Week 17 and 18 Review (Anime Expo 1)

On Januray 7th 2011, Puella Magi Madoka Magica aired in Japan. The story of a young girl, Madoka Kaname, who was completely average in every way changed the world of anime forever for me after I watched it with my editor over the course of a week. With this series I went from a casual appreciation to being in absolute awe of what the art form was capable of and became a true fan of anime. I’ve begged and pleaded for many of you to watch the series, but for now I would like to focus on one part of the series: the music. Specifically, I’m reviewing the Puella Magi Madoka Magica Music Collection this week.

Artist: Yuki Kajiura {Opening Theme – ClariS, Ending Theme #1 – hanawaya, Ending Theme #2 – wowaka, Ending Theme #3 – Kalafina}
Album: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Music Collection
Year: 2013
Genre: Soundtrack, J-Pop
Rating: 5/5 if you have seen the series, 4/5 if you have not

Worth Your Time? Absolutely. In the 45 tracks, there’s a surprising amount of variation that creates a very balanced 2 disc collection.

Twitter Review: PMMM MC is a wonderful collection of classical music with gorgeous solos and duets spiced up with some modern twists and fantastic pop songs.

If you have not seen the series, DO NOT READ COMMENTS ON YOUTUBE as they are filled with numerous SPOILERS! Actually, close your eyes so you don’t see the artwork either. The less you know, the better your experience will be when you watch it. You will watch it, yes?

 Top 3 Score Tracks:

  1. Sis puella magica
  2. Symposium magarum
  3. Credens justitiam

Top 3 J-Pop Tracks:

  1. Connect
  2. Magia
  3. And I’m Home

Things to Look For:

  • Musical Motifs. The six main characters in the story each have their own music that is associated with them. Madoka’s theme Sagitta luminis isn’t heard until the end of the series but is one of the most powerful pieces throughout the whole 12 episodes. The gorgeous string composition moves many to tears. Mami’s theme Credens justitiam is also very powerful but I think in a more positive manner. I love the vocals for that track which I believe are from a made up language created by Kajiura; though they sound very close to Latin. Next, there is Sayaka’s themes Conturbatio and Decretum. They are both very somber songs using the same melody with Decretum being more aggressive as it appears later in the series. Homura’s theme appears 8 times in the series. Her theme Puella in somnio is a mysterious and melancholy melody simply repeated over and over with slight variations. It’s short but effective. The remaining girl, Kyoko, has a theme entitled Anima mala which is the most modern of all of them with a heavy hostile bass line accompanying the cello melody. Finally, there is Kyubey’s theme Sis puella magica which relies heavily on vocals and contains a beautiful flute solo. I especially love the rhythmic groupings of the vocals in this song.
  • Solos and Duets. Throughout the album are numerous tracks of solos and duets that I think do a great job keeping the music fresh for the two hour runtime. Right in the beginning, Scaena felix starts things off with a nice acoustic guitar/piano duet. Desiderium is a piano solo that is playful with an underlying sense of worry like a small child playing in the park by themselves. Inevitabilis is another piano solo that creates a sense of uneasiness with sparse notes making up most of the track. Kajiura brings in some duet heavy hitters to the soundtrack with Rachmaninoff’s Volcalise Op. 34 no. 14, Bach’s Ave Maria and Debussy’s La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin due to the character Kyousuke being a violin prodigy. And, of course, I enjoyed all three of them every time I heard them. Serena ira is another somber solo track featuring a haunting and lonely cello.
  • High Energy Tracks. While I enjoy the solo/duet tracks immensely, that is not all the soundtrack has to offer. As the series becomes more intense, the music ramps up right along with it creating some very memorable tracks. It starts with Terror adhaerens slowly building up to a powerful melody delivered by the strings section. This continues with Symposium magarum. This song actually made me feel like I wanted to be an orchestra conductor as I motioned my pen like a baton while taking notes. It’s such a great song. The album then switches to rock guitar infused classical piece with Numquam vincar. The progression between them works very well considering that all three tracks follow one after another on the album. After taking a short break with Quamobrem?, it goes right back into waging a full-scale war with the militant drums beats, bellicose vocals and the forceful string sections of Surgam identidem and Nux walpurgis. Both songs also have parts that lower the intensity considerably which creates a significant amount of tension in the songs as you wonder if the war has been lost despite best efforts put forth. The last energy-infused song is the last song on the album which is a live version of Numquam vincar which opens with an elegant piano solo followed by a more intense rendition of the original song featuring more expressive guitars accompanying the string melody.
  • Themes. There is one opening theme used throughout the series by ClariS who formed while in high school. They were still in high school actually when Connect went Gold in Japan. It’s extremely well done j-pop with the perfect amount of emotional intensity in the vocals as the song unfolds. This theme song is actually repeated in an arcade scene in the form of a DDR remix which I thought was clever. The original closing theme is Mata Ashita which is translated to See You Tomorrow and is sung by the voice actress for Madoka, Aoi Yuki and is written by hanawaya. The second ending, And I’m Home, is used once for the end of a single episode. It was composed by wowaka, a notable figure in the Vocaloid community. Like See You Tomorrow, it was also sung by voice actresses from the series being Sayaka’s voice, Eri Kitamrua and Kyoko’s voice, Ai Nonaka. The main closing theme is by Kalafina and is called Magia. I really like the vocal processing in this song and the mixing of classical and rock instruments.

Low Points: The low point of the album is the tracks that contain little to no melody and is mostly used to create atmosphere.  But even they are a valuable asset to the 2 hour play time because it breaks up the rest of the tracks giving your ears some time to rest. Umbra nigra is a perfect example of this. It’s a track I would never listen to by itself but it works with in the context of the entire experience. There are quite a few more like this but I think this review already has enough links.

Anything Else: I teared up multiple times while writing this review. The music is so deeply intertwined with the emotional impact of the series. It’s difficult for me to sit down and really listen to these songs without becoming emotionally overwhelmed. If the fact that I couldn’t write this review without any tears doesn’t convince you that you need to watch the series, I really don’t know what else to say.

I am also very surprised how much staying power this album has had with me. Because of the variation of songs and length, I’m still not even close to be being tired of hearing it. I could easily do another week.

I honestly could write at least another 1,000 words on the music but I’m restraining myself as much as humanly possible from creating any spoilers. The way they tie the music back to the plot is simply astounding and I will leave it at that.

Additional Links:

Advertisements

Week 6 Review

This week I’m reviewing a recent album from 3 guys who started a band 13 years before I was born. I am of course talking about the return of Black Sabbath to the recording studio with their album 13.  

Artist: Black Sabbath {Ozzy Osbourne (vocals), Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer butler (bass guitar), Brad Wilk instead of Bill Ward (drums)}
Album: 13
Year: 2013
Genre: Heavy Metal
Rating: 3.9/5

Worth Your Time? Especially if you’re behind on your monthly headbangs.

Twitter Review: Having been fed a healthy diet of nu-metal through all of college, listening to the band that inspired all of them was incredibly refreshing.

Top 3 Tracks: 

  1. Zeitgeist (if you watch only one video watch this one)
  2. Age of Reason
  3. God Is Dead

Things to Look For:

  • Geezer’s Lyrics. I don’t know what to say other than it felt like Ozzie was singing Sabbath songs just for me. I’ve been doing a lot of spiritual/intellectual self-examination lately so this album really resonated with me. I loved and appreciated Geezer Butler’s word play on this album so much.
  • Rocking out with the boys of Black. I had so much fun listening to 13.  It’s pretty hard to listen and not catch yourself doing some at least light headbanging as Black Sabbath rocks out. It reminds a lot of the joy I get from cranking AC/DC’s Back In Black or Nirvana’s Nevermind album in my car on the way to work in the morning.
  • Iommi’s Solos and Riffs. While they may not be his best work as he is one of the greatest of all-time with an incredible back catalog that would make a 16-year-old schoolgirl blush, I still enjoyed them immensely. Iommi kicks more ass in his mid 60’s than you ever did or ever will. That’s just a fact of life.

Low Points: Pretty positive review so far, right? So is there anything negative to say about this album? You betcha. The stuff I’m going to talk about didn’t necessarily limit enjoyment of the album but makes me wonder if this album could have been better. I wish there could have been a little less jamming on the songs and instead they had been tightened up some more. The majority of songs clock in over 7 minutes so it’s incredibly easy to get lost in the rhythms of rock and not be totally sure which song you are currently listening to unfortunately. Actually, if you’re not paying attention, you probably won’t even catch the start of the next song.  Part of the reason I think Zeitgeist was my top song was because it was so musically different from the other 7.

Anything Else: I often wondered if you’re old enough to have an AARP card, do you need to turn in your ROCK card?  While this may be true for some bands that held on to their cards to the point of being ridiculous, I think Black Sabbath showed me that they can still remain relevant even in 2013.

Finally and most importantly, anybody else think it’s weird that Brad Wilk (the drummer) and Bill Ward (the drummer he replaced) are one letter away from being anagrams of each other and that letter difference is K and L which are right next to each other in the alphabet? Seriously. That’s pretty random. About as random as my Facebook News Feed:

Additional Links: