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Paul Browne on the music of Yasuharu Takanashi

Two high-profile Manga Entertainment releases have something in common in the form of musician and composer Yasuharu Takanashi. It’s the distinctive musical strokes of Takanashi that appear on the new Naruto movie The Lost Tower as well as the upcoming movie addition to the Fairy Tail series – Phoenix Priestess.

Based in Tokyo, Takanashi developed an early interest in the rock and metal side of music, citing the likes of Deep Purple and Rainbow guitarist Ritchie Blackmore as an influence. During the 1980s however, Takanashi decided to swap keyboards for guitars while still in his teens and carved a career through Japanese rock outfits such as Hellen and PLANET EARTH.

Takanashi later switched up to become part of 634 Musashi – a rock outfit that put out a number of album releases from the late 1990s through to their last album Miyamoto Musashi in 2002. During this period, the ambitious Takanashi was already exploring soundtrack work, including contributions associated with PRIDE – the Japanese mixed martial arts event as well as delving into the world of video games on titles such as Genji: Dawn of the Samurai. These early years also saw Takanashi begin anime soundtrack work, of which the most notable is New Fist Of The North Star in 2003.

Although a rock purist at heart, Takanashi was also keen to combine a contemporary rock approach with more traditional Japanese music themes, which led to the formation of -yaiba-, an outfit that achieves his ideas with a guitars, keyboards and Japanese drums. It’s this approach that gives much of Takanashi’s work an earthy, organic feel to it, while still managing to stir the senses for action sequences. This distinctive concept is all over much of his soundtrack work, particularly Takanashi’s later contributions to the Naruto series. But along the way he was also lending his talents to a broad variety of other anime titles, including Ikki Tousen, Monokoe and Hell Girl.

But in 2007, with the arrival of Naruto: Shippuden (the continuation of the already popular Naruto series), Takanashi had a long-form title that gave him the opportunity to really stretch his musical abilities. From the wistful strains of tracks such as ‘Kikyo’ through to the epic tones of ‘Narukami’, Takanashi shows the ability to paint on a broader musical palette. On ‘Guren’ for instance, Takanashi demonstrates that he’s more than capable of putting the rock trappings to one side to invoke a particularly heart-wrenching moment purely through the deft strokes of his composition work. In fact Takanashi’s contributions to the Naruto series saw him scoop one of the prestigious JASRAC awards for the soundtrack.

Takanashi’s work on Naruto Shippuden led him to another long-running title with the magical girl anime Pretty Cure. Takanashi’s work here (often in collaboration with other composers including Naoki Sato and Hiroshi Takaki) provides more examples of his talent for creating stirring panoramic soundscapes.

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Meanwhile, the magical exploits of the team in Fairy Tail offered up more opportunities for Takanashi’s anime composition work to evolve. Here, he makes more use of traditional instrumentation, particularly string and wind instruments, to give Fairy Tail a more grounded approach, often with a Celtic feel to the music. The sweeping pomp and drama of the Fairy Tail main theme becomes a repeating motif throughout the series, lending the anime a very distinctive sound.

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Takanashi’s talents were kept onboard for the 2012 movie Fairy Tail : The Phoenix Priestess. Here, Natsu, Gray, Erza, Lucy, Wendy, Happy, and Carla embark on an adventure in which a lunatic prince threatens to unleash an ancient force in a quest for immortality.  The music for the movie continues to deliver the stirring elements that Takanashi delivered in the series, but also offers up more restrained moments, such as the beguiling ‘Firebird’s Dance’.

In turn, Naruto : The Lost Tower treads similar territory while also offering up some new approaches to music composition. The simple plucked rhythms of tracks such as ‘Young Bird’ for instance stand in contrast to the string-driven drama of ‘Rumbling Tide’.

2013 was a particularly busy year for Takanashi with contributions to a wide range of titles, including Log Horizon, Fantasista Doll and Neppu Kairiku Bushi Road. With another Pretty Cure title already scored and more Naruto to follow, Takanashi is clearly keen to keep active – and the world of anime is all the better for it.

Naruto : The Lost Tower is out now from Manga Entertainment.

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