Idle Observations about Japanese Pop Fiction
Yoshimori Makoto is probably not a composer you've heard of. As anime composers go, his list of credits is not especially long -- his best known scores are for Baccano! and Durarara!! -- but he is nonetheless exceptionally talented. To demonstrate why, I'd like to provide a few pieces from my favorite score of his: Hamatora.
I often cheekily describe Hamatora as a show about detectives with OCD superpowers. One character can move really fast while snapping his fingers in time to music, while another gains super strength any time he pushes his glasses up, for example. The first half of the show suffers from spotty plotting and mixed visuals, but it has a lot of style and the setup is great. By the time the studio Lerche takes over for the latter half, Hamatora is a true tour-de-force. The members of the Hamatora Detective Agency -- Nice, Murasaki, Hajime, Birthday, Ratio, and so on -- start as cheeky buddy-cop-style characters but grow across the whole work into compelling character arcs that address a wide range of weighty themes. Taken as a whole it's among my favorite animated series. Highly recommend.
That said, while Hamatora has a number of strengths, its music stands as its highlight. It is both eclectic and unified, spanning a range of styles while still maintaining a consistent jazzy vibe that runs underneath the tone of the whole show. It's really good stuff, and I've attached links to a few of the pieces below.
The Streets of Gold City:
Do or Die
Nagatsuki no Waltz
A Final Showdown
The most striking thing about much of Hamatora's soundtrack, I think, is how it manages to be simultaneously experimental and listenable. These five tracks are far from the weirdest the show's score gets, but even within them you have elements of unusual timbre, rhythm, and (at times) pitch. "Do or Die," for example is full of technical components that are highly uncommon for what is essentially a violin feature. The violin's introduction is a screeching and barely parsable glissando, and it transitions into a brief section that features chopping, a bowing technique designed to create a harsh, percussive sound. This is rare even in harmony lines -- for a featured, solo violinist to dedicate several measures to pure rhythm is quite strange.
And yet, in spite of all this, it just works. Yoshimori doesn't ask you to work to understand the strange compositional tools he's using. Experimental music is often distracting in its strangeness -- look at Kakegurui's score for a comparison -- but Hamatora's music has the "feel" of standard jazz. "A Final Showdown" is an ostinato in mostly seven that's frequently covered by completely atonal string-fueled sounds, but it's not difficult to listen to in the slightest. It's weird, but still fun.
Last week I brought up (in the context of poetry) how obscurity can keep experimental work from being truly great. "Yata MisaKi" was an example of a fascinating experimental work that pushes somewhat too far and becomes impossible to comprehend as a result. Yoshimori's music -- particularly in Hamatora -- is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. It is experimental and yet approachable, and it completely avoids the trap of being too obscure to enjoy. He employs dissonance in a way that doesn't feel dissonant. He blends recordings of laughter into his music in a way that makes intuitive sense to the listener. One of Hamatora's pieces is a duet written for piano and slide whistle of all things. It's all bizarre, but it doesn't feel bizarre, and it's completely and totally brilliant.
If you get a chance to listen to the whole score, definitely do so. It's divided into two parts, one for each half of the show: the first is "Soup with Columbus's Egg," and the second is "Everyone Has It!" It's really good stuff.
A Japanese Lit major and aspiring game designer with a passion for storytelling and music composition