Soundtracks that are Better than the Show

That’s my instrument. What’s yours?

I’m a sucker for good music. This is especially true if the music is produced by some of the great anime composers–namely, Yoko Kanno or Yuki Kajiura–or contains surprisingly good OPs and EDs. In the best cases, I’ve discovered that at least for me good music can help redeem a show, turning a show that would otherwise be boring into something more than watchable. It doesn’t always work, as a good soundtrack can’t completely fix bad storytelling or bad art, but it often has the power to turn mediocrities into good. Here are some of my favorite example of shows that had significant flaws but whose music made it much easier to go down.

  1. Le Portrait de la Petite Cossette (music: Yuki Kajiura). This OAV is, properly speaking, a mess. The surrealisms are creative, even Anno-ish, but sometimes incoherent, and the Gothicisms a bit pretentious. Nevertheless, the Kajiura soundtrack is still one of my favorites of hers, especially the fantastic ED. The soundtrack is one of those rare ones that can be played by itself as simply good music.
  2. Escaflowne the Movie (music: Yoko Kanno/Hajime Mizoguchi). As a huge fan of the TV series, the first time I saw the movie, I was emotionally overwhelmed and thought it was one of the best things ever. It was only on the second watch that I realized that what I had been overwhelmed by was not the story, which is a very dumbed down version of the TV series, but rather the fantastically epic score by the Kanno/Mizoguchi powerhouse. It is, in my mind, better on the whole than the already outstanding TV show OST: more powerful, dynamic, intense, and containing one of the finest closing songs in all of J-pop, Maaya Sakamoto’s “Yubiwa.”
  3. Hanbun no Tsuki ga Noboru Sora (OP: by Nobuko): this is more for the fantastic OP song, which captured everything that the show should have been but wasn’t. In one of my earliest reviews for this site , I cited this show as an example of a slice-of-life show gone wrong. I still listen to the OP from time to time by itself.
  4. Shuffle! (ED: “Innocence” by Hashimoto Miyuki): here’s an example of a very good ending song for a show that didn’t deserve it. A wistful, melodious song that actually makes you feel just a little sad. I am told that this fits the later parts of the show, though, so maybe it does deserve it.
  5. Shingetsutan Tsukihime (music: Toshiyuki Omori): the goth shows often have great soundtracks, regardless of quality. Tsukihime is, in my opinion, a mediocre anime, but with an immediately arresting openin and with a great, moody string-based soundtrack. Maybe I’m just a sucker for strings?

Those are all the examples I can think of off the top of my head. Can you think of any more that I left out–or challenge me on any of my choices here?

11 thoughts on “Soundtracks that are Better than the Show”

  1. Some of my picks:

    Kannazuki no Miko: This series was quite forgettable in my mind, though not necessarily bad. However, the OP, ED, and insert songs (all done by KOTOKO) were totally amazing.

    El Cazador: Wonderful Kajiura Yuki soundtrack. Not-so-wonderful series.

    I’ll have to agree with the common sentiment that the ED of Shuffle! was quite fitting for the series.

  2. Definitely agree that a good soundtrack or OP can improve a mediocre anime. The only one in your list that I’ve actually seen is the Escaflowne movie, which I can’t judge all that well since it was one of the first anime that I saw (before the TV series, even) and therefore has a lot of nostalgia value. But yeah, the soundtrack is awesome.

    The anime that immediately came to mind upon reading the title of your post is Soukyuu no Fafner. It’s not a bad show at all, despite being a ripoff of almost every notable mecha anime from the past ten years, but the soundtrack is way better than the show itself. Imagine one of the old European masters writing an anime soundtrack–that’s how good it is. It was performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, which also did the soundtracks for the Escaflowne TV series and movie. You may not have heard of the composer, Tsuneyoshi Saitou, but that doesn’t make it any less worthy.

  3. For the pinnacle of a show’s music being better than the show, go watch all 26 episodes of Engage Planet Kissdum. At the end, I realised I did not understand the story, it was a mess full of screaming and shouting the same old lines and the monsters were ugly. But the songs were cool and pumping emo in, so I continued watching.

  4. Good question. I think that the music of Darker than Black was better than the anime – but the anime was on a high level already *g* Same for Paranoia Agent, Simoun and Honey & Clover.

    Oh, and then Ergo Proxy comes to mind. It definitely doesn’t do justice to the Radiohead song, heh.

  5. Seconded on .hack//Roots, although Ali Project did even better on Avenger, which has excellent music but a somewhat lacking plot. Madlax is also worth mentioning, another series where Yuki Kajiura came up with the goods whilst the writers failed big time. Actually, for most Kajiura-scored series the music is my favourite part, even if the anime itself isn’t really too bad.

  6. Another vote for Tsukihime – I actually quite enjoyed the show itself but the music was the most outstanding aspect.

    Aquarian Age is a significant addition to Michael’s list though. Its soundtrack is another Yuki Kajiura effort that (excluding the horrendous op theme) is downright excellent. The series itself on the other hand is a mess: a plot that’s incomprehensible to everyone apart from those who have played the card game(!), stilted characterisation, so-so animation…it’s utterly forgettable. So much so that if I hadn’t stumbled on my volume #1 review copy the other day, I’d have forgotten I’d ever even watched it in the first place.

  7. Nice nominations, everyone. Thanks. It seems Kajiura wins the award for writing great music for shows unworthy of her. :) Kanno’s projects usually are at least somewhat good as anime, with the exception of Brain Powr’d.

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