Spring season’s Ping Pong is the only anime that has made or will make a serious attempt this year at dislodging Hunter x Hunter from being the best anime of 2014. (Psycho-Pass 2 looks like the only title from the upcoming fall season that a chance to compete for a spot near the top, just not numbers 1 or 2.) There were many reasons for Ping Pong’s success but the one I want to focus on today is the soundtrack.
I was a complete novice about everything when I started my anime blog; I knew what I liked and what I didn’t and that was about it. I started asking myself “why” I liked some things and not others (because, in part, I had to fill the blog posts up with something) and this slowly opened my eyes to looking at the various components of an anime in a more critical manner.
Six years after starting my blog, I’ve come a long way but I still feel like a novice. One area that I remain feeling the least competent in talking about is the music found in anime; however, I’ve learned that I do have preferences with the music I hear and an inkling why. Generally speaking, I like anime music that leaves a memorable impression. I don’t like music that fades into the background – which, from some of my readings, seems like what music is supposed to strive for. No one talks about how an anime’s animation style should fade into the background or it’s animation or vocal performances or it’s story or it’s plot or it’s character. Why should it’s music?
The anime with the best music last year was Shingeki no Kyojin. I kept reading how the music was overly bombastic as if that was a bad thing. If the music for Shingeki no Kyojin lacked even a smidgen of the drive and punch it had then it would have been lost amongst the other elements of the show and this more restrained soundtrack would have been a drag on the series, instead of being a positive. (The flip-side is probably true as well; any more and it might have been too much.)
I say all this because the music to Ping Pong stood out and demanded the notice from viewers, while remaining balanced with the other elements, and I loved every bit of it. So I was really excited to finally have a chance to listen to the soundtrack.
Now, if I actually knew some of the fundamentals of how to review music I could sound like I know what I’m doing. Oh well. Let’s give it my best shot.
I approach soundtrack albums with a degree of trepidation. How the music was used in an anime series does not necessarily map one-to-one with how its presented on the soundtrack album. For example, there was a little piece of music in Hanasaku Iroha that I absolutely loved to death and I couldn’t wait to get the soundtrack so I could hear more of it. When the soundtrack came out I sampled a bit of every song at the beginning, thinking it would be easy to find – it wasn’t – so I randomly checked different parts of each song – still couldn’t find it – so I listened from the beginning and eventually I heard it. It was nestled within a longer piece that frankly didn’t fit it at all. I was crushed and angry; it’s hard for me to presume that the person creating the music didn’t know what he/she was doing but it was like they didn’t know what they were doing.
Another issue I have with soundtrack albums is how they sometimes have like 50 tracks that run for a minute each and there’s no flow between them because it’s a random conglomeration of styles, tempos, and moods. Maybe it’s a little old fashioned but I want to press play at track one, let the whole album play, and luxuriate in the mood the album creates. Ping Pong’s OST does feature a slew of songs running mainly between 1.5 and 2 minutes long but they work cohesively together so one can relax while listening to this synth-electronic infused album and enjoy the experience.
What I also like to do with a soundtrack album is pull out a handful of my favorite tracks to listen to in other circumstances (various playlists and/or MP3 mix discs). For this I want tracks that can stand out by themselves and individually represent the show or an emotion desired. Tracks that run longer, ~3-6 minutes, work best and the Ping Pong OST delivers on this front as well. The second disc of the soundtrack features full versions of 5 of the best, most memorable tracks all running nearly 5 minutes each. Excellent.
The music to Ping Pong was composed by Kensuke Ushio. I was not familiar with the name before the anime aired and there’s not a whole lot I was able to find out about him since. Be that as may, after doing such a good job with Ping Pong, I will be on the lookout for future efforts of his and hope they continue to wow me.
And this is where my lack of knowledge on how to discuss music comes into play because the correct move is to now discuss individual tracks of note. Instead, I’ll end by saying I’d rate the Ping Pong OST as an 11.5/12 Near Perfect. People who like synth-electronic infused music would probably enjoy this album even without having watched Ping Pong (though, why deprive oneself from one of the best anime of 2014). People who have watched Ping Pong and liked the music know that the soundtrack does not falter in presenting the music of Ping Pong in the best possible way.