Just to reiterate for anyone who missed the excerpt: If you haven’t seen Madoka and intend to watch it at some point in the future do not read this post! Seriously!
Kajiura Yuki has long been one of my favourite soundtrack composers, both in the anime and video game industry. With series like .hack//SIGN, Mai-Otome, Pandora Hearts, and of course, Fate/Zero under her belt, it’s always fair to expect great things. For Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica she brings us a typically unique soundtrack filled with unintelligible lyrics, folk influences and Latin titles!
Madoka was an odd anime. This is no surprise really; being both a deconstruction of an extremely popular genre and a SHAFT production, it was inevitable that it would be well outside the norm. The soundtrack, on the other hand, is not ‘unusual’ per se, but different in the way that all Kajiura soundtracks are different to the works of most other composers. When you hear anything composed by Kajiura, there’s a good chance that you’ll almost immediately recognise her style. This is actually both a good thing and a bad thing. On the one hand, her music stands out from the crowd and you will always recognise her distinctive style. On the other, we have a criticism shared by many other composers – there isn’t that much variety across soundtracks. If you were to listen to all her soundtracks back-to-back without intimate knowledge of them, it would be hard to tell where one ends and another begins. To be honest, this doesn’t bother me too much beyond an academic level – I really enjoy her style anyway.
Partially because it is Madoka we’re talking about, and also because the first soundtrack is relatively short compared to most anime (since it’s split into three soundtracks to give extra ‘perks’ for purchasers of the special editions), I’m going to approach this a little differently than I have the previous three. Context is a big deal for me when talking about game or anime soundtracks – when they were written, they were done so with the knowledge that they would accompany visual media. A soundtrack release for standalone listening would be a secondary concern. For that reason, I like to include some amount of context when talking about individual tracks. This time, I’m going to go slightly further – rather than do a breakdown of the tracks grouped by genre, I’m going to take a look at how they set up the series, how they work in the context of the first episode, how they work to lull us into a false sense of security, and how they paint a portrait beyond what we see on the surface.
At first, one of the soundtrack’s primary functions was to deceive – to trick us into believing that this was no more than any other Mahou Shoujo anime, but at the same time, it also hinted at the hidden darkness lying just beneath the surface. To me, the first couple of episodes seemed like an elaborate deception – sure it was weird, there was the clash of art styles, the references to Faust and some darker themes, but it was nothing too far beyond what had already been explored by its precursors (such as Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha). No, it wasn’t until the end of the third episode that everything kicked into full throttle and we launched off the traditional pathway into new ground.
One of the very first tracks we hear (the second actually – not counting insert songs since they’re not included on this OST) in Madoka is Postmeridie, an upbeat and carefree piece of music with the characteristic syncopated rhythms and harmonies of a rumba. This is where the deception begins in earnest, using a track of this type to lull us into a false sense of security – all is right in the world and there’s not a single dark cloud in the sky. Tracks based around the rumba, bossa nova and samba are extremely common in slice of life anime, as well as for everyday life (and particularly beach scenes) in all genres. They give off a laid-back and soothing feeling that would warm anyone’s heart even on the coldest of days.
Only a little later we get our first subtle glimpse of discord. Conturbatio, a somewhat melancholic and lonely track, accompanied by the occasionally dissonant harmonies produced by the reverb of the multitude of bell-like instruments, accompanies Homura’s introduction and Madoka’s recognition of her as the girl from her dream. In a way, the emptiness of the music reflects how Homura keeps her distance from others (remaining alone) while also exuding a feeling of longing and despair – the number of times she’s already tried and failed to save Madoka and the pain of watching her die repeatedly. At the same time, the transient feeling that comes with the bell-like tones and evolving reverb evoke images of the unknown and also of mystery, not only that of Homura’s identity, but the inherent mystery that is magic itself.
As Homura displays her physical and mental prowess, we’re presented with the (wonderful) medieval influenced Salve, terrae magicae. The swift and somewhat upbeat flute melody, accompanied by a medieval trademark – the drone – leaps out at us as if to say ‘This is a being of the world of magic, this is what one can achieve if they form a contract!’ all while Kyuubei watches unnoticed from the shadows. Though Kyuubei’s shadowed form is disconcerting (and to a lesser extent, the static drone in the music could potentially be a nod to the undercurrent of discord), it’s easy to overlook it in the face of the brighter music and glorification of magical girls.
Next up is Desiderium, a soft and wistful piano solo which, while relatively simplistic and sparse in composition, has a beauty to it that I find comparable to the impressionistic works of composers like Ravel. I’m actually going to partially break my taboo on translating track titles for this post, purely because the titles on the Madoka OST give such a huge insight into the tracks themselves. Desiderium is written to symbolise ‘longing.’ It first starts playing while Hitomi and Madoka discuss Homura and her presence within Madoka’s dreams. This is actually beautifully done – just as Hitomi mentions that Madoka might have met Homura but be unable to remember it, the cue begins. Looking back with the knowledge the rest of the anime adds, there’s such a profound depth to it – Madoka’s subconscious longing for the girl she can’t remember who has saved her countless times in various universes, constantly rewinding time, never giving up. Surely it should be no surprise that some vestige of feelings have carried over.
But it doesn’t stop there, the music continues through Sayaka’s mention of Kamijou, her unrequited love. Not only does it fit in with her longing for his affection (and also his recovery!), but the slightly sad turns to each of the melodic phrases almost seem to hint towards the ultimate outcome – losing him to Hitomi and her eventual end. Despite these more melancholic turns, the main body of the phrases have a slightly positive tint to them – not all will end poorly. Sayaka’s ending, for one, is bittersweet – while Kamijou never returns her love (and she actually fades from existence), she still succeeds in saving him, restoring him to health and allowing him to live a happy life (presumably with Hitomi).
Our next track is much darker, much more unwelcoming. Gradus prohibitus – ‘forbidden steps’ – is uniquely suited for its purpose during the first episode. It opens with a combination of haunting vocals and various effects very reminiscent of dark ambient music, before later introducing more rhythmic elements to the mix. With the dissonant, evolving atmosphere, the use of unnerving and reverb-heavy sound effects, and eerie vocals, it works well to put us ill at ease for its duration. Heck, there’s even a heartbeat in there at one point which plays at really inconvenient times while I’m working (okay… gaming *cough*) on something that already has levels of pressure involved! The vocals and the strong elements of sound design are actually quite similar in nature to works by Hirota Yoshitaka, most notably his work on the Shadow Hearts series.
This is another track where the title gives us an insight into how the story and music intertwine. Just how many concepts can we consider ‘forbidden’ that fall under the use of this track during in the first episode? The first and most obvious is of course the meeting with Kyuubei and Madoka’s choice to defend him from Homura (did I just make a full-length for an OST post?), arguably the event which began the entire downward spiral in this timeline. However, from our perspective at this point in the anime, perhaps the more obvious conclusion to draw would be Homura’s actions against a cute, defenceless mascot character (KILL IT WITH FIRE) – in that sense, the music helps to paint Homura as the villain as opposed to Kyuubei, something which occurs countless times throughout the series.
The second time the track is used during episode one (only a couple of minutes after the first use), it provides a backdrop for Madoka’s first entry into the dimension of a witch. The slightly ambient and oppressive nature of the track makes it ideal for the purpose, especially when we add in SHAFT’s unusual clash of art styles for these segments of the anime. It also ties in well with the concept of a ‘forbidden land’ – one should never venture into these places, lest they wish to die.
Looking even deeper (possibly too deep), we also have the concept of time manipulation, toying with entropy, and the use of wishes to add to the mix. All three are undeniably things which should never be tampered with (and always come with a hefty price).
The last track used in the first episode that I want to cover is Credens justitiam, roughly ‘believing in justice.’ Played during Mami’s transformation and battle, this upbeat counterpoint-filled track is yet another musical deception. With the addition of the sudden semitone up modulation (a technique used to quickly ramp up emotion and add more power to a track) halfway through, this piece of music glorifies magical girls as something to admire, completely glossing over any of the negatives. As the title suggests, Mami is one who believes in justice, but the use of the music within the anime goes further to suggest that magical girls are justice, fighting against the dark and deformed monsters to protect the world. If only they knew.
Aha! Did you think that was the final track I would talk about? There’s actually one last piece I want – no, need – to cover, since it’s such a perfect example of what makes Kajiura Kajiura. Sis puella magica! is the track that’s used throughout the anime during Kyuubei’s lengthy expositions on the world of magic and his attempts to persuade Madoka into forming a contract. As is typical with many of Kajiura’s works, it uses ‘Kajiuraish’ for the lyrics – an indecipherable mesh of various languages which, in this case, works well to add an air of the unknowable, of something that can never be fully comprehended and sits outside the norm. In addition we have the wonderful, slightly minimal harp and Irish bouzouki passages adding a mysterious backdrop to the melody. The Irish bouzouki is an instrument Kajiura uses quite frequently in her soundtracks – I think her strength has always lain in her string writing (both bowed and plucked). When I think of Kajiura, it’s always her acoustic guitar and violin-heavy tracks that first come to mind.
Normally I would now talk about how and why the soundtrack works for the anime… but I think it’s fairly obvious by this point so I’ll skip past that. It’s actually quite hard to recommend any soundtracks that are particularly similar to Kajiura’s works since her style is so unique. Some of Kanno Yoko’s work on Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex features stylistic similarities – especially in the vocals – and the same is at least partially true of Hirota Yoshitaka and his work on the Shadow Hearts series. Fortunately, despite the relative lack of similar soundtracks from other artists, Kajiura has a fairly large catalogue of music to consume, including all the works by See-Saw, FictionJunction and Kalafina on top of that!
THANKS MOOMBA FOR COVERING THIS! I’D like to kiss you!
I have to say that her music is distinctive. I particularly love how she blends irish-celtic influence to her music along with some electronica. Lets not forget the inclusion of Kajiuran in general in some of her songs
Back to the sound track, it does have a certain magic to it. Personally, regardless to what I am feeling while listening to this OST, her songs fits in nicely.
I remember blasting Madoka OSTs and Pandora Hearts OSTs in the lab while processing my samples. It kept me company and perled me up during the long deary hours of lab work.
Though I DID get some awkward stares from some of the other students and my lecturer
They were probably thinking whether you actually listened to that kajiuran language. Lyrics are pretty important for lots of people nowadays. If they ask you what language the songs are, tell them and imagine what they’d look like when you say that it’s not a real language at all lol.
I pretty much stopped caring much about lyrics since the lyrics of most e\English songs are pretty much trashy compared to those by Abba and Carpenters.
They were more taken aback by the various dark and creppy atmosphere that both OSTs had
Oh I see. But Kajiura writes some of the best dark and creepy music and I love them. Her music is now mostly used in dark anime now because they fit so well 🙂 not that I’m complaining, more music = better for us all.
Even my mom asks what I’m listening to
Haha, I use some good earphones so noone thinks I’m weird 😐
Huh, I was listening to this the other day after not going anywhere near it for months.
I really am loving these posts and I hope to see many more. Any chance you’re doing Dragon Crisis, Fractale, or anything by Sagisu Shiro and Iwasaki Taku?
Both those composers are very strong possibilities – particularly Iwasaki! If I remember correctly, the music for Fractale was written by a relatively unknown composer (and it was a good soundtrack too!) so it’s definitely something I’d like to take a look at somewhere down the line.
Credens justitiam is probably my favourite track in this album.
I think it was Kara no Kyoukai Garden of Sinners M12+13 where Yuki Kajiura first grabbed my attention, and since then have discovered that she is responsible for many other soundtracks which I often have playing on repeat.
Thanks for reviewing this soundtrack! (If this is a precedent for future occasions, I’d love to see a Sakamichi no Apollon review!)
Yuki Kajiura is one of those names that screams quality soundtrack. I became a fan when I heard her .hack//SIGN OST and I’ve been following her music since.
Kajiura songs do sound somewhat similar lol but I like the style too so who cares. I think I started with synchronicity(tsubasa chronicles) and .hack sign, then noir and madlax.
I think it’s partially because of the Kaijuran gibberish that we can fully appreciate the music instead of being hooked onto the lyrics, not that her lyrics aren’t great but it’s the music that’s more catchy for me.
Thanks for introducing this OST 🙂
It feels like Kajiuran highlights that the human voice is indeed beautiful but I guess in this day and age, it gets corrupted and stained
Fantastic post (as usual)!
I’ve been using Conturbatio as my ringtone for months. \o/
“we’re presented with the (wonderful) medieval influenced”
You must mean renaissance.
While there are some large similarities between Renaissance and medieval music, I did actually mean what I said. Harmony and chord progression became far more central during the Renaissance period and as such, the drone is more commonly associated with medieval (and Celtic) styles of music. In fact, the differences between Celtic and medieval music are partially derived from where they came into existence (Celtic was born from the Celts, while medieval music grew from mainland Europe).
My thoughts exactly. I may not be a music expert, but upon hearing this it instantly gave me a very Celtic vibe.
It’s still what i said, for myself.
Please cover the rest of the Madoka Magica OSTs as well.
“Sis Puella Magica!” and “Conturbatio” are my favorites from this tracklist.
／人◕ ‿‿ ◕人＼
“Make a contract with me, and I’ll make you a magical girl!~”
/me v0ided The_Magus_Killer
Come see me afterclass for make-do class.
since it’s split into three soundtracks to give extra ‘perks’ for purchasers of the special editions
Darn, no wonder after getting the second OST volume it still felt incomplete. Damn you Shaft for making these OST so hard to find by bundling them with the BD boxsets.
They did exactly the same thing with the Monogatari series. It wasn’t till last December when they finally released Bakemonogatari OST on its own did I get my hands on the music alongside with the better version of the five OP songs.
About time for a Kajiura post. ^^
My favorite tracks were actually the first 2 tracks of the CD, Sis puella magica! and Salve, terrae magicae.
For me, the biggest draw from Kaijuran songs is not the distinctive “chanting”. Rather, it is the thick and “mystical” violin pieces playing alongside the tracks, and sometimes the crisp and clear piano too.
If you liked the tracks you hear, I would recommend a rearrangement album by TAMUSIC. Their rearrangement infuses more “energy” or “liveliness” into some of these tracks.
I agree, the tracks that focus on violin (and strings in general) are some of my favourites of Kajiura’s works – there are some particularly great ones on the Xenosaga series OSTs!
First heard of Yuki Kajiura ever since hearing the OST of “.Hack\\Sign”.
Then upon hearing her masterpiece work in Petite Cossette I was hooked from then on. Kara no Kyoukai wasn’t her usual style but the music was utterly beautiful and definitely one her best. For me, Puella Magi demonstrates her return to form but is no different in terms of its quality.
<3 Moomba for covering this. 😀
But yeah, this OST’s definitely one of the more memorable ones of the past year. (Can’t believe it’s already been a year since it came out!) It’s really just Kajiura being Kajiura, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Definitely one of my favorite composers along with Kanno, who I probably own the entire discography of (along with Kajiura), so I especially love the fact you pointed out “Some of Kanno Yoko’s work on Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex features stylistic similarities – especially in the vocals.” ^^
Anywho, it’s pretty interesting that Kajiura ended up making some video game soundtracks too (Xenosaga II and III). You’d think she’d maybe change her style a little bit to adapt to the medium, but nope (not that that’s a bad thing!). Gotta love her Xenosaga III work especially, which was probably as strong as Yasunori Mitsuda’s Xenosaga I… And considering how great Mitsuda history, that’s crazy!
But yeah, thanks for the post! Keep it up Moomba! And Happy 1 Month Anniversary on your OST posts. XD
Thanks! I’m also pretty surprised to find a whole year has gone by already haha! I thoroughly enjoyed all Kajiura’s works on the Xenosaga games, though I think my personal favourites will probably always be Jr. and The Image Theme of Xenosaga II from Episode II.
Nice post 🙂
I like this composer, he is also doing the OST for the upcoming anime Sword Art Online, so I feel that we will have another awesome piece from him
Although you considering doing Guilty Crown’s OST? It’s like the anime with the best OST from its season XD
The composer in this case is a woman actually.
I’d be curious to hear Moomba’s thoughts on GC OST myself… while I stopped watching the anime at episode #3, its music was the one good thing that stood out to me and have been listening to the OST quite a lot… it’s the kind of work that I think appeals to both anime and non-anime fans alike XD.
Great post once again 😀
One of the best things about Madoka was its soundtrack really.
I’m certainly enjoying Kajiura’s works. Really really good. She’s doing a pretty good job on Fate/Zero too. Can’t wait for her version of ‘Emiya’ theme. Her version of ‘Sword of Promised Victory’ was pretty good.
She’s also going to be involved in the summer anime Sword Art Online so watch out for that and I really hope someone blogs it 😀
Oh yeah Moomba forgot to post it on the last OST entry but here’s Takanashi Yasuharu’s Final Dead Lancer on Carnival Phantasm. One more reason for you to watch it ^^
Funnily enough I actually ended up starting Carnival Phantasm a couple of days ago (and I’m thoroughly enjoying it)! It has some great music too <3
I’m also looking forward to hearing what Kajiura does with Emiya… I’m assuming she will do it – so many people would feel let down if she didn’t given it’s quite possibly the most popular track on the whole Fate/Stay Night soundtrack.
On the subject of Sword Art Online… let’s just say I feel the same way about it as Stilts does about Horizon…
Thank you for making this post, Moomba! It was an awesome read, to say the least. Very much appreciated that you included lots and lots of Wiki links too. With such knowledge of so many instruments and their purposes, hey, consider me damn interested in hearing what you compose one of these days.
Needless to say, I love Madoka Magica’s soundtrack. Salve, terrae magicae sits at the top of these great songs. You made a very good point when you said it’s sometimes difficult to tell when a track is ending and another one is beginning. That’s what I like about this OST; it feels like an orchestra playing for 40 minutes without stop.
Anyway, keep it up! I think everyone’s liking a lot these music-dedicated posts, plus the format of them. Have a good day, sir/ma’am.
I still feels lk stabbing this guy eyes……
Thk for the analysis of the song details since I am not familiar with song study…..
Yuki Kajiura rocks!!! And I lov the “QB lecture music” and “The next ep preview music”.
Dude, you and everyone else here.
I’m so gonna wait for your review of the next ost volume, I am hoping you’ll comment about “decretum”, it’s one of the memorable tracks in the series, great post though, It’s nice to have someone who knows this much about music in the site.
I’m a huge fan of Kaijura- her work on .hack//SIGN is one of my all time favorites, and I also love how distinctive her style is. It really added to the effect of making Puella Magi such an emotional series! My favorite pattern from her is meshing those indistinguishable lyrics and the harp with melodic violins to create that sense of choir noise which adds such a unique touch of mysticism to the entire mix. Thanks for reviewing; your taste in OSTS is impeccable, as always.
Thank you for this post, Moomba! A wonderfully delightful read. I’m glad that we’re getting such a diverse array of posts here at Random Curiosity after an influx of new writers. 🙂
I’ve loved Yuki Kajiura since listening to .hack//SIGN. That soundtrack fit the mood of that anime quite well. I still like her vocal (chanting) tracks, but now I find myself loving her instrumental solo tracks more. My favorite soundtracks of hers would definitely be the Tsubasa Chronicles OSTs. I love their bittersweet melodies, and I liked her use of an electric guitar in one track (Eclipse, maybe?). Personally, some of her more recent work sounded familiar to me, but her work in the Madoka OSTs were definitely distinctive. I’m slowly warming up to the Fate/Zero OST as well. I’m looking forward to more OSTs from her in the future. Her tracks are such wonderful background music when I’m writing, especially her more epic vocal tracks.
Thank you for the post! Your analysis on the music really helps us enjoy the anime more 🙂 Look forward to your post on the second OST!! Decretum is definitely one of my favorites
The soundtrack was great for this show. The song I most fell in love with though was the ending theme. I should have known from that song alone that this wouldn’t be a typical magical girl anime. So epic!
Fantastic review! This soundtrack is indeed awesome as well as the next two that complete the entire OST. I really need to re-watch this series again since it was a great anime. I hope you do Last Exile OST at some time.
Great coverage. Credens Justitiam and Sis Puella Magica! are absolutely gorgeous.
perfect post, perfect soundtrack. thank you so much for covering this! i’ve definitely been waiting, it’s probably the anime soundtrack that i’m most familiar with 🙂
soo..would you ever do any joe hisaishi ost reviews? :O
Excellent post. Kajiura is a fantastic composer and sometimes makes the series so much that it would be worse without her, notably Kara no Kyoukai.
Also, I think it’s worth mentioning that Kajiura composes these with no knowledge of what scenes they will be used for. She’s given descriptions of what is wanted and she does the magic on her own. It’s the sound director that decides what goes where and when.
I fell in love with Kajiura’s works ever since Gundam Seed/Destiny with See-Saw ED’s
Kajiura Yuki is a magnificent composer. Since I heard she composed for .hack//SIGN and many other series I was attracted due to the OST, i started to listen to many of the songs she composed, anime or not!
Thanks for the post! =)
Kajiura Yuki could probably count among legend for current day composers 😀
I really enjoyed reading this review too, the format you use is really nice in the way that I can listen to the song I am reading about.
Yes~! I love this kind of music posts, please do this more often ^_^
especially the first track Sis puella magica!
Credens justitiam reminded me of Tsubasa Chronicles OST. You may want to cover the “Future Soundscape”s as well (IMO it’s the best soundtrack ever written by Kajiura)
Postmeridie was actually the track that tipped my friend off that all was not as it seemed when we were watching it (my second time, his first). That bossa nova layed it on REALLY thick.