Music plays an integral part in anime, it allows the anime to go beyond the fourth wall and reach the viewer's’ sensibilities, putting a depth of emotions in it as well. That is because music is often said to be the universal language of mankind and the language of the soul. Anyone is able to simply listen to it and truly understand the sentiments that music is trying to evoke.
Be it a fast paced rock/metal track or a slow, calming classical/soft tune, music sets the mood of the anime, and truly communicates the inner emotions of the characters, or the situation in a way not even the images can’t describe.
Today, we go through how some of the most popular songs in anime that depicted the mood of the whole anime series flawlessly, ranging from the Original Sound Tracks (OST), to the Openings and Endings (OPs & EDs). Firstly, we will move on to how music is used as a tool to portray and transfer emotions, setting the mood for the anime. Subsequently, we'll talk about one of the anime in which the music is really what defined it and made it popular.
Where music is used to express emotions and situations
Music is a powerful tool. Not only can it be used to tell a story, it can also be used to describe human emotions and situations. Below are some examples of where music sets the mood of an anime or a character's feelings such as a particularly sad event or a happy event.
1. Expression of emotions - Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso
The study of music was conceptualized in the West with the study of classical music. Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso centralises on the theme of classical music. Shigatsu uses the foundational study of music to portray the development of characters using suitable famous pieces from masters such as Beethoven and Chopin to display anguish, pain and desolation of the pianist, Arima Kousei.
In contrast, the pieces of virtuoso violinists such as Kriesler and Saint-Saens are performed but the subtle differences in style and technique of Kaori Miyazono shows how music is the key to the freedom of expression and how it reflects her free-spirited personality.
Although what was played were excerpts of pieces, the differences between mashing the keys on the keyboard and playing elegantly are shown by the different characters which are also reflective of their personality.
One of the greatest quote from this anime that stands and remains as the maxim of music is "Music transcends words". To be honest, you need not to understand Japanese or even play music to understand the emotions depicted in this anime through the melodies and tones. You can hear the anguish and the pain of Arima simply by listening and how the soul is liberated from the free-spirited playing style of Kaori.
The element that defines a musician after all, is his/her own personality and how they modify the music to reflect themselves and their mood.
2. Expression of doleful events - Clannad
Clannad is a highly reputed masterpiece in the genre of slice of life anime accented with bittersweet romance. Clannad's claim to fame comes from not just its story but the background music that perfectly complements the situation whenever a pivotal event occurs during the anime. Clannad OST was composed, arranged, and produced by Jun Maeda, Shinji Orito, and Magome Togoshi. This amazing beautiful soundtrack of the anime series consists of three disc with a total of 56 songs.
The BGMs resonates with the hearts of the viewers through the heart-wrenching tale of Clannad augmented by the doleful music that demonstrates the beauty of human relations blooming amidst a torrential maelstrom of complications. The exceptionally emotional OST of Clannad evokes that sense of humanity in us that is empathy. As the feelings poured out of the characters, so does the music, which blends into the raw expression of emotions of the characters.
The beauty of Clannad lies not just in a perfectly crafted story but in its stunning composition of music.
3. Expression of Energy and Hype - Action anime
The iconic ‘Only My Railgun’ by fripSide is a beloved favourite amongst anime fans being a staple of a form of music in J-pop culture. With a very fast tempo and an expertly crafted composition by Satoshi (Sat), and powerful vocals provided by Nanjo, this pop/trance track allowed fripSide to shoot to fame. This electrifying OP is synonymous with the main heroine, Misaka Mikoto - the Level 5 Electromaster in the anime A Certain Scientific Railgun the spin-off series of A Certain Magical Index
The OST of the revamped Fate/stay night: UBW contains new renditions of character themes and battle scenes. These OSTs are specific and significant to the characters that are appearing on-screen. With the final confrontation between Archer and Emiya in their Reality Marbles, the insert song for this epic battle does not fall short of expectations.
‘Last Stardust’ sung by Aimer starts off in a low pitch and then slowly ascending into a higher pitch. At its pinnacle during the chorus, the power of Aimer's vocals emanates revitalized energy with the chorus playing concurrently with Emiya finding the resolve to fight making the fight all the more epic and bringing it to a whole new level.
From these two instances, you can see that music is not only reserved for emotional scenes and soft characters, but also for intense action, energetic and spirited sequences as well. There is something with hearing a rock piece or metal piece that really gets the mood going, you will instantly know that it is about to get real.
Where the Music Defines the Anime - Guilty Crown
In year 2011, Guilty Crown was a much debatable anime. It was a split between the people that loved the anime, and the people that disliked the anime. Some felt that the story was underdeveloped, while some felt that the ending was just right and should've ended the way it ended.
One thing was for sure, though, it was unanimous that the reason why Guilty Crown was so well-received, was the music. First OP 'My Dearest' sung by Supercell, and the second, 'The Everlasting Guilty Crown’ sung by Egoist, brought about a mad rave in the forums. It was undoubtedly dubbed the anime with the best music in the season.
So what makes the music in Guilty Crown so good? First, both, the fast paced and dynamic OPs are very catchy, gets you hyped up, and being the mecha-action anime that it is, it’s very appropriate for the series. The sizzling and sensational OPs are what captures the heart of people and you can simply relish in the OP before every episode starts.
Next, we look into the ED; ‘Departures’ Sung by Yu Na. Departures is a softer, calming that brings in instruments of a more delicate nature like the piano and the violin. The lyrics of the song are attuned with the conclusion of Guilty Crown despite being the first ED. At first glance, it seems like a very soothing piece, but all is revealed when the song is sung again at the conclusion of the anime, which puts everything in perspective. We won't spoil it for you if you haven't watched it. But for those that did, you know what we meant.
Lastly, we look into the OSTs. Bios and ‘Euterpe’ sung by Mika Kobayashi and Egoist respectively. Bios being very fitting with the battle sequences which is sung entirely in German as a unique style of Mika's. Heavy instruments are used to harmonize with the powerful vocals of Mika that generally evokes a sense of power and the fighting spirit. ‘Euterpe’ is a sorrowful song that is sung at the very beginning which has desolation overlaying an aura of mystery. The OSTs encompasses both heavy and light genres.
Both OPs and EDs shows that the series highlights the sequence of events very well. Bring an upbeat start to every episode with dynamic pop music and end it off with a soothing song after all that intense action. With the OSTs being a complement and an expression in situations of high intensity and introspection of the characters, Guilty Crown utilises music to portray the feelings of characters in a notable manner.
The Music is what Draws us into the Anime Scenes
Based on all of the above, have you ever experienced this before - as you play your favourite song and you reach the chorus or a certain point in the song, you experience a shiver up your spine and then feeling a momentary surge of ranging emotions?
That is what a well composed melody can do for you. Try to watch an action or a romantic scene without background music, boring, right?. As we associate events in the anime with the music that is playing, we experience a burst of transient emotions that make us connect our own senses with the scenes we’re watching. Music stimulates us in a way no words could ever do. After all, music is the universal language and it allows us to connect to it without the need for prior exposure first.
Innately, we all understand music, and while it may be hard to express it out, we see it as the raw emotions of the soul making it all the more easier to allow it to become synonymous with our own personal feelings. And that is why music adds a whole new depth of experience to your anime. Music is not simply about setting the mood in anime, it IS the mood of anime.
There are many good animes with good music out there as well, we will like to give special honourable mentions to Nodame Cantabile, Hibike Euphonium, Psycho Pass and Noragami as well.
Do you have any OSTs, OPs & EDs that you love? Has it affected you in any way at all? Share with us in the comments below and we will see you next time!