Winter 2020 Anime: Official Info, Airdates & Trailers
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Whenever you watch an anime with Shinichiro Watanabe involved, the music always stands out above everything else. Can you ever forget the first five seconds of Yoko Kanno’s iconic ‘Tank’ from Cowboy Bebop? Haven’t we all looped Samurai Champloo soundtracks from the legendary Nujabes while studying for a test? Maybe you’ve also jammed out to the eclectic jazz sounds of Kids on the Slope to unwind after a hard day’s work.
Phenomenal sound in an anime can elevate it to new heights. Watanabe loves his music and we’re privileged as an audience to hear his tastes through the anime he works on. His openness to musical genres and styles from around the world brings out the best in the many talented people he collaborates with.
Music shapes the identity of his anime, from the rapid bebop energy of Cowboy Bebop to 2019’s Carole and Tuesday. Since the entirety of Carole and Tuesday is now available to stream worldwide on Netflix, it’s the perfect time to take a look at Watanabe’s many musical tastes.
Love of Jazz
It’s no secret that Shinichiro Watanabe loves his jazz. Along with frequent collaborator Yoko Kanno, both are what I call improvisational artists. What I mean by this is that they don’t just stick to the script, often working off each other’s creativity to create something new. It’s like two great friends teaming up in cooking or chemistry class and making something fresh and explosive.
According to Watanabe, the music for Cowboy Bebop had already been finished, along with the art. Kanno, having been inspired on her own, composed new music based on her ideas and imagery from the show. Watanabe subsequently listened to her pieces and was inspired to create news scenes for the show. The process continued vice-versa as Kanno composed more pieces based on Watanabe’s new scenes. The final product is an iconic jazz soundtrack with fast-paced bebop songs, slow moody tunes, and some operatic performances.
Jazz is a creative exchange and an art that’s often collaborative as it’s conducted on the fly. In an Otakon 2013 panel recorded by Anime Superhero News, Watanabe said that whenever he was in the music producer role, he accepted a director’s creative vision and the content of the animation. He would then choose music that compliments it and makes the anime better.
This is best demonstrated in his work on Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. Although Naruyoshi Kikuchi composed the soundtrack for the series, it’s Watanabe’s ear for great music that makes the OST of an anime stand out. Kikuchi’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ sets a thrilling tone matching the dark narrative and Fujiko’s elusive sensuality. The song itself uses elements of chamber jazz. The soundtrack overall closely resembles free jazz with baroque influences and casual lounge music you’d hear in a bar.
Then we have Kids on the Slope – a coming-of-age tale of two friends bonding over their love of jazz. The anime features a wide array of jazz styles and great amounts of detail to characters when they’re playing their instruments. At his discretion, Watanabe wanted to make sure the characters’ movements resembled a real performance while they were playing. He didn’t want the use of stills to distract from the music that was being played, even though the process took a lot of work. Nonetheless, the musical covers that Karou and Sentaro play throughout the show are still top-notch, thanks to the dedication of Watanabe and the animators.
In Space Dandy, Watanabe’s love of jazz translates to the use of electronica, funk, and big band, depending on the episode. You can’t really predict or pin down what musical style Watanabe will incorporate in the scenes he directs, but that’s what makes listening to the music of his works so fun. Name any other anime that has its main character lead other characters into an American styled high school musical.
Beyond Jazz: Hip Hop, Samba, and Icelandic Rock
Watanabe’s affinity for music travels beyond the realm of jazz and borders. For example, Terror in Resonance is inspired by the music of Icelandic rock band Sigur Ros. Watanabe imagined two boys standing over a ruined city after listening to their music. The musical tone is an abstract ambiance that evokes coldness and distance – perfectly representing the lead characters of the series. In terms of collaborators, he teamed up once again with Yoko Kanno, Arnór Dan from the Icelandic band Agent Fresco, and American indie rock group Pop ETC.
His second anime series, Samurai Champloo, introduces us to a world of samurai and hip hop. While these two elements have nothing in common, Watanabe’s direction and Nujabes’s terrific score make it work. It’s here that Watanabe demonstrates his willingness to experiment. Nujabes’s lo-fi hip hop sound pair perfectly with the anime’s more subtle moments, as well as the quick sword fights. Despite the addition of modern hip hop, Watanabe displays his appreciation of traditional Japanese folk music when he used Ikue Asazaki’s ‘Obokuri-Eeumi’ in episode fourteen. It’s a nice homage that pays tribute to the past while also looking forward to the future.
This blending of music and cultural borders extends to his musical work in Sayo Yamamoto’s Michiko & Hatchin. Working again as a music producer, he collaborated with the main series composer Alexandre Kassin (of the Brazillian band The+2’s) on the project. Kassin’s soundtrack brings strong influences of samba and psychedelic musical styles. This combination works well with the anime’s fusion of mainly Hispanic and Japanese cultures.
The main opening theme of the series ‘Paraiso’ by Soil and Pimp Sessions offers a great first impression of what you’re in for. With Yamamoto’s brilliant direction and Watanabe’s commitment to using music to compliment her work, Michiko & Hatchin is proof that musical diversity crosses all borders and can produce something unique.
The Future: Carole and Tuesday
Which brings us to the dynamic duo of Carole and Tuesday. With this series, we’re brought back to Watanabe’s familiar setting of space and a much larger production. The focus this time around is about musicians trying to make their big break. It’s a fairly standard premise, but one that features a variety of artists and detailed animated performances like in Kids on the Slope. The core theme of the show is unity and it feels like something Shinichiro Watanabe was destined to create.
Anime is a collaborative effort and I can’t think of anything else that demonstrates how many people came together to produce this project. For the series, Canadian musical artist Mocky handled the main soundtrack. For special insert songs, Carole and Tuesday showcases artists from all around the world. Notable musicians to have helped during production include Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Taku Takuhashi, Alison Wonderland, Denzel Curry and Steve Aoki among many others.
A while back, Watanabe drew attention when he held a worldwide audition for singers. He settled for American artist Nai Br.XX as Carole Stanley and Japanese singer Celeina Ann as Tuesday Simmons to lead the cast. He also included Japanese singer Alisa to sing the songs for their rival Angela. In the actual performances, the anime is noteworthy for its English-only musical performances; of which, Watanabe explains that he wanted to capture its global theme and connect with people of all nationalities. Since English is considered a universal language, that makes sense.
Carole and Tuesday shines a light on Shinichiro Watanabe’s passion for great music and how it brings people together. This love stems from the diversity shown in his animated works and inspiration from many of his creative collaborators. Music knows no borders and it defines the unique storytelling he’s able to incorporate in many of his anime.
A Last Note
It won’t be too long before we hear from him again. As one of his productions ends, another will inevitably pop up in a few years. And with these works, we’ll always be given a chance to listen. Because the great thing about great music is that it sticks. We always appreciate memorable songs from our favorite anime. And we have no one else to thank but Shinichiro Watanabe.
Did you like our feature on Shinichiro Watanabe? Then consider checking out some of our other reviews we have of his work on MANGA.TOKYO.
Keep warm this winter season with the latest anime info at MANGA.TOKYO!