Since my brain has entered some weird Twilight Zone where I can neither
rest nor really concentrate, I’ll
inflict treat my hypothetical
readers to the music that’s been running through my head lately.
Not surprisingly it’s all from anime and Western cartoons.
Arcane: League of Legends
Netflix’s Arcane is, arguably, a masterpiece: the animation where every frame looks like a painting1, the dialogue where no words are wasted and every word matters, the story that resists simple categories of heroes and villains … Even Honest Trailers had few bad things to say.
Naturally some of the music haunts my head as well.
Technically this video is for League of Legends the online game. Visuals are production art for the skins she can assume during the game, including one based on her “disguise” in Arcane. Still, one can hear a few bars during the scene in Arcane where Caitlyn explores a crime scene where she’s not supposed to be. (And allegedly when we first introduce her family, but I didn’t notice it.)
Honestly I find this piece really soothing. I even played it on my phone before my surgery to calm my nerves. Your mileage may vary.
“Guns for Hire”, Woodkid
During this scene in Arcane they play the song below. At first I couldn’t get the connection, but it’s matching the cuts where Silco is losing his shit: his relationship with his adopted daughter, and perhaps his entire criminal empire, might fall apart just because her long-lost sister is still alive.
There’s also a nice cover from Samuel Kim Music and Aloma Steel. If nothing else, Ms. Steel enunciates more clearly.
Laid Back Camp
Many have called Laid Back Camp the most relaxing anime ever made. It’s about high school girls who camp around Mount Fuji in winter. That’s it. No romantic polyhedrons, no portals to other worlds or giant robots. Just some cozy scenes punctuated by camping tips. I think Japan’s parks department must have sponsored this show.
BTW, there are longer versions of these songs by the artists on YouTube. I’m leaving that as an exercise for the reader. (I.e. I’m too lazy to find them.)
Season 1 Opening: “Shiny Days”
Yes the opening sounds like the Jackson Five’s “ABC”. It’s still a song that can make even someone with major depressive disorder smile. Sometimes. Maybe.
Season 1 Ending: “Fuyu Biyori”
For those with anxiety disorders, try this:
Season 2 Opening: “Seize the Day”
Another peppy song to open an episode with.
Season 2 Ending: “Haru no Tonari”
And another relaxing song to end with.
BTW, the word tadaima means, roughly, “I’m home”. The latter half of season two concerns a long camping trip over break, and the final episode is mainly the girls heading home. Which sounds boring, but isn’t somehow. In fact it’s vaguely melancholy, maybe because this is the last series and I get a vibe that the anime creators knew it would be.2
Revolutionary Girl Utena
In the late 1990s and early 2000s I was obsessed with this show, which I’ll admit is an acquired taste. Some consider it a shojou classic or an important representation of (dysfunctional) same-sex relationships. Others don’t understand what’s going on or why and wish a Japanese teenage girl would explain it to them3.
I’m almost afraid to watch it again almost 20 years later. Is it still the flawed but fascinating fractured fairy tale I remember? Or is it pretentious drivel? One day I may be brave enough to find out.
The main title of the series.
(Or at least the first 13 episodes. Did they change them in the next arcs?)
There’s a longer version of the opening song, but since I don’t understand Japanese it’s lost on me. The melody evokes memories of the series and this trippy opening, though, so it’s stuck in my head.
Space Battleship Yamato (Uuchu Senkan Yamato4) came to the States as Star Blazers in 1979, but I never watched it. In fact, I still haven’t seen it, only the remake, which I enjoyed. If I tracked down the original, I wonder if I would be more fascinated to see the Original Work or let down by the late 1970s animation and archaic social norms.
Space Battleship Yamato 2199 Opening
This is from the 2012 remake, Star Blazers: Space Battleship Yamato 2199. Same theme song, and presumably same Japanese lyrics, but the animation is much slicker. Somehow when I hear the original Japanese I want to face the rising sun and salute the heroism of Admiral Okita and his crew. Again, your mileage may vary.
Star Trek: Lower Decks
While I talked about Lower Decks in a previous post, here I’d just like to say that, especially for a cartoon parody, the animators and composer(s) don’t skip on production values.
This is a pitch-perfect parody of all the Piller/Berman era show openings, and sets the expectation that these are not Starfleet’s best and brightest.
The credits change every season. Most notably, the battle that the USS Cerritos peaces out of gets more complex every year.
James Horner Homage
In episode 1x09, “Crisis Point”, a holodeck “movie” spends a little too long panning over the ship. It’s a parody of Star Trek: The Motion Picture’s long panning shots, with a sideswipe at the 2009 movie’s love of lens flares.
The soundtrack, however, pays homage to James Horner, composer for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, from which the “movie” derives its premise. Later episodes reuse it whenever our hapless characters do something uncharacteristically epic.
This video compares Star Trek movie scenes and parallel scenes from “Crisis Point”.
Star Trek: Prodigy
While also I talked about Prodigy previously, Giacchino’s score, like the series itself, honors the spirit of Star Trek while exploring new frontiers.
(Actually, I’ve only had this theme cross my mind once or twice, but I expect it will get wedged in there just like the rest.)
The Twelve Kingdoms
This anime from 2003 came and went, maybe because its U.S. distributors went out of business. Which is a shame. The Twelve Kingdoms was an isekai before isekais were cool, before seemingly every Japanese high school student (and some adults) fell through a mysterious portal, or these days gets run over by a truck, and awakens in a fantasy land. Unlike the MMORPG-based pseudo-medieval fantasy lands of today’s anime, the world of the Twelve Kingdoms borrows from Chinese legends to create a strange place where divine providence chooses immortal kings yet mortals and immortals are still greedy, corrupt, and short-sighted. The protagonist for much of the series, Youko, is by no means over-powered or all-conquering; she only has a few subtle powers, some she doesn’t even notice, to help her survive in a land that seems to hate her. Youko hits (at one point literal) rock-bottom before she conquers the character flaws that limit her and discovers the destiny that’s brought her to this seemingly mad place.
Here endeth the rant.
Other anime open with a J-pop song loosely connected to the series. (Maybe the singer is a voice actor in the show.) Twelve Kingdoms, instead, chose a sweeping orchestral piece that puts one in the right frame of mind for a world of Chinese myth and legend.
A longer version is here.
This incidental music crops up all the time in the series, to the point that different sections of this track conjure up different scenes.
The full playlist of the Original Sound Track is here until YouTube takes it down.
Commercial art a la D&D or Magic: the Gathering, not Dutch masters, but still … ↩︎
I wonder if this sort of “non-ending” – an arc that’s at best a pause in the story but feels like farewell – is a trope in and of itself. Or maybe I’m imagining things, just like I imagined the last episode of Spice and Wolf felt like a wedding (despite being an escape from a city under attack) or the last episode of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid felt like Kobayashi and Tohru running into the sunset (despite being Kobayashi running from Tohru’s surprise wedding). ↩︎
Paraphrased from a negative review I found ages ago but can’t find again. ↩︎
If you want the Japanese name in kanji/kana, see Wikipedia. ↩︎