Yuki Kajiura: A Composer Like No Other

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Kathleen Townsendhttp://www.lookingglassreads.com/
Kathleen writes about anime and edits light novels. When she’s not bingeing the latest shounen or isekai, she can be found shouting about books, podcasts, and other awesome nerd stuff on her blog.

For Women’s History Month, we’re featuring the incredible women of anime, from studios to characters and timeless creators.

Way before I learned that some of my favorite shows (like Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z) were actually anime, it was the magic of their music that I loved most.

Throughout my life, I’ve sung, played the flute and piccolo, and dabbled in piano and bassoon, the latter of which I recommend only to the non-clumsy! (I learned firsthand that it’s heavy enough to break all of your toes if you drop the case on your foot.)

Having been steeped in music most of my childhood, it’s no wonder than the musical score alone is enough to keep me hooked on an anime, regardless of its genre, plot or character.

And no composer has me furiously digging into a show quite like the incredible Yuki Kajiura.


Who is Yuki Kajiura?

If you’ve watched any anime in the last twenty years, chances are pretty good you’ve heard the amazing music of Yuki Kajiura. She’s composed the musical score for dozens of anime over the course of the last few decades—from classics of their time to modern masterpieces.

Kajiura-sensei grew up with music—her father was a musician, too. By the mid-90s, she was writing the score for the anime we know and love. Seriously, tons of your favorites were likely scored by Yuki Kajiura.

How about fantasy anime like Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE? Or one of the shows that kicked off the isekai boom, Sword Art Online? Even recent powerhouses like Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba have music from this iconic composer.

As an alto, I’ll be forever grateful to Kajiura for composing songs with leading women vocalists whose parts are actually in my range—ones I can sing along to! (The struggle is real.)


Music with a sense of wonder

In a 2016 interview, Kajiura stated that she pursued a career in music because she wanted to capture the elusive feeling at the very start of a stage performance. You know the one—the moment the lights and music start, transporting you somewhere else entirely.

Well, Kajiura has certainly achieved that, and then some! Within just a few bars of one of her songs, listeners are transported to entirely different worlds, each one as magical and wondrous as they are dark and dangerous.

This sense of awe and wonder permeates everything she’s composed, leaving us listeners filled with wonder and nostalgia for places that never were and never will be. As soon as her music begins playing, you know that a grand, sweeping adventure is just around the corner as the world on screen is breathed to life.

Take, for example, the iconic song “The World” from .hack//Sign. This is a song that immediately transports you to a digital fantasy world, setting the scene for an early isekai series. The main theme for Demon Slayer: Kimestu no Yaiba evokes the feel of a time period long past, while including that air of fantasy and the unknown.


Scoring incredible anime

Between the anime, movies, video games, live-action TV shows, musicals, solo albums, compilation albums and more, saying that Yuki Kajiura is a prolific creator would be quite an understatement. So let’s talk about some of the completely unforgettable soundtracks, OPs and EDs that she has created thus far.

Early in her career, Kajiura composed the soundtrack to the anime Noir and its two spiritual successors, Madlax and El Cazador de la Bruja. All three explore the “girls with guns” genre, and while they don’t necessarily cross over in characters and plot, they certainly convey similar themes and motifs, all wonderfully conveyed by unforgettable scores.

And that’s not all. Several movies and OVAs in the iconic Fist of the North Star series saw their scores composed by Kajiura as well. And if you’re looking for more action-oriented series she’s had a hand in, look no further. Do you remember those awesome insert and closing songs in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED? Yep, those were also her compositions.

Or maybe you’re like me and you are always looking to watch something fantasy-oriented backed by the otherworldly melodies of Yuki Kajiura. Might I then suggest some old favorites of mine? First up is Pandora Hearts, an amazing tale with music that captures the magic and fantasy elements of the story while bringing the Victorian-esque setting to life.

And speaking of anime with a semi-historical setting, what about Black Butler, whose score was wholly composed by Yuki Kajiura? CLAMP’s Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE is also a fantastic place to hear some music that’s just *chef’s kiss*.

RELATED: The Works of CLAMP, From Cardcaptor Sakura to xxxHOLiC

Fans of the long-running Fate franchise need look no further, either. Remember all those sweeping compositions behind those edge-of-your-seat fights? Yep, you guessed it. Everything in Fate/stay night [Unlimited Blade Works], Fate/stay night [Heaven’s Feel] and Fate/Zero were composed by the incredible Yuki Kajiura.

And you know the many versions of Shiki’s theme in The Garden of Sinners movies? All of the scores found in this amazing series were by her as well.

Once again, she managed to balance that line of dark, sinister and the unknown with the utter beauty and wonder of the fantastic, all while giving us one unforgettable song after another.


A modern masterclass

And what about more recent series? Where else can you hear the awesome music of the indomitable Yuki Kajiura? Well, there’s plenty more.

Listening to certain songs always brings me back to the very first time I heard them. One of these songs is “Swordland.” You know, that incredible song from Sword Art Online? The sweeping orchestra, the choir, the triumphant brass section, it’s just so good. And the highly unsettling music that plays in the eerier parts of each floor Kirito and the others need to beat certainly sets you on edge.

Madoka Magica Feature Screenshot

If magical girls and a bit of a darker storyline are more your style, check out Puella Magi Madoka Magica. This anime too bears Kajiura’s signature style, which just fits so perfectly with the storyline.

Or maybe anime with a fantasy isn’t really your cup of tea. In that case, you might be a fan of ERASED. This haunting score captures the mystery, the unknown of childhood, the darker parts of life, and snowy winter days just so perfectly and, you guessed it, was composed by Yuki Kajiura.

And I certainly couldn’t mention Yuki Kajiura without talking about one of her latest works. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is an absolutely fantastic series that will undoubtedly go down in anime history, and its score was written by none other than Kajiura.

DemonSlayer_Nezuko

The music for this one is incredible. But don’t just take my word for it. The Tokyo Anime Awards thought so too, where she won Best Composer. Crunchyroll’s Anime Awards also had the show up for Best Score. And the 44th Japan Academy Film Prize has nominated Yuki Kajiura and Go Shiina for Outstanding Achievement in Music for their work on Demon Slayer –Kimetsu no Yaiba– The Movie: Mugen Train.


Music that stays with you

The music composed by Yuki Kajiura has a unique quality that can be hard to put into words. Each of her scores fit the world its composed for like a glove, completely unable to be separated from it. Yet, each score has something that marks it as uniquely hers.

It’s easy to point to certain elements when saying this. The use of a full orchestra, a choir, alto vocalists or the marriage of more classical instrumentation to newer, more metallic sounds that can be found in much of her work. But that’s not even the half of it.

Sitting and listening to one of her scores brings out this overwhelming, indescribable emotion. You long for a world that you’ve never visited so badly your heart aches.

Your eyes grow misty because you yearn so badly for this other world, wanting to go back to this place only to realize that you’ve never been there in the first place! The sheer beauty, majesty and grandeur of the world, of existence itself, shines through each and every song. That is what makes her music so beloved.

Yuki Kajiura’s music takes us on an unforgettable journey, breathing life into the many worlds of anime.


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