I’m not going to lie. I’d much prefer reading manga over watching anime; I can go at my own pace plus there’s a higher likelihood that it’ll look better too. However, visual media has always held the advantage of soundtracks, and just so happens that the greatest set-pieces in anime are paired with the most unforgettable pieces of music.
So, I’ve decided to write about the 3 best anime soundtracks I’ve heard…and 1 that I have a growing distaste for.
Standout track: “Oikawa Tooru”
“Haikyuu!!” is probably THE quintessential sports anime right now. Single-handedly responsible for a spike (heh) in Japanese high school volleyball numbers, the story of a lovable group of rag-tag boys aiming towards the national championships resonated with many, largely in part due to creator Haruichi Furudate’s stellar characterisation when it comes to its cast – from the core Karasuno team to the expansive colourful array of opponents.
Much of the character progression occur in matches. As players have their back towards the wall, the squeaking of their sneakers pierce your eardrums and with every volleyball spike cutting through the tension, “Haikyuu!!” supplements these moments with a kickass soundtrack that sets a backdrop for each character’s development.
It’s common for each major character to receive a dedicated track of their own. What “Haikyuu!!” does exceptionally well, however, is translating each player’s individual play styles into musical passages. Protagonist Hinata’s ‘bursts of energy’ style is paired with bristling guitars, while his partner Kageyama’s more calculative approach sees the music slowdown in favour of sleek bass-playing with bubbling explosiveness underneath.
My favourite is Oikawa Tooru’s track, a thumping jazz track that perfectly encompasses who he is as both a player and person. The bright trumpets complement his exuberant personality well, while mirroring his ‘maestro-like’ play style where he is a unmovable force that brings out the best in each of his teammates varied plays. It’s the embodiment of what makes the “Haikyuu!!” soundtrack so memorable.
Best: Tanaka-kun is Always Listless (Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge)
Standout track: “Utatane Sunshine”
“Tanaka-kun” is the epitome of chill. The protagonist spends his entire existence trying to figure out how to accomplish things in the shortest way possible (or in certain cases, to not accomplish anything). It’s not the most compelling of shows but it does excel at setting an atmosphere to unwind and de-stress.
It’s very likable cast of characters add to the wholesomeness of “Tanaka-kun” – like the bubbly Miyano or infinitely reliable Oota. It’s arguably my top 3 anime of all time and the endearing soundtrack only solidifies it as a timeless classic (to me, at least).
“Utatane Sunshine”, the show’s opener from Unlimited Tone, is a delightful tune that channels all that is appealing in “Tanaka-kun” – a bright, joyful atmosphere like that of a cool spring afternoon. The rest of the soundtrack follows a similar palette, its subtle sound also ensures that it never distracts from the show’s narrative or pacing.
When the show does slow down, however, the soundtrack unwittingly takes centre stage and provides its quieter moments with tranquility…which to be perfectly honest, has been my personal go-to whenever I need to get work done. Its greatest strength is how unintrusive it can be while committing to a singular sound throughout. Just writing about it makes me drowsy.
Best: Kids On The Slope (Sakamichi no Apollon)
Standout track: “My Favourite Things”
This show turned me into an emotional wreck. To not give anything away, “Kids on the Slope” is a coming-of-age anime centered around 3 friends – 2 boys whom both hold a deep love for jazz and a girl who runs a record store.
The usual hi-jinks ensue like a love triangle and pubescent arguments, but what really sets this show apart from standard anime tropes is its mature handling of said topics.
Unlike the other shows on this list, the music of “Kids on the Slope” is often diegetic, allowing the soundtrack to become as important to the narrative as the dialogue. Paired with the nuance in its writing and the brutally realistic drama that surrounding each character, the cast finds solace in their music amidst the turmoil as they let their playing do the talking for them.
Worst track: “Main Theme”
“Naruto” is a sprawling 700-episode behemoth so I’m only going to talk about the original, pre-time skip seasons.
I don’t think I’ll need to explain the premise of one of the biggest franchises of all time. Its legacy since its run ended may have been somewhat tarnished, but it still remains as one of the best shonen animes out there. Its flashy fights and endearing (though shallow) characters make it a joy to watch.
However, what isn’t a joy are the 4-5 backing tracks that “Naruto” uses for nearly every battle/action scene. “Main Theme” always forcefully reminds me of that shitty “My Heart Will Go On” recorder cover as it, and the other tracks, just sound…cheap.
The use of synthesisers and traditional Japanese instruments create an unholy pairing of sounds that strip away any tension the narrative builds up. It lacks the oomph that you’d come to expect from a show who’s sole focus is to provide viewers with increasingly epic battles.
I love the “Naruto” series with all my heart…but the soundtrack from the earlier seasons are just a slog to get through.