Anime, Reviews

Guin Saga: Nobuo Uematsu Meets This Feral Fantasy Head On (Review)

August 10, 2009 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Guin Saga: Nobuo Uematsu Meets This Feral Fantasy Head On (Review)on Twitter

Although I’m not familiar with the Guin Saga novel series that has been running for over 30 years, when it was announced that Nobuo Uematsu would be handling the score for the anime, it immediately became one of my most anticipated soundtrack releases of the year. People have been saying lots of good things about the anime itself, and based on the visuals that had been shown from the anime, I was confident that Uematsu would be in his element with the soundtrack.

As it turns out I was right. There’s a lot of great music on this 2-disc collection. I think Uematsu has done a great job breaking away from that “Final Fantasy” sound (not saying it’s bad), creating a number of memorable themes and an all around high-quality score. I definitely look forward to checking out the anime series when and if it comes stateside.

Hit the jump for our review of Uematsu’s latest.

With that said, there are still a few moments of familiarity. However, the score certainly takes a more cinematic approach, and you’re going to be hard pressed to find your formulaic town, dungeon, and battle themes this time around.

“Grand Opening – The Thread of Fate” is a return of the Uematsu of old, coming in as a majestic and airy main theme that is simply beautiful with its use of a small ensemble of live players. I particularly enjoyed the heavy use of brass towards the end that reminded me of the “Rebel Army Theme” from Final Fantasy II, which has been one of my favorite pieces from the Symphonic Suite Final Fantasy album for ages.

The next track, “Guin’s Theme,” is an adventurous piece of music that makes use of strings, choir, and tribal percussion, sounding like something off of the Veldt. It’s fitting for a protagonist with the head of a leopard, and works in bits of the main theme opening for continuity. This actually occurs quite frequently, as with “Reluctance to Part at Sunset,” which is a beautiful piano-centric take on the memorable theme, and “Oppressive Feelings” which is a melancholy version.

Getting into some darker themes, “Border Forest” is a somewhat desolate track with a quiet harp arpeggio and a contemplative bell melody, while “Visit” is an amazing choir and organ piece that sounds like it would be right at home in the King’s Field series. I wonder where exactly this fits into the series. “Infinite Time and Space” is a trippy piece that follows, featuring scaling belltone melodies and choral pads. The heavy use of reverb gives the piece an otherworldly feel. Similarly, “Cries from Naught” is a minimalistic track with choral pads and an unsettling female voice that sings a rather strange melody line.

One of the most bizarre pieces on the album is “Decisive Battle,” which opens with a siren-like synthesizer, tribal percussion, and yes, bagpipes. Electric guitars even make an appearance, chugging along slowly to create the most battle-like tune you’re going to hear on the album. It’s definitely one of my favorites of the bunch. Next, “muscle! muscle! muscle!” is also quite strange with its battle-like approach that works in brass and electric bass, but voices the melody with low-pitched belltones, which admittedly sounds a bit odd.

There’s a whole lot of mellow music here, which works with the fantasy setting of the series. “Peace of the Chamber of the Mound” is as close as you’re going to get to a town theme with its early-morning stroll in the park feel. Tracks like this definitely make me look forward to what Uematsu has planned for Final Fantasy XIV. ” Istavan’s Theme – Where is the Light?” is another minimalistic piece featuring a solo violin that weaves in between an ascending then descending pizzicato string line, with the silent clatter of triangle, jingle bells, and other chromatic percussion in the background. Finally, “Sympathy” is a lovely piano and strings duet that sounds like it belongs on one of Koshiro and Hibino’s Live Music by Piano and Strings arrange albums. I just wish it had been longer than, as it ends at just over two minutes in length. It’s really a beautiful piece of music.

Jumping into some of those “familiar” tracks I mentioned earlier, “The Song of Janus’s Decision” sounds a little much like “At Zanarkand,” but instead of piano, it’s pizzicato strings and some pretty unconvincing acoustic guitar. “Comical Step” on the other hand is classic Uematsu quirkiness. It can best be described as a slow polka with a playful flute melody and triangle hits.

Building towards the album’s climax, ”Nalis’s Theme – Magnificent Rapier” enters in full force, coming in with epic brass, string stabs, and snares. It sounds like it could be a final battle track. I really like the synth bass and rapid scaling harp notes that come in towards the end. Strangely, this track is followed by “Beautiful Capital – Crystal,” a mellow string and harpsichord track with an upbeat melody, providing a jerking change of pace, although it’s quickly followed by some more action-oriented pieces. “Hero” is a powerful track that sounds like the musical accompaniment to some grand citadel. The brass and sweeping strings give the piece a regal sound, while the melody itself has a sort of Eastern sound, adding an element of intrigue.

“Coronation” is your standard victory fanfare, but full-length. I like the strong use of brass and orchestral percussion that is in line with some of Hitoshi Sakimoto’s work. “Remus’s Theme – Solitude’s Shadow” is another regal track with a really interesting progression that is contemplative at times and a bit foreboding towards the end, hinting that maybe not everything is resolved. These conflicting ideas give the piece a certain complexity that I found highly enjoyable. The final track, simply titled “Hope,” is an angelic piece that makes use of piano, strings, and xylophone to voice a very positive and encouraging melody. I kept anticipating a shift in the melody to something more epic, but the piece remains pretty straightforward, ending the album on a positive note but not leaving you with anything very memorable. It doesn’t even reference the main theme.

Well, I’ve certainly gone on long enough about this one. There’s a lot of great music here, and I think it’s a step forward for Uematsu in terms of quality and cinematic approach. There are still a number of melodies that will catch your ear, and of course, Guin Saga’s fantasy setting is an established platform where Uematsu shines. It’s certainly interesting to hear what he’s done with one of his first major anime titles, and for that reason alone, I think it’s worth checking out. You can find it at both CD Japan and Play Asia.

Have you been following Guin Saga since it was announced? What do you think of Uematsu’s score for the series?

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