Doesn't it seem crazy that we associate ideas with random sounds? For as long as humans have been around, much of our thoughts have been influenced by ideas that we vocalize through a variety of methods such as sound, which is utilized in the vibrations of our vocal cords to the strum of the guitar. We associate these weird pitches we make in our throats with mental concepts.

However, while language dictates ideas with slight variation (connotation!), music is a different beast in that it conveys general ideas that are much more open for interpretation. For example, if I say 'monkey' you might think I'm referring to the animal or the behavior, but if I take up mallets on a xylophone and play a fun melody that I associate with 'monkey', you might interpret it as something entirely different.

That's the amazing part about music. Although a trumpet fanfare is unlikely to make you think of a rainy day, it could mean a king is entering his chamber or a student is graduating high school. The above video (from Your Lie in April, a recently ended show that utilized music is more than one way) has particular significance for anyone that has seen the show as they can identify it with the struggles the characters faced while the piece was playing. However, even if you haven't seen it, you can still imagine the general feel of the music, and get an idea of the kind of emotions it's meant to bring about. There's a certain focus in general mood, but outside of that its all up to interpretation. Now, pair that together with a scene from a show and the feeling you get from the music is projected onto the events occurring on the screen at the same time. It's a sort of synergy that can't be replaced by any other form of communication, and is crucial in establishing mood in anime.


For example, take the first episode of Tokyo Ghoul Root A. Although it was full of action, I actually felt almost no sense of suspense. Why? Because for large portions of time in the episode, no music was playing. You may not consciously notice it, but most shows constantly have music in the background in every kind of scene imaginable, because it is just so important in order to connect with the viewers. If it's not present you may not necessarily notice its absence directly, but there is a good chance it will be harder for you to attach meaning to the scene because sometimes it is just too hard to establish a vague concept such as mood unless you use an equally vague form of communication to express it. There's a reason so much money is poured into soundtrack composition and opening/ending themes. Although a lot of us may skip the opening and ending to get to the show, for those of us that watch them they have a great amount of pull in setting up the show's general feel.

It's not just when you're watching the show that its music is important, however. In fact, music (much like wine) gets better with age. The video above is from last summer's Terror in Resonance, and was featured during a scene where the characters where riding on a motorcycle through Tokyo. On its own, the scene wouldn't have really been that meaningful. However, this track embodied the struggles and emotions I imagined the characters feeling so well that even now, over six months later, I still remember the scene with fondness. I often find that the shows that have the most lasting impact on me had great music, and it's for one simple reason: when I hear songs from a show, they more vividly bring up the feelings the show generated as I watched it than any other method of recall could possibly be capable of. I have a huge amount of soundtrack and theme music from anime stored on my phone for this very reason.

"Music is the strongest form of emotional communication because of its directed vagueness."

The purpose of anime, of course, is inherently to make money. However, when judging it as a work of art as we do in reviews, you have to focus more on the potential enjoyment readers might gain when watching it. Since music has the potential to both enhance scenes and remind us of our enjoyment of a show long after, it's an integral part of how I examine anime when writing a review, and something to at least take into consideration if you choose to do the same.

In short, music is the strongest form of emotional communication because of its directed vagueness. While a general mood can be conveyed through sound, the specific interpretation is left up to the listener's interpretation, making it easy to combine with video to direct feelings at moments in cinema. The synergy this creates is both powerful in the moment and even more powerful long after, when listening to the same music evokes similar feelings about a show long since finished. Because of this, music has always been a sort of passion of mine, and I place a great amount of importance on it when I judge anime.


You're reading Ani-TAY, the anime-focused portion of Kotaku's community-run blog, Talk Amongst Yourselves. Ani-TAY is a non-professional blog whose writers love everything anime related. Click here to check us out.

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