Have you ever, while watching an action-packed sequence in an anime, realised how the rocking music playing throughout the scene was causing your heart to race? Or struggled not to cry during a heartbreaking scene but failed because the accompanying string arrangement made everything seem all the more tragic? Or been so fascinated by an incredible piece of background music that sounded unlike anything you’d heard before and scoured the Internet trying to find out who wrote it? You’re far from being alone.
Also, one of the four people in this list is probably responsible for all those feelings.
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Anime is a medium that has allowed for so much experimentation; similarly, anime soundtrack composers have been able to be just as adventurous with their music, producing wondrous results. While they may not enjoy the same exposure as theme song artistes, these composers have managed to become phenomenally popular with anime fans worldwide. This recognition is well-deserved, for they’ve laboured to create soundtracks that do far more than fill the silence; their music adds an important dimension to the anime they compose for and can, even on its own, captivate the audience.
Has composed for: Aldnoah Zero, Kill la Kill, Attack on Titan, Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, Blue Exorcist, Guilty Crown
Official website: http://www.sawanohiroyuki.com/
Rapidly rising in prominence is Hiroyuki Sawano. At 34 years old, he’s the youngest composer on his list and debuted fairly recently in 2006. Yet in just 8 years he’s built up an impressive discography and has been involved with wildly popular anime such as Kill la Kill and Attack on Titan. Some of his most popular tracks involve blending orchestral instruments with electronica – and occasionally, powerful vocals – to create incredibly epic battle themes that will make you want to lift your sword and charge into battle. Sawano is by no means constrained by this style, however; he’s worked with other genres including jazz and rock, and is also very capable of creating poignant and emotional pieces that will tug at your heartstrings.
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In addition to composing soundtracks, Sawano has written songs for artistes including Korean singer Lena Park, mizuki, and Aimer, and uses the project name SawanoHiroyuki[nzk] when collaborating with singers. This season, he’s composing for yet another high-profile anime, Aldnoah Zero; there’s no doubt that this promising composer will deliver another awesome score and win the hearts of more anime soundtrack fans.
Has composed for: Sword Art Online, Fate/Zero, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Kara no Kyoukai, My-Hime, .hack//SIGN
Official website: http://www.fictionjunction.com/
Yuki Kajiura made her debut as a keyboardist and songwriter for the group See-Saw, together with vocalist Chiaki Ishikawa. She began composing soundtracks for anime in 1996, and has gone on to become one of the most popular anime composers. She’s scored soundtracks for some of the biggest anime in recent years, such as the Kara no Kyoukai series and Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
Kajiura is known for incorporating incredibly diverse musical elements into a distinct brand of music that defies genre norms – and, quite often, defies description. Middle Eastern-esque melodies played on orchestral strings, tribal rhythms together with heavily distorted electric guitar and a solo flute, forbidding operatic vocals singing Catholic Latin mass-inspired lyrics accompanied by heavy techno beats – you know, that sort of thing. (Note: These refer to actual Kajiura compositions.) She’s also gone so far as to come up with her own language, dubbed “Kajiuran” or “Kajiurago” by fans, which allows her to be much very flexible with how she uses vocals in her music. Intricate vocal arrangements in”Kajiuran” have become one of the hallmarks of Kajiura’s style.Kajiura also places a strong emphasis on creating melodic pieces, which helps draw in casual listeners and makes her music highly accessible despite how niche her style may seem.
Apart from composing soundtracks, Kajiura also produces and writes all of Kalafina‘s and FictionJunction‘s songs. You can hear Kajiura’s work in Sword Art Online 2 – expect to be blown away by her fantastic music.
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Has composed for: Terror in Resonance, Macross Frontier, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Kids on the Slope, RahXephon, Cowboy Bebop
Official website: http://www.kannoyoko.net/
Yoko Kanno is one of the anime industry’s biggest names; her involvement is enough to generate great publicity to any project. While she was already an accomplished composer at that point, her work on Cowboy Bebop’s highly acclaimed jazz fusion soundtrack propelled her into worldwide fame and cemented her reputation as one of the best anime soundtrack composers. Kanno has demonstrated that she’s not just merely capable of composing for every genre she takes on; she masters them. Dramatic, powerful orchestral compositions, catchy jazz songs, ethereal new age pieces, futuristic electronica pieces, folk-inspired melodies – no matter what genre she works with, she’s always delivered an incredible soundtrack. And, more often than not, she blends elements of a variety of genres seamlessly to create eclectic, beautiful pieces.
Kanno has also written many songs in English, Japanese and even Russian for the anime she composes for. She has worked with a host of talented singers, including Maaya Sakamoto (whom Kanno discovered), May’n, American singer Steve Conte and Russian singer Origa. And while never publicly confirmed, Kanno herself is highly likely the voice behind “Gabriela Robin”, a vocalist credited in some of her songs.
Some of the more memorable anime themes written by Kanno include Kiseki no Umi (Record of Lodoss War),Gravity (Wolf’s Rain), Tank! (Cowboy Bebop), Inner Universe (Ghost in the Shell: SAC) and Triangular (Macross Frontier). For this season, Kanno has taken on the helm of composing the complete soundtrack (including both opening and ending themes) for Terror in Resonance, which you can preview here. Whether you’re a longtime fan or new to Kanno, don’t miss out on hearing this amazing composer’s latest work.
Has composed for: The Wind Rises, Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea, Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbour Totoro
Official website: http://joehisaishi.com
Music has been integral to Hayao Miyazaki’s Ghibli movies, helping to immerse audiences in the worlds of Miyazaki’s imagination. The famed director has, for most of his career, entrusted the important task of creating this music to Mamoru Fujisawa, known professionally as Joe Hisaishi. With an illustrious career spanning 40 years, Hisaishi is probably – very deservingly – the most famous anime composer of his time, and a great inspiration to fellow composers.
Hisaishi has composed the scores for every single one of Miyazaki’s movies beginning with Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind in 1984. Hisaishi usually works with orchestral instruments while incorporating elements from different genres (including European classical, Japanese classical, new age and experimental electronic), resulting in a timeless, highly recognisable style. His complex, breathtakingly beautiful orchestral scores and intricate piano melodies are nothing short of magical, and are perfect complements to Miyazaki’s movies. Hisaishi’s soundtracks, like the movies, have themselves come to be regarded as masterpieces.
Hisaishi’s career spans beyond anime soundtracks; he has composed for many live-action movies (including foreign productions), as well as for the PS3 game Ni no Kuni. Hisaishi has received much well-deserved recognition for his work, winning the Japanese Academy Award for Best Music six times. He was also awarded the Medal of Honour (with purple ribbon) by the Government of Japan in 2009 for contributing artistic developments, improvements and accomplishments. His most recent anime soundtracks are Miyazaki’s final (maybe?) movie, The Wind Rises, and Ghibli Studio director Isao Takahata’s movie, The Tale of Princess Kaguya. We’ll be eagerly anticipating the next great soundtrack from this living legend.