The Power of Soundtracks in Anime

Here’s something I haven’t written about, but I would like to. I’ve brought up soundtracks a few times in my reviews, but really, it’s not that often. For many anime series, I feel like the soundtrack doesn’t really stick out. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But as you may know thanks to other series, a good soundtrack can make a huge difference in the enjoyment and even memorability of an anime.

Before I list some examples, I wanted to write about soundtracks in general here.

I’ll admit that I don’t normally pay super close attention to an anime soundtrack, I guess mainly because when I’m absorbed into a story, the background music isn’t the focus of my attention. But clearly soundtracks have a large impact on an anime, and even if we don’t actively listen to them while watching through an anime, they have a profound effect on a series and how we perceive it.

And because I often don’t intently focus specifically on the soundtrack / background music, it’s generally up to the soundtrack to make me notice it. This is where I’d say the majority of anime fail (once again, not that it’s a bad thing, many anime are excellent but don’t have what I’d consider memorable soundtracks). But yeah, they fail to catch my attention. Really, this doesn’t even mean that they did a bad job. I’m sure there are many moments where the music did it’s job in creating an exciting, or sad, or happy tone and it affected how I watched the anime.

But it’s difficult to write about soundtracks that you don’t remember!

I guess it really just depends on what the anime is setting out to do.
Or something like that.

It’s really amazing when you think about just how powerful the music can be, not just in anime, but in any media. Even on it’s own. It’s something that can invoke such strong emotions and feelings. And of course, the best of anime play on that.

The best of anime also play on familiarity, or nostalgia. By exposing us to the same track over and over, we get that familiarity that can connect us to specific moments / memories of an anime, or at least, connect us to certain emotions based on when the track is played. That, and sometimes, a soundtrack will repackage the same song into many forms in order to build up said familiarity. Off the top of my head, an example of that is the two main themes of Final Fantasy X – To Zanarkand, and Suteki da ne, both of which are present in many other tracks within the OST aside from their own dedicated tracks.

Anyways, this nostalgia factor is pretty amazing to think about. I don’t even really know how to put it into words, or know if I have to. I’m sure many, if not all of you, have an anime you love and have seen once or multiple times that has certain tracks that just fill you with nostalgia.

Here are two examples from me:

Both of these songs are actually from the soundtrack of the anime’s respective VNs, which is something else that I’ve noticed: VN adapted anime tend to have awesome soundtracks. I guess that’s likely because soundtracks are (in my opinion) more important in a VN, where the action is much slower paced as you have to stop and read, and the bulk of the viewing experience is still images as opposed to moving ones. In that form of media, it makes sense that you’d want a great soundtrack that can be repeated ad infinitum but not get annoying.

Anyways, both of those songs immediately bring me right back into their respective anime. Even though it’s been almost two years since I’ve seen either, I can just feel them through these songs, and likely other songs from their respective soundtracks.

I’ve been planning to rewatch Angel Beats! at some point, and when I do, I’m fairly certain that I’ll be remembering tracks left and right. I mean, I still remember at least four tracks from the anime now, partly because I’d learned some of them on the piano. For me, the soundtrack of Angel Beats! is one of the best. It might be one of the first that really stuck with me, because I’m pretty sure I watched Angel Beats! before I saw Clannad for the first time.

Speaking of, I used to prefer the Karuta version of Ichiban no Takaramono because of the piano, but several years ago I warmed up to the Yui version and now prefer it due to her powerful vocals. Not important, but figured I’d share, if there are any other fans of the song who have an opinion on the matter.

I recently finished re-watching Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and now that I’m writing about soundtracks, I have to say… if I try to remember any of the tracks, aside from some of the OPs and one of the EDs, I can’t remember. It’s an anime where I was so focused on the action, intrigue, and so on, that I never specifically noticed the background music. If I was to pull up the OST, I’d likely recognize everything. But I can’t materialize any of them in my mind without that aid.

And speaking of my memory, I’m going to pull up my anime list and write all of the anime that I can remember the soundtrack for, at least in part. I won’t count OPs or EDs for this though, because they’re kind of separate, although not always.

  • One Piece
  • Angel Beats!
  • Monogatari Series
  • Clannad
  • Danganronpa (Can thank the games for that)
  • Fairy Tail
  • Fukumenkei Noise (To be fair, it’s more the songs within the anime I remember, they weren’t really background songs, but not OP or EDs either)
  • Kill la Kill (Excellent OST)
  • Parasyte
  • Re:Zero
  • Rewrite
  • Star Driver
  • Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu
  • Violet Evergarden

It’s actually kind of embarrassing how short the list is.

I wonder if it’s just me though. Like I know that if you were to play tracks from the OST for at least a hundred other anime from my list, I’d recognize the songs and be able to make connections. At the very least, I’d be saying “I know this….!”. So the nostalgia is there, primed and ready to be activated, I just can’t pull it up with no prompt like I can with these listed anime. I guess that nostalgia is just another reason why I love re-watching anime.

This is enough rambling on soundtracks for this post. I’ll leave you with one of the more memorable tracks from Kill la Kill. For me, there are two that really stand out, but of the two, I prefer this one. If you’re a fan of Kill la Kill’s soundtrack, you likely know what the other track is, so I shouldn’t have to mention. It has a memorable name, anyways.

Until next time,
Thanks for reading.

26 thoughts on “The Power of Soundtracks in Anime

  1. Kill la Kill does have an excellent soundtrack. I haven’t seen some of these series, but I’d second Monogatari as well. I also really like the soundtracks to Death Note, Akagi, and Kaiji — all featured the guitarist/composer Hideki Taniuchi, who as far as I know is still sitting in prison on a marijuana possession conviction. A damn shame.

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  2. The soundtracks for Clannad, Angel Beats, and Rewrite were all composed by Jun Maeda, who’s probably an even better music composer than he is a writer of fiction. And yes, I’m also a fan of his music.

    Some of the soundtracks that I can pull out of my mental library:

    Kanon: Also originally a Jun Maeda VN score, though KyoAni re-recorded their own versions for the 2006 anime. Shojo no Ori (Girl’s Prison), the theme music for my best girl Mai, is especially one I can never listen to without getting emotional, though I prefer the solemn VN version to KyoAni’s more music box-ish take.

    Higurashi: Another one originating from a VN. This actually feels like two totally different OSTs, half light SOL and half spine-chilling horror; the latter half has all the tracks that I always remember including the classic Main Theme.

    Noir: A strong Yuki Kajiura soundtrack that’s unfortunately overshadowed by the more famous franchises she’s worked on. Salva Nos is one of my top three favorite Yuki Kajiura compositions ever.

    Escaflowne: Yoko Kanno’s first anime TV OST, even before Bebop; I have all five OST CDs. Among the individual tracks, Dance of Curse and Chain are both all-timers and instant nostalgia blasts for me.

    Yuki Yuna is a Hero: I bought this OST on CD, imported it from Japan right after it came out, and it didn’t leave my car for most of 2015. Track 29 of the OST (generally called “11 Stars, 5 Flowers” by fans) is especially one that no fan of this series will ever forget.

    Laid-Back Camp: Slice of Life/CGDCT shows tend to have very bland soundtracks for the most part. Laid-Back Camp is maybe the only one that actually has music tracks I can pull out of my head even now and remember some of the exact scenes where they were used.

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      1. I don’t know if that’s still a routine thing or not – Japan has (unfortunately) been quickly catching up to the West over the last few years in terms of ditching physical media and it’s been a long time since I heard a new OST I was really fired up to buy that isn’t available digitally. But yeah, for a long time it was common for popular anime and visual novels to have soundtrack CDs, often more than one if it was a big enough project. With Clannad, for instance, Key published CDs for the complete original VN soundtrack (on three discs!), two remix albums, a piano arrangement album, and the film soundtrack. There were even one or two companies during the first anime boom in the early ’00s who licensed anime soundtrack CDs for western releases. I have a licensed OST CD for R.O.D. the TV from back then, for instance.

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      2. Well for what it’s worth I wouldn’t say it’s quickly happening. Physical media is still the norm for many. But it definitely will change at some point – Youtube is so popular in the younger generation that I can see them not caring so much about physical CDs when they can find everything online.

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    1. The BIG downside of digital releases is that you can’t import them the way you can physical releases. So, if the digital hasn’t released in the USA, you either have to jump through some hoops to make the seller think you’re in Japan – or hoist the jolly roger. I run into this a lot… Though, TBH, more and more are getting US releases.

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  3. Agreed with Wingking on Yuuki Yuuna and Laid Back Camp…

    But I’d add:

    Yorimoi: The soundtrack is actually a bit sparse (that is, few tunes), but they’re used masterfully as “scene setters”. After one or two uses, you immediately know/feel the intended mood.

    SAO (franchise): Partly because there’s simply so dang many episodes and the music is remixed/recycled throughout… Partly because, well, it’s Yuki Kajiura soundtrack. My favorite moment is right near the end of Alicization – Asuna strides forward into battle, and very quietly “Swordland” is playing in the background. SAO’s “battle theme” which hadn’t previously been used in Alicization. It’s powerful callback.

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    1. I couldn’t get into Yorimoi because I was bored the entire time (was before I realized I don’t enjoy CGDCT), but I’ll take your word for it there, seems like an anime that would have a good OST.

      And yeah, SAO is one that I can’t think of anything off the top of my head, but I’m sure I’d recognize many tracks from it.

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    1. I don’t have much of a musical background, but I do know what I like and don’t like. That, and I know what sticks with me after finishing a series and what doesn’t. But yeah, I do feel like most anime just sound passable, but nothing really outstanding or memorable.

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