST IV (Season Three) is my favorite, mostly because it contains the orchestration version and piano version of my favorite CCS song, Purachina, a Yoko Kanno composition. So, my favorite bgm piece may be Hontou no Ichiban (Purachina orchestration) and Hoshi no Michi no Kokuhaku (piano version.) But the fact is, you can see the progression of Sakura's growth simply by listening to the four original soundtracks for the CCS anime. Anyhow, kudos to Takayuki Negishi for creating a flawless OST!
So, on to my favorite OSTs in no particular order.
1. Joe Hisaishi - Honoo no Alpen Rose (Flaming Alpen Rose). There are two CDs, the anime OST and the Symphony Version, which is absolutely beautiful, especially since one of the main characters in the 1985 anime is an Austrian musical prodigy and composer. This is probably one of the animes that remains most in my mind that I watched when I was younger, and it was partially because of the music. The song to note is "Alpen Rose no Uta." I recently rewatched the anime in a French dub (the only version available) and realized how much I missed out on the story of the anime when I was little. In the brink of World War II, a young girl loses her parents and her memory. She is found by a boy called Lundi who names her Jeudi. This is the story of Jeudi and Lundi finding Jeudi's parents in the midst Nazi occupation and all the ostacles they face along the way. Jeudi has no memory except of a beautiful song, "Alpen Rose no Uta," a beautiful song that is actually the theme of French Resistance (had no idea about the Resistance when I first watched it when I was like 9... just thought it was a pretty song.) But the whole OST is perfection and is the first OST I bought (though I recommend the Symphony Version if you have to choose one.) The Jeudi and Lundi's theme piano version was played on the radio a lot when I was in Korea, and I remember first thinking, where have I heard this theme before? Lol...
2. Joe Hisaishi - Howl's Moving Castle. It's my favorite Studio Ghibli movie next to "Whisper of the Heart" which ironically isn't even a Hayao Miyazaki production. Anyhow, you really can't go wrong with a Joe Hisaishi + Ghibli creation.
3. Yoko Kanno - Escaflowne. The anime that introduced me to Yoko Kanno--the OST is sheer brilliance--the Gregorian chants, the orchestration. Wow... And even the opening song "Yakusoku wa Irenai." I was inspired to write this theme because I was watching cable TV and on the Korean channel, they're having a movie/drama award session and "Dance of the Curse" came on. Talk about exhilirating and astounding. I also love the violin in "Memory of Fanelia" and there's a Maaya Sakamoto vocal version "Aoi Hitomi" as well. Her voice still sounds so young and raw then! Everybody already knows I love "Yubiwa" from the movie OST.
4. Kaoru Wada - Inuyasha. Another example of an OST that everything is done so right that it's sort of underrated. I love Inuyasha's theme, I really love "Inuyasha to Kagome," all the different versions of it... It's a pity the anime went sort of nowhere. The first third was so promising. One of my favorite background OST while writing New Trials was Inuyasha Symphony Version. (Yes, do you see a pattern here? I like orchestration so much over synthetic sounds.) I looked at his credits and found out he composed the music for Kindaichi Shounen Jikenbo, where I also loved the bgm. Anyhow, I think he's underrated at times.
5. I like Yuki Kajiura a lot as well... I loved her from her Xenosaga stuff. I don't play games but I know the composer. Lol. Hence, I loved the Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles OST. Yoko Kanno + Yuki Kajiura would be my dream team.
6. Michiru Oshima - Full Metal Alchemist. I loved the anime so much--everything was executed with perfection. Animation, characterization, music, action, voice actors. I guess you can't go wrong with Studio Bones, nee? I am excited about the new remake for this awesome anime, especially since I didn't fancy the anime original ending and would like a manga faithful version. But the first half of the anime is so awesome, perhaps surpassing the manga and any other anime of its "generation." Puts all other shounen anime to shame. Either way, FMA had amazing opening and endings, all eight of them (you'll see them pop up when I make my favorite anime openings list.) I'm sort of skeptical that the magic and beauty of FMA can be conveyed with different music in the new version. Bratja is one of the most beautiful insert songs ever and probably the most memorable song from the OST. I believe it is sung in Russian, and it's usage in the anime can literally bring tears to my eyes. Anyhow, it's important to have a good OST and also have a good sound director who can insert the right music in the right places. FMA was sort of like that--the bgm had everything done "right."
Notable mention: I don't play Final Fantasy (though I had a friend obsessed with it) but I was quite obsessed with Eternity: Memory of Lightwaves for a while. My bravenet guestbook was kindly made by Cherry Star and has the midi for Final Fantasy X To Zankerland and for the longest time, I was like, oh it's pretty. Wonder what song it is. So, Final Fantasy Piano Collections was often on my playlist during my college era before my harddrive went bye-bye.
I also usually end up music-based anime, where music plays an integral part of the story (as if you can't tell in New Trials) such as Alpen Rose, Macross F and Full Moon wo Sagashite. I love that anime to pieces, but I didn't include it because I was striving more for a bgm theme more than vocals for this entry. Same with Macross Frontier, which did have fantastic bgm on top of good songs. The harmonica version of "Aimo" sticks in my mind. Another notable mention is the Saint Tail OST by Hayato Matsuo (which gives a similar vibe to CCS) who coincidentally did another favorite of mine, Magic Knight Rayearth. Yes, I'm the sort of geek who goes to animenewsnetwork.com and looks at who directed what, who did the music, who did the script. Lol...
Anyhow, the only thing to take out of here is Joe Hisaishi and Yoko Kanno are gods. :P