Under the pseudonym ‘Nanase Hikaru,’ Itou Masumi has written music for a large variety of works, most notably the VN Muv-Luv Alternative, Infinite Stratos, Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom and CANAAN. Unlike many of the composers I’ve spoken about so far, Nanase’s style is primarily orchestral in nature with strong influences derived from classical and baroque music. Much of the OST is very cinematic and thematic in nature, traits (particularly the latter) not always found in anime soundtracks.
Noein: Mou Hitori no Kimi e is, in my opinion, a highly underrated anime. Very few are the people I’ve spoken to who have seen it – somehow it seems to have passed under the radars of most. In many ways, it’s quite a unique anime – the art and animation for one is very different, but in a good way. The often rough and deformed art style blends extremely well with the method in which the premise is delivered, and the story, while sometimes a little slow, is captivating in nature. Wait. I’m a little off track here. Suffice to say it’s a great anime with an equally impressive OST – one of the kind which will stick in your mind for weeks after listening. Since I’m working under the assumption that many might not have seen the anime, I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum.
Since this OST is quite thematic, let’s start with two tracks based around the same melody. Shangri-La is one of the most cinematic pieces on the soundtrack, seeming almost to tell an entire story by itself. In a sense it does – it tells the tale of both sides of the background to Shangri-La, its nature as the antithesis of existence while also being its saviour. On the one hand, the aggressive, almost militant tone of the first section represents the denizens of Shangri-La in their antagonistic forms, indiscriminately wiping out life across the universe. These segments are very much in the vein of O Fortuna, a section of Carl Orff‘s extremely well known Carmina Burana, particularly in the tutti nature and relative lack of polyphony. We also have a haunting yet tranquil second section, complete with Nanase’s characteristic beautiful harmony and choral writing, likely a reference to Shangri-La itself.
In complete contrast, Unmei to Kanashisa, while utilising the same melody from the first part of Shangri-La, gives of a completely different feeling. With its slow moving Cello solo and sparse sustained piano accompaniment it gives off an air almost that of a funeral march. Where Shangri-La speaks of aggression and (in a strange way) peace, Unmei no Kanashisa gives us the bleaker alternative – the end of existence, the destruction of all dimensions and the loss of everything we hold dear. But not only that, it also speaks of what has already been lost in the future shown in La’cryma.
Next up, we have a mysterious and slightly oppressive track with some slightly romantic (that probably sounds really weird, but romantic music doesn’t necessarily refer to romance) influences, mostly in its use of appoggiaturas. The first part of the track is built over a continuous upper-range violin tremolo before moving to low-range strings alternating between two different notes. With the addition of the breathy sound design, almost mimicking air discharges from the underground refuge’s vast pipe works, the track paints us a picture of La’cryma. With its slightly desolate and unfriendly tone, we get a picture of both the barren ruins that compromise the world’s surface, and the unwelcoming, slum-like underground refuge in which the inhabitants are forced to live.
There are many unusual, mystifying, yet beautiful pieces of music on the Noein OST. Jikuu Teni is one of those – rather disconcerting and full of dissonance, yet with a beautiful, fleeting nature. The constant pulse almost seems to represent the continued passage of time and motion while the sudden modulations, dissonance, and morphing harmonies follow the warping of the dimensions. The somewhat chromatic and haunting oboe melody cuts beautifully through the mix, leading into segments of string writing strongly reminiscent of Sakuraba Motoi.
From haunting beauty to a more laid-back and somewhat Renaissance influenced track. Light of tone and with a bit of a lilt to it, Haruka no Uchi combines a wonderful whistle melody with a variety of string accompaniments. These range from the harpsichord to the harp and to the open fifths played by the string orchestra. In addition to this, the piece also appears to be in ternary form (more specifically an ABA’ form), featuring a restatement of the opening section with additional counterpoint contributed by an oboe. In essence it’s yet another of those ‘everyday life‘ types of track – calm and carefree with an air of childlike playfulness.
Yuu no Theme shares the central melody from the former track, but set in a far more morose and troubled way. This is absolutely perfect as a theme for Yuu, whose teenage angst seems to get to him very frequently throughout the series. The strong connection to Haruka no Uchi seems to reflect his dependence on her for support (in my opinion), something which is almost taken away from him many times. Musically, it has the characteristic dragging pace and tied beats usually associated with the sarabande and once again seems to adhere to ternary form.
Of the three tracks which share what I’ve dubbed the ‘Friendship Theme’ I will only discuss two (the third is Ai to Haruka). Tomodachi to Tomo ni, while in an irregular time signature for the style, has both rhythms and the general feel often associated with the gigue. Filled with baroque ornamentation and call and answer passages, it feel very reminiscent of certain music written by Bach. The bouncy walking pace, the obvious conversation between instrumental sections (the call and answer) and the carefree energy all make it a great track for representing time spent with dear friends. It would also make great RPG town music!
Contrary to its former incarnation, the melody in Baron to Tono has much more of a compound time feel to it. Not only this, but it’s far more tranquil and, for lack of a better word, lazy. This laziness can be attributed mostly to the use of clarinets, an instrument often associated with lethargy in musical writing. The more laid back nature of the track seems to fit well with Baron’s personality (he’s a great big lazy dog) while also hinting at his more playful side with the continuous use of acciaccaturas contributing to the jumpiness of the track. In addition to this, the use of the ‘Friendship Theme’ as the basis for the track puts him within the circle of those considered ‘friends’ by the children.
Mirai no Haruka is one of the more melancholic, yet hauntingly beautiful tracks on the OST. As we learn very early on, the incarnation of Haruka on La’cryma is suspiciously absent, having presumably sacrificed herself for the sake of the others. Despite its sad tone, there is also a trace of the hope left behind by her sacrifice, particularly in the Tierce de Picardie used at the end of the piece. Despite projecting an overall air of depression, there seems to be an edge of gentility and care to be found in the female vocals, as well as dependability in the steadily repeating piano chords. Both are undoubtedly descriptions that would fit Haruka like a glove.
The penultimate track I want to talk about is very different to the rest of the soundtrack. It actually feels quite out of place, though as with another track I spoke about, this is not without purpose. Noein is an anime in which multiple completely different dimensions are shown. One of the best ways to make this difference stand out musically is through the use of contrasting musical genres. While most of the soundtrack is orchestral, La’cryma Jikuu Kai has more of an Indian feel to it. The use what I think (I’m not entirely familiar with Indian percussion) is a tabla and the drones produced by a tambura add to this distinctly different atmosphere to create an otherworldly vibe.
I’ve discovered that I like closing with my favourite track on a given OST – it’s a little like saving the best until last (and then it gets stolen by the girl hiding under the table). It’s usually very hard for me to pick favourites, especially when it comes to a soundtrack of this calibre, but with Karasu no Theme in the running there is very little competition. No matter how many times I listen to it, the latter half always gives me chills. Karasu – the future incarnation of Yuu, hailing from La’cryma – is still a troubled existence. This track strongly reflects that with its rising and falling waves and its continuously repeating melodies, a minor storm on the ocean. But not only that, it also reflects hope, the sudden switch to the choral section halfway through feels like a sudden break in the clouds, allowing the light to shine down from the heavens. There’s something wonderful and mystical about it – despite his troubled past, he continues to stick to the correct path, the light guiding the way in the darkness.
Classical styles of music are not exactly rare in anime, but it’s uncommon to come across a soundtrack with this level of inspirations drawn from early and common practice period music. As a soundtrack, it works very well for the anime – these periods of music are often heavily associated with art music, and what better type of music for an anime that can only really be described as a work of art, both in its visuals and storyline.
Throughout the soundtrack there are definite nods to various classical works, the most notable possibly being Ryuukihei-tachi no Tataki to Mussorgsky‘s Night on Bald Mountain. A lot of the soundtrack feels as though it would work well as Ballet music, particularly stuff in the vein of Tchaikovsky. I would also suggest Holst and Beethoven as possible sources for similar music. Outside the realm of art music, Kanno Yoko‘s score for Aquarion EVOL also features nods to many famous Classical works and stylisticly, some of the tracks on the Noein OST are close in nature to Jeremy Soule. All in all, the first Noein OST is definitely something everyone should take the time to listen to. I bet it would do well in concert too!