Music & Anime: A Relationship Editorial – Part 2 – Yoko Kanno’s Legacy

This is part two a multi-part, personal editorial from social media coordinator, Godswill Ugwa. This is a look into the work of the prolific composer known as Yoko Kanno who has provided music for titles such as Cowboy Bebop and Escaflowne

Welcome to part two of Music & Anime: A Relationship Editorial, where we explore various connections between the two mediums. You can see part one here where we take a look at the soundtracks of Blood Blockade Battlefront and The Boy and The Beast. In this part, we’ll be taking a cursory look- and only cursory since her work is so extensive- at the work of the legendary anime and video game music composer, Yoko Kanno.

It isn’t very often that the music composer in anime is as well-known as anime directors and creators, especially in the Western world, but Yoko Kanno is a legend whose works have augmented and even defined certain series. Now that The Vision of Escaflowne is (almost) out on Blu-ray and DVD, we’ve decided to take a look at a few of her works and how they’ve played a part in the series that they’re in. From cool jazz to fantasy-inspired classical/instrumental to science-fiction electronic music, she has the uncanny ability to change her sound to fit the show.

The Vision of Escaflowne

Even though Kanno had been established in older titles like Macross and Porco Rosso, this title put her on the map. With relatively simple, yet epic classical sounds, Kanno was able to set the tone of Escaflowne as the epic it is. The music highlights the brutal combat, the grandiose scale of the fighting, and the sheer size and reverence of the mechas, yet is able to show the political and interpersonal themes through the show. See for yourself these themes in the trailer music and in one of the most well-known songs, “Dance of Curse”.

Kids on the Slope

This more recent title takes us back to an older time period where jazz was such a new and revolutionary genre of music, and it was just starting to reach to more audiences worldwide. In some ways, it was viewed as music for those who rocked the boat of the status quo and for those who didn’t fit in whether due to race, poverty, or other reasons that made them stand out.

This show captures this sentiment beautifully with its varied characters, their storied motivations, and their individual reasons for coming into contact with jazz music. Typically in anime, the art or story is in the forefront, but Kanno puts the music in the spotlight. Actual jazz classics like Miles Davis and Art Blakey are celebrated in this 12 episode series with some of the biggest moments centering the playing of the music.

Terror in Resonance

Terror in Resonance is another well-received title that both Yoko Kanno and Shinichiro Watanabe worked on together- such titles  include Kids on the Slope, Space Dandy, Cowboy Bebop, and more. This title, which hits big topics such as terrorism, national politics, and generational schisms, is aided by the stirring music Kanno provides. She works with European artists to create a much different sound than for other series. The tone turns introspective and much more internal which helps with the heaviness of the show.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Kanno teams up in this classic series with European pop artists and electronic artists to create an environment that is simultaneously foreign, fast-paced, futuristic as its robotic, yet familiar and easy to understand as it’s human. It’s complex, just like the issues portrayed in the show, but not off-putting. She experiments with all types of sounds to create a new sound, including a kazoo to make a truly terrifying piece (in only the best ways of course).

Cowboy Bebop

And the best for last. This is the show that many anime fans show non-anime watchers when trying to get them into the anime genre. This show does an amazing job of mixing animation and music to tell a story akin to the best movies. The sound walks hand in hand with the animation, and at times it takes the lead in showcasing the movement of the show. It was (and still is) innovative in its use of the genre of jazz music in its versatile nature which is very different from the often used rock and pop; from cool fight scenes to isolating introspection the music makes each scene hit, which helped to make Cowboy Bebop the legend it is today.

What are your favorite Kanno pieces and shows that she has participated in? Share them with us in the comments and stay tuned for future editorial pieces!