Most of my free time is spent at the computer checking emails, visiting websites, playing games, coding, designing, whatever. While doing all these activities, 90% of the time I have music playing in the background. For the past year or so my playlist has consisted of songs and tunes related to anime, with the odd English pop sing inserted here and there. If you look at my playlist now, maybe like 10% of it are songs NOT related to anime.
It was only in a span of 2 years that my playlist did a complete overhaul. If you asked me back then what music I listened to, I would have told you artists such as Justin Timberlake, Timbaland, Usher, Black Eyed Peas, and so on. I still like listening to American Pop artists, just not as much as I did before.
So why the change? Why listen to anime music now?
I’ll be honest, my Japanese is terrible and limited to a few common phrases/words. Even though I have a lot of songs in Japanese, I only really understand about 15% of it. However, I changed my music because I felt I wanted to be connected to the anime I watched, even if I didn’t understand or misinterpreted the lyrics. By listening to songs related to anime, I started enjoying the sounds and beats that matched the pace of the series. It wasn’t just about the lyrics, but the whole effect of the story told through music.
Sure that sounds pretty corny, and it is to an extent. But most anime series that feature action and suspense often times use background music that’s intense and tempo-driven. If they’re going for the mellow and calming nature in series, the background music pairs that with slow-moving, eerie or sanguine sounds.
Another reason why I listen to anime music is that it reminds me of the feelings and emotions that I experienced while watching it. One example that really stands out to me would be Fate/Zero’s first ending theme, Memoria by Aoi Eir. The vocals that carry throughout the ending reflect the nature of the series: there is continuing battle and strife in the Holy Grail War, but more importantly the main character, Saber, struggles to uphold her ideals and virtues that she’s always believed in.
Readers are probably skeptical as to how something you don’t even understand language-wise can be interpreted just from all that, and they have a point; I admit that for Memoria, the ending is entirely animated and help paint the picture so-to-speak. In the end, it’s ultimately up to the listener to interpret and determine how much they are affected by the music.
That being said, the point I’m trying to make is that music has it’s own way of telling a story. With anything you do, you want to enjoy it and be genuinely interested in it, right? Watching anime interests me, and it is something that I enjoy in my spare time. The sounds and music really make an impact on me, and I think they add a lot to anime. This could also be one of the reasons why I don’t read manga (don’t hate on me).
Now back to the main question, how important is music in anime? One could argue if you watch anime without sound, there’s not much you’re missing (if you’re reading subtitles). On the other hand, one could say watching anime without sound is pointless as you lose the emotions and “3d-ness” of the characters. In general the most common answer would be, “largely dependent on the viewer’s senses,” meaning that it’s up to the viewer to determine how much the music affects them.
Personally, I don’t buy that. Anime simply cannot be enjoyed to its fullest extent without the voices and music that shape the series. Voices aside (since we’re not talking about voice), music creates the mood and flow of the anime. If you look at Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni, the art and animation isn’t scary (for the most part). The characters are all very cute and act childish/innocent in a lot of ways. Yet Higurashi is probably one of the most horrific and suspenseful anime out there, and probably goes down as a classic in the horror genre.
Higurashi’s horror is driven mostly by the environment and setting, and that environment is created mostly by the background music you hear. I can’t imagine what Higurashi would be without music; It would probably look silly and ridiculous (like the last season, OHHHH SNAP).
The point is that music can make or break an Anime. Openings (OP) and Endings (ED) are pretty much a necessity now. OPs deliver the pace and mood of the series even before the show begins, and EDs capture the essence of what you just watched as sort of the, “Sigh, it’s over? I have to wait until the next episode..” (unhappy face).
I’ll leave this with one last note. Music is every bit as important to Anime as the characters are, or the stories, or the art and animation. Without music, anime would be pretty dull and boring since the sounds of the environment and background no longer come to life. To add to all that, anime includes the OP and ED as part of the series itself; the entirety of the show can be told through the OP and ED of anime. How’s that for importance?
I leave you with the OP of Nekomonogatari found below. Check out the 4-part OVA if you haven’t already seen it!