How do you one-up awesome Celtic folk music? Why, with epic rock arrangements of course! Takanashi Yasuharu, notable for his work on Terra e…, Shiki and Naruto: Shippuuden brings us this gem of a soundtrack, rife with music to really get your blood pumping! With this soundtrack review, we move from something extremely diverse to something far more constricted. This is not a bad thing of course, quite the opposite in fact – while diversity is awesome, confining the music to a single branch of styles results in a more cohesive feel to the soundtrack as a whole.
As someone who once played as part of an impromptu (and short-lived) Celtic rock band (and a traditional folk band even before that), this soundtrack has great appeal to me. These days, Celtic music is something of a blanket term that covers an enormous range of styles originating from the traditional folk music of the Celts to the more modern music derived from some of its earlier stylistic characteristics. Generally speaking, when people think of Celtic music, they think more of the styles that have evolved from traditional Scottish and Irish music (aka Gaelic music) than from say… Welsh folk music (which is unfortunate in some ways, but that’s beside the point). The first FAIRY TAIL OST is no exception to this – the majority of its folk influences resemble the Gaelic traditions far more than any other.
It was back when it first began airing that I last watched FAIRY TAIL (I find it hard to watch an anime while I’m still reading the manga) and one scene has remained in my memory ever since. It’s another of those amazing moments in which the music perfectly complements the scene by amplifying the emotions and moving it from ‘pretty cool’ to ‘awesome.’ But even away from said scene, the Fairy Tail Main Theme is still an excellent track. It has the slightly ‘bouncy’ rhythms usually associated with a hornpipe, although, like most tracks on the OST it is far developed beyond the traditional bounds of the style. The hard-panned (panned far left and far right) double tracked distorted guitars (a technique used in a lot of rock music and pretty much everything on this OST) give the track a much larger and more ‘epic’ feel – a perfect metaphor for the guild itself!
There are many ways to develop a theme in music but one of the most impressive in my opinion is the gradual build of elements throughout a track. Dragon Slayer utilises this principle, continuously restating a few simple melodic themes, but adding additional instrumentation with each pass, resulting in a gradual build in tension and excitement. In a way, this sort of build parallels the typical character development style favoured by most shounen anime and manga – start small and build power in stages. The track also seems to convey a sense of freedom, and to a lesser extent, solitude. At first the melody is held by what seems to be a lone set of uilleann pipes (albeit without the characterisitc drone), with more and more ‘friends’ joining throughout the build.
While a good portion of the soundtrack is dedicated to Celtic rock, there are also several great acoustic tracks which adhere slightly closer to the more traditional folk styles. Of all the tracks on the OST, Nigiyaka na Machi is the one that comes closest to slotting perfectly into the style of the hornpipe, right down to the rhythmic percussion in the background mimicking the dance-steps of would-be dancers. The track has a feeling of constant movement and activity, the perfect reflection of a lively town. Nakamatachi is one of the few tracks on the OST which is very clearly written in compound time (6/8 to be exact) and like the former track, is a perfect example of the type of music you might expect to hear if you went to see a modern-day Celtic folk band play live.
In complete contrast to what I’ve written about so far, the soundtrack also features a few darker and more atmospheric pieces of music. Yuuki is one such track, creating something that resembles a soundscape as much as a piece of music with its slow movement and unsettling sound effects. The choice of harmonies, combined with the almost questioning movement of the strings create a sense of mystery and uncertainty, while the harp arpeggios and choral parts add a wondrous and mystical edge to the track. Combined with the harpsichord interjections (the harpsichord is often associated with the undead in fiction, especially vampires), this results in a rather spooky and somewhat threatening track.
From fear to melancholy, the FAIRY TAIL OST has tracks which cover both aspects. Kanashiki Kako is one of the more sorrowful pieces on the soundtrack and in a way, one of the more beautiful pieces because of it. With its slow, soft movement, it almost has the feel of many traditional Celtic Laments. The relative emptiness of the piece tends to be a recurring theme in music used to flashbacks, particularly those which contain an unhappy past. It’s entirely possible that the majority of the Celtic vibe of the track comes from the use of a whistle for much of the melody.
No action anime OST would be complete without a few battle tracks. The many battle themes on the FAIRY TAIL soundtrack are generally split between being rock or being orchestral (with some crossovers and Celtic music in-between). To start with a couple of the primarily rock themes, we have Koori no Senjin and Ankoku no Madoushi. The first of the two is extremely aggressive and threatening, making full use of dissonance to unsettle us and put us on edge. In particular the heavy use of the wah-wah effect on the lead guitar and the pedal note that comes in about halfway through the track are designed to push us to the point where it almost grates on our nerves.
Ankoku no Madoushi is very different in many respects. Instead of relying on dissonance to put us on edge (though it’s not completely without it), it uses the darker tones of an organ, tubular bells, and harpsichord to give an oppressive feeling. However, the most interesting thing about the track is that it’s seemingly built on the Spanish Gypsy scale, an altered version of the Phrygian dominant scale. This is one of the scales you often hear in ‘Egyptian’ themes. It actually works really well in context, giving the track the feeling of being slightly out of place in relation to the rest of the music. While it’s similar to the rest of the soundtrack, that small element sets it aside as being noticeably different, perhaps an interesting metaphor for the dark mages the track is meant to represent – similar to other mages, but just outside the norm.
The FAIRY TAIL OST may contain a hefty amount of Celtic influences and rock music, but it is by no means devoid of orchestral tracks. First among these is Yousei no Shippo, another track in 6/8, with a very ‘piratey’ feel. The rhythmic stabs, combined with the sweeping movement of the melody and the slightly playful air give the sense of organised freedom often attributed to pirates in fiction.
The second and third orchestral pieces I’ll glance over are darker, more oppressive tracks. The first of these – Eisenwald – I’ll mention mainly because of the (more than passing) similarity to a certain theme from Final Fantasy VII. It’s entirely possible that this is just a strange coincidence, but I’d like to think it means that Takanashi Yasuharu is a fan! Akuma Deliora features very similar instrumentation but is much longer and more entertaining to listen to. Opening with an organ drone and quickly moving into ominous choral chanting, it makes for great music to represent a mysterious evil. In addition to this, it features some nice musical juxtaposition (though nowhere near the levels at which Stravinsky uses it), moving rapidly from soft sections to more intense sections.
What better track to close a review with than an awesome rock fanfare rendition of the Trio section of Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 (aka Land of Hope and Glory)? Since it’s traditionally used as a British patriotic song and the theme ascribed to it for that purpose is ‘hope,’ it makes an excellent victory fanfare. It also makes me want to spontaneously throw up my arms and do a victory lap now that I’ve finally finished writing about all the tracks I wanted to talk about!
I’ve heard people ask ‘Why is the OST to FAIRY TAIL Celtic rock? Why did the composer choose that style above anything else?’ It’s an interesting question so I thought about it for a while to see what answers I could come up with. Just how does the FAIRY TAIL OST connect to the anime and why does it work so well? Merely through watching episodes you can see that it definitely does capture the spirit of the anime, so there must be reasons behind it. In my opinion, Celtic rock suits FAIRY TAIL for two reasons. Firstly because rock fits well with the fiery nature of most of the Guild members – not a day goes by without the entire hall being completely trashed by their rowdiness, and secondly, the Celtic influences gel surprisingly well with the slightly rustic feeling of the world setting and emphasise the romance and freedom of guild life.
I will admit straight out that I can currently think of no other anime OSTs based around Celtic rock. The only works that comes close are some of Kajiura Yuki’s more electronic and Celtic influenced tracks. There are however Japanese groups outside of anime who specialise in similar genres, an example being Yousei Teikoku (Erza no Theme is very reminiscent of their style in some ways). Much of the rock music can also be compared to The Black Mages and the more Celtic tracks could be likened to a large variety of folk bands and one off albums all around the world (Battlefield Band and the Xenogears arrange album, Creid leap immediately to mind). There are also plenty of other anime soundtracks out there which feature a good body of Celtic music, such as Karigurashi no Arrietty, Mouretsu Pirates (to an extent), and Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto: Natsu no Sora.