“Don’t wake me when I land, where they barely understand what I speak but they nod to my beats.” – Lupe Fiasco, Paris;Tokyo
I’ve always liked the way music works with anime. It’s kind of amazing to me that so many good soundtracks and original compositions can come from it (then again, I’m always amazed at how innovative and different music can be in general). Even if the music doesn’t stand out to me, most soundtracks do a good job within the context of the show. There are very few shows which have bad or ill-fiiting music; a lot of times you can say “Well, the show was pretty bad but at least the music was okay”. Or perhaps that’s just me and my inability to dislike most styles of music.
Then there are those times where a certain track or opening just “clicks”. Perhaps it’s something to do with the animation or the scene that goes along with it, but those moments where the music just fits can really add to a serie’s appeal. What really interests me is the case with openings. I don’t understand a lick of Japanese outisde a few keywords or phrases I’ve picked up naturally through watching anime. Add to that the natural rhythm and stylisation of Japanese singers (or, you know, any singers ) and I really have no idea what they’re talking about at all. But that doesn’t matter because there’s no barrier between me and the instrumentals. If the music sounds good and fits the show’s themes, storyline, animation, characters, basically anything, it’ll forever be to me what “fits” with that show. It acts as the musical link between me and the series, which I find is normally one of the strongest. It’s the summation of everything about the show within one and a half minutes, reminding me of everything I know and love. After a few replays, the anime will forever be defined to me by that music. It may seem obvious to say, but whenever I listen to an opening I can’t not think of the anime that I first heard it in. And all this happens without even knowing the lyrics.
But every now and again I wonder if I can really trust my interpretation of the way openings work. Lyrics are definitely important. The most significant example I can think of is the opening to Casshern Sins. When I first heard it, I was incredibly disappointed. The pop rock opening didn’t seem to have a place within the bleak, post-apocalyptic world of Casshern. I wondered what in the hell the creators were thinking. Then I actually read the (translated) lyrics:
Hey now, why were we born?
Hey now, why did we meet?
On a hill rife with fissures under the rusted sky,
We, the living, are much like blue flowers.
Wow, these words are literally perfect for this show. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that this song had been created specifically for it. Even so, the song still doesn’t sit well with me as I think of the show since the happy go lucky musical style is so different from the tone of the series. Something like this works a lot better.
Another example I can think of where a similar thing happens is the insert song for the original Full Metal Alchemist series, Brothers.
When I nominated this song for the MAL music club (join today!) the theme was Hope. I was suprised when the general consensus was that the song was more the exact opposite of that, and I wasn’t sure why. After checking out the lyrics, I can see what people meant:
Dear Mom, sweet Mom!
We loved you so much.
But all our efforts
Unfortunately were in vain.
Then there’s all the stuff about forgiveness, death, sin and all other sorts of terrible, terrible things. So yeah, “hopeful”. But seriously, I had no idea about the lyrics when I nominated the song, since that wasn’t what I was paying attention to. The melody and soothing tone of the song made me think of sadness, but also about hope for a better tomorrow and redemption, and that’s the reason I nominated it.
There’s no doubt in my mind that knowing the lyrics to a song can improve your understanding and appreciation of the series – the Casshern opening is testament to that. However, me learning the lyrics to Brothers kind of took away from my enjoyment of that song and how I looked at it personally. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a brilliant song, but I don’t think I’ll ever look at it (or the series) again in the same way. It might’ve been a rare case where not knowing what was being said was actually better.
Lyrics or not, perhaps it’s just more about your taste in music and your own way of mind and personality that shapes how important a song is to you within a series. Althouh it is important to know what’s being said to get the whole picture, I just know that every time I hear Guns ‘n’ Roses or Sorairo Days, I’ll probably end up with a smile on my face.
And I’ll never understand half of what rap artists are saying.