400th Post and with it comes another Top 10! This is sort of a two-part post with a special review for #401. I’ve seen dozens of series, feature films, animated shorts that have really good music and really bad. The music score of a an animated work can truly elevate how the director intended to tell a story– here is a list of my Top 10 favorite anime series and film composers.
Selection of written works:
- Fushigi no Umi no Nadia
- Macross II [film]
- Neon Genesis Evangelion and Films
- Abenobashi Mahō Shōtengai
A composer and record producer in the japanese music industry. He uses a ton of brass arrangements and chorus melodies throughout his works especially on the Evangelion films and BLEACH series. That show had influences of latin and spanish flamenco styles incorporated. I feel like he’s the earlier generation of Hiroyuki Sawano– highly intensified instrumentals with a deep bass percussion sounds and striking vocals.
- Plastic Little OVA
- Glass Mask 2nd season
- Tales from Earthsea [film]
- Mahou Shoujotai
Mostly known for his energetic scores on the Falcom game series “Ys” and “Legend of Heroes” his work on Japanese animation is pretty unique ranging from the incredible theatre study series Glass Mask and its wonderfully well-written European rooted musical score to fantasy orchestral sounds of Mahou Shoujotai! This composer really knows his stuff as he’s written for comedy series like Sacred Blacksmith too!
- Full Metal Alchemist: BROTHERHOOD
- Red Garden
- Mobile Suit Victory Gundam
- Arite Hime [film]
This video is awesome because there have been very few anime to ever achieve a musical segment to its narrative. Red Garden is beautifully withdrawn series about girls yearning to be accepted even after death: this song illustrates this wonderfully!
Studied at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music with a master’s degree– on top of his widely successful orchestral arrangements he is also an avid lecturer and in the early 90’s taught at Tokyo National University! Many of his works have been reordered by many world-renowned ochestras including Philharmonia Orchestra, Slovak Philharmonic, Cracow Radio Symphony Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. His emphasis is through strong passionate violin and cello melodies that are carried over by a solid horn section– Full Metal had an incredibly emotional collection of soundtracks because of this style!
- Shingeki no Kyojin
- Kill la Kill
- Guilty Crown
- Ao no Exorcist
I’ve mention Sawano very many times– he’s not a versatile composer but he is extremely prolific and sticks to what he knows: his style has an intensity that has a film-like quality to it. In elementary school, Hiroyuki Sawano began studying the piano and by the age of 17 he began composing his own arrangements including orchestrations under the teachings of Nobuchika Tsuboi. He’s young and has a lot of work ahead of him– his success started in 2006 with the drama Team Medical Dragon. Gaining the attention of a ton of anime producers which led him to dive into this realm of entertainment. Mika Kobayashi has to be my favorite singer of his group: she has such a beautiful voice that can reach great heights!
- R.O.D. -Red or Die-
- Now and Then, Here and There
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
- [C] The Money of Soul and Possibility CONTROL
An anime composer that has been around since the mid 90’s with their first work being o the OVA series The Irresponsible Captain Tylor. He received huge acclaim on his work with Witch Hunter Robin, Gurren Lagann and the most recent JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Graduate of the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music Iwasaki is known for his scores to have a strong jazz feel to it. He started out arranging compositions for various video game titles including the Cho-Aniki series. However he didn’t earn his name out into the world until 1999 when he joined a band Smart Drug as the keyboardist and arranger. Within the same year he spoke in an interview with a magazine that he was working on two highly popular manga series receiving an anime adaptation– Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal and Now and Then, Here and There. While these two series were a style strings arrangements with Now and Then have a more modern cut to it. Witch Hunter Robin was an awesome mature series about a government organization eliminating witches in a fictional modern world of Japan. Iwasaki’s score was a huge departure from what we’re used to as it added in heavy rock riffs into his pieces– this would later be used on Studio GAINAX‘s Gurren Lagann.
- Shigurui: Death Frenzy
- Girl Who Leapt Through Time [film]
One of my favorite soundtracks of all time is Yoshida’s Kaiba score. I think what helps is the fact that Metropolis musician Haruki Mino helped with a lot of the piano arrangements for its soundtrack. Incredibly talented performer! Having studied at the Berkley College of Music in the 80’s Yoshida began his music career by becoming involved in commercials as a synthesizer technician. 1999 he released his first album and what followed years later was his debut in Mamoru Hosoda’s feature film Girl Who Leapt Through Time. His style of music defines the Japanese historical background of music really well with the use of taiko drums and mixes it with digital synthesizer sounds. He describes it as “wabi” (tasteful simplicity), “Sabi” (austerity), “Uneri” (undulation); these are the elements that makes his music deliver a sound that can be reflected as the spirit of Japan. He writes some pretty amazing piano works and his work on Kurozuka reflects his ideals about being passion about his own country extremely well.
- Hikaru no Go
- Romeo no Aoi Sora
- Uchū Densetsu Ulysses 31
His work on Kemonozume is the greatest work I’ve ever heard from him. Just a side note the soundtrack is incredibly hard to find and is only available in the DVD-BOX set that was released around 2007– extremely rare find! Very jazz-like and rigid that is in some ways spontaneous in its delivery! He’s most known for his scoring on sports comedy series Hikaru no Go.
- Ghost in the Shell
- Seirei no Moribito
- Higashi no Eden
- Ranma 1/2
- The Sky Crawlers [film]
Originally studying nuclear engineering at Tokai University, Kenji Kawai studied music at Shobi Music Academy. Dropping out he entered contests and that eventually led to his chance encounter with music director Naoko Asari that inspired him to write anime soundtracks. His style ranges within the world of Japanese traditional music from Min’yō to techno sounds. Ghost in the Shell received high regard for his score because of the dominating sound of Taiko! I’m eager about his work on Subete ga F ni Naru this fall!
- Porcco Rosso
- Princess Mononoke
- Spirited Away
- Howl’s Moving Castle
- The Tale of Princess Kaguya
At the 5:00 minute mark is probably my favorite song out of the entire soundtrack of Kaguya! So emotionally gripping!
World-renowned by even the Hollywood film industry. The best of the best– as he’s worked alongside legendary film-maker and animator Hayao Miyazaki since the very beginning. He took violin lessons at the age of five and is where he discovered his passion for music. In 1969 he attended the Kunitachi College of Music majoring in music composition. He collaborated with with artists as a typesetter which would enrich his experience the musical world for years to come. Around the 70’s he established in alias with his character names being written the same as “Quincy Jones”. Upon recommendation he wrote an image album for Nausicaa Valley of the Wind which culminated in a life-long friendship between director Miyazaki. To this day he still composers for him as well as a few live-action films. His compositions are emotionally engaging and inspiring to classical musicians everywhere.
- Cowboy Bebop
- Macross Plus
- Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex
- Sakamichi no Apollon
- Zankyo no Terror
“I hear everyone talk about how many genres [I work in] like classical, jazz and others, but personally, I don’t divide music by genre when creating. I don’t create by saying, ‘I must create a classical piece here,’ or ‘I must create a jazz piece here.’ When I create music, I don’t consider at all which genre I like best, but what the scene or the anime calls for, like a love [theme] or a mood. There isn’t one genre I like more than the others. I find all of them satisfying and all inspire me in different ways”. ~Yoko Kanno
Cowboy Bebop’s jazz-infused musical score is the very reason why she hits number 1 on my list. It’s ambitious for the its time and it crosses cultures between western and eastern styles from spontaneous horn most notably saxophone solos and maintains a solid foundation that its based on a Japanese director’s vision. To me, Zankyo no Terror IS her best work because she’s grown in her style by using various genres dependent on scene changes in a narrative all crossing together– guitar riffs mixed with jazz melodies and electronica. Amazing how diverse her repertoire is!
Well, that’s it! Hope you enjoyed my 400th post on my site! I will have the special review up next! So be sure to check back soon for an update on the review!
2 thoughts on “Top 10 Best Anime Series/Film Composers [400th post]”
Great post! I love the research done and all of the images/videos.
I knew Kanno would be top. To be honest, as tough a choice as it is I prefer Hisaishi and Kawai’s works more. Also, rather controversially, I really like her OST for Darker than Black more than some of the Cowboy Bebop albums and I bought it.
You should watch Takeshi Kitano’s films and listen to Hisaishi’s music, especially on Kikujiro and Kids Return. Brilliant stuff.
Kenji Kawai’s Patlabor 2 soundtrack is god-tier.