Hello dear readers and welcome back to Shoot the Rookie! Today’s post is the first in what will hopefully be a regular feature here on the blog. The idea of the In Focus series is to take an in-depth look at the career of some of the amazing people who work in video games and anime, and for the first one I’m going to be looking at the work of the incredibly talented composer Hiroyuki Sawano, so why not join me to find out more!
So! Who is Hiroyuki Sawano and why should you care? Well he is a composer who has done a huge amount of work creating music for anime as well as the odd video game and in that time has written some incredible pieces of music. He also writes music for movies and TV shows and is a recording artist in his own right. He has collaborated with many other notable musicians, including the incredible LiSA, who readers of my Anime Jukebox series will be very familiar with.
For those of you who like anime, it is quite likely that you have heard his work before as he is involved in some pretty big shows. For me there is a very particularly moment in my mind when I realised how awesome his music is, so let’s take a look at a few of his notable works and I’ll share a few personal stories about them as well.
Attack on Titan
Ok! So I’m not a fan of Attack on Titan but am aware how famous it is so thought it would be a good place to start. Since I’ve not seen much of it (unless you include that god-awful live action film), I wasn’t familiar with the music before writing this post but I did listen to the soundtrack for the first season and was suitably impressed. It carries a lot of the hallmarks of his later work and includes a variety of styles and emotions. It has drama, sadness and action all woven together in a soundtrack that sounds really coherent to listen to despite having not seen the show. Compared to his other work it has an older, more traditional feel, which I think fits with the show’s setting really well and the whole thing has a powerful emotional drive to it that I really enjoyed listening to.
Kill la Kill
Again, not a show I’m familiar with (aside from owning some random artwork and a figurine…don’t ask!) so I gave this a listen and thought it was excellent, and interestingly, a real departure from the other stuff on this list. It is heavy, like really heavy. I’d describe its genre as metal in some places, that is if it’s ok to describe something as metal that also features jazz flute, and it also has hip hop and techno elements. It feels darker than the other soundtracks on this list which makes me wonder what the show is like. It is also really discordant, reminding me in places of the soundtrack for the Australian sci-fi show Farscape. All these soundtracks are a mix of instrumental and vocal pieces and there was a vocal track on this soundtrack called Blumenkranz that I thought was a particular highlight. Whereas the other three works listed here have very recognisable ideas in common, this one is quite different and is worth a listen to get a wider view of the composer’s talents.
Xenoblade Chronicles X
Yes, of course this was the first soundtrack by Hiroyuki Sawano that I experienced and is probably still my favourite. It just works so perfectly in the context of the game. Something that makes that particularly impressive is the breadth of musical styles it has to cover to work with the game as a whole. Xenoblade Chronicles X is a huge open world game and features a wide variety of environments. It is my favourite video game world and the way the music creates so many distinct atmospheres whilst all still being part of the same thing is a huge part of the reason why.
It is interesting to compare this soundtrack to the other ones in the Xenoblade series, as for me it was a daring departure from what came before and after. It is a really modern sounding soundtrack, with urban, rock, emo, classical and a variety of other genres represented. Compared to some of his other work I feel like this one is a bit less piano driven as well, although it does share similarities with both Attack on Titan and the thing I’m going to write about next. It uses loops and vocal hooks to great effect and I don’t think there is another piece of music in the whole of video games that creates a sense of place better than the New LA music. It’s all just perfect… apart from the Skell music… but let’s just forget about that shall we?
I never thought I’d get to write about Xenoblade and Promare in the same post but here we are! If you’ve read my blog before you may know that Xenoblade and Promare are two of my favourite things of all time, so boy was I surprised when it turned out that the same composer has worked on both of them. Actually, that’s a bit of a lie. It wasn’t a massive surprise, as the moment Promare started at the cinema and those driving beats came through the speakers I instantly thought of Xenoblade Chronicles X, but at that point didn’t know the name of the composer – and that moment will be forevermore etched in my memory. The Promare soundtrack is so good it is hard to describe and the music is an absolutely crucial part of making the film what it is – an overwhelmingly brilliant sensory explosion.
Like the Attack on Titan soundtrack, this features all the hallmarks of Sawano’s music. There’s high drama, quiet and sad piano pieces, and a high dose of ass-kicking action music, all be it in a more dance driven style. Promare is big on bright colours and it might sound strange but I actually think you can see those colours and weird geometric shapes whilst listening to the soundtrack, it is just so perfect for the film. It also includes the song Nexus (a very special video of which is included below), which is possibly the greatest, most uplifting song of all time, so check it out!
Other works: As well as the things I’ve written about above, Hiroyuki Sawano has worked on a ton of other stuff including Mobile Suit Gundam, Blue Exorcist, The Seven Deadly Sins and League of Legends.
So there it is! My first article in the In Focus series! I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a bit about the wonderful Hiroyuki Sawano and that you’ll check out more of his work. Let me know what you think below in comments and make sure you join me next time for more video game and anime goodness.
Thanks for reading,