Kiyohiko Azuma, the artist who created Azumanga Daioh, more recently has been working on Yotsuba&!, a manga about a little girl with four green pigtails. I read the first volume, which was okay but not memorable. I encountered my usual problem with graphic novels: I read fast, and the art didn’t tempt my eyes to linger over it, so it was physically difficult to turn the pages quickly enough. Yotsuba is a very odd girl; imagine Osaka as a hyperactive five-year-old. As far as I know, there are no plans to make an anime out of Yotsuba&!.

I enjoy the Azumanga Daioh soundtrack a lot — more than the anime itself, in fact (though when the latter is good, it’s very good) — so naturally I was curious when I discovered that Masaki Kurihara, who composed the Azumanga Daioh soundtrack, also composed music inspired by Yotsuba&! and recorded it with his Kuricorder Pops Orchestra. I figured that it’s unlikely to be released in the USA anytime soon, so I gritted my teeth and paid the import price at YesAsia.

It is pretty good. Like the Azumanga Daioh soundtrack, it consists mainly of many short pieces. Some are just a few seconds long. There are some melodies that appear several times in different settings. The overall flavor is quite different, though. Yotsuba is much younger than the girls in Azumanga Daioh, and the music reflects this. The textures are simpler. The individual pieces are generally less-developed melodically and more fragmentary than those on the AD soundtrack, though there are a few compositions for listeners with longer attention spans. There’s a waltz and a march or two, but there are no suggestions of surf, ska or other pop musics. The instrumentation emphasizes recorders and whistles, toy pianos and percussive novelties. The overall effect is that of toy chamber music. Here are some brief examples: one, two, three, four.

Kurihara and his accomplices recently released a second Yotsuba&! album, this one focusing on winter music. I may order it when the weather gets hot this summer.


The horror

Some years back, a friend wrote to me that he had heard the “Siegfried Idyll” on the radio, and liked it, and should he seek professional help?

A few days ago I put together a compilation CD for myself. I started with most of Hanenone, Kow Otani’s Haibane Renmei soundtrack, and followed it with some of the quieter numbers from Yoko Kanno’s Macross Plus. To this I added a few tunes I gleaned from DVDs, such as a piano intermezzo from Someday’s Dreamers and an andante for cello and piano from Azumanga Daioh.

Otani’s music is mainly for a chamber ensemble: a few strings, keyboard (piano, harpsichord or accordion), flute, harp and acoustic guitar, occasionally a drum or an erhu or another toy. His models were celtic music and the less complicated sorts of early music, and while Hanenone doesn’t sound either Irish or Medieval, it does have a simple directness that works well with ABe’s afterlife story. It’s mostly mild, pleasant music, well-suited for times when I want something quiet and meditative. The Kanno pieces, for a small orchestra, are similarly quiet and introverted, as are the additional numbers.

I just realized: this is mellow music. Aarrrggghhh! Should I see the doctor, or just immerse myself in technical metal for a few days?


Haibane Renmei has crows; Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto has seagulls.

The highlight of BKI‘s twelfth episode was this spooky little song, sung by Takako Shirai:

One, make a wish upon the twilight.
Two, a pair of evening primrose flowers.
Three, when dawn breaks in the beautiful sky …
Four, smile upon a child that cries in the night.
Five, how long must I follow you?


If you added a fiddle to the accordion in “Mercury Go,” it would be a perfect example of Japanese Cajun rock. As the ending theme of Pumpkin Scissors, it’s the best part of the show.


You don’t have to be Jewish

Pete mentions Kawaii Radio, which I’m listening to as I write this. Recently, a friend sent some links to klezmer realizations of Woody Guthrie’s Jewish lyrics and Klingon Klezmer. And I couldn’t help wondering — have the Japanese discovered klezmer music yet?

Indeed they have. I did a little searching and discovered Kazutoki Umezu, who, among his many other efforts, founded two klezmer bands, Betsuni Nanmo Klezmer and Komtcha Klezmer. About the former, one critic writes:

Of the non-Jewish klezmer bands that I know, Betsuni Nanmo is the most convincing in the way it plays traditionals and in the way it diverges from them. Whereas most bands never escape the gravitational pull of the style, these Japanese use it to launch themselves into an area where they can add any ingredient and still make it work. With their razor sharp timing and the often extravagant vocal techniques (a trademark of singers in nightclub circuits, so I am told), they concoct a mixture of Japanese and Yiddish elements that has nothing to do with fusion — a style that usually tones down distinctive characteristics to arrive at a comfortable, but rather bland, blend. Umezu Kazutoki’s bunch has the elements of both sides bounce happily and energetically off each other. The resulting music can be eccentric to the point of being downright weird; but it is invariably vibrant, curious and intriguing. And sometimes truly moving.

Sounds promising. Also likely to be worth investigating is Cicala-Mvta. You can hear some examples from both Cicala-Mvta and Komtcha Klezmer here (scroll down to “Edition #2”). There’s also Bliki Circus and Freylekh Jamboree.

A couple of YouTube videos:

Dr. Umezu plays all kinds of music, including blistering jazz rock.

Taiko drums and klezmer clarinet.


Asian bluegrass metal attack

God of Shamisen.


Anime muzak

Momo and her sarcastic companion, Daniel

I’m surprised at how much I like Shinigami no Ballad. The premise of this brief series sounds dismal: Momo, a shinigami or “god of death,” helps youngsters come to terms with the deaths of friends or family. Although the script occasionally is heavy-handed and preachy, mostly it maintains a light touch as it deals with grief, anger and guilt. There’s as much humor as there is sadness in the stories.

However, I would like to shoot the music director. The soundtrack is obtrusive and often blatantly manipulative. I particularly loathe the synth choir that appears at the most intense moments. When I hear a catastrophe such as the climax of the fifth episode (n.b.: major spoilers if you understand Japanese), I want to grab the jerk by the lapels and yell “less is more!” in his face. The first episode is the worst in this respect, but there’s something to annoy in each of the five I’ve seen.

To be fair, I should note that some of the music is quite tolerable, such as the nicely creepy eyecatch, or the goofy fiddle tune heard at lighter moments.

Here’s a .wav file of the bell that signals Momo’s appearance.


Fuji Mountain Breakdown

Upon discovering Japanese honky-tonk music, Steven Den Beste wonders, “What next, bluegrass?”

Actually, Japanese bluegrass has been around for at least thirty-five years. At the first bluegrass festival I ever attended, back in the early ’70’s in Virginia, one of the acts was a band from Japan. I don’t remember much about them beyond that they were okay but nothing special; Earl Scruggs, Norman Blake, John Hartford and the New Grass Revival all made more of an impression on me that day.

I did a little searching to see if I could find anything about that Japanese band and discovered that there is a lot of bluegrass in Japan these days, e.g., thirty festivals last year. One of them, the Takarazuka Bluegrass Festival, was in its thirty-fourth year. Here’s an interview with Saburo Watanabe, one of the pioneers of bluegrass in Japan, and here’s the English-language weblog of a Japanese bluegrass musician. It features mp3s of his band’s performances.