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Sound and vision — the eclectic end of anime theme tunes

by Ian Martin

Despite a prevalence of cute, otaku-friendly theme songs, with many recent ones providing dance routines for budding cosplayers to learn (look up “Hare Hare Yukai” on YouTube to experience the true horror), “Xam’d: Lost Memories” isn’t the first time that an anime has drawn musical inspiration from rock and dance music.

The animated incarnation of “Nana” creator Ai Yazawa’s fashion-themed manga “Paradise Kiss” (2005) used Scottish indie rockers Franz Ferdinand’s “Do You Want To” as its ending theme, even drafting in uber-hip experimental animator Hiroyuki Imaishi to provide accompanying images. Similarly, post-apocalyptic SF anime “Ergo Proxy” (2006) used Radiohead’s venerable “Paranoid Android” as its ending theme, linking in with the show’s heavy philosophical themes of alienation and the search for identity.

“Ergo Proxy” writer Dai Satou also worked as the main writer on Studio Bones’ 2005 hit “Eureka Seven,” which still ranks as probably the densest anime ever when it comes to hip musical references. Aside from frequently changing theme songs, including tracks by indie-dance trio Nirgilis and teenage (at the time) hip-hop duo HalCali, there were insert songs by technopop legends Denki Groove and indie-dance band Supercar. That’s just the beginning, though: With episode titles such as “Blue Monday” and “Morning Glory,” character names including Renton Thurston (alluding to “Trainspotting” and Sonic Youth), and locations referencing famed Manchester club The Hacienda, “Eureka Seven” is densely populated with 1980s-’90s indie culture.

Of course it has worked the other way as well, with musicians often happy to use animation in order to promote their work.

The collaboration between Daft Punk and Leiji Matsumoto — creator of “Uchuu Senkan Yamato” (“Space Battleship Yamato”) and “Ginga Tetsudou 999″ (“Galaxy Express 999″) — on the 2003 film “Interstella 5555″ that accompanied the French band’s hit album “Discovery” was a notable case of the relationship operating the other way round, with the animation providing what basically amounts to a promotional video for the album. The choice of Matsumoto, whose style is powerfully evocative of the late ’70s and early ’80s, fits in with the retro musical references of the album, and no doubt brought a rush of nostalgia to many who watched it.

A similar, but shorter and more subtle, project began the following year when Shibuya-kei duo Capsule, led by Perfume producer Yasutaka Nakata, teamed up with Yoshiyuki Momose of Studio Ghibli subsidiary Studio Kajino to put together a trilogy of minifilms based around three of Capsule’s songs. Starting with “Portable Kuukou” (“Portable Airport”), the films center around a fashion-obsessed pink-haired girl living in a pastel-colored, retro-futurist Utopia. The style is more self-consciously arty and relies less on the heavy hand of nostalgia than on the careful visual realization of the music’s artistic and fashion themes.