Utena OST: Utena, La Fillette Revolutionnaire
The soundtrack is the oft neglected middle-child of the anime industry. Stuck between anime and manga, very few soundtracks rise to the fame of their brothers, Cowboy Bebop and FLCL being rare exceptions. In many cases, the music makes or breaks a series, but its own worth is most often judged by its value apart from the context in which they were created. With that in mind, I got my hands on Utena, La Fillette Revolutionnaire.
I have never seen the Utena series or movie. It's been on my to-do list for around five years, but I digress. With no emotional connection to the context for which it was created, is the Utena soundtrack able to carry its own weight as a worthwhile purchase?
After much listening, I believe that yes, it is. This CD is quite enjoyable to listen to, and no attachment to the anime is required to appreciate it.
The Utena OST is a compilation of 36 tracks. Most are instrumentals that last a minute or two, with short intermission tracks in between and the opening and closing songs capping both ends.
One of the things that I found that made listening to this CD end to end gratifying was the interspersed themes throughout the tracks. A strategic placing of the songs gives the disc a near symphonic quality, complete with stanzas, augmentation, and the like.
Track one, the aptly named "Overture", is a full orchestral arrangement that announces the Utena theme, complete with pounding keys and melodramatic violin. This melody crops up again many times, and is used incredibly well to tie together different forms of music.
Track two is the opening theme for the series, "A Round Dance - Revolution". This and the closing track, "Truth" are the only J-pop tracks on the whole CD. The rest is made up of traditional instrumentals and a slew of chanting songs. As far as J-pop goes, "Revolution" is nothing new. It has a strong base line, shuffling drums, and a layer of techno that gives it a pseudo Gundam feel. Masami Okui sings like a female Takanori Nishikawa of T.M. Revolution fame, so this might be where I am making the connection.
After that is a large number of instrumental tracks that don't make it past two and a half minutes for length. One is eleven seconds.
Here we have the major hurtle of the soundtrack. Can a piece of music that was made to be short, unobtrusive, and quick to fade in and out possibly stand on its own merit?
The answer is both yes and no. The next eighteen tracks are listenable by themselves, but because of their short length they don't mesh well when randomized with the rest of my anime collection. As a whole CD, it is fun to listen to the changes in musical forms and instrumentals, but because many tracks are only a minute long, by themselves they aren't sensational.
Following another small intermission, we come to the second half of the disc, where the focus shifts from instrumentals to vocals. The shift seems somewhat strange because before this point, everything was well blended, so that each track seemed to meld with the ones before and after. Now each track is separated with finality.
Accompanied by electric guitars and drum sets; yet another change from the traditional feel of the first half, the vocal songs are a bit redundant. They are all obviously written for points of conflict, and the chorus relies heavily on its soprano, so that it sounds like there is a high soprano and supporting bass with nothing in between. This arrangement gives a good conflicting feel to the music, but after ten or so tracks of a similar style, it become a little stale.
The second to last track is the ending song for Utena, which sounds fresher than the opening. The last track is a karaoke version of one of the choral tracks. Without the chorus, the band shines, and it's a pity that it doesn't get more individual attention in this compilation.
If you enjoy classical music and are looking for a nice CD that blends many different classical styles with a modern twist, Utena is a nice buy. If you want a lot of standalone songs, then it would be better to skip this and go for something else. Perhaps Brahms, as this soundtrack features his Hungarian Dance.