For a very long time, I have been an admirer of the works of Yoko Kanno. As a fan of Anime, her work on the scores of the likes of Cowboy Bebop, Vision of Escaflowne, and Ghost in the Shell has made me a lifelong fan of her work, and when watching shows, I always know that one with Yoko Kanno as lead composer will surely be one to look forward to.
Yoko Kanno is a true genius when it comes to music. In a 1998 interview with Anthony Inglis, who had worked with Kanno on the soundtrack for Macross Plus with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Inglis stated that though it was Kanno’s first time working with a live orchestra, the entire orchestra was surprised by her talent, and every member had an incredible time with the songs they were performing. Each of them expressed amazement at the way the music had been arranged, as well as her professionalism while conducting such a large orchestra.
According to another interview conducted by the Red Bull Music Academy, Kanno had been winning musical performances from a very young age, even in second grade, and at that age could play the organ better than the instructor of her music class. So, from a young age, Kanno was displaying an innate talent for music; an ear for sound, and a love for the art.
Over the years, Kanno has traveled the globe, absorbing and learning about countless musical styles. Her work on Cowboy Bebop shows a mastery of Blues and Jazz, while her scores for Macross are filled with tribal chant. Ghost in the Shell, meanwhile, featured heavy use of techno and electronic themes, among others. Where other well-known artists, such as Hiroyuki Sawano, are easily recognizable by the way their music sounds, Kanno possesses a unique ability to create music that speaks to the characters in immensely profound ways.
Indeed, her mastery of music truly shows when she begins composing, as her work encompasses an enormous number of genres. She’s also not afraid of asking for help from other artists. When composing, Kanno enlists help from musicians from all across the world to create the perfect music, to realize her vision. From her humble beginnings composing music for Koei, her works have only grown more and more spectacular.
Kanno does not only do soundtracks for anime and video games, however. She has spent the last decade helping to advance the music industry in Japan, branching away from traditional sounds, and helping many new artists, such as Sakamoto Maaya, make their entrance into the professional scene. She also has composed several songs that have become national staples, such as Hana wa Saku, which she composed to help raise publicity for disaster relief from earthquakes.
Cowboy Bebop was the show that introduced me to the works of Yoko Kanno originally, with a fantastically beautiful soundtrack filled with soulful jazz music, funky pop, ballads, and much much more. With so much character and emotion behind every single song, it’s no wonder that Cowboy Bebop is such a well-known and revered show, not only for its incredible depictions of characters and relationships, but for the unbelievable musical score by Yoko Kanno. Goodnight Julia, then, stands out even among an incredible score, beautifully orchestrated with soulful saxophone and piano in a way that will surely make the listener cry.
Going back to the roots of chant and tribal music mixed with electronic that she established early in her career with the Macross series, Where Does This Ocean Go is another incredible song from Ghost in the Shell. Meant to evoke scenes of a technology-fueled world while the incredible vocals inspire feelings of hope and peace. It’s a beautiful type of word-painting that Kanno has proven mastery of over and over again.
With her dedication to her work, her love of music, and her willingness to explore the unknown, and combine styles in unique ways, Yoko Kanno is not only a brilliant composer, but a true pioneer of music. In years to come, I have no doubt that her name will go down in history, and be spoken of with just as much reverence as the likes of Mozart, or Bach.