Music May Be a Thing

There are some spoilers, however light, in this post.

Some opinions for you to consider:

  • K-ON is not a story about how girls inspires to be musicians. K-ON is about how music culture and how music brings people together.
  • AKB0048 is not a story about music. AKB0048 is about entertainment.
  • The iDOLM@STER is not quite a story about idols.┬áThe iDOLM@STER is a story about a production agency and the people in it, and some of them happened to be idols.
  • Kids on the Slope is not about jazz or classical music. Kids on the Slope is a period shoujo romance that uses music as a way to inject cultural context into a situation that brings uptown boy together with downtown boy.
  • Hikaru no Go is about the game of Go and the story of a ghost.
  • Macross Frontier is a story about inter-species crossover music can kill a lot of people. Okay, I’m just kidding on that one.
  • Sola is about people made of paper.
  • Beck is about glam of rock. Beck is not a story about a rock band. Beck is a story about a urban legend and the rock band romanticizing it.
  • Nodame Cantible is a story about music and a girl who tries to play it.
  • Piano no Mori is a story about the magic of music.
  • Honey & Clover is about the thing with Spitz’s music.

Okay, the joke is done. Breaking things down a little, I think there are three categories about music and anime that we can slot franchises in to.

First type is, I think, the obvious category. Typically we refer to them as music shows: Nodame, K-ON, Beck. These shows make sense only if we take into account the nature of music in mind. What they capture tend to be something more transient and like good ideas, often fleeting. These stories try to communicate some nuggets of something simple but profound about the human experience in regards to their respective niche of music and culture, and as a result they have to involve music as a theme. Usually they talk about specifically the history, artistry, the technical aspects, or whatever, because they have to.

The second type of shows are where music acts as primarily a device tangential to the story: Soranowoto, Macross. In these shows our understanding of music is pretty much as superficial as switching to the right radio station. We know what it is, we hear it, it does its thing. Often times these shows make a good point about the role of music in society or use the music as an analogy for some larger thematic point. Sometimes these shows will go into details about something related to music but it is a tangential point.

And then there are the third type of shows which the music is motif. Hachikuro, AKB0048, Natsuiro Kiseki, Kids on the Slope. In these shows the story often makes sense of music as both a plot device and as a way in which we should see how the story develop. I think it is like the first type except the stories often have nothing to do with music in the way where it is not in the foreground. Sometimes the music is just a part of the background of the show, so one way to think about these sort of shows in contrast of the first group is where the focus is the music and how it interacts with the main characters.

I have problems with type three. I enjoy them as much as anything else, but at times it can feel a little dishonest. Sometimes it’s like how foreign language is used in anime, you know? Sometimes it’s great, other times it makes you want to poke your ears out. Thankfully music is the language that transcends borders so Japan tend not to screw it up badly.

I wonder what Eureka 7 (and Ao) would be.

4 Responses to “Music May Be a Thing”

  • Fencedude

    AKB0048 is not a story about music. AKB0048 is about entertainment.

    Is it me, or does AKB0048 really feel like a lost Macross sidestory? Even putting aside the blatant reuse of Macross Frontier production elements.

    • omo

      Seems to me that it’s Kawamori spinning out some of the alternate threads and ideas that he came up with for Macross.

  • Stef

    Are type three generally presented with an emphasis on the musical element (trailers, openings) or do they concern any usage of music as a plot device/catalyst?
    Do you feel these shows are dishonest because the ties to the themes aren’t as strong as, say, Soranowoto?

    As for the shows you cite as examples, those might seem to qualify as type three, but frankly, we still don’t know because most of them aren’t over yet. With the aforementioned Soranowoto, you could say that before the last episode, the importance of music was still unclear (and not really used in many an episode).

    • omo

      Your comment about soranowoto is about as relevant to it as it is for K-ON. But I think it’s pretty obvious the two are very different when it comes to their treatment for music.

      Type three shows can be all sorts of different kind of shows. I wouldn’t associate, for example, AKB0048 with Hachikuro. So I think they can be all sorts. I’m not sure by what you mean ties to the theme.

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