Anime, Film, Reviews

Not Much Missing: Vanishment of Haruhi Suzumiya Movie Soundtrack (Review)

February 26, 2010 | | 8 Comments Share thison Facebook Not Much Missing: Vanishment of Haruhi Suzumiya Movie Soundtrack (Review)on Twitter

There is a curious tradition I’ve observed when lighter anime series are put on the big screen. I first noted this with Tenchi Muyo In Love, which discarded the whimsy of its roots to focus on a larger scale story involving (coincidentally) the disappearance of the main character and the world under threat. To match this jump in production values, Christopher Franke (of Tangerine Dream fame) composed a full orchestral score. Another, perhaps more relevant example, is the impressive Oh My Goddess! Movie, which featured a brilliant score by the one and only Nobou Uematsu and his long-time orchestrator Shiro Hamaguchi. Both are cases of a romantic-comedy with limited musical offering being used as a springboard for a soundtrack that more than eclipsed its small-screen counterpart.

Vanishment breaks that tradition slightly. Satoru Kousaki composed the incidental music for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and has retained the role of primary composer here, with some contributions by the likes of Ryuichi Takada (Soul Calibur II/III) and Keigo Hoashi, with whom Kousaki collaborated when adding to the Mushihimesama Double Arrange album.

The result of their work surprised me a little, and has made all three names well worth watching in the future. Click the jump to find out why.

I’d call myself a casual Haruhi fan. I think the original episode order was entirely too clever and that the series overall defies any sort of easy genre categorization. I’m familiar with the characters, the story and the themes. The music of the series was never a highlight to me, despite there having been two concerts in Japan dedicated to it. One featured the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, the other an ensemble of the Eminence Symphony Orchestra, key members of which happened to record the majority of Vanishment’s music. That said, I approached this soundtrack as something new but with recognizable elements; it wouldn’t surprise me if a more-than-casual Haruhi fan picked up even more character motifs.

A friend who saw the movie upon release informs me that the standard version of “Hare Hare Yukai” is used as the opening, which is not on the movie OST. This appears to be the only omission, however, and the soundtrack still presents itself as a very complete package.

“A Story that Begins from the Usual Scenery” starts like a Sesame Street version of the “The Usual Scenery”  from the series, a standard high-school-life theme, but then develops sophistication with a nice strings counter-melody. “SOS Brigade Christmas Party” and “Slapstick Time” are jazzy, upbeat and fun. But (you saw the but coming, right?), as with the depth in Haruhi’s true nature, things begin to change and reveal themselves. Before long, I was reminded why Haruhi Suzumiya stands out from an overcrowded market of high-school ‘Rom-com’ anime series.

“Somebody who used to expect Normality” (Haruhi or Kyon? I say Haruhi, others Kyon, but that’s another article altogether) is a piano and strings piece, presumably by the Eminence ensemble. Pensive and subdued, it resonates like Tenmon’s nostalgic work for Makoto Shinkai. Adding further complexity,  “A girl named Ryoko Asakura” opens with ominous double bass chords, almost staccato, then adds a clarinet, a muted timpani roll, heavier strings, brass and finally female choir – but never all at once. This gives the music a sense of something wicked this way coming, but never actually arriving. With the tense Hisaishi-style horns of “From Uneasiness to Fear” and the urgent “Betrayed Expectations,” the transition from Melancholy’s deceptive playfulness to Vanishment’s unfettered grandeur is complete. These comparisons to other composers are neither made lightly nor intended to indicate that this work is derivative. Between Takada’s epic touch, Hoashi’s deftness and sincerity and Kousaki’s intimacy with the series, this album is on par with anything done by the aforementioned.

This opinion, however, comes barely a third into a soundtrack driven by narrative and yet telling its own. Even without obvious titles like “The Clues of Haruhi Suzumiya” and “Chasing after Memories of That Day,” you can really get swept up in the remnants of hope and the accumulation of despair. Equally, the triumphant “SOS Brigade Returns” swells with snare drumming and hints of a reveille. In fact, the track names tend to be a little distracting if you know the characters: “The One Who is in Nagato Yuki’s Heart,” for example, seems almost like a spoiler, even without hearing how lonely and… okay, heartfelt it is.

The climax comes with “Confirmation of Individual Consciousness” and “Point of History’s Divergence,” with the latter employing a choir appropriate to the moment where everything hangs in the balance — it’s expected but never outstays its welcome. What follows the resolution is “Brigade Members that we could Meet Again,” a somewhat predictable but fitting theme of reunion highlighted by gentle woodwinds and supporting strings. The conclusion, in true Haruhi Suzumiya fashion, is much like the beginning: “A Story that Ends with the Usual Scenery” is a more layered rendition of the familiar theme, thanks to a full orchestra. It really is the perfect conclusion, showing that while things are on the surface ‘same as usual,’ events have happened and characters have grown. Just as they’ve possibly matured, so too has the music, which started almost poppy and certainly peppy, traveled through a landscape of foreboding, danger, loss and catastrophe to arrive at a happy ending that hopefully doesn’t hit the reset button.

The second disc to this OST is devoted entirely to Erik Satie’s piano compositions: “Gymnopedies 1-3,” “‘Trois Gnossiennes,” and “Je Te Veux” (“I want you”). There is an orchestration of “Gymnopedie 2” on the first CD, and I believe a snippet of it was used for a trailer, but other than that can only presume there is some significance within the movie for this second CD’s inclusion.

None of which affects my verdict, which is that the soundtrack to Vanishment of Haruhi Suzumiya lacks for nothing if rich, diverse orchestral music is your thing (and why shouldn’t it be?) – it really runs the aural spectrum demanded of a theatrical release, and I have much faith that the lucky people seeing it on the big screen will appreciate the quality of work by both the composers and the performers.

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