Music in Anime: How Yuki Kajiura Defined Modern Anime OSTs

Maybe it’s from playing classical piano as a kid, but I’ve always been fascinated by movie, TV and game soundtracks. A lot of artistry and craft goes into writing the perfect piece to stir and audience’s heartstrings, and often these composers don’t get the credit they’re due. So today I wanted to talk about one of my favorite anime composers, the incredible and prolific Yuki Kajiura.

Queen

Kajiura was born in 1965 and has been composing since the 90’s, but her first big project was the .hack series in 2002. Most people don’t remember .hack today, but it was actually the first big “trapped in a video game” style anime. She followed this up with Kara no Kyoukai, a series of 7 films that helped put Studio Ufotable on the map. The score to Kara no Kyoukai shows of some of Kajiura’s signature style: sweeping strings, a haunting choir, and a mix of rock and electronic instrumentation influenced by artists like Björk and Radiohead. But even this was just a teaser of what was to come:

In 2011, Yuki Kajiura set the anime world on fire with one of my favorite series of all time, Puella Magi Madoka Magica. A darkly subversive take on the magical girl genre, Madoka Magica used its hauntingly beautiful score to heighten the tension of every scene and put viewers in the minds of its troubled characters. The Celtic-inspired melodies give the music a mystical quality, like an ancient myth passed down for generations. It’s easily my favorite OST she’s ever done, and the fact that it came so early in her career is just mind-boggling:

She followed this with another smash about stylish gays in a dark fantasy setting: Fate/Zero. With its striking art style and sleek CG animation, Fate/Zero helped define the look of action anime in the 2010’s, and Kajiura’s soundtrack helped define its sound. She also worked on most of the opening and ending songs, as the main songwriter, producer, and manager of Kalafina. Their blend of heavy metal riffs and gothic three-part harmonies is wonderfully unique, and though the band broke up in 2018, their legacy is far from forgotten:

But the series Kajiura’s most famous for is definitely 2012’s Sword Art Online. SAO is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of show, for sure, but even people who despise this anime admit that her soundtrack is fantastic. The upbeat battle themes make each fight scene intense and memorable, while the mellow town music makes viewers wish they could live inside this world forever (if they could avoid getting killed by all the monsters and PKers!). My favorite is Asuna’s theme, “Luminous Sword”, which perfectly captures the leading lady’s grace and skill as a fencer:

Although she’s mostly been busy with SAO and Fate these days, she composed another classic OST last year with Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. This anime took her music in a new direction by working with another composer, Go Shiina, and incorporating traditional Japanese melodies and instruments into her signature style. She also composed the ending song, sung by LiSA. (That girl deserves a blog post of her own – she’s that amazing!)

Yuki Kajiura is an incredibly talented and prolific composer. She’s worked on so many amazing OSTs over the years, helped define the sound of modern anime, and been responsible for some of the most memorable moments in the history of the medium. And with a new Demon Slayer movie *hopefully* coming out later this year, our queen shows isn’t slowing down anytime soon. So the next time you’re watching one of the anime on this post, pay attention to the background music and see how much skill and emotion goes into every note. You might gain a new appreciation for one of your favorites!

Play us out, Kalafina

2 thoughts on “Music in Anime: How Yuki Kajiura Defined Modern Anime OSTs

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    1. I really need to watch the whole thing. I only watched the first movie and I liked it, though I have to admit I was hopelessly confused most of the time 😅

      Liked by 1 person

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