Feature: The Soundtrack of Yuri!!! On Ice

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“I was in a Little Chef once, and I read the menu, and it said: ‘Try one of our desserts. Go on, you only live once.’ And I thought: ‘That’s a bit of blow for the Buddhists, isn’t it?’ What a way to find out that everything you believe in is utter bollocks.” – Ross Noble

Earlier this week Yuri!!! On Ice, the hit anime series of last year – if both the Crunchyroll Anime Awards and the Tokyo Anime Award Festival are to be believed – made a slight return.

A new video (see below) promoting a forthcoming DVD and Blu-ray release in Japan was released featuring animation of Yuri Plisetsky and Otabek Altin performing a routine. It was intended to be broadcast in the show itself but never made it to air and is now being made available as an extra.

The music the characters are skating to is called “Welcome to the Madness” and is composed by Tarou Umebayashi, who was one of the main composers of the soundtrack along with Taku Matsushiba. Given this new footage it seems timely to look at the soundtrack of the anime in general (and when I say “timely”, I mean I was originally going to write about this when the anime went out, but I got distracted by other things, and thanks to this new clip I now have a decent opportunity to finally get to work on it).

Before we do, however, it is worth making a note that for once, the majority of the music for an anime has been made available in the west. It has always been an annoyance to me that so much Japanese music is not made available to legally purchase (even X Japan, the country’s biggest rock band, still haven’t released three of their five studio albums on the UK iTunes). But with Yuri!!! On Ice the entire soundtrack is available as an album, and the opening and closing themes are available as singles, released separately by their respective artists. It should be mentioned that not all of the music is available yet, because there are some background pieces not released, but most of the music is there.

Let’s start then with those opening and closing themes. The opening, “History Maker” by Dean Fujioka, certainly seems to encapsulate the series as a whole. It stands out from many other anime themes for several reasons. For starters there is the introduction played on the xylophone, which makes for an unusual choice of instrument and thus also makes the tune distinctive. Then you have the fact that the song is sung in English rather than Japanese, which again seems to be making a statement. It feels as if the anime is deliberately trying to reach outside Japan and gain an international audience by using English to attract foreign viewers. On top of this you have the unusual time signature for an OP which uses (I have been told by one of my editors, Sarah, who knows much more about these sort of things than I do) three beats in a bar rather than the standard four, making it arguably a waltz. This is fitting for a show that is about a form of dance, but on ice rather than a normal dance floor. Also, because you need two people to dance to a waltz, it makes for a possible connection between two people like Yuri Katsuki and Victor Nikiforov – although, as the opening title sequence also features Yurio, it does complicate things a bit.

Lastly you get to the sentiment of the song: “We were born to make history.” When you first listen, it sounds rather rousing, but as you watch the series progress, especially when the relationship between Yuri K. and Victor becomes ever more romantic, you then realise that the series itself is making history in its own way, by having what is almost universally considered to be a gay couple in a sport anime. The song suits the tone of the series, because it is jolly, stirring and moving.

The end theme, “You Only Live Once”, is performed by Wataru Hatano, who is one of the voice actors in the show, playing the role of Georgi Popovich, the Russian skater suffering from heartbreak after his girlfriend has left him. The song is sung in a mixture of English and Japanese, and indeed is the only track in this whole article that features some Japanese dialogue. The main chorus line is always sung in English, and the verses are mixed up in both languages. Personally I prefer the opening over the ending if we are just going on the songs themselves, but with the end animation the song seems to work better.

The majority of the music available comes from the album Oh! SkaTra!!! Yuri!!! On Ice Original Skating Collection, which contains the pieces that are used in the skating routines. When it was released it topped the Oricon Digital Album Charts, and came third in the CD charts too.

It begins with “Aria (Stammi Vicino, Non Te Ne Andare)”, or in English, “Aria: Stay Close to Me”, composed by Matsushiba. It is the classical track performed by Victor which Yuri K. later copies, which in turn is filmed and sparks the whole sequence of Victor coming to Japan to coach Yuri K. This track illustrates again a point made by the opening theme: the international nature of the show, because it is sung in Italian. Looking at the translation you see that it talks about two people who, “are blending together”.

Then we move onto the most famous of the tracks: “In Regards to Love: Eros”, composed by Matsushiba. This is the Spanish flamenco number that Yuri K. performs in all of his routines. Having watched the anime, in my head all I can think of now is Yuri skating. The other notable feature of it is that in a way it pans to the international aspect again, not only because it is Spanish music, but because there are no lyrics at all, so nothing hampers your enjoyment, regardless of where you come from. The same is true of the next piece, which is also the title track: “Yuri On ICE”, which Yuri K. performs in his free skate routine. In the anime, this is the track that Yuri gets his old friend Ketty Abelashvilli to compose for him, but in reality it is Umebayashi who composed it.

Then we move on to Yurio. First there is “In Regards to Love: Agape” by Umebayashi, which sounds more melancholy than the “In Regards to Love” track Yuri K. dances to, and arguably shows Yurio’s frustration with Victor. If Yuri K.’s pieces are international because there are no lyrics, Yurio’s track is is international because it is sung in a language that has no native speakers at all: Latin, and thus everyone is sharing in collective ignorance. His free skate track however, “Piano Concerto in B Minor: Allegro Appassionato” by Matsushiba, is a classical piece with no lyrics, performed by string orchestra and piano.

After this, we then get onto the other skaters in the show. It is also where we see a much wider range of musical styles. We start with young Kenjirou Minami and his jazz instrumental “Minami’s Boogie” used in the qualifying rounds, and then we move onto the Cup of China. We have Yuri K.’s old friend from Thailand, Phichit Chulanont, whose two pieces of music, “Shall We Skate?” and “Terra Incognita”, are tracks from a soundtrack of a fictional film, one in English and the other in an unspecified language. Chinese skater Guang Hong Ji performs to instrumentals: string track “La Parfum de Fleurs”, and then “The Inferno”, from a fictional action movie soundtrack. Then heartbroken Russian Georgi performs to the English song “A Tales of Sleeping Prince”, a sad track sung by an R&B singer; followed by American Leo de la Iglesia with “Still Alive”, which features a bit of rap in it. His song is also in English, but as he is American it does feel less significant.

Following on from this, we get to the final of the Grand Prix. The first track is “Intoxicated” sung in English, performed by the Swiss skater Christophe Giacometti, followed by Christophe’s free skate classical instrumental piece “Rapsodie Espagnole”. Next is the Korean skater Seung-gil Lee, beginning with “Almavivo”, a Spanish number with mambo elements; followed by Czech skater Emil Nekola and “Anastasis”, an electronic piece from a fictional sci-fi film; then the Italian Michele Crispino and “L’homme Armé” a fanfare from another fictional soundtrack, and then Crispino’s free skate track “Serenade for Two”, a ballad sung in English. After this is the egotistical Canadian Jean-Jacques Leroy and his own “Theme for King JJ”, which you cannot help but find infuriatingly catchy; followed by his slow free skate piece “Partizan Hope”. Then comes Otabek, starting with “Samarkand Overture”, an instrumental piece that pays tribute to a city in Uzbekistan, a country bordering his homeland of Kazakhstan; and then his free skate piece, a rearranged version of the second movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 9th symphony, with an added chorus singing in German.

Last are the two pieces for the final exhibition skate at the end of the series, the already mentioned “Welcome to the Madness”, and the finale to the album, “Duet: Stay Close to Me”, a version of Victor’s original theme, but with two singers now, and skated to by both Victor and Yuri K. Thus the album ends with a piece of music that bring the central couple together at last.

While I did say that the album has an international bent to it, the most commonly performed language across the tracks is still English. No surprise as English is the dominant language across the world, but still it shows that the anime is trying to reach out. Then it is mixed with Italian, German and Latin, as well as plenty of instrumental tracks. We also see a wide variety of genres of music played including classical, modern orchestral music, Latin American pieces, jazz, rock and pop.

Listening to the album, and appreciating it alongside the anime, the main theme that seems to run through the entire thing is diversity. You have not just the diversity of musical styles and languages, but you then have the diversity of the cast. It is a series set across different countries and featuring competitors from across the globe. Then there is the already heavily discussed diversity in terms of sexuality. Because of this, the joy with a soundtrack like this is that you will be able to find at least one track on it that you really like, one you will be able to enjoy again and again.

For me, my personal favourite tracks would be “In Regards to Love: Eros” for its role in the story; “Minami’s Boogie” for its swinging, fun sound; “A Tales of Sleeping Prince” for being the most emotional track; “Theme for King JJ” for being a guilty pleasure (the character is annoying but the tune is catchy); and the final “Duet: Stay Close to Me”, for the way it unites Yuri K. and Victor.

All of the tracks are available to download from iTunes.

Ian Wolf reviews We Are X

“To create some kind of art, I don’t think you should be in a normal mental state of mind. It’s a war.” – Yoshiki, X Japan’s drummer, pianist and composer.

As this is an anime website, it is probably best to start with something that most people here may be familiar with. Chances are that if you are familiar with the rock band and “visual kei” pioneers X Japan, it is because of their work connected with Clamp’s manga X. The 1996 film version used the band’s song “Forever Love” as their theme and in 1993 a series of short films was made featuring artwork from the manga set to the music of X Japan. More recently, in 2011 they composed and recorded “Scarlet Love Song”, which was used as the theme for the anime film version of Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha.

If you are wishing to know more about any connection between X Japan, Clamp and Tezuka however, then this film may not be for you as there is no mention of it. However, don’t let that put you off. First of all, this documentary film, We Are X is brilliant. Secondly, now is a better time than ever to look at this band, who are releasing their first album in over 20 years in March to coincide with a concert at Wembley.

We Are X tells the story of X Japan primarily through the band’s frontman Yoshiki, who plays the drums, the piano, and is the principle composer of the band’s songs. The backdrop for the film is a concert at Madison Square Gardens in October 2014, and it tells of the band’s origins, successes, failures, break-up and reunion. Perhaps the best comment on the band is made by Gene Simmons of Kiss who says that if the band was from either the USA or the UK, “they might be the biggest band in the whole world.” Among other notable names featured in the film include late Beatles producer George Martin; co-founder of Marvel Comics Stan Lee; other rock musicians from the west including Wes Borland (Limp Bizkit), Richard Fortus (Guns N’ Roses) and Marylin Manson; and other Japanese rock bands such as MUCC, Ladies Room, Luna Sea, Dir En Gray and Glay.

The best way to sum up X Japan is this: if Spinal Tap were real, they would be looking at X Japan and be exclaiming: “How come their drummer’s still alive?!” Whereas some musicians perform music about love or sadness, with Yoshiki his music appears to be about pain, and he has gone through a lot of pain both emotionally and physically. When Yoshiki was ten his father committed suicide; two more members of the band died by their own hand – bassist Taiji hanged himself after he was put in a cell over an air-rage incident, while lead guitarist hide’s death was reported as suicide at the time, although Yoshiki believes the death was a result of a drunk misadventure while doing a neck stretching exercise; the band broke up for a decade after the singer Toshi was brainwashed by a cult; the London concert that is happening in March was meant to happen last year, but had to be postponed after the guitarist Pata had to be rushed into intensive care; and Yoshiki himself has so many physical injuries it is a miracle he can still perform. Years of constant head banging while drumming has resulted in a deformed neck bone, so he has to wear a neck brace while performing otherwise his neck might snap. Also, he has such bad asthma that he needs oxygen tanks backstage because he has so little air in his lungs while performing, and is often on the verge of death during gigs.

The film details the struggles they had previously trying to break into the English-speaking world, with a failed attempt to make an English-language album back in the 1990s when the band itself was going through some trouble.

This is something that it has to be said is still true today. If you include the forthcoming sixth album, only three of X Japan’s six studio albums are legally available to download via iTunes. The other three albums are not available over here, and the only way you can get them is to import the CD or record from abroad. Also, while certain aspects of modern Japanese culture like anime are popular, Japanese music is not often appreciated. Visual kei is a rather obscure movement in the west and most people don’t know about it. I think the biggest way of showing the lack of attention to any music from the Far East, is that most people are only aware of one single song, and that’s “Gangnam Style”, which is more famous for its comic dancing than the actual music.

But what makes me really angry is that while the film has been recognised by some organisations such as the Sundance Film Festival, it hasn’t been recognised by other more notable institutions. I thought We Are X was bound to be nominated for an Oscar, namely “Best Documentary”. In the end, the only Oscar it was considered for was “Best Song”, and it failed to become a nominee. Not only that, but two of the songs in that category both come from the same film, La La Land. How is it fair for one film to be nominated twice in the same category? Mind you, this is the same category that in 2014 thought that the best song in all cinema that year was “Let It Go” from Frozen, so arguably you could say they dodged a bullet there.

However, X Japan certainly deserve to be better known, simply because they were the first heavy metal act to make it big in Japan, and to a mainstream audience. It is thanks to them that other rock and metal bands were able to make it. Plus, like X Japan, other Japanese rock bands have occasionally had the odd brush with anime too – examples include The gazettE, who provided music for Black Butler, and Buck-Tick whose music has been used in shows like Trinity Blood, xxxHolic and Shiki.

If there is a downside to the film, it would be that I question the need for there to be subtitles whenever any of the Japanese people in the film speak English. Most of the time they seem to be speaking perfectly well.

We Are X will premiere at Picturehouse Central, London, on 28th February, and then be shown nationwide on 2nd March for one night only, with encore screenings. It will also be a special version of the film to be shown at 17.00 at Wembley Arena on 4th March, prior to their concert there at 20.30. The film will be released On Demand, on DVD and on Blu-Ray on 1st May. The soundtrack to the film is out on 3rd March on CD and as a download.

Title: We Are X
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Documentary, Music
Studio: Passion Pictures
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Mixed Japanese and English (Japanese parts are subtitled)
Age rating: 15
Running time: 95 minutes

Score: 10/10

Show By Rock Review

Cyan Hijirikawa has always regarded herself as nothing more than an ordinary girl in a mediocre world. She has great talent and skill at playing the guitar, but can never muster up the the courage to join her school’s light music club. However, after she decides to play her favourite rhythm game, she is suddenly sucked in and finds herself in a new world called Midi City, where music reigns supreme. Not all music is pure though, and an evil plan is in motion to engulf the whole city in darkness.

Adapted from the iOS and Android rhythm game developed by Geechs in conjunction with Sanrio, Show by Rock is a disappointing effort from the usually great studio Bones, that, whilst far from awful, is underwhelming at best, especially when compared to the studio’s prior work.  

At its heart, Show by Rock is attempting to be a music-based comedy show, and the reason I wasn’t a huge fan of it is because it isn’t particularly great at being either. Comedy, of course, is incredibly subjective, so whilst some may get a kick out of the humour here, it did absolutely nothing for me. I’m not sure I could put a fine point on what made the jokes fall flat, I’m usually quite the fan of physical comedy, which is essentially the show’s bread and butter, but I could count on one hand the amount of times I even so much as smirked, never mind laughed, throughout the 12 episodes, which is a huge sticking point in a comedy anime.

I could probably excuse the lackluster comedy if the series worked well as a pure music series, but even then it’s just plain mediocre. Take away the techno-fantasy setting, and you’ve got a paint-by-numbers plot that seems to lack any real momentum. There’s rarely anything interesting happening story-wise, as a typical episode mostly consists of the bands playing gigs or songwriting, with some melodramatic character stuff thrown in here and there. The whole fantasy element to the plot rears its head on occasion, but mostly stays in the background, as more focus is placed on the whole band thing instead, at least until the last couple of episodes. I feel that some kind of split between band show and action show might have worked better, or at least made it a little bit more interesting and fresh. This is teased a little bit in Episode 1, when we see Cyan defeat a monster with music, but this is something we don’t really see again until over halfway through. The one thing I will say is that I was never really bored at any point, and in a general sense it’s fairly entertaining, but it all just feels rather hollow, the kind of thing you’ll forget almost as soon as you’ve seen it.

As you might expect, the music itself plays a very important role and it’s yet another area that Show by Rock just fails to deliver on. Although it may be a little unfair to compare to other, much more popular shows, the only other music anime I’ve really seen are the KyoAni classic K-On and the global mega-hit Love Live! School Idol Project, which are both series I adore. Of course, there are a multitude of reasons why I love both of those, but the music is definitely part of it, with there being some genuinely great and catchy tracks that have worked their way into my regular music rotation. Even off the top of my head I could hum you some ‘Fuwa Fuwa Time’ or ‘Snow Halation’, but there’s nothing anywhere near that quality in Show by Rock. It’s all just kind of bland and none of it stands out as being something I’d really want to hear again.

One huge misstep in the music department is that Funimation decided to dub over all the music with English voice actors and it doesn’t work at all. Going back to the other shows I mentioned earlier, both of those have really good dubs, and I think part of the reason why they’re good is that they switch to the Japanese voice actors whenever there’s music. It’s fairly obvious that songs written in Japanese are probably going to sound better in the original language, but I guess the folks over at Funimation thought otherwise. Either way, the English lyrics are just plain cringe-inducing, and whilst the voice actresses are pretty good at singing, it just doesn’t sound right. I think a nice option would have been a choice between the English dub with English songs and English dub with Japanese songs, but sadly such an option is lacking.  

The choice to dub over all the songs in English, making it a less than preferable language choice, is made all the more disappointing by the fact that this actually isn’t a bad dub, music aside. Funimation pulled in some pretty great voice actors such as Caitlin Glass (Maki from Love Live!), Monica Rial (Tsubaki from Soul Eater), Alexis Tipton (Musubi from Sekirei) and Vic Mignogna (Edward from Fullmetal Alchemist) to name a few, and they’re all excellent here, with the possible exception of Monica Rial’s occasionally annoyingly high-pitched turn as Moa, so it just makes it all the more sad that the changes to the music hurts what is otherwise a very solid dub.

Despite having some issues with the insert songs performed by the bands, I thought the background soundtrack from composer Yasuharu Yakanashi was actually pretty good, being quite rock-infused, as you might expect from the show’s name. As for the OP, ‘Seishun wa Non-Stop!’,and ED, ‘Have a nice MUSIC!!’, they are both performed by the in-universe band formed by our protagonists, Plasmagica. I have mixed feelings about both because, whilst I generally can’t stand either of them in English, the Japanese versions are actually pretty enjoyable.

As well as music itself, a key element to making a great band anime comes from the band members themselves, but even then, Show by Rock’s cast is really nothing outstanding. Granted, the characters are probably the best thing about this show, perhaps barring the animation, but given I haven’t really had many nice things to say about it up to this point, that isn’t really saying a lot. The band consists of four members, Cyan, Chuchu, Moa and Retoree, and of the four, Chuchu is the only one I’d say is given any kind of depth, which comes in one of the best episodes of the series. The others are pretty fun to watch, but lack any kind of development at all, really. There are small things, such as Retoree wanting to make friends, and doing so via the band, but given she’s part of the band to begin with, and is already friends with the other band members before Cyan joins, it’s kind of moot. Then there’s Moa, who is an alien, a fact that is just about the only thing we learn about her, that genuinely adds nothing to either her character or the plot, and is never mentioned again after around the half-way point. That said, there is still some fun chemistry in the group, but everyone is just kind of forgettable.

If there is one thing I will give the series, it’s that it’s really good looking and well animated. Produced by Bones, who are responsible for hit shows such as Fullmetal Alchemist, Ouran Highschool Host Club and Soul Eater, Show by Rock is really colourful and vibrant, which is the kind of aesthetic that I tend to go for, although it might not be for everyone. An element of the art I instantly fell in love with was with Masaru Oshiro’s character designs, which are pretty unique and incredibly cute. Despite the fact that the animation is probably the strongest part of Show by Rock, even that comes with a caveat, this time being CGI. Now, for once, my complaint isn’t that the CGI looks bad, per se, in fact it’s actually quite high quality, but I don’t think it’s implemented well at all. Instead of blending the CGI with the traditional 2D animation, there are whole sequences rendered entirely in 3D, with a totally different art style to the rest of the series. It’s jarring and gives the show a pretty disjointed feeling, as it often switches back and forth from the CG to the 2D multiple times within an episode. Also, despite the quality of the CG, I actually think the character designs for the 3D sections, which feature anthropomorphic versions of the characters, are just plain ugly. 

Funimation UK’s release of Show by Rock is a no-frills affair, coming with a couple of audio commentaries and nothing more, even missing the usual clean opening and closing.  

In Summary

Whilst it can be fun sometimes, Show by Rock offers about as much depth in its story and characters as a puddle, and is largely just bland, forgettable and, ultimately, disposable.

Title: Show By Rock Season 1
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Music, Comedy
Studio: Bones
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 5/10