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Anime, Game Music, Japanese

Getting to Know Vocalist KOKIA: outwork collection “pieces” (Review)

Getting to Know Vocalist KOKIA: outwork collection “pieces” (Review)

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I really missed the boat on this one. I was turned on to KOKIA through her work on our 2011 soundtrack of the year, Final Fantasy XIII-2. She was responsible for singing “Noel’s Theme,” and when I saw that she had recently put out a collection of music featuring her work from other games and anime titles, I wanted to check it out.

As it turns out, KOKIA has been around for awhile, singing on one of my favorite arrangement albums, Genso Suikoden II ~Orrizonte~, Demon’s Souls, and other titles over the years that I already knew and loved. Are her various contributions collected here as impressive?

Find out after the jump.

First, while KOKIA is responsible for most of the lyrics and vocals on the album, the composer on nearly every track here is the accomplished Masumi Ito (also credited under her alias, Hikaru Nanase) who, like KOKIA, I was also unfamiliar with, but is now also on my radar. Her works include arrangements for SUPER METROID: “SOUND IN ACTION” and The Legend of Zelda SOUND & DRAMA and compositions for about a hundred game and anime titles.

Let’s start with the one track that isn’t composed by Ito, “Insonnia,” with music, lyrics, and vocals by KOKIA (Ito is credited for the arrangement). It’s actually an original track comprised only of a contemplative belltone melody and KOKIA’s dreamy voice. The album’s only other original is composed by Ito and is titled “Silence,” which is quite fitting for the contemplative and spacious piece with lots of reverb on KOKIA’s voice. The glassy harp and belltones create an image of a crystal cave in my head.

Getting on to her work in videogames and anime, we start with Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~. “KARMA,” the album’s opener and the first opening theme from the anime series, sports haunting siren-like calling by KOKIA and powerful orchestral work that was highly reminiscent of Kalafina, who I thought I was listening to at first. Next, “Transparent,” the ending theme and probably my favorite track on the album features muted pads and an otherworldly quality that is reflective yet elegant with the addition of strings. The chorus section is sung in English with an uplifting ascending melody.

Break Blade is next, starting with the strongly Asian-flavored opening theme titled “Fate.” The addition of rumbling orchestral percussion lends the piece an epic yet beautiful soundscape. “Feelings,” an insert song, opts for emotionally-tinged strings that cover the low end while KOKIA’s voice floats in the high end, creating a nice contrast. Finally, the ending theme, “The Sound of Sorrow,” is more in line with the standard pop ballad you’d hear used in an anime series, and doesn’t particularly stand out.

Bungaku Shoujo Memoire I gets two tracks, including “Since I Met You,” an insert song with belltones and layered vocals coming as a sweet lullaby, and the ending theme, “Words,” with acoustic guitar, strings, and KOKIA’s voice seemingly floating on the air. The latter really has a nice swing to it.

It’s then on to the game titles represented here. Dragon Nest gets a single track, “Road to glory ~ for Dragon Nest White Version,” an uplifting track with a Celtic influence found through its tribal percussion and beautifully layered strings and vocals. Ar tornelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel, on the other hand, gets three pieces, starting with “EXEC_REBIRTHIA=PROTOCOL/.,” coming as another angelic lullaby with bells and KOKIA’s beautiful choral singing. The Celtic influence is more obvious here with the use of bagpipes. The uplifting “EXEC_COSMOFLIPS/.” Is a bit more bold with its hard-hitting percussion and powerful vocal performance, showing off KOKIA’s versatility while “Inside the Light,” the game’s ending theme, is a reflective ballad that is brimming with positive energy.

In all, I have to say that I really enjoyed this album. KOKIA shows her versatility as a singer as well as a composer, and there’s quite a variety here for anyone to enjoy. What I’m most excited about is the fact that I explored this wonderful album due to her contribution to Final Fantasy XIII-2, which I think is a great way to seek out new artists. The album comes with a booklet containing all of the album’s lyrics, although the rest of the packaging is kind of bland. It’s available from CD Japan and Play-Asia for about 2,800 Yen if you’re interested.

Do you agree that there’s a certain pleasure in finding an artist that you like through another larger work that they were just a contributor to? Are there any fans of KOKIA or Masumi Ito out there that have other recommendations to check out?

[Special thanks to Kai Ohler for translating track titles]

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