Introduction | 15-11 | 10-6 | 5-2 | 1 | Honorable Mentions
So, while indulging in a Mexican standoff (or was it Mexican takeout?) to decide who makes the cut here, the geeks who assembled this list may have had to leave out some soundtracks that, while good, could not be agreed upon to be "the best". Well, fine, I say. The Philistines who don't want to see those great works glorified can go die in twelve fires. However, they will not go without mention! No, sir, these soundtracks will get their moment in the sun (actually, I can't recall what the sun looks like... I need to get out more)!
So, without further preamble, here's some anime soundtracks that didn't quite make it:
Fullmetal Alchemist (Michuru Oshima): You can't ignore the beauty of background music that feels like alchemized awesomeness. It's mostly marked by its use of horns and piano, but there are some string instruments in there, and some choral pieces, like "Bratja" ("Brothers), a reoccuring theme that speaks of two brothers' guilt. Apparently Oshima isn't shy about borrowing classical pieces like Beethoven's Fifth Symphony or Chopin's "Tristesse" (my favorite piece of music ever), but as her own ambient pieces are so good, I'll forgive her.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (Akira Senju): Apparently something can be brought back to life with alchemy: Fullmetal Alchemist! And part of that taboo ritual involved Akira Senju's wonderfully dramatic, very European-sounding, somewhat operatic score. If I were to describe my favorite pieces in this series, I would say they were "triumphant" sounding. I'm talking about tracks like "Battle Scherzo", "Amestris Military March", and "The Intrepid". Oshima's music didn't set up mighty comeback music quite like Senju did.
Space Battleship Yamato (Hiroshi Miyagawa): Award-winning pop composer Hiroshi Miyagawa wrote emotional, sweeping, often sentimental-sounding, but always striking music for a franchise that almost didn't lift off. If you only listen to one Yamato soundtrack, choose either Farewell Yamato's or the one for Final Yamato, some of the most breathtaking music I've ever heard. The way he captures the movement of water in his score for Final is pure brilliance. Oh, and he didn't just compose. The man conducted, too!
Bubblegum Crisis (Various, BGM by Kouji Makaino): The actual background music in this eight-part OVA from the 80s wasn't really that special. Sure, you'd get some pretty decent tracks at times, like "Kudake Baratta Hakanai Yume", but unless you were aware of what scene it accompanied, it wouldn't have nearly as emotional an effect. However, what this anime was really known for were vocals by Kinuko Oomori, front of the 80s band SILK. The first episode begins wih a powerful rock song, "Konya wa Hurricane" and the last episode ends with the inspiring pop song "Chase the Dream", and in between she sang several songs, often with the other Knight Sabers VAs (Oomori played the popular Priss Asagiri). Bubblegum Crisis and its music were 80s-riffic.
Dragon Ball/Z (Shunsuke Kikuchi): Sometimes cheesy, occasionally cutesy, but mostly grand and atmospheric, the composer of the soundtracks to Doraemon, Tiger Mask, and several Kamen Rider entries happened to score all of the Dragon Ball franchise up until GT. Taking elements of martial arts movie music and adding bits of children-friendly jingles as well as big sweeping pieces that set the mood for danger, Kikuchi creates a sound that feels, for lack of better word, "epic". Helping him with the music is a man named Kenji Yamamoto, who scores Dragon Ball Kai. It's a pretty decent score itself, but my preference is still mostly for Kikuchi's work. They both beat the hell out of what Faulconer's team did.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack (Shigeaki Saegusa): Saegusa also scored Zeta Gundam and Gundam Double Zeta, all great work, but I feel his best work is in this movie that works as the climactic confrontation between longtime rivals Amuro Ray and Char Aznable. The use of piano, percussion, and horns, with just a little string, help to create an intense, dramatic sense of enormity to the events of the movie. There's even hints of sorrow and the place beyond it, behind the reasoning of our current way of thinking, and with it, the ambitions of the man who wanted to bring mankind to that place and the desperation for those who've vowed to stop him. You'll want to go beyond the time listening to this, too.
Planetes (Kotaro Nakagawa): I think that this one's a bit like Yoko Kanno's Turn A Gundam soundtrack. It's also very Aaron Copland-like, but by way of Tchaikovsky. There's a lot of horn, but a bit of a synth and string combo, with some woodwind thrown in for good measure. It also makes use of an electronic instrument called the theremin, like in the track "Dead Space". It gives the show's soundtrack a pioneering, triumphant sound.
Gungrave (Tsuneo Imahori): This soundtrack sounds like a cross between Imahori's previous work in Trigun and Yasushi Ishii's Hellsing, but not really as strong as either. There's a lot more electronic, dissonant sound in this, mixed in with the guitar work and other string instruments. You can tell it's trying to go for a creepy, horror movie feel at times and a Western at other times. My favorite piece is an insert song, "Here Comes The Rain", by Raj Ramayya, who did vocal work in both the Cowboy Bebop and Wolf's Rain soundtracks. It sounds good paired with Mr. Big's "Shine" from Hellsing.
Samurai Champloo (Various): Combining rap/hip-hop and R&B with classical Japanese music, the soundtrack makes for both a raucous house party or easy listening, depending. It features such artists as Shing02, Minmi, and the late Nujabes, you get both a sense of attitude and emotion, that hit you right from the beginning with the opening, "Battlecry". My favorite piece, which is mostly piano, is "Mystline".
Outlaw Star (Ko Otani): Much as other soundtracks I've covered, this one runs the gamut, but what seems the most present is a sort of "industrial" sound with heavy, metallic percussion ("Go", "Chase", "Power"). There's some country blues ("Freedom", "Intoxication"), guitar rock ("Desire"), and synth pop (as in the two EDs, "Hiru no Tsuki and "Tsuki no Ie"). The result is tension-building pieces of action scenes, nostalgic jazz pieces, and emotional string and synth sounds for drama. If the general sound of the music sounds familiar, it should: Otani also composed Gundam Wing's soundtrack. I'm particularly impressed with myself for picking up on it before even looking it up.
Gundam Unicorn (Hiroyuki Sawano): The only reason Gundam Unicorn's OST didn't place on our list is because A) It wasn't out when we first started working on this and B) Technically the show's not over yet. The music accompanying what may be the greatest UC era project since 0080 is as expertly crafted as the animation. It features some of the strongest orchestrated pieces ever heard.
Also, anything done by Kenji Kawai and/or Joe Hisaishi. I could go on for pages about their work.