Game Music

A Single Shining Star (Onion): Kumi Tanioka Concert at FFXI Fan Fest ’08

December 26, 2008 | | 5 Comments Share thison Facebook A Single Shining Star (Onion): Kumi Tanioka Concert at FFXI Fan Fest ’08on Twitter

This year’s Final Fantasy XI Fan Festival took place on December 6 at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles, CA. People from all over North America gathered to witness the sights and sounds, including a musical guest whose identity would not be confirmed until the day of the festivities.

I went to the event with my hopes set high: a full performance from the Star Onions… maybe with recording equipment set up so they could later release a live CD, or even DVD, showcasing it. The Japanese version of the event, entitled “Vana’Fest,” had taken place two weeks before and featured a full concert from the Star Onions.

For the North American Fan Fest, however, we got the less (and the more) in one performer. A member of the Star Onions, an accomplished pianist, and co-composer for Final Fantasy XI, Ms. Kumi Tanioka took the stage with a full-sized keyboard, prepared to win over the fans who had, perhaps, pined for a larger show.

Read full impressions of her performance after the jump.

Tanioka’s concert actually started with a video recording from Naoshi Mizuta. Mizuta is the lead composer for Final Fantasy XI, and also serves effectively as the head of the “Star Onions” band. In the video, he apologized that he and the rest of the Onions weren’t able to come to North America, but he made up for it by announcing that a second Star Onions album was in the works, planned for a Spring 2009 release. With that news, the crowd applauded and cheered.

For her first two pieces, Tanioka performed piano arrangements for “Ronfaure” and “Gustaberg,” which (for the FFXI-ignorant) are zones just outside two of the three starting nations. San d’Oria is the home of the Elvaan, and its surrounding forests of Ronfaure are a nearly idyllic fantasy world, were it not for the encroaching darkness that always surrounds it (goblins, orcs, the undead… you know, the usual). Tanioka’s demeanor throughout the performance of the first song was not disinterested, per se; she approached the piece the way a scientist might approach a new finding (even though Tanioka is quite familiar with this, and most other, musical works from the game).

In performing Gustaberg, the music for the land of the Humes (and one of the pieces Tanioka herself composed almost a decade ago), Tanioka treated the piece with grace and candor. The arrangement was rather true to the original version, but with enough decoration and flair to make players’ ears perk up. As for me? I was in a trance. So much of a trance, in fact, that I forget a lot of what happened next.

I know there was a quick Q&A, where Tanioka’s always-thankful, bubbly, and genuinely happy personality overwhelmed (and made up for) the shallow content of the Q&A. There were also two pieces so soft, so beautiful, that I forgot offhand the names of these songs. I later learned that they were “The Sanctuary of Zi’Tah” and “Flowers on the Battlefield.” The latter of these two songs was announced by Tanioka as her “final” piece–the quotes were placed by Tanioka herself, laughing as she acknowledged the necessary encore.

Nestled between those songs, however, Tanioka performed an arrangement of “Ragnarok,” the final battle piece from FFXI‘s third expansion, Treasures of Aht Urhgan. At this moment, I went wild. And by wild, I mean pumped. You know, like REAL ULTIMATE POWER pumped, the kind that turns you into a living embarrassment. I later learned that Tanioka had performed this piece at last year’s Fan Fest, making this the second time the arrangement had ever been heard in public. Why it hasn’t been recorded and released yet, I have no idea, because it’s absolutely perfect. Mizuta’s refined and matured compositional techniques combined with Tanioka’s incredible performance skills as a pianist is a combination powerful enough to prevent (or, perhaps, to bring about) Ragnarok itself.

I don’t know if it was the nature of concerts in general or other peoples’ likemindedness to how I felt about the concert, but the cheering for the “Flowers on the Battlefield” was loud and continual as, eventually, Tanioka returned from having left the stage to perform her encore piece. Now, she had selected another battle theme: “Awakening,” the final battle music for the original FFXI plot arc. In its original form, Awakening is a dark, intense, yet bouncy piece in a fast 6/8 time signature. Tanioka’s arrangement kept all these elements, but added to it a gentleness that can only come from the most natural of musicians. Her unfeigned and unforced performance made the song feel like a breeze, though a strong breeze to be sure. I could feel sorrow in the air; sorrow that the concert was almost over, yes, but also the sorrow associated with the song and the tragic fate of the “villain” in FFXI, the Shadow Lord.

A quick afterthought from the concert: two “Piano Collection” discs were published in as many years for Final Fantasy XI. Both are incredible, but neither have any involvement from Kumi Tanioka. I have to ask: why? Tanioka’s performance at the show was flawless. And I mean that in every sense. Not only was it technically flawless (not a single note misplayed), but the style, and even her posture and subtle expressions, were exactly the artful and beautiful treatments those songs deserve. The fans ate it up; so, Square Enix, where’s Kumi Tanioka’s solo piano-performance album? Unless of course she has no interest in doing it, I don’t see why Square Enix wouldn’t want to do this. She is a fantastic performer; even the Square Enix staff felt they were being treated to something special by having her at the Fan Fest. Isn’t it something you would want, especially since you, the reader, more than likely missed this concert?

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