Princess Principal was an action-adventure highlight of Summer 2017, and a big part of this resonance with the fandom was undoubtedly the high-octane musical identities afforded to the production by its arranger/composer duo of rising star Ryo Takahashi (ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka, Classroom of the Elite), and prolific veteran Yuki Kajiura (Kara no Kyoukai, Fate/Zero, Sword Art Online, ERASED).
The following is a translation of the interview conducted with the two composers by Natalie Music.
The two heresies brought together by Princess Principal
(Translator’s note: This interview was conducted in early August, following the broadcast of episode 4.)
In his career thus far, Ryo Takahashi has demonstrated his talents not only through the music for ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept. and Classroom of the Elite, but also in writing music for and even producing a range of other artistes. Now, he has started another project, Void_Chords. The project’s first single, ‘The Other Side of the Wall‘, is the opening theme of Princess Principal, which began its broadcast run in July. Featuring MARU, a singer whose prowess has even been showcased in the Broadway musical RENT, this jazzy number with a steampunk feel has created a sensation in the world of anime theme songs.
To celebrate the launch of Void_Chords, Natalie Music has brought Ryo Takahashi and Princess Principal composer Yuki Kajiura together to talk about their work. We proudly present this cross-talk that delves deeply into the styles of these fellow musicians, both so deeply involved in the world of animation.
Interview and text: Hideyuki Mori | Photography: Rui Satō
The opening theme that gets your blood temperature rising
Interviewer: So this is the first time you are meeting each other.
Yuki Kajiura: That’s right. In the first place, having two composers at the same studio can be pretty awkward. It’s incredibly rare for people like us to meet or become acquainted with each other. So I’m glad to have gotten this valuable opportunity today.
Ryo Takahashi: Since I’m someone who’s had the honour of listening to and learning from Kajiura-san’s music, I actually can’t quite get my head around what’s happened to me now…like, is any of this actually real? (chuckles)
Kajiura: Oh please. (chuckles)
Interviewer: We’ve just seen the fourth episode of Princess Principal, the anime that you’ve both composed music for, broadcast on TV. What are your thoughts on what you’ve seen so far?
Takahashi: It’s a show that’s cool and heavy. Like, the developments in the story are pretty serious. It exudes a feeling I’d never have imagined when I first received the character visuals.
Kajiura: Agreed. When I first saw those visuals, I thought it’d be a show about champions of justice or something along those lines. I figured that it’d be about female spies going “Let’s go girls!” and “Alright! Leave it to me!” (chuckles). But when I received the scripts, it turned out to be a cool but tumultuous story. To match that, I had to change the musical image that I originally came up with. But it really is an interesting show. This might sound rather snobbish given that I’ve only had a hand in the BGM, but looking through all the comments on Twitter brings a big triumphant grin on my face (chuckles). Since I was granted the opportunity to read through all of the scripts, I’m kinda like “hehehe, it’s gonna get even more interesting from here on!”
Interviewer: With the opening theme ‘The Other Side of the Wall’ – accredited to Takahashi-san’s Void_Chords, featuring MARU – raising the curtains with a flourish, and the episodes themselves brimming with the ‘Kajiura sound’, this has become a show with an incredible musical richness. The synergy between the animation and the music is just staggering.
Kajiura: I do hope that’s how everyone feels about it. But in the end, I think that the opening theme really is fantastic. The arrangement is so cool, just superb, so when you add the animation to it, it’s like a complete short movie in its own right. Those who watch it will feel their blood heating up. And after that, they’ll cool down a little and the story will start: it’s such a fine balance to get that flow right. As a viewer myself, I was completely drawn in.
Takahashi: On my side, I did quite consciously aim for the opening theme to convey the tension of a curtain being raised on the work. I figured that they’d be able to strike a balance by adding Kajiura-san’s heavy music to that serious story. Based on watching all of the episodes that have been broadcast so far, I do feel as though I’ve really made a contribution as the opening artiste.
A creator/writer whose edginess is sought
Interviewer: That said, this opening number feels completely different from the average “anisong,” as we call them. Though that’s incredibly cool.
Takahashi: You normally wouldn’t see this kind of song as an opening to an anime (chuckles). In truth, at the time of the first meeting, the production team told me that they were thinking of making the opening theme an instrumental piece. When I heard that, I thought “Oh, I might be able to be a bit adventurous with this one. Perhaps they’ve asked me to do this because they’re after those spiky parts of myself.” Hence, I made the song by vigorously cramming my own understanding of what spies are, the steampunk atmosphere, into as spiky a form as possible. This is especially true this time around, but I do get the sense that I’ve lately been entrusted with making music outside of what you’d typically hear, music that’s a little edgy. Like, I’ve come to the position that I now find myself in (chuckles).
Interviewer: Like, as you advance in your career as a composer, your individuality becomes more obvious, so you get more work offers asking for that individuality. Kajiura-san, I believe you experienced that, too.
Kajiura: You could say so. But with this particular anime, I thought that it’d go better with something that wasn’t exactly like the so-called ‘Kajiura sound’, so I tried to do things a little differently. So when people tell me that they knew at once that it was me, I’m like “What happened with all the things I did differently?” (chuckles)
Takahashi: (Laughs) But in watching the show, I feel that it’s got a tempo that your music helps create. Like, there are minimalist pieces that are used multiples times in a range of different scenes.
Kajiura: Well, that’s true, I guess. Though I believe that’s all thanks to the sound director’s strategy (chuckles).
Takahashi: This is just a pet theory of mine, but I think that shows where the same music can be used numerous times in a whole range of scenes are classics. Like, no matter how many times you hear the same piece, you don’t find it irritating – in fact, it gives birth to a nice tempo that makes me happy as a viewer. Each episode is like 30 minutes long, but the music makes you forget the time as you are watching. Though of course, it all depends on having great music in the first place.
Interviewer: Speaking of how the music is used, do you leave it up to the staff of the show?
Kajiura: In my case, yes. I don’t involve myself in the sound mixing process, so I generally don’t know where my music has been used until I watch the show on TV. And it’s interesting to find out—I’ll sometimes be like “You’re using this piece here?!” (chuckles)
Takahashi: I hear you there! (chuckles) But on the other hand, sometimes you’ll find yourself really getting into it. That’s one of the draws about the soundtracks of TV shows and the like.
(The interview continues in the next page. You can find the page numbers below the ‘related articles’ section.)