Ask John: What are the Most Impressive Anime Songs?

Question:
John, what anime songs have impressed you most?

Answer:
I like the precise phrasing of this question because it’s not an inquiry about which anime theme songs I like best, nor a question about what I think are the best anime themes. It’s specifically a question about which anime songs have impressed me most. I interpret that as an inquiry about which anime songs I believe have unique and artistic lyrical and composition quality. I’m no expert when it comes to music appreciation. I can’t tell the difference between masterful and merely average musical competence. I merely judge what sounds interesting, soulful, and complex to my ear. I’m sure that as soon as I finish this response, I’ll think of additional examples, but for now, here are a few titles that come to mind, in no particular order.

Aoi Teshima’s “Teru no Uta,” the theme from Gedo Senki, is a melancholy song with an atmosphere of warmth and compassion. It’s a song that arouses an image of peace following a long and arduous journey. The rich and deep strings and woodwinds evoke a sense of gentle embrace, and Aoi Teshima’s vocal timber and performance seem almost like a lyrical poem from some ancient, mystical fantasy realm.

“Voices” from Macross Plus likewise relies almost entirely on Arai Akino’s vocal performance, and Akino’s virtually solo singing is captivating. I’d also like to mention Akino’s “Utsukushii Hoshi” from the film Windaria. This ethereal ballad is infused with a sense of deep sadness and regret, expressed with a beautiful, heart rending honesty and passion. The depressing tone of the song is outweighed by its elegant and graceful beauty.

The first ending theme for the Nana anime television series, “a little pain,” performed by OLIVIA inspi’ REIRA (TRAPNEST), is the aural embodiment of the “Gothic Lolita” fashion style. It’s contemporary but also has a sort of timeless folk rock undercurrent. Its lyrics and performance both express the longing of a tender heart, which is always moving. The intermingling of acoustic and electric guitars, along with the power ballad style create a sound that’s powerful and instantly memorable.

The opening theme for Ergo Proxy, “Kiri,” performed by MONORAL – particularly the full length 4 minute long version – is also a very contemporary power ballad that creates a haunting and enveloping atmosphere through the use of passionate vocals and a full and rich soundscape that evokes an image of cyberpunk isolation and desolation.

Susumu Hirasawa is one of Japan’s, and possibly the world’s most unique and creative contemporary pop musicians. His music has been memorable in Satoshi Kon’s anime including Millennium Actress and Paranoia Agent, but his masterwork of anime themes may be “Forces,” the epic, Gregorian electronica theme from Berserk. The song is instantly striking and engrossing, evoking the duality of post-modernism mixed with the sound of ancient religious chanting. Once heard, the song is very difficult to forget.

Opera singer Kumiko Noma literally brings an ancient sound to life with the Elfen Lied opening theme, “Lilium,” which is performed in Latin. This Gothic hymn has the gravity and solemnity of a tragic, operatic elegy, making it tremendously atmospheric and moving.

Hiroko Kasahara’s opening theme for Romeo’s Blue Skies, “Sora E…”, is another very moving song. Its use of strings creates a European folk song flavor, and the wistful and graceful vocals create a sense of plaintive, forlorn sincerity. The vocals have a silky, melodic flow that gently caresses the ear while creating an impression of sadness lifted by the beauty of nature.

Russian vocalist Origa lends her resonant voice and foreign tongue to three especially noteworthy anime songs: “Inner Universe” and “Rise” from the two Ghost in the Shell television series, and “Krasno Solntse” from Princess Arete. The Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex themes are exciting electronic songs that thankfully avoid becoming stale and repetitive. The folk ballad “Krasno Solntse” has a beautiful musical lyricism and evokes the charm of rustic, natural and beautiful expression through song.

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