A short history of anime music

Take a closer look at where it all began for anime soundtracks

A short history of anime music

Netflix’s B: The Beginning is the first of 30 Japanese anime series that the online streaming channel will be premiering this year. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to. It’s a classic killer-detective story, with the upholder of the law uncannily similar to Sherlock Holmes. It’s dramatic, and the music will hook you, too. And that’s the beauty of anime. It’s not just about the action on screen, it’s about what you hear that accompanies the drama.

In fact, music and anime have always been intertwined. The intro and end credits are always accompanied by a song – usually one that embodies the show or film’s world view. In the ’60s, anime developed into a musical genre in its own right, evolving into what is now one of the most popular types of Japanese music out there.

Here’s our pick of five tracks that in our opinion define this most joyous of genres.

The birth of anime song culture: ’60s
Atom March from Astro Boy (1963) by Kamitakada Boys’ Choir
Anime songs entered the public consciousness with the release of Tetsuwan Atom, Japan’s first full-scale animated TV series, known internationally as Astro Boy. Atom March, its opening theme, features lyrics written by poet and perennial Nobel Prize for Literature contender Shuntaro Tanikawa.

The emergence of the anime song artist: ’70s
Space Battleship Yamato from Space Battleship Yamato (1974) by Isao Sasaki
The ’70s saw the curtain open on a golden age of anime. This was the decade that gave rise to classics including Space Battleship Yamato, Galaxy Express 999 and Mazinger Z. The theme music from these series’ ended up being major anime hits and were performed by the likes of Isao Sasaki and Ichiro Mizuki, both now considered legends of the genre, helping anime become appreciated as a musical genre in its own right.

Anime as a social phenomenon: ’80s-’90s
A Cruel Angel’s Thesis from Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) by Yoko Takahashi
The term otaku (geek, usually one obsessed with anime and manga) was coined in the ’80s, and soon they had inherited the Earth. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, anime and manga broke into the mainstream. Hayao Miyazaki’s work at Studio Ghibli was considered art, while franchises such as Evangelion, Pokémon and One Piece conquered pop culture.

Anime songs followed suit, and it was no longer rare to see them performed by established artists on the most mainstream of platforms. The result was chart-toppers such as Odoru Pompokorin from the kids’ show Chibi Maruko-chan, which sold more than 1.6 million records.

The internet age and the voice actor boom: ’00s
Hare Hare Yukai from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2006) by Haruhi Suzumiya, Yuki Nagato and Mikuru Asahina
By the time the new millennium rolled along, late-night series, which often tackle darker and more controversial topics, were proving that anime wasn’t just for the kids. The popularity of these series was fuelled by online word-of-mouth and music also embraced digital. The internet was becoming a breeding ground for exclusively anime-focused songwriters and singers, with composers uploading their works to public platforms and singers then posting their covers of these songs.

The success of Hare Hare Yukai, the ending theme to the first season of late-night schoolgirl adventure series The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, established a new style of anime song in which characters from the show sing and dance to the theme. Consequently, a select few stars led by Nana Mizuki began to blur the boundaries between voice acting and musical stardom.

The late-night anime boom and idol anime hits ’10s:
Guren no Yumiya from Attack on Titan (2013) by Linked Horizon
The current decade has seen former late-night cult shows such as Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Attack on Titan grow into massive mainstream hits and spawn hugely popular feature-length films.

Another trend has been the rise of anime series themed on “idol” groups (pop groups performing heavily choreographed song-and-dance routines) – The Idolmaster and Love Live! are among the biggest hits – with these then turning out smash songs tied to their respective series’ story lines.
The latest craze, led by the Kemono Friends series and its impossibly catchy opening theme, is so-called moe anthropomorphism, in which animals, objects and even abstract concepts are represented as cute human characters – most of which can sing,
of course.
All songs available to listen to on YouTube, www.youtube.com; B: The Beginning is available to watch on Netflix. www.netflix.com.

Critic’s choice
Shereen D’Souza picks five more anime series to watch and hear the music to. Or read the original manga

Eyeshield 21
An introverted boy joins an American football club as a secretary. However, he is coerced into playing for the team by the captain and uses an eye shield and the number 21 to mask his identity. And then the games begin.

You’ve probably heard of this even if you aren’t into anime. Naruto is an adolescent ninja who searches for recognition from his peers and the village, while dreaming of becoming the village leader. Find out if his dreams come true.

One Piece
One of the greatest manga series of all time, One Piece is set in the age of pirates, where many seek to claim the fortune of the former pirate king, who has hidden his massive treasure trove in some mystical waters. Will it be found?

Tokyo Ghoul
Ghouls live among humans and feed on their flesh to survive. They’re sort of like vampires, living in Tokyo, Japan. A first year college student’s life quickly takes a dark turn when his date reveals herself to be a ghoul. Will she devour him?

We love this one. Toriko is about a gourmet food hunter searching for the most precious foods in the world to create the ultimate meal. You’ll encounter hamburgers that grow out of the ground, mountain ranges carved out of ice cream and warm servings of mac and cheese from deep within volcanoes.
All titles available at Doha Comics. Open daily 2pm-10pm. Qanat Quartier, The Pearl-Qatar (5598 2428).

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