Aaah music, the serene combination of various sound waves; the melodic marvel as wonderful and complex as a 16-side Rubik’s cube; a mystery that can produce almost infinite variables; an enigmatic force as mesmerizing as the universe itself; what would life be without it? Similarly, what would anime be without music?
In most, if not all, pieces of visual entertainment, music plays a vital role in its overall effectiveness. May it be to convey an important message or to set the proper tone or just to fill in that void of silence that occurs in every show, musical pieces, called soundtracks, are, arguably, one of the most important factors of any visual form of entertainment in the media.
This is because sound, along with what we see itself, appeals to one of our 5 senses. Having a visual and an acoustic feel to an entertainment piece greatly maximizes the intended effect that it is trying to express, and this is most certainly true with anime.
Soundtrack is important in anime for the same reason that soundtrack is important in movies and television series for a multitude of reasons, with the main one being the fact that there’s only so much you can invoke with visuals, be it the acting or the direction/cinematography.
In terms of the overall feel of a show, music helps an anime project its specific tone; it can be playful and light for, say, a slice-of-life show; heart-pumping and action-packed for an action series; or dark and mysterious for a horror/suspense show. This is especially true because what is happening on screen may not reflect the show’s theme correctly as effectively. Similarly, it is vital to have the RIGHT kind of sound for the RIGHT kind of show. Failure to do so may result in confusion amongst its viewers, immediately causing them to dislike the show and, possibly, condemn it forever.
An easy example would be K-On: if you took out K-On’s light and fluffy soundtrack and replaced it with something from, like say, Death Note or Higurashi, you’re not going to be able to deliver the show’s cute and light-hearted style.
Soundtracks also help in conveying certain feelings and emotions not just from an entire anime but even for a specific scene. Sure, if the acting is done properly, a scene can bring out the desired emotion effectively. However, adding music increases the impact of any given scene and maximizes the effect it brings. Think of bombastic trumpets and drums when the main hero finally defeats the big bad villain, or mellow violins and pianos when an important character dies; it wouldn’t feel the same way if you’re just looking at the main hero shouting out in the empty wind.
Conversely though, silence is also an important aspect of soundtracks, although some may think otherwise. Voids of silence can produce a lot of varying effects in a specific moment. Moments of tension and suspense, sadness and sorrow, and even moments of climatic action can be strengthened by the absolute absence of sound. It lets the viewers soak in the gravity of a moment, blanking out everything but the scene, effectively boosting its impact.
Moments like this can be delivered effectively both with/without music.
Timing is also vital in terms of soundtracks. Then right beat, the right tone, and the right notes at the right moment can drastically make a powerful scene even more powerful and epic. Without proper timing, even with a good piece of soundtrack, it wouldn’t produce the same power-filled effect as a moment with proper timing. A lot of the most memorable moments in anime are memorable due in part to their respective soundtracks timed at just that one right moment.
The unfortunate case, though, is how underrated the power and influence of music is. While it is true that what we see contributes a majority of what we get, it is not definitely a hundred percent of what makes a visual form of entertainment paramount. It is merely a part of it. Music is definitely on par in terms of how important it is to media. Think about it: the wonderful orchestrations, the angelic choirs, the wicked guitar solos, the heart-throbbing drum beats that make your heart pound, the serene woodwinds that compliment nature itself, the low basses that shake your very core, the mystical strings, the relaxing acoustics; all of these AND A LOT MORE. It’s fantastically mind-staggering.
Music may still be a mysterious force of nature that may take eons to figure out its secrets. It may be too difficult for us human beings to understand. It may be all wibbly-wobbly, but that’s not the point, is it? Its potential is near-infinite, that’s why it’s such a wonderful aspect of media. Combine that with the awesome entertainment value of visual media, such as anime, and you’ve got a sure-win formula that can be enjoyed at almost any time. Soundtrack may not be the most noticeable factor for a lot of people, but its importance is certainly inarguable.
A salutation to all anime soundtrack composers out there. Thanks for making anime even better.
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