Music is an important element in the lasting appeal of an anime series or movie. Songs can dictate the mood, message or emotion of a scene. Viewers can attach their personal impressions of an anime to key tracks from its soundtrack. These are facts that Yoko Kanno is keenly aware of.
Kanno is an anime industry legend, the composer of many classic soundtracks. Each of its song lists contains notable songs that have persisted through the decades. With a catalog of music as vast and diverse as his, chances are a few of his songs will resonate strongly with any anime viewer. Whether longtime fans of the medium or uninitiated newcomers looking to explore Kanno’s output for the first time, there will always be joy at the end of their journey.
ten The Grand Electronic Opera of Ghost In The Shell’s “Inner Universe”
Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex is a sci-fi detective show and anime with the best social commentary about life in a highly advanced information age. As such, the song that opens each of its episodes should match its mood and setting. Kanno delivers with “Inner Universe”, an explosive electronic track with the late and great Origa on vocals.
The lyrics of the track display one of Kanno’s signature quirks, its fusion of languages. Origa sings in a mixture of English, Russian and Latin while retaining its operatic melodies. The song exudes an undercurrent of danger with its electronic production, but the vocals rise above it, embodying the metaphysical and bodily duality of the anime.
9 Kids On The Slope’s “Kaoru & Sentaro Duo In Bunkasai” Is A Love Letter To Jazz
Giving Kanno a full jazz anime was bound to offer greatness. While “Kaoru & Sentaro Duo in BUNKASAI” is a mix of jazz standards (“My Favorite Things”, “Someday My Prince Will Come” and “Moanin'”), it fully shows Kanno’s ability to arrange the music of new and exciting way. .
Each part comes with unique syncopations and nuances. Incorporating adlibs and fillers that speak more to how Bon and Sentaro communicate as friends, Kanno takes classic jazz tunes and recontextualizes them to fit the core of the anime. It’s a tribute to some of the greatest jazz classics, but also the culmination of a beautiful friendship in Children on the slope.
8 Stand Alone Complex’s “Cyberbird” screams with its spooky harmonies
Not only is Kanno a legendary songwriter, but she also has an amazing singing voice. Under the pseudonym of Gabriela Robin, she sings “Cyberbird” with a delicate and ethereal grace. Every time she holds a note, she feels like she’s crying. Layered with her other vocal tracks, her singing creates a dense and rich soundscape.
But what really takes “Cyberbird” to the next level is the driving drum beat that captures Kanno’s vocals. It’s a fast, jazz-oriented beat that constantly drives the song forward. Both elements work in a way that makes the scenes Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex urgent, dizzying and cinematic.
7 Wolf Rain’s “Stranger” Has Sweet Vocals That Lead To An Incredible Dance Beat
Kanno is known for her way of merging musical genres. She takes seemingly disparate sounds and merges them together. It’s really clear in “Stranger”, a song from the anime wolf rain. Piano keys and vocals carry the smoothness of lounge jazz, while light ambient electronic sounds and violin segments run through the song.
The biggest surprise is that this track has a very strong dance beat, which elevates the track beyond the melancholy of its other elements. This gives the song a sense of nostalgia rather than sadness. Raj Ramayya’s voice sounds cool and lonely; he brings that mood into a Made in the Abyss track titled “Underground River”. In “Stranger”, this loneliness also has a chance to give hope.
6 Cowboy Bebop’s “Real Folk Blues” is a show stopper
“Real Folk Blues” is iconic. His blend of jazz, soul, blues and rock defines the emotional core of cowboy bebop. The show cannot be contained within a single genre of music, nor can its presentation and themes be contained within specific genres of fiction. It is a mixture of powerful elements that encircle, grate and deform. While the anime has many levity moments, the turbulence still highlights the series’ serious emotions.
When the show gets serious, viewers at least have the comfort of knowing that that perfect anime theme song is waiting for them at the end of the episode to grab them no matter how they feel. This song is effortlessly elegant, powerful and dramatic and was an instant classic from its inception.
5 Lose yourself in the synthetic movements of the autonomous complex: “Torukia” from the 2nd concert
Ghost in The Shell: Standalone Complex 2nd Gig is a fiercely smart show, but it wouldn’t be as powerful if it wasn’t willing to put its cyberpunk ethos into action. The combat in this anime is high stakes and carries a lot of weight and it needs music that can match its intensity.
“Torukia” fuses hip-hop synths with Kanno’s lilting vocals, flamenco guitar segments and rock drum beats. It fades slightly past the middle once the violins mark the song’s false ending. Slowly it builds up until it explodes with a final chorus, replacing Kanno’s vocals with Gregorian chants. It makes for an epic song that matches the action of the anime no matter where it’s set.
4 Vision of Escaflowne “Yakusoku Wa Iranai” is a gem of a pop song
The opening song of a fantastic isekai show like Vision of Escaflowne could have been a standard J-pop song. The show’s visual flair would have carried the song on its own, but Kanno didn’t stop there. Instead, she composed “Yakusoku Wa Iranai” and filled it with pop melodies and pop structure, equipped with an orchestral arrangement that includes bagpipes.
The song had Maaya Sakamoto lending her smooth, shimmering vocals and the final product sounds like magic. Its range is varied, the string arrangements sound heroic, but the song is grounded in its pop familiarity. This piece understands what makes isekai stories grand yet relatable.
3 The Space Lion’s Dismal Farewell from Cowboy Bebop
“Space Lion” is soothing and relaxed, with a perfectly timed climax. Just like the two cowboy bebop episodes in which he appears, the song plays out a story. The slow saxophone solo that opens the song sings and meanders in its loneliness, reflecting the isolation Gren feels. As it ascends and descends, it reflects the end of Gren’s life.
As Gren’s ship drifts through the vastness of space, the song blossoms into its second half. African percussion comes into play, accompanied by a choir. The song becomes a eulogy for Gren, marking the end of his battles as he finally finds peace.
2 Turn A Gundam’s “moon” is an ethereal song of hope
Kanno shines bright as Gabriela Robin in her pop ballad “Moon.” Accompanied by the soft sounds of a keyboard and a harp, her delicate voice floats gently through the verses. In Turn a Gundamthis song first plays when Loran Chehack declares that Earth is wonderful enough for the Moonrace to return.
The song conveys the love Loran has for his people on the moon, as well as the life he found on Earth. As the song’s chorus turns into a dramatic march, signaling the hardships and conflicts the anime’s characters will face, it maintains its beliefs to the end. The song, much like the show, is about the beauty that comes from the unity of humanity.
1 Cowboy Bebop carries the weight of “blue”
The last song playing in cowboy bebop, “Blue” is a grand and moving ballad that emphasizes the anime’s painful conclusion. It begins with a childish chorus singing over Spike Spiegel’s body, until it increases in volume, revealing the sparse instrumentals that cover the rest of the song. Mai Yamane takes over the vocals, expressing her pain.
A guitar groans in the background, the choir returns, and Mai sings passionately throughout the song. This is how the anime ends: the undeniable finality of a death that could not have been avoided. The song asks viewers to come to terms with the ending and continue to carry its weight.
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