Over the past couple of years, Katou Tatsuya has very rapidly risen to be one of my all-time favourite soundtrack composers. While not yet as prolific as the likes of Kajiura Yuki or Kanno Yoko (neither of whom had any involvement with the soundtrack, in case I give that mistaken impression), I will not be remotely surprised to see him rank up there in the near future. Soundtracks of note are Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou, Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls, the recently concluded Mirai Nikki, and currently airing Medaka Box.
From the moment I decided to do soundtrack reviews for RandomC, I knew that Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon was going to be one of the very first. To be entirely honest, I’ve been both dreading and anticipating writing about it. If I was forced to evacuate to a desert island with only a handful of soundtracks (I have no idea why this would happen), the Horizon OST would be one of them – it ranks pretty high in my favourite soundtracks of all time. The problem is that it’s a very long soundtrack and almost every track on it has some unique aspect to it that I really want to talk about. Rather than focusing entirely on the ‘best’ tracks (in fairness, it’s extremely hard to pick because they’re all very interesting to listen to), I will be writing mostly about the more ‘unique’ ones.
The first track I want to highlight is Tooshi Douka. Not because it’s the best track on the OST, nor because it’s featured in four distinct versions (plus an instrumental version in Kore wa Matsuri sa), but because it’s possibly one of the more interesting tracks based on its role within Horizon’s continuity. I’m sure that many of you reading this have heard the Japanese children’s song ‘Tooryanse‘ in the past, though most may not be familiar with it by name. Horizon is a series very much based upon reality (the background to the story is all about the re-enactment of history) and as such we get many concepts and organisations which mimic their historic counterparts, such as the Tsirhc Church (Christianity) and the various nations. One of these warped counterparts is Tooshi Douka. The first thing to note is the melodic similarity of the first line of Tooshi Douka to the first line of the vocal version of Tooryanse. It’s also present in the version played at crossings, but not quite as emphasised. The second (and perhaps most important) thing to note, is in the lyrics:
As you’ve probably noted, there’s more than just a passing resemblance there – it’s almost like the results of a game of Chinese Whispers with one being the starting message and the other the message relayed by the final participant.
In keeping with its sci-fi nature, Horizon features several electronic tracks, but I’ll restrain myself to talking about only one. Sora wo Ikeba Tsubasa ga Ari. Winged lesbian angel witches. That is all. But in all seriousness, this electronic dance track, complete with heavily filtered, glitched and auto-tuned English vocals makes for perfect BGM during the duo’s battle. A lot of people dislike the use of auto-tune in music, and while I agree with this to an extent, I find it makes a great addition to a track when used for musical effect outside its original purpose.
Toori has many themes throughout the anime, designed to represent different aspects of his personality. There are two that I intend to mention, the first of which is Baka wa Tsugeru yo, a piece of music that very eloquently captures Toori’s
One of the main things that draws me to the Horizon OST is its diverse nature. While there is an overwhelming amount of orchestral music, tracks range from having traditional Japanese influences, to Celtic folk music, to Danny Elfman-esque comedic horror (Dareka ga Iru yo), and way over to thinly veiled porno funk music (Taikutsuha no Yoru). This works extremely well for Horizon since it’s a series in which a huge variety of cultures come together, not just in the warring nations occupying the remains of Japan, but also in the diversity of the main cast.
The second Toori theme I want to mention is Ore wa Koko da to which seems to represent his more playful and mischevious side. According to the liner notes, the track was written to have a Middle Eastern feel to it which is definitely very noticeable. The percussion has a very strong Middle Eastern vibe while the instrumentation, melodies and harmonies are very reminiscent of certain styles Jewish music found in Israel and other parts of the continent.
The Horizon soundtrack also features its fair share tracks which are sad and reflective in nature. My favourite of these is probably Daiji na Koto sa. It utilises heavy reverb with a prominent guitar lead piercing the mix for a very melancholic feeling, emphasised by the male backing vocals – a style quite reminiscent of Ishimoto Takeharu.
Machi wa Nigiyaka ni, a very heavily Asian folk influenced track, is quite possibly my favourite track on the OST. It works perfectly as the backing track for the somewhat feudal Japanese town that acts as the setting for the anime. Listening to it evokes images of a lively market street in a traditional JRPG. Several traditional instruments are used alongside the chanting and subtle synths, an example being the Ryuteki, a traditional Japanese woodwind instrument. In addition, the majority of the track is accompanied by harmonies provided by female backing vocals which, to me, feel very Celtic in nature… almost like something from Enya or Clannad.
This next, Rikutsuha no Asa track is based on a rhythm originating from 19th century Cuban dance music: the habanera. The habanera rhythm was also adopted into traditional Spanish music which is why the track may seem to have a Spanish flair to it. By using this rhythm, we get a jerky and disjointed sort of feeling, similar to motions of a puppet on strings. The liner notes make specific mention of Coppélia, a ballet telling the story of an inventor who creates a life-size doll which he tries to bring to life and which one of the protagonists proceeds to fall in love with. I’m sure you can see the parallels there.
In all honesty, there are way too many amazing orchestral tracks for me to properly do justice to, so I’ll only skim over a couple which particularly catch my attention. The first, Ohayo Kyoukaisen, was written to play during Horizon’s awakening – when she regains her first emotion. Though the emotion is ‘sorrow,’ the track does not necessarily reflect this in a bad light, focusing more on the victorious feelings of having regained the lost emotion. The choral chanting also adds a reverent and divine feeling, almost a cry of ‘Hallelujah’ and the occurrence of a miracle. Interesting note: The percussion loop used in the background for most of the track (and used in many other tracks across the OST) actually comes from Stylus RMX, an impressively large library of percussion loops.
The second, Saa Ikou ka, is the theme for the descent of the Tres España ships. The aggressive and threatening constant repetitions seem likely to be a reference to Holst’s Mars, the Bringer of War, while the uniformity of the rhythm gives off a militant air.
The cast is assembled… it’s time to head out to battle. No thoughts of whether it’ll be a victory or a defeat; stepping out to claim a victory is the only thing on their minds.
That’s actually a poorly paraphrased version of a note from Aoi Kimi in the OST liner notes. I had to include it because it’s such a perfect summary of Ikou ze Minna, a track I absolutely could not get away with leaving out. It’s one of the best examples of a perfect meld of music with animation that I can think of in anime – the emotions generated by events and dialogue mirrored and amplified tenfold by the music. The noble horns act as both a portent of victory and show of determination while the unison strings parallel the unity of the cast’s goals and desires.
If I were to compare the Horizon soundtrack to others out there, I would be hard-pressed to find anything that spans anywhere near its range. Some of the more folky music brings to mind Kajiura Yuki’s past works, mostly .hack//SIGN and several of the electronic tracks are comparable to Rinne no Lagrange. To a lesser extent, some of the orchestral music could be likened to Macross Frontier and the currently airing Aquarion EVOL. Of Katou Tatsuya’s own works, the one which bears the most resemblance (though mostly in an orchestral capacity) is probably Mirai Nikki, but all in all, I would consider the OST to Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon to be pretty unique.
Related note: Stilts will be doing a special retrospective post on Horizon ahead of the coming season – look forward to it!