The Bouncer Original Soundtrack (JP Edition)
The Bouncer Original Soundtrack (JP Edition)
March 23, 2001
Buy at AnimeNation
When most hear the names Takahito Eguchi and Noriko Matsueda, Final Fantasy X-2‘s soundtrack is usually what first enters their heads. Unfortunately, though, the Final Fantasy X-2 soundtrack is undoubtedly the duo’s worst achievement, as it completely fails to show the composers’ strength at creating sophisticated jazz and electronic music. Quite simply, 90% of such tracks on the Final Fantasy X-2 soundtrack were either hideously annoying or grossly underdeveloped, making them accessible to very few. While the core of The Bouncer‘s soundtrack is based on such styles, the way these styles are dealt with makes them much more appreciable. These pieces have more hooks in them than a fishing rod factory, yet are also musically sound, being well-developed and multifaceted, successfully blending a variety of musical influences together. Further, nearly all such pieces use instruments in a unique way, not simply relying on overdriven guitar melodies or hyperactive drum beats like some of the more dubious electronica available does. Indeed, a fine feature of the soundtrack is the way superb synth combines with equally impressive samples from pre-recorded voices and instruments; this gives the soundtrack even more substance and realism, a feature such themes on the composers’ next soundtrack often lacked.
The soundtrack was intended for the Japanese release of the game and The Bouncer Original Video Game Soundtrack was released by Tokyopop to account for the American release. Unfortunately, Tokyopop hardly released the complete effort, shaving ten of this album’s tracks off the listings; thus, the release this review covers gives a more wholesome experience overall, even if it is a little more expensive. It is worth noting that the soundtrack is split in two as well. The first disc, best described as the story disc, focuses on event themes, such as the introduction and credits music, and also features most of the atmospheric and emotive tracks. It’s mostly symphonic in approach, though there are a few electronic tracks here and there and lots of Matsueda’s jazzy influences. In stark contrast, the second disc is mostly electronic and Eguchi-inspired, focusing principally on the battle character and decisive battle themes. This fits the atmosphere for a fighting theme much more, though both discs have their individual merits for very different reasons.
The story disc of the soundtrack opens with the erratic “Prelude ~The Bouncer~,” one of the few electronic tracks that fails to be accessible to most. It gives the album pace straight from its outset, reveals what may come later, and also features some interesting bagpipe passages; however, it ultimately fails to establish much coherency in the thankfully brief 42 seconds it plays, featuring little to no melodic development and often tripping over itself. The true introduction track, “Prologue,” is much less dubious, even if it isn’t quite so representative of the composers’ styles. It starts off as an eerie composition focusing on Mitsuda-esque vocal chants, but soon becomes a much more ambient track, featuring a combination of sampled sound effects, electronic sounds, and piano decoration. The timbres throughout this section are very effective and it is enjoyable seeing the track gradually grow more melodic from here. After a dashing piano melody is featured, there is another orchestral buildup, which effectively ends one main section of the track. The last part of the track is piano-based once again, but is jazzy and quaintly imitates a phonograph record with its lo-fi sound quality. Just as one feels ready to relax, however, the track suddenly erupts into fury in the last 10 seconds, resulting in a very shocking end.
A lot of the first disc features atmospheric tracks, and Matsueda and Eguchi generally succeed here, manipulating timbres and melodies effectively to create surprisingly interesting tracks. The aptly named “Disquietude” follows “Prologue” effectively, also being very unpredictable; the track is centred around an atonal piano line made to sound deathly when eerie sound effects, haunting vocal chants, and sporadic orchestral crashes are all skilfully integrated around it. It’s arranged at one point in “Mikado’s Plot,” which replaces the piano with full orchestral textures; faring just as well, it shows Matsueda and Eguchi are not just one-trick ponies and features some particularly captivating trumpet use. “Sneak” features some of the most abstruse piano use, with its distinct jazzy yet dissonant features reflecting a cross between George Gershwin and lgor Stravinsky, Noriko Matsueda’s two main influences. It’s very impressive, as is the accompanying instrumental use, though suffers from the bane of being underdeveloped, like many of her pieces. “Nervousness,” “The Escape,” and “The Pursuit” are a little less impressive, as each focus on hackneyed and repetitive crisis motifs far too much, though contrast due to their varying emphasis on either electronic or acoustic instruments.
It’s definitely the emotional gems that make Disc One especially enjoyable. Take “Affection,” for instance. It’s a gorgeous string-led piece that features some of Eguchi’s trademark orchestration and also some well-crafted piano passages. Some might find it a little too sentimental, but Eguchi succeeds in generally making it a warm and subtle addition to the album. “Rain Sound of Memories ~Distant Rain – The Cross Children~,” The Bouncer‘s nearest counterpart to Final Fantasy X-2‘s “Yuna’s Ballad,” is one of the most emotive tracks, brewing with sadness due to its melancholic piano and string use. And then there’s the love ballad, “Forevermore,” undoubtedly the soundtrack’s most loved work. The first two minutes are an orchestration of the “Distant Rain…” theme and the “Forevermore” melody. Mastered by Eguchi, his flawless manipulation of the string ensemble and careful integration of some warm piano melodies makes this orchestration multifaceted and immensely enjoyable. The transition to the main theme itself, a little before the 2:00 mark, is jarring and odd, but it should be easy to relax and enjoy the music if one is prepared to appreciate a piece of J-Pop after the initial shock. Reiko Noda leads the theme well, singing with great sensitivity and subtlety, and the instrument use, though a little hackneyed, generally proves to be quite endearing as well. It intensifies well and is full of emotion, making it a pleasant experience for most and not too trite either.
Despite the considerable strength of the first disc, it’s the battle character themes on the second disc that are the highlight of the soundtrack. The first featured is “Sion Barzahd,” which develops effectively into an overdriven guitar-led piece, boasting an energetic and unforgettable main melody. It’s a perfect example of how such tracks are so much more multifaceted than those featured on Final Fantasy X-2, as a whole minute of the development section prior to the track’s loop is dedicated to a jazzy piano solo, which ensures the guitar lines don’t become too powerful. Another masterpiece that employs contrasts between electronic and acoustic instruments is “Volt Krueger”; the surprising appearance of some bagpipes creates an unforgettable contrast with the hardcore guitar riffs and flawlessly integrated synthesizer solos otherwise featured. “Koh Leifoh” is a little less accessible than most, but is a grower and offers hip-hop-flavoured voice samples, which fit in surprisingly well and help to make this theme much more distinct than generic electronica. Unfortunately, “Echidna” appears generic compared to the other themes and struggles to build up much pace, despite the composers’ best efforts, though “Mugestu” and “Kaldea Orchid” easily make up for this single failure; the former features some absolutely superb pseudo-improvisation from the tenor sax, performed by one of Eguchi’s friends, while the delectable “Kaldea Orchid” combines industrial effects, jazzy piano lines, and all sorts of other fun features into one.
The secondary character themes are often handled in a slightly different way, acting as intensifiers of the soundtrack as it approaches its conclusion. Though immensely catchy, “PD-4” is ultimately a dramatic track, featuring hard-edged chord progressions and aggressive synth samples. It’s one of the most well-rounded tracks on the disc, showing what Eguchi can create when he works on developing his pieces fully, setting pulses racing. “Dominique Cross” follows very well, and, though it introduces itself with dissonant orchestral chords, it soon becomes a rampant electronica track that incredibly intensifies, particularly once vocals are added above the synth lines. “Hou” is more subtle than the two tracks that precede it and one of the quirkiest character themes, though it somehow doesn’t quite work. Contrasts between string and synth melodies are employed throughout, and, though the effect is quite pleasant as first, the track gradually loses its foundations, particularly once the string melodies develop to encompass violin solos and whatnot. It is the monotonous and misfitting harmonies that are the ultimate weakness here. “Lian” is fairly well-handled, too, but feels a little like “Echidna” once more, never quite gaining enough pace and always sounding a tad generic. After these two slight disappointments, “Nazuki: Destruction” returns the album back to form. It succeeds in being a buoyant addition, combining amusing samples of laughter with unforgettable synth melodies. It’s well-polished and also reflects synthesizer operator Hidenori Iwasaki’s talents well.
The conclusion to the soundtrack comes principally with the final boss themes, as the ending themes were featured in the story section of the disc. Each of the three final boss themes, all prefixed “Dauragon C. Mikado…,” contrast well with one another, adding more diversity to the album. “Dauragon C. Mikado” itself is the weakest of the three, since its riff becomes too repetitive and the guitar melodies themselves lack the punch of those from certain character themes. “Dauragon C. Mikado: Madness” is more appealing, relying on vocal chanting and plenty of solid guitar melodies to keep the frantic piece just about coherent. “Dauragon C. Mikado: Awakening” is definitely the best of the three, however, opening with a gorgeous piano and string introduction before seamlessly transitioning into an electronica-jazz fusion track that never quite loses its edge. “Sion: Jet Black” is a warm outro to the soundtrack, being extremely varied and perhaps the most complex electronic piece on the album. It is reminiscent of the flair created by the initial “Sion Barzahd” track, what with its superb guitar melodies and clever interludes, which feature a heavily distorted guitar solo against some light piano backing this time round. While it would have been a little more appetitising to have “Forevermore” conclude the soundtrack, the conclusion is in no way anticlimactic and feels wholly satisfying.
The electronic and jazz tracks are the main source of joy from this release and it is essential that one is prepared to be open-minded and accepting of such genres before going ahead and purchasing the album. However, even for those who are a little dubious about the genre, most tracks are pretty accessible and it’s only really a few of the battle character themes that can be completely oppressive to some. The more symphonic themes are generally wonderful as well, particularly those involving the piano, and the love ballad “Forevermore” is another definitive reason to purchase the album. It’s the best release of the album, and, though DigiCube have gone bankrupt, limited stocks remain at AnimeNation. It’s well-recommended and all those with some affinity to the aforementioned genres should pick it up before stocks finally run out.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.