Back in the day, I was obsessed with anime. Like … it was probably unhealthy, honestly. I even wanted to work in animation, a dream I gave up around the ripe old age of 19, which is curiously the same period I stopped watching the bulk of new anime that seemed to be coming over in droves from the Land of the Rising Sun. Prior to that, though, I spent a ridiculous amount of money on VHS tapes (that only had two, maybe three, if you were lucky, episodes on each) when I worked at Sam Goody/Suncoast, but I can at least thank that period of my life for introducing me to the wonderful, wacky world of Japanese music. Specifically, anime soundtracks.
To this day, I listen to a lot of the same ones I did years ago, and I could probably do a whole list of better known tracks, like the openings (like Neon Genesis Evangelion‘s), but instead, I’m going with some of my favorite deep cuts. Enjoy!
I don’t remember if Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 was the first anime I purchased when I worked on the movie side of Sam Goody/Suncoast, but it definitely was the first anime soundtrack I ever bought from Tower Records (OMG, so much nostalgia in the last sentence, I can barely handle it). I still rock out to all of the songs, too, especially when I’m at the gym.
And then came Cowboy Bebop. I swear to god, Yoko Kanno is a damn musical genius, and I could probably embed any song from the series OST without regretting it.
I guess I never realized how much Toonami on Cartoon Network influenced my youth because damn, here’s another one that I was introduced to on that channel (see also: Sailor Moon, Outlaw Star, Cowboy Bebop, and sooo many more). This song below has such an awesome Miami Vice vibe to it.
Kenji Kawai has written the soundtracks to countless anime, so many that he shows up twice today. The first of his that I heard was from the classic Ghost in the Shell, which is what got me into manga (the manga is so different from Oshii Mamoru’s movie version).
Once I got my appetite for anime, I started looking for the older stuff, which brought me to the wonderful original Bubblegum Crisis, that is so gloriously 80s that it’s truly impossible to pick the best track. Normally, I’d go with “Konya Wa Hurricane,” because it is truly a banger (is that what the kids are calling it these days?), but it’s more often the example people first use when introducing someone to the series.
Fushigi Yuugi is … problematic? Rapey? Obsessed with virginity? But it provided me with a lot of gorgeous music?
Gasaraki was probably one of the least accessible series I have ever watched. You had to know quite a bit about Japanese culture, including their arts, to truly appreciate it, but once I studied a bit, I enjoyed it a lot more. But the music is what got me first.
FLCL is delightful and weird and hilarious and nonsensical, and I love it. The Pillows’ music fits it perfectly, too, with flashy guitars and bouncy rhythms. Honestly, just go listen to the whole soundtrack. It’s worth it.
After listening to the opening of Serial Experiments Lain, I became a huge fan of BoA, a South Korean singer-songwriter. Her vocals remind me a lot of the mid-90s women singer-songwriters in the U.S., but better.
Perfect Blue is one of those movies you have to see. Like, I can describe it to you, play you the soundtrack, and you still won’t truly appreciate it until you watch it. So. Go do that. Now, please.
I told you Kawai Kenji would show up again on this list, didn’t I? Vampire Princess Miyu isn’t the easiest show to get into; it’s a bit slower, with more subtle suspense than horror, really, but it’s a beautifully done series, and the music pairs so well with it.
I wasn’t sure what I thought about Trigun when it first came out, but the soundtrack was top fucking notch. I’m now firmly in Camp Trigun Is Awesome, and I credit a lot of that to Imahori Tsuneo, who not so coincidentally works with Kanno Yoko in the Seatbelts.
And for my last entry, I bring you Kanno Yoko … again. She’s just as prolific as Kawai Kenji, and her influences are just as diverse. This time, though, it’s the Macross Plus soundtrack, a CD set that my sister stole from me a few times.