Famicom 20th Anniversary Arrange Soundtracks
Famicom 20th Anniversary Arrange Soundtracks
Scitron Digital Contents
February 18, 2004
Buy Used Copy
Almost everything about the Famicom 20th Anniversary Arrange Soundtracks sounded good in theory. With a series of famous composers arranging some of the most memorable Famicom themes, what game music fanatic could resist eagerly antipating its release? Something happened down the line, however, that made the majority of the arrangements dissatisfy. Track allocation was one problem — what producer in their right mind would give Motoi Sakuraba the chance to arrange the light-hearted “Super Mario Bros.” in the style of a Star Ocean final battle theme? What were the producers thinking when they also sanctioned an arrangement to be made by a fifth-rate metal band? But unless the producers decided to drug some of our favourite composers, it doesn’t explain why some arrangements, notably Shinji Hosoe’s “Dr. Mario” and Kimitaka Matsumae’s “Stack-Up / Gyromite” complete fail. I’ll describe the tracks in the classic format of The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The Inappropriate, as there’s an approximately equal mix of each.
The album’s opener gets the album off to a good, albeit misleading, start. Anime and game composer Chiyomaru Shikura creates a solid big band rendition that emphasises the original melody in an appropriate way, with the brass creating the camp factor needed. The added jazz samples are also very well done, with a piano-led solo being one of the more subtle features away from the standard saxophone and trumpet improvisation otherwise featured. It also includes some male voice samples towards the end, which is certainly an original addition, even if the balance is a little off, making the man practically inaudible. It’s clear a lot of thought went into this rendition and it comes off well, despite these slight flaws and the fact it would have been more authentic with a live performance.
Studio Carnaval’s Takayuki Aihara does an effective job handling the arrangement of the “Shin Onigashima” theme. It blossoms straight away with its symphonic introduction before moving into an amazingly effective tension-buiding section that undergoes an impressive crescendo and accelerando. It’s the introduction of a solo Japanese flute passage that really eases the listener into the track, however, combining an oriental feel with a heartfelt melody before being joined by traditional percussions and some stately strings. The track goes off on a pleasant jazz-oriented tangent at the 3:00 mark, though soon returns to becoming a splendid orchestral theme once more, with even further diversity added by its bossa-nova conclusion. Former Zuntata turned Super Sweep member Yasuhisa Watanabe also stands out for stunning use of Japanese instrumentation in his delectable arrangement of “Nazo no Murasama Jo,” the major difference from Aihara’s arrangement being the integration of techno beats, vocals, and a harp, though a slightly smaller array of styles are also present.
The bad arrangements on the album are ultimately tolerable, yet fail to stand out. The earliest example of this is founder of Konami Kukeiha Club Motoaki Furukawa’s “Yoshi’s Cookie,” which suffers from a complete lack of originality. Naturally, it opens with Furukawa’s trademark semi-acoustic guitar solos a few phrases in and continues the dull jazz fusion approach thereafter. While the theme’s well-articulated and catchy melodies are a winning feature at first, this delight soon wears off when the arrangement drags on for over 4 minutes lifelessly. After two listens at the most, it becomes difficult to listen to it in full without growing sleepy, and a so much more fun arrangement would have been created if Furukawa weren’t designated it. I think Shinji Hosoe would have been more suited here, giving it a pleasant dash of electronica that it deserves.
Manabu Namiki’s subsequent arrangement is also disappointing, though the producers are largely at fault here rather than Namiki himself. He was asked to cram arrangements of the main themes of Kid Icarus, Metroid, and Famicom Wars theme into a 5:40 piece. The Kid Icarus theme particularly deserved better as, despite Namiki getting the upbeat feel and hybridised instrumentation just right, it simply doesn’t play long enough to be satisfying. As for the Metroid theme, the transition into a rock and electronica fusion is a little awkward — diversity of Famicom music is expressed much better without rushed and major changes of genre — though the upbeat arrangement of the “Brinstar” theme makes up for this to some extent. The last section of the track with the Famicom Wars arrangement is the best feature, nicely combining the light-heartedness associated with Kid Icarus with a touch of light rock associated with Metroid‘s arrangements. Seeing these three tracks receive individual treatment would have been much more satisfying, though what Namiki actually did wasn’t too bogus.
One of the ugliest arrangements is Shinji Hosoe’s arrangement of the absolutely zany “Dr. Mario” theme. Initially, it captures some of the original’s flair through combining the original’s extremely camp ‘old school’ melodies with an 80’s robotic voice that recites phrases such as ‘I am the doctor’. Such a bizarre combination creates even more psychadelic images than the original did, but these images soon become nightmarish, unfortunately. The theme relies far too much on the voice throughout, with Hosoe painfully emphasising its monotone nature by making it repeat a small selection of phrases over and over again for almost 5 minutes in total. The arrangement had potential, but suffered from an overall lack of inspiration, which is quite a shock coming from an electronica master such as Shinji Hosoe. For once, I can’t pin the blame entirely on the producers, as this arrangement could have been a masterpiece if Hosoe were at his most inspired.
Nonetheless, “Dr. Mario” is quite charming compared to “Stack-Up / Gyromite”. Kimitaka Matsumae attempts to arrange a large number of themes into one, including two abrupt fanfares and lots of sound effects along the way, apparently emulating gameplay. While this approach has some merits, the track is extremely challenging on a stand-alone level. There’s no coherency there, as each piece ‘arranged’ just exists on its own and transitions from piece to piece are non-existent over an eight minute playtime. The sound effects make the track even more jarring and the trippy vibes throughout will further alienate most listeners. It sounds like a pile of sounds thrown together senselessly, and, quite frankly, my tortoise could do better.
It’s really with the inappropriate arrangements that this album becomes truly hilarious and the producers definitely decided to leave the best to last in these respects. Motoi Sakuraba’s “Super Mario Bros.” is, quite simply, unmissable, though mostly for the wrong reasons. It’s the most melodramatic arrangement of the traditionally light-hearted Super Mario theme available and the Star Ocean-esque symphonic approach taken completely misses the point of the Mario series. To Sakuraba’s credit, he makes the best of the arrangement he is given while using his trademark style and this results in the creation of some sweepingly beautiful passages where the Super Mario melody is not featured. While there’s no denying the arrangement is a complete misfit, it is the loopy producers made yet another grave error designating him such a track when he would have been much more fitting to arranging Zelda’s “Underground” theme or something else that is naturally dark and epic.
Mikio Saito’s interpretation of “The Legend of Zelda” is much worse for three basic reasons. First, this classic theme is far too light and melodic to suit a heavy metal interpretation in the first place — the ultimate destiny of arranging in such a way is comparable to the failure Metallica would have by making a rendition of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. Even if the theme did suit such an interpretation, however, the quality of the arranging is absolutely dire anyway. It suffers from its hackneyed and repetitive drum samples, a complete lack of any invigorating improvisation passages, and, worst of all, the absence of any guitar mastery, the fundamentals behind practically every heavy metal piece. Worst still, there is unforgivably jarring and unmusical transition at the 1:40 mark from a traditional yet straightforward rendition of the theme to the otherwise mentioned metal interpretation could rattle even the calmest person’s nerves.
That’s all folks. Yes, just nine tracks are featured. A meagre number, given that the three Famicom 20th Anniversary Original Soundtracks contained about 300 tracks between them. This is only a superficial disappointment when only three of the tracks are actually satisfying, however. With inspiring source material and talented faces behind the arrangement, what went wrong? Well, like all collaborative arranged albums, this needed clearly defined production in order to excel. Remember, if you ever produce such an album, it’s no good telling your arrangers to go off and do their own thing, adding whatever quirky idea comes into their mind, as the album just ends up being an incoherent mess, exactly like this one. Only buy this one if you have money to burn and are looking for a source of great amusement, a pleasant cover to look at, or three strong arrangements in a sea of concentrated sulfuric acid. If you don’t live in a mansion and are sane, avoid this one.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.