Previously, I did a list of my favourite individual anime openings… now I want to take a broader approach. In this list, the opening themes will be a factor, but they’ll be far from the only factor. Ambience, character themes, battle music and more will all be taken into account. Additionally, and probably more importantly, I’ll be looking at how well the various musical elements are being utilized… these are my favourite anime soundtracks.
Oh and just as a quick side note… since I’ll be discussing the way the music is used, there may be some spoilers for some of these shows. I’ll try to keep them vague if I can, but you have now been officially warned!
It may seem strange that a show with so little music is making this list… but sometimes intelligent use of silence is just as important to sound design as the music itself. And this is where Another shines – it uses a mixture of subtle ambience and silence to create a sombre mood and build suspense. This may sound simple, but so many horror titles fail badly at it in all mediums that it deserves recognition for it. Also, the opening theme is so perfect at preparing you for really having no clue what is happening for a good portion of the show.
The Slayers is a show with a strange cast, a very unusual premise, and a strange sense of self-awareness that just makes it hilarious to watch. Its soundtrack plays up the best aspects of all of this, never content to be tame and avoiding subtlety whenever possible. No moment is allowed to be understated, the theme of this soundtrack is exaggeration – and it works for this incredible comedy-adventure anime.
Of course, that’s not mentioning the show’s themes which are often performed by the incredible Megumi Hayashabiri – who is also responsible for the Japanese voice of Lina Inverse herself. Which means you know they’ll be good.
4) Sailor Moon
The English Dub of Sailor Moon receives a lot of criticism, but there’s one part in which it is dramatically superior to the Japanese version: the soundtrack. In stead of rehashing the opening theme for every key moment, the English dub has a variety of gorgeous songs that simply set the mood for these scenes perfectly. From the tragic and heartbreaking My Only Love to the climactic and high-energy Carry On… just incredible. If it were just good songs, it wouldn’t be this high on the list though. It makes good use of both vocal music as well as much more subtle sound direction to consistently set the mood.
3) Macross Plus
Macross Plus is a classic from my childhood. I’ve been enthralled by it’s various songs and musical pieces, but what makes Macross Plus deserve such accolades in my opinion, and what makes it rank up with the best… is the way it manages to make use of Sharon Apple, the show’s virtual idol. Her music is integrated into many facets of the miniseries, but it is always done in a way that feels natural, that feels like it fits. Even the show’s theme, Voices, is integrated into the show in an interesting way, and becomes a story point.
2) Kill la Kill
Even though this show is getting number 2, spots 2, 3, and 4 could really have been placed in any order and I’d have been happy… but Kill la Kill has an overall more memorable soundtrack than the others if you’re just looking at the lyrical songs. While Sailor Moon and Macross Plus both have fantastic soundtracks and sound design, Kill la Kill just goes that extra mile to make it’s soundtrack so incredibly memorable.
The openings and endings are catchy and intriguing, the battle themes are exciting and fit the over the top style of the battles, the character themes are eerily fitting, and even just the general ambience maintains the pace. One really fantastic aspect of the Kill la Kill soundtrack are the different languages used. It features an English battle theme, endings/openings in Japanese, and most uniquely Blumenkranz, an amazing German song which is used as a theme for one of the series’ characters.
1) Angel Beats
It should come as no surprise that Angel Beats takes my #1 spot in this list, as I’ve praised the music so frequently in the past. Although, in this case a few of the others on the list gave it stiff competition…
In the end though, the way they integrate the music into the show and the amazing quality of the music just edges this out on top. Everything revolves around the music, and the music is so much a part of everything… and it is masterfully used to set the right tone for the right scene. Of course, with the way the show is orchestrated, it just makes sense that the music would match the scene for most of the series… but they even do a good job of it after the band moves on.
I think that my favourite little thing that Angel Beats did was the fact that they actually changed who performed the songs over the course of the show to match characters who were no longer present… it was so cool hearing the different versions of the songs at different points. This clever adaptation is what pushed the Angel Beats soundtrack to the top and made it ever so slightly edge out the other shows for the #1 position.