Funomena Picks: Best of Anime 2015 | Part III

For my third and final venture into the best of anime 2015, I determine the overall winners of the year.

Below are my meticulously considered titles and studios that will be competing for and winning the Funomenon Globe (Took me 5 seconds to come up with this name…so it’s AWESOME. Design & 3D render pending.) for Best TV & Film Soundtracks, Top-Performing Studio and Favourite Anime of 2015.


Best OSTs of Anime 2015

5. Blood Blockade Battlefront | Taisei Iwasaki & Various

This won’t be the first time for a score that has already been featured in my Best of Film Music 2015 publication, to be making another appearance on the awards carpet. Be sure to refer back to the above-linked article, if you wonder about the more intricate details, in regards to many of the scores that I will be talking about here.

The score to Blood Blockade Battlefront makes a resounding impression on the audience, acting as a forerunner mood setter, world builder and atmosphere creator for the alternate, alien-infested New York, through the snappy and very much impressionable utilisation of multiple musical genres that includes various segments of Swing, Rock-fusion and Bebop-era Jazz, modernised orchestra scoring and soul, pop-rock and country.

Overall, a solid segment of the 2 disc album included some of the most energetic and charismatic tracks ever written for anime in 2015.

On My Own, Footloose/Run for Cover, Catch Me If You Can

4. Hibike! Euphonium | Matsuda Akito

Recited from Best of Film Music 2015 publication: As stated in various interviews, composer Matsuda Akito experienced his first venture in writing concert band music with this TV series, which is a marvel, considering their quality. One of the other interesting side issues concerning the scoring process of the series, was the novel author’s fictional descriptions of musical pieces, their musical personalities and arrangement segments, even fictional composers were included in the mix. As a result, the original concert band pieces were composed to reference from the novel’s descriptions, which eventuated in the creation of a suite of wonderful pieces, in addition to the usual collection of background music and classical pieces, such as ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ and Dvorak’sFrom The New World’.

The unique situation of this novel adaptation and the source of inspiration for the featured concert band pieces from the TV series, has resulted in some very complex, intricate and enjoyable music from the composer for Hibike! Euphonium, who managed to balance out the band music, with a theme-based suite of background music that are not only distinct from the diegetic inclusions to the musical soundscape, but also retain their sense of emotional resonance with the rest of TV series.

Crescent Moon Dance

3. Snow White With the Red Hair | Michiru Oshima

(No album art available as of now.)

Michiru Oshima’s KILLING it in anime, like she has always been for the last two decades. 2015 saw no less than two anime TV series scores from the maestro, plus one animation short film score, which aired with the release of Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade. Out of the three 2015 releases, and her portfolio as a whole, Snow White With the Red Hair’s relatively light and lushly lyrical score has some of Oshima’s most understated and unabashedly beautiful music this side of the 2010s.

Under the baton, Orchestre de l’Opéra national de Paris (Paris National Opera Orchestra) swells with a suite of light and gorgeous melodies, which relies on a solid base of light woodwinds and a diverse strings section, comprised of violin and cello solos and sections, piano and harp. Oshima’s not only known for her effortless ability to write in epic scopes and with brute force; facets of her style that didn’t show much of themselves here; but also her ability to tune into the essence of the animation that she’s writing music for, weaving her melodies effortlessly into the soundscape tapestry. Just don’t forget to remind her to tone the Wagner crescendos down, when you want ‘light and delicate’ for your princesses and princes.

As I’m writing this, the OST albums are still criminally unavailable for public consumption and purchase. But, Internet album sources suggest an early February release for the first volume of music, with the remaining volume(s) following no less than a month behind. If that’s true, I have a few confirmed items, which I will be getting in the mail for the next few months.

2. The Heroic Legend of Arslan | Taro Iwashiro

Put simply, this is what Yona of the Dawn’s score SHOULD have been like…grand, unashamed in its epicness, and majestic in its dominance over the soundscape. Praise shall be showered upon the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra!

Once again, due to the still rather limited exposure to this album and having the show itself still in my backlog, I can’t go much into detail, but it’s rather obvious, that for a historical adventure, political and warfare story, this is the music that should be accompanying such tales, however mediocre or masterful it may be.

The ARSLAN

1. When Marnie Was There | Takatsugu Muramatsu

(WARNING, ESSAY INCOMING.)

You know…anime films and award ceremony schedules are kinda in a wreck at the moment…both for those big-shot important ones, and mine.

Whilst both the soundtrack AND the film were originally released in cinemas in 2014, the Oscars recognized the film for its 2015 line up, instead. Furthermore, the western release of the film in cinemas and on Blu-ray were also 2015. Along with the fact that I first experienced When Marnie Was There in Australian cinemas around mid-2015, I suppose I will consider this one a 2015 title for this instance (there, a reason why it was left out of the OTHER film music publication).

Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki and Joe Hisaishi are the three staple names that have made history numerous times throughout the decades. Yet, when the studio home to so many animation fans’ pride and joy, chose to seemingly say its goodbye with one last film, helmed by the youngest director to ever work with Ghibli, alongside another young and relatively unknown composer, the results were just as effectively captivating, even if the melodrama were somewhat magnified, for better or worse.

Alongside a rather dark children’s ghost story about self-isolation, depression and finding the purpose to live, the music needed to fit the bittersweet personality. On this front, the score delivered in spades.

The perfect reference anchor for the music’s thematic purpose throughout this film, would be Pete Doctor and Michael Giacchino’s venture with the 2009 Pixar film, Up: a theme-based musical score that married the emotional resonance delivered by the masterpiece film with one simple sequence of notes. In this case, Ellie’s Theme, which first accompanied the famous man-crusher of an opener for Up, is met with competition from Anna’s Theme, a tear-jerking melody that has woven itself across the entire spectrum of When Marnie Was There, delivering a resounding musical landscape that evoked nostalgia, heartache and a delicate sense of fragile humanity.

Utilising a fine balance between chamber ensembles and the grand sounds produced by the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra, the 2 disc album; comprised of ‘image album’ theme suites and the film score; soars with its preciously intimate personality that is no less passionate in its ability to inflict its listeners with a wide range of emotional hints. The recording and mixing of the entire album leans towards the higher ranges of the soundscape, with the piano recordings receiving significant reworkings to achieve more echoing and reflective tones; a creative choice that was utilised to its maximum effectiveness, when accompanying the film’s more dream-like and quietly intimate sequences. As previously mentioned, alongside various sub-motifs and Marnie’s more interwoven and compositionally buried theme; Anna’s theme takes the helm as the heart of the entire score: a versatile selection of notes that can transform from a simple piano, clarinet solo and harp piece, into a climatic full ensemble celebration by the time the film reached its conclusion. Truly one of the best musical themes ever written for animation, period.

In addition to the already masterful work of the musical score, the interesting story behind Priscilla Ahn’s involvement in the ending song also calls into consideration.

Paraphrased, as a fan of Ghibli animation films, Ahn has written the song ‘Fine on the Outside‘ without initial intentions of its eventual destiny, or even releasing it into the public domain. As a tremendously personal song, with vulnerable and open lyrics, Ahn was unsure whether she could even include the song she has written 9 years ago on any of the albums she later released. After learning of the announcement of Ghibli’s involvement in a children’s book adaptation, and reading the book after said announcement, Ahn found a sense of empathy with Anna’s sense of loneliness and self-worthlessness, which in turn coincided with the emotional significance of the still unreleased song from 9 years ago. After much consideration and plenty of personal courage, Ahn finally recorded the song with instrumental backing, and submitted it to Studio Ghibli. She was soon contacted by producer Yoshiaki Nishimura, who expressed his love for the song, eventually deciding to designate it as the ending song to the film, cementing the song’s milestone as the first to be used by Studio Ghibli which had entirely English lyrics, and was performed, written and produced by a English-speaking artist.

Needless to say, the song is also an irreplaceable asset and compliment to the film’s entire identity. In contrast to its innocently thoughtful melodies and soulfully acoustic recording, the lyrics spoke with an almost entirely different personality: it is questioning, contemplating and begging for purpose, a sense of connection with the surrounding voices, and sympathy: a love letter to worldwide introverts and those who find difficulty in self-expression. This is a song that perfectly reflected on the character journey of Anna, and one that deserves all the celebration that it has gotten already, and those that are still to come.

One final reflection: If there is anything that can be confirmed, in terms of the current situation with Studio Ghibli’s general existence as the forerunner of Japanese animation: if this is to be the final goodbye, then it is certainly a rightfully tearful and perfect one.

Now, if the Oscars can explain why the score AND theme song weren’t nominated for consideration, that would be REAL NICE.

Anna

Honourable Mentions

Yona of the Dawn | Kunihiko Ryo

It really is frustrating, to have one of the most tragically butchered scores to end up in the honourable mentions section twice…I wasn’t lying, when I said the groundwork provided for Yona’s music were ingenious and engaging. I also wasn’t lying, when I questioned the decisions behind the mixing, recording and the compositional choices made by the producers: gorgeous themes, intoxicating flavours of oriental origins and beautiful solos, ruined by subpar mixings and downright WRONG attempts to modernise the music with electronic beats and dubstep. There’s a reason I took the journey offered by Yona. I wanted old fashioned shit. Quite frankly, swords, spears and arrows doesn’t mesh well with synth, programmed drums and automated loops of uncreative ATTEMPTS to create music.

Is the order a rabbit?? | Ruka Kawada

With largely the same offerings as season 1, Ruka Kawada reprised her role as the composer for this deceptively charming show. In turn, the pleasant platter of musical offerings from the previous season; uniquely dusted with regional flavours of European and French waltzes and polka-inspired pieces; were also largely reprised here. Although ‘much of the same’ doesn’t really translate into ‘award-worthy’, hence its current status.

Zutto Issho ni (From previous season, reprised here)

Rokka no Yuusha | Michiru Oshima

Thus far, only volume 1, or around 30 minutes of material have been released for the soundtrack, and Oshima has continuously demonstrated her ability to write with brute force, creating extroverted passages of grand fanfares, balanced out with well-rendered tracks of gentle beauty. However, of the three 2015 scores by Oshima, Rokka no Yuusha felt the most roadman-like of them all: it somewhat lacked the personality beyond just run-of-the-mill Oshima. In contrast, Snow White’s score legitimately sounded and meshed well with the landscape of its show, whilst Little Witch Academia rocked the magical personality of its world; with the only glaring shortcoming being its miniscule 20 minute runtime.

Overall, something more could have been done with the unique flavours of Yuusha’s world and its connections with the music.

Main Theme

Top-Performing Studios of 2015

I know as well as anyone (well…the more knowledgable people, at least), that individual studios as a whole, are not solely responsible for the qualities of their works: outsourcing, commissioning animators and artists of varying skill levels, the source material, time management, etc, comes to mind. However, as a general comparison anchor, this system works rather well for me, in terms of find consistent supplies of quality shows from a relatively recognisable range of sources, and the always fun observation point for trends, both within the industry as a whole, and across the various studios that I follow.

The list below contains a fine mix between general consensus and personal analysis of the overall quality of the studios’ output.

4. Kyoto Animation

(Free! Starting Days, Hibike! Euphonium & Kakedasu Monaka OVA, Kyoukai no Kanata: I’ll be Here – Kako-hen & Mirai-hen)

You know…whilst I proudly proclaimed my eternal respect for this studio all over my site, I tried my utter best to keep it under wraps for the awards ceremonies…but this goddamn studio just keeps coming back to haunt me with its always irresistible charms.

Let’s keep this short, before it turns into another Hibike! worship post.

Hibike! Euphonium (GODDAMNIT!) alone was enough to convince me, that KyoAni is still knowledgeable about human interactions and their vast inventory of expressions and ideologies, and is still able to capture the gems within the mundane, after all these years. This was solidified in my mind, with the release of the equally well done OVA episode.

Let me just…breathe in this scene again. The photographer in me is practically on his knees, praising the KyoAni gods.

Along with a musical drama TV series, no less than three prequel and sequel films were released by the studio in 2015; a relatively busy release schedule for the studio. Despite not being able to watch them, the general consensus in regards to the Free! prequel film, and the sequel film’s original story for the Beyond the Boundary universe were of typical praise for the production value, but also statements that found significant improvements made to the storytelling qualities of the 2 series: Free!’s character drama were largely improved, as they were explored in more depth, and the controversial balance between Moe pandering, varied comedy and dark fantasy were cleared out for a more cohesive and heartfelt storyline in Mirai-hen (with Kako-hen being a TV series recap).

Overall, it was a solid year for Kyoto Animation, and I very much look forward to their offering for this year (Madam Yamada, you know what to do. Rip my heart out with A Silent Voice).

3. J.C.Staff

(Tantei Opera Milky Holmes, Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma, DanMachi, Shimoneta, Prison School, Heavy Object)

More of a public consensus addition: J.C.Staff made it big with the Shonen sports fans, by producing a competition anime that’s not even based in a sport: foodies will also find plenty to drool over with Food Wars’ ludicrously detailed renderings of food and 5 star dishes. Not only that, Ecchi comedy fans found some legitimately creative and crude content to indulge in, with Prison School and the…frankly ingenious premise of Shimoneta delivering priceless moments of insanity.

Oh, food porn. So this must be a panty shot? (I think I’m getting the hang of this.) Now you can’t unsee this.

Oh and don’t forget, um…who’s that big-boob-string girl again?

Unfortunately, I’m not weeb enough to find potential enjoyment in such material (except for Food Wars…it’s high on my watchlist), but hey, most of J.C.Staff’s output were among the most popular this year, that alone deserves some praise.

2. Bones

(Blood Blockade Battlefront, Concrete Revolutio, Naragami Arogoto, Show by Rock!!, Snow White with the Red Hair)

I can’t remember where I read or heard, about Bones‘ supposed fall from grace…apparently, the studio is of no use to the fandom anymore, after its golden age of 2001 – 2010. Obviously, I beg to differ, even if the statement I’m opposing might just be from some high web surfer who has had too much to sniff for one night.

Bones has had one of its strongest years in a while, since its string of successes during 2006-2009 with shows such as Eureka Seven, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and Soul Eater. The diversity of the studio’s 2015 portfolio ranged from an urban Shintoism fantasy action drama, a social commentary piece wrapped around a multi-genre mish mash, to an alternate New York superhero extravaganza, and finally a pleasant fairy tale about self-determination and love.

With a few usual misses, Bones started, and finished the year off strong.

1. MADHOUSE

(Ace of the Diamond S2, Death Parade, My Love Story!!, One-Punch Man, Overlord)

Ah of course…the crowd favourite. For once, the crowd was right, MADHOUSE’s 2015 was practically unbeatable, I mean just LOOK AT the lineup…you want a suspenseful character drama and mystery? How about a cliche-smashing love story? What about a superhero who’s bored at being a superhero?

Despite my short time in this fandom, I am willing to wager, that MADHOUSE’s level of consistency in 2015 releases was practically unprecedented. Feel free to counter this statement, I could well be wrong.

Favourite (thus best by default) Anime of 2015

And thus, we have arrived at the definitive battle for glory, with me as the judge, jury and executioner. Should be fun…

(Side note): Only shows I’ve completed, and have ENDED in 2015, will be considered for this section.

5. One-Punch Man (MADHOUSE)

[SallySubs] One Punch Man - 01 [BD 1080p FLAC] [4E86B66D].mkv_snapshot_21.14_[2016.01.23_22.14.11]

Man does it feel good to have the hype met…considering the monumental lengths the said hype reached. The simple folk need only enjoy the action scenes and the goofy humour, while the more intellectual crowds found decent amounts of social and meta critique on both the genre, and the human race at large.

Save for some minor issues of repeated jokes and punchlines (heh heh…), One-Punch Man was an excellent experience.

4. Is the order a rabbit?? | Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka?? (Kinema Citrus / White Fox)

I know what you are thinking: moe-pandering crap like THIS beat One-Punch Man?!

I’ve already spent around 1500 words on this topic, but I feel like repeating myself a bit: I suppose the focal point of this entire show was perfecting the entertainment purpose of the Slice of Life genre: finding beauty in the mundane, whilst also establishing a rich foundation of thematic ideas, from which the show can allow the audience to journey into its world of bliss, for 20 minutes every week.

But there’s so much more in this show, which I found to have surpassed the more typical titles within the genre, such as Kiniro MosaicA-Channel and Hidamari Sketch, for instance. Titles such as Gochuumon, Barakamon and Usagi Drop adequately acts as wonderful (and recent) advocates for the Slice of Life genre.

As a Slice of Life advocate myself, this show is a gem.

3. When Marnie Was There (Ghibli)

There’s something…ethereal about the atmosphere of the almost empty cinema, when I attended the airing one afternoon. The deeper explorations of the film deals with depression, self-discovery and the universality of family, whose love for each other can transcend time: themes and perspectives that are emotionally significant for all ages.

Considering the difficulty of translating a novel that deals with dual existences of reality and dream worlds onto film, this Ghibli venture achieved wonders.

2. Yona of the Dawn | Akatsuki no Yona (Pierrot)

When I consume a historical fantasy series, I look for (as should everyone else, I presume) grand scale adventures, intriguing power plays, intimate character relationships and growth, and a main character of whom I can place my trust in throughout the journey.

Despite this series’ function as an extended (and frankly badass) prelude to the grander tales offered by the world, after 24 episodes, the alternate Korea felt grand, without us actually seeing much of it thus far. The diverse origins and ideologies of the main and side cast made for cultural thematic mixes that are always engaging to observe. The goals of the protagonists and the main antagonists cut a fine balance between clarity and a respectable amount of intriguing vagueness, a sign of great storytelling.

Then there’s Yona. I can never praise this girl enough: her character progression still remains one of the best I’ve beared witnessed to, with thematic developments of her resolve, personality and relationships given significant attention throughout the entire runtime of the series.

So…where’s my sequel?

1. Hibike! Euphonium (Kyoto Animation)

Hibike! Euphonium1.19_15.34.44

As the monumental surprise choice of the century, I chose the K-on! sequel (sarcasm level reaching over 9000!) as my favourite anime of 2015.

Combining lively ambience, the expressiveness of characters and the mundane but passionately atmospheric world in which they inhabit, Hibike! is a mesmerising critique into the harmonies and dissonances of musical ensembles, which in turn acts as both a meta and social analysis for music, the ideologies of musicianship and the differing ideals of musicians that are as diverse as there are individuals.

Through the storytelling tools of drama and the clashes of personalities, the overall dynamic of the entire series was able to dissect universally shapeless themes, such as self-determination, the risks of emotional investment, and the always bickering human halves of the harmony in belonging and the desire to be different.

If anything, the human expressiveness and the almost frighteningly realistic interactions between the entire concert band’s members, demonstrates the importance of the most fundamental basics of visual storytelling and…storytelling in general: characters are the central vessels of the story, NOT the other way around. Characters are the driving forces behind the weight of every circumstantial event, as they both initiate them and are reactive to the resulting inertial impacts.

Final verdicts and comments

And thus, it is with pleasure, that I present the Funomenon Globe to the following recipients:

Best TV or Film Soundtrack of 2015: When Marnie Was There

Best-Performing Studio of 2015: MADHOUSE

Best Anime of 2015: Hibike! Euphonium


It has been a surprising blast, ever since I started blogging: writing hundreds of thousands of words and posting them on a site I know almost no one reads, has a weird sense of accomplishment attached to it, I feel like that every time I press the ‘publish’ button…guess it’s just the feeling of relief, that the ideas bursting in my head had SOME sort of platform to express themselves in.

Needless to say, long live this blog, and me (obviously).

(Side note): Phew…that’s the end of the ‘top lists’ period, I can FINALLY go back and writing the way I prefer, and hopefully post more diverse topics. I also hope to publish my Hibike! Euphonium analysis publication before April’s release of the recap film: a fitting way to celebrate the one year anniversary for the show I enjoyed so much, don’t you think?

Part I, Part II

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