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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

10 Years of Marina del ray: The Top Songs

The reviews are written & released, but I still want to celebrate Masami Kurumada's 40th Anniversary one last time by giving focus & appreciation to a group that has been involved in nearly every single anime based on Kurumada's work for the past 10 years.

Marina del ray isn't a well known Japanese music group by any means, but if you're a fan of Kurumada's works then you've heard at least one of their songs. Supposedly forming back in 1986, the duo of composer/vocalist Hirofumi Kakigawa (a.k.a. Kacky) & guitarist Tatsuo Namikoshi (a.k.a. Tatsuology) didn't make any sort of "major debut" until 2004. Since then the duo has been the de facto songwriters & performers for any Kurumada anime that has been made, the only exception being Saint Seiya Omega. The duo has never released an album, though last year's Dojo Raiden Kurumada-ism #2 album featured almost every MDR song at that time, they have performed alongside other anison legends at the Anime Japan Festival concerts in December 2007 (as a duo) & January 2014 (Kacky on his own). Also, Kacky presently runs MDR SoundProduction (guess what it's named after), a studio that helps produce music for various video games, pachinko & pachislot machines, & albums, most recently Disney Yume no Dream Duet, which has multiple seiyuu perform iconic Disney duets in Japanese. What I want to do, though, is give attention to some of Marina del ray's best songs in the 10 years they've been doing themes for Masami Kurumada's works. Like always, this isn't numbered, but I will save the best for last... But first, an "Honorable Mention".

"Hana no Kusari" (from Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas; 2009-2011)
Technically, this isn't exactly a Marina del ray song (they do back-up instead), but it's such a beautiful song that I still wanted to bring it up; plus, it's still written by Kurumada himself. Primarily sung by Maki Ikuno, with Kacky singing back-up throughout & Tatsuology performing a guitar solo, "Hana no Kusari" is an excellent ballad about the eternal connection between Lost Canvas' main characters Tenma, Sasha, & Alone because of the flower bracelets they all wear. Even when Alone becomes the corporeal vessel for Hades, Sasha is revealed to be the incarnation of Athena, & Tenma becomes the Pegasus Saint that has to protect one & fight the other, while wanting nothing more than a happy ending for all, their childhood bond still links them together, and this song showcases that excellently. Ikuno's voice is a perfect match for the music, Kacky's voice matches well with Ikuno's, & overall it's an ideal ending theme for TMS' adaptation of this spin-off manga.

Now, onto the actual list...

"Shining Like Gold ~Omoide no Kakera~" (from Ring ni Kakero 1: Nichibei Kessen-hen; 2006)
"Asu he no Hishou ~flap your wings~" (from Ring ni Kakero 1: Shadow; 2010)
I had wanted to list only seven, not including the honorable mention, but both of these songs are simply that good; also, though the style of song differs between them, they offer complimentary messages. "Shining Like Gold" is the ending theme to the second season of RnK1, and it's a bit of a one-of-a-kind song from MDR by being the sole ballad they ever made. It's a self-reflective song about looking back on the accomplishments that one has done & appreciating the "sepia-toned" days of the past. While MDR mainly performs high-energy rock songs, this one shows that they can perform slow songs just as well. "Asu he no Hishou", the ending theme to the third season of RnK1, compliments the former by being an inspirational song. It tells one to let the memories of the past be washed away by one's tears & to "flap your wings" and "get your kicks" by advancing into the future, even if you don't know what's in store. It's actually pretty appropriate for them to be ending themes for consecutive seasons, because Season 2 is about showing what you can do on your own while thanking the past for the lessons you learned, while Season 3 is about proving your worth & tackling the future head on. It almost wouldn't be right to talk about only one song in this instance.

"rough and ready ~Kobushi yo Sora Kakero~" (from various Ring ni Kakero 1 pachislot machines; 2010-2012)
This song is interesting mainly because it has never been used for an anime production, even though RnK1 anime was being made at the time of this song's creation. It debuted as the theme song for 2010's Pachislot Ring ni Kakero 1: Ougon no Nihon Jr.-hen & would reappear in 2012's Pachislot Ring ni Kakero 1: Girishia Jyuni Shin-hen, which was made after Season 4 & actually adapts the next story arc that would be animated, as a selectable song. As it is, though, "rough and ready" is an absolutely badass song that really should have seen use in either Season 3 or 4. Admittedly, though, I can't name a time where it could have been used as an insert theme, especially after Season 3 already had five in the second half, but this could have easily been used as the opening theme for Season 4. It's probably the most high-energy song in MDR's catalog, reaching an almost JAM Project-level of passion, and it's a shame that it has been pachislot-exclusive. If a Season 5 of Ring ni Kakero 1 ever gets made I would love to see this used as the new opening. Sure, there will likely never be a "Season 5", but I'm just talking hypothetically here.

"Greatest Eclipse" (from the Saint Seiya Hades Special Album; 2008)
This song is similar to "rough and ready" in that it was never used in any of the Saint Seiya Hades OVAs. In fact, this song was part of a "Special Album" that was released in 2008, after Hades Elysion was fully released. The album featured all of the opening & ending themes from the OVAs, plus numerous image songs, three of which were by Marina del ray, making them probably the most obscure songs they have ever made; they aren't even included in Dojo Raiden Kurumada-ism #2. Of the three, the best is easily "Greatest Eclipse", a hard rock anthem that truly sounds fitting for Hades' grand plan to cover the Earth in eternal darkness. Much like, "rough and ready", though, this song (as well as the other MDR songs on the album) is a hard one to really find a fitting place to put in; it wouldn't even work that well as an opening theme. This is exactly what an "image song" is meant to be: A song that describes & aurally emotes the kind of sensation that its subject matter demands. Still, it's an awesome song that deserves more attention. The other two MDR songs on the album, "8th Sense" & "Nageki no Kabe", are also pretty good, though the latter is a little too upbeat & happy sounding for a song about the Wailing Wall.

"Megami no Senshi ~Pegasus Forever~" (from Saint Seiya Hades Inferno & Elysion; 2005-2008)
While I'm talking about Seiya Hades songs, I certainly can't forget the opening theme for a little more than half of the OVA series. As much as seeing "Pegasus Fantasy" in Hades Sanctuary was for the sole sake of nostalgia, especially when a brand new opening theme was also created for the series, "Megami no Senshi" was just as much of a passing the torch as the shifting of staff & cast was between productions. Luckily, this Kurumada-penned theme was just as true & fitting for the franchise as it's iconic older brother theme song. A pulse-pounding beat, fittingly epic lyrics, & Kacky absolutely nailing the sheer emotion & celebration of Saint Seiya all combined together for a truly excellent song. It's become a standard for Marina del ray to perform, being one of two songs that were performed at both Anime Japan Fes concerts. In 2011 the song was even updated for Saint Seiya Pachinko, with new footage, alongside new "2011 Versions" of just about every single opening & ending theme that the franchise ever had (even Hironobu Kageyama's English version of "Saint Shinwa ~Soldier Dream~"!). They're essentially the same songs, only with newly done music, but it was cool to see happen at such a comprehensive scale.

"Chikai no Ashita" (from Pachinko CR B't X; 2013)
As of this post this is the most recent song that Marina del ray has made, though they had since apparently done back-up for Ichiro Mizuki for some Pachislot Project ARMS songs & Kacky himself sung some songs for Pachislot Grappler Baki. Anyway, Takao's machine based on B't X itself is a bit of an oddity, combining together pachinko & pachislot to attract both audiences, and for advertising relied on two theme songs: "Shining On" by Kazumi Morohoshi & this MDR song which was penned by Kurumada. Much like his songwriting work for RnK1 & Saint Seiya, and even Fuma no Kojirou back in 1992, "Chikai no Ashita" is essentially the one true "anthem" for B't X, and considering that it was the first MDR song in two years it was great to hear them again. It's all the more awesome, then, that this is also one of their absolute best songs ever. Featuring great verses that build up the tension, followed by absolutely pounding choruses as well as excellent musicianship in general, this song is much like "rough and ready" in that it would make an outstanding opening theme. Unfortunately, even with both B't X & Monthly Shonen Ace turning 20 years old this year, it doesn't look like there will be an anime reboot. Still, "Chikai no Ashita" would be an excellent opening, and "Shining On" & insert song "Esperanza" by Kanako Hoshino would be perfectly fine ending themes. Hell, even MDR SoundProduction's website features the equivalent of a "TV size" rendition of "Chikai no Ashita"... It's screaming for use in an anime!

On a quick note, though, Masami Kurumada did mention on his blog earlier this year (January 27, to be exact) that work was done on a new song for Fuma no Kojirou, so we may hear a new Marina del ray song sooner or later; this is the only major Kurumada work to not have a MDR-performed song, after all.

"Niji no Kanata" (from Ring ni Kakero 1: Sekai Taikai-hen; 2011)
I've talked about this song last September when I included it in my list of anime ending themes that deserve more love, but it's worth repeating & elaborating on. Each season of Ring ni Kakero 1 had great ending themes, but it was kind of tough to really pick one over the others, with "TAKE MY SOUL FOREVER" by Psychic Lover maybe (barely) surpassing the others. Season 4, though, had "Niji no Kanata", which upon first listen instantly took the spot of "Best RnK1 Ending Theme". While I wouldn't say that the Kurumada/Marina del ray combination was getting stale over the years, they were admittedly "safe"; I knew that they would be great, but they generally just land slightly short of being one of the best. This song, though, was the MDR song I was always hoping for in the back of my mind. The beat is instantly memorable, the musicality sounds like something that an iconic 90s anime would have (Why 90s? It just sounds "90s" to me...), and Kacky absolutely hits it out of the park when it comes to singing. It would take a little over a year, though, until the full version would finally come out alongside Pachislot Ring ni Kakero 1: Girishia Jyuni Shin-hen, but the wait was worth it because the song is even better in full. Even the lyrics, which talk of both remembering the old days while dreaming to go "Over the Rainbow", seem like some of Kurumada's best. There's even some really properly-used underlying English lyrics, like "all things in life; must come and go" & even "resentment flows; anguish reveals"; those latter lyrics are definitely not the usual kinds of English lyrics one would see in a J-Rock song. This is, without a doubt, a truly excellent song that, unfortunately, is attached to a show that very few have seen... But it isn't Marina del ray's absolute best song. It's really damn close, though.

"Asu he no Toushi" (from Ring ni Kakero 1; 2004, 2006, 2010, & 2011)
Sometimes, the first effort truly is the best of them all. An actor can absolutely deliver a scene in one take, a sports player can make the perfect play on the first try, and a musician (or group) can simply nail it with their first song (without being a "One Hit Wonder"). For Marina del ray this is absolute truth, because their debut song, which was the opening theme for all four seasons of the Ring ni Kakero 1 anime, is still their best song ever. That's not to say that their other songs pale in comparison, but rather it just means that their first effort is simply that... damn... good. In this one song the entire idea & personality of RnK1 is perfectly described: Always give your best, never give up (even when your down), and simply be "willing to fight forever". The two verses even fit specific story arcs, hence why Season 3 specifically used the second verse, which talks more about the dangers that have to be faced head on. Now one can argue that "Asu he no Toushi" was used for all four seasons, across seven years, simply because it was cheaper to reuse an existing song than to have Kurumada write new songs for each season, which is likely part of the reason, but I would argue that another reason is simply because it's so absolutely fitting for the series as a whole. Even though I said earlier that I would love to see "rough and ready" used as an opening theme if a new season of the anime was to ever be made, I would be perfectly fine if "Asu he no Toushi" was brought back once again, as well. This is, easily, the greatest showcase of what Kacky & Tatsuology are capable of as Marina del ray.

If you want something different, though, you can also listen to Rie Tanaka, the voice of Kiku Takane, sing her rendition of "Asu he no Toushi"; true to the original, it's a really good variation. Plus, if you need more proof that "Niji no Kanata" is right behind the OP in terms of quality, Tanaka also did her own rendition of that song, too.
These are my personal choices for the best of what Marina del ray has done in their ten years in the scene. Since their work is so strongly tied to Masami Kurumada's works, MDR is a really, really small name group among anime fans, and I'm sure this is a fact across the world at large. In fact, the only song one can listen to via anime legally is "Hana no Kusari", since CrunchyRoll streams the Lost Canvas anime; you can add Saint Seiya Hades as well if you live in Spain, Latin America, or South America, too. Still, as a fan of their work I wanted to give them at least some credit for helping solidify myself as a fan of Kurumada in general, and I felt the best way was to share some of their work with others. I hope you guys liked it.

Well, I'm really dried up on Kurumada stuff right now, and I've hit 149 reviews... You know what that means!
Cosmo's finished burnin', means we must stop learnin', no more Kurumadin' for you
But now don't you start to leave, I'll see you again to grieve, cause we got Review #150 left to do!
Writin' reviews, watching crap, & AWOL is the worst!!!!

(Yes, it's a parody of South Park's Russel Crowe song... Deal with it.)

1 comment:

  1. I just happened to be listening to the greatest eclipse while reading this. That was awesome.