Noir OST 2

Yushiro (Former Staff) — September 3rd, 2002
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While Yuki Kajiura is most certainly an accomplished composer, having created a large body of work on various projects, the music composed for Noir is far and away one of her greatest creations, not only from the sheer amount of songs, but for their outstanding quality. Listening to the music on its own, you wouldn't expect this to be largely a soundtrack to immense sins, as portrayed in the show. These are not violent songs, and seemingly not created to match some of the intentions of the anime. It is not so much that they feel out of place, but that they are of a very different style than that which the animation uses. The songs are active and generally full of life and emotion, whereas the anime purposely limits rapid movements and attempts to maintain an air of stillness, almost suggestive of a state of death, as film noir does. Regardless, the music is so well crafted that it could make the worst anime look as refined as Noir is. And the animation has benefited greatly for having Kajiura, as is apparent as the music if featured so conspicuously it may as well be considered another lead character altogether. The music made the anime, and it's almost as if it knows it.

The songs on the first album almost exclusively used this exceptional style of taking a single catchy melody (played by either Kajiura's keyboards or a more traditional instrument such as a flute, violin, or even an accordion) and placing it in the forefront of the song, while allowing the rest of the instrumentation to fall into a kind of background. This is in no way, shape, or form a bad thing, as the melodies are always sights to behold (well, hear) and the 'backgrounds' were always well complemented to the main tune and engaging in their own right. A few songs on the second album still utilize this, but the main melodies tend not to be as strict, and allow for looser renditions of the songs, notably in a number of remixes of songs from the first OST. This style also lead to the first soundtrack having only a handful of the quieter numbers, and was largely driven by livelier techno beats. The opposite holds true for this record, where the electronic beats are the minority. (In a way, I suppose it is fitting that the more demure Kirika appear on the cover of the second OST, while the more assertive Mirielle graces the first. It does tend to give the feeling that this is "Kirika's soundtrack".)

That's not to say that you won't find some of the best of the harder hitting music from the series here. Quite on the contrary - the three such songs on the album are easily among the best. The opening song is entitled Le Grand Retour, named after a concept that doesn't appear until late in the anime. The song has a couple of movements of sorts, starting off with a rather gentle percussion beat lead by a flute-like synth track. A little into the first 'movement', a wonderfully played bagpipe joins the synth in a surprisingly provocative harmony. The listener is then brought down to dark depths completely unexpectedly, considering the opening, and taken on small roller coaster of ups and downs with the addition and removal of a quicker electronic beat. It closes with the opening melody back in full force with renewed energy. Fabulous song, and somehow fitting to it's namesake. The bagpipes are highlighted more in another of the songs using the aforementioned style used so well in Noir's music, Colosseum. It is a bit mellower than Le Grand Retour, but no less potent of a song. The last of the faster-paced songs is simply titled Killing, which while not exactly evocative of act of murder, is a bit more fitting to it's subject than most of the music. A rather versatile sax leads the quick rhythm this time around, with a light chorus in the background adding to the atmosphere.

But as mentioned, the bulk of the album is comprised of the more solemn compositions. Songs like Black is Black and Power-hungry use mild electronic beats in unison with a tense violin, somewhat reminiscent the faster paced songs, but with the dark undertones placed in the forefront, rather than the background. Premonition takes this a step further, starting with a haunting violin set against ambient background noise, then slowly picking up the pace as it moves towards the end, never spilling past the grave tone of the opening, but enough to add a sense of urgency. There are couple of piano solo songs as well, Despair and At Dusk. As a pair, they are actually an excellent depiction of the range of the piano, with the former taking a very intimidating stance and the latter being a very peaceful piece.

A strong European-influenced presence is felt on the album as well, as on the first soundtrack. Incorporating these songs into the series is entirely appropriate (since it mostly takes place in southern Europe), but it greatly enriches the collection of music as a whole as well. (Meaning it's not just European for the sake of being so; just to have this type of music for the sake of the show's setting.) The inspirations paid off well in the techno-driven songs, and are no less attractive in the quieter songs. In Peace is another serene melody, accented by an uncharacteristically reserved accordion. Fake Garden brings a distinctly Italian style to the table, combining a more lively accordion with a free-form violin and mandolin. In Memory of You, though, is the single song that is the best exhibition of the traditional European influences. The song lulls you in at first with an extremely subdued claviola, then sends in an acoustic guitar to pick up the pace as it takes you out. If you liked the more traditional music from the anime, the second OST is without a doubt the place to find the prime pieces.

The album includes remixes, or rather second versions, of certain signature songs of Noir; the ones that have come to define the series. One such song is Canta Per Me, the original of which was another piece that makes heavy use of southern European tradition. Canta Per Me II strips down the song to the it's bare elements, calms them down off the heights of ecstasy they were trying to reach in the first song, and sets what is left to strings. The song no longer forces your captivation, but seduces you in with the free violin, mellow techno beat, and a less obtrusive performance of the graceful Italian singing.

Salva Nos is one of the best assets the anime had, though it was most certainly overplayed. Salva Nos II is an echo of the first; of the darker undertones carried by the sins shown in the series that aren't properly treated to by the original song. I mean, the song plays whenever Mirielle and Kirika begin their 'work'... and in the process become the pitiless killers of dozens. Don't misunderstand - I love Salva Nos (I) as a song, but it is far too stirring (in a good way) for such displays of violence. The second version, while not portraying anything like remorse, is certainly far more somber, and more fitting for the subject Salva Nos has come to represent. It's as if, for a brief moment, time slows to a crawl in the midst of gunfire, and all of the undercurrents and connotations of these scenes rise to the surface. This song attempts to relate what such a moment in such a scene would sound like, and it is masterfully accurate.

Of all four of the second versions, Les Soldats II feels the most like a completely different take on the style and atmosphere of the song; not merely a remix of the basic melodies. The first song chose to take the route of this incredibly catchy electronic beat set against the Gregorian chanting in a mild contrast that somehow worked together extremely well. The second, however, doesn't set itself against the mood of the chanting, but rather compliments it as much as it can, though the chanting appears a bit less in the second version. It still retains elements of that extraordinary techno beat, that you'll recognize as your body moves to it; it's just been bridled in a bit to meld with the flow of the song.

The last 'remix' on the album is a piano version of Kirei na Kanjou. The song is extremely light in comparison to the original, and almost seems like a pale shadow of the raw emotions coursing through the anime's ending theme. It is a very pretty melody, and it does translate to the solo piano quite well, but if a bit more energy were put into it, it would have been an infinitely better song (and more faithful to the original). As is, it is a nice, quiet little song... that nearly puts me to sleep.

A few vocals songs appear on the record as well, most of which I was quite displeased with, due largely to Yuri Kasahara's vocals. Her tremendously high-pitched voice forces out each note with an over-dramatization that feels terribly forced. Add this to the fact that all three of the songs on which she is featured (she did backgrounds for half the songs on the record, but is only prominently featured in Maze, Secret Game, and A Farewell song) are sung in English, with which she has a very heavy accent, which leaves the song lacking a certain sincerity to the lyrics (in addition to the already contrived nature of her voice). Maze was the worst offender in my mind, with its tightly staccato background and vocals, along with incomprehensible lyrics (and delivery thereof). With Secret Game, the lyrics (again in broken English) are dragged out a bit more to match the melodramatic backgrounds, though not by much. Most of A Farewell Song is lead by that beautiful accordion... until Kasahara breaks in half-way through. This time around, she sings with more volume than the other two, as if to try and surpass the emotional power of the accordion and acoustic guitar in the background. This is not accomplished in the least. In short, I could have lived without these songs on the album, and quite happily at that.

Indio, on the other hand, is a fairly standard, if of a bit heavier tone than usual, (Japanese) ballad, composed and performed by a singer who goes by chiaki. (As a side note, Kajiura and chiaki have been working together for years in a band-of-two called See-Saw, with Kajiura providing the music and chiaki singing. The band is credited with this song.) Rather than being a lovely song for the sake of being a lovely song, as Kirei na Kanjou is, Indio walks the fine line between despair and hope as so many have before. The result lies somewhere between the breathtaking and the mildly touching, but not powerful enough or powerless enough to be called either. It is fine addition to record, if somewhat out of place with the rest, nonetheless.

A booklet entitled Poémes Noirs is included with this record, which contains lyrics to all of the vocal songs from this and the previous Noir soundtracks, along with some words from Shigeru praising Kajiura. (Decent trade-off between this soundtrack and the first, as the previous one had some good-sized liner notes.) The lyrics are printed in their original language (whether that be English, Japanese, or Latin), along with Japanese translations (when applicable).

I consider all of the music from Noir to be far and away among the best I've heard of any genre or medium, and the second original soundtrack is no different. While isn't nearly as essential as the first, you won't be disappointed with this one, for the most part. I personally do not like Kasahara's voice in the least, so I was.. less than pleased with a couple of the vocal songs, but I can look past a few blemishes on this otherwise beautiful face.