Monday, 28 January 2013

An ode to Japanese videogame/anime themes

Everyone has that ‘thing’ that means an awful lot to them. I’m not talking about treasured diaries or expensive jewellery handed down from parents – I mean the crazy, nuanced obsessions of your youth, the pieces of your formative years that end up becoming the glue that holds you together through the angst and fire of teenager-dom. The beautiful, messy dreams of geeky indulgencies or the sporting pursuits that take over every your every extracurricular minute – the things that become a release from homework pressures or the stress of sixth form cliques.

For me it was Final Fantasy, and before stuff like the return of Doctor Who in 2005 and my overall adoration of Girls Aloud in 2006 (still going strong six years later) came along, the games were that release. That place of fantastical solace where you could plough the four or so hours in-between finishing school and having dinner. Connections like that are bonds that never break – and like any all-consuming hobby or past-time, it’s never just about one aspect; just as with Final Fantasy, it was never just about the gameplay. For me, as I’m sure it is with countless thousands of others that love the games, it was about the storylines, the characters, the visuals, and – most importantly – the music.

Fastforward to 2011 and I’m going through my final year at Uni – looking back now, I probably didn’t realise it at the time, but it was one of the happiest times of my life. I was close to finishing my dissertation (which I ended up getting a first in) and I had the freedom of a positively luxurious halls complex to alternate between reading through my course’s set-texts, blogging about music and spending inordinate amounts of time on the Playstation. Enter Final Fantasy XIII-2 and its ten minute long Ending Theme – a neat compendium of the title’s central leitmotifs; each attached to a certain character, each seamlessly woven here into a sprawling, orchestral masterpiece.

Wait for the bit at 5:45. Doesn’t it just break your heart? But in a nice kind of way... the kind of way that reminds you of all those little hopes and moments of happiness you’ve carried with you all your life. There’s a drama to the track that’s positively operatic, and you wonder if any contemporary band could capture a little of that magic, do something on a scale like this, to deliver a record that could – maybe – go down as a The Power of Love or Unchained Melody of our generation?

There’s a reason why over twenty years on, the Final Fantasy games remain as successful as they do – they are the Bond franchise of their medium, the reliable old friend we turn to again and again in times of need. A collective of bloggers and internet hype pushes us ceaselessly toward a love of the ‘new’, but invariably, it’s the love of the established which delivers at the most fundamental level.

Secondly – something I’ve been indulging in a little more recently. The other week I made purchase of a certain Blu-Ray box set on Amazon – Code Geass: LeLouch of the Rebellion (ridiculous nomenclature is a given in Japanese anime – just ask fabled Studio Ghibli movie Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind).

That the series (in twenty-five glorious 25 minute long instalments) was brilliant is a given, and I’d heartily recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in anime, but what surprised me more was the plethora of themes that the series switched through across its run. Frankly, not all of them are great, but the first – ‘Colours’, by the band FLOW – is magnificent; a characteristic tour de force of J Pop values that in a post-PSY world, makes me wish British radio tastes were more indulging in Eastern sounds.

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