Back of the Envelope: Anime Jazz

I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz renditions of anime songs recently, and so I got around to thinking about some of the relationships between the two genres.

Anime That Jazz

Both are genres that seem to now be associated with nostalgia, a sense of looking back at times now past. Anime very explicitly tries to romanticize the past, what with all the shows focusing on high school and even times before, many focusing on making that era into something special. I mean, look at the way I’m sure the Japanese schoolgirl uniform has taken on new meaning, infused with a sense of “purity” and youth.

Date A Live

I’m more fuzzy on the historical development of jazz, but at least now it is very much seen as a music associated with a longing for the past. Almost all bar scenes tinged with regret use jazz music as part of the background. And jazz nowadays seems like a relic from a bygone era, such that almost by simply existing today it seems to tie in feelings associated with nostalgia the same way that old rock and roll does (note: I know that in Japan, and most other countries, jazz is much more popular than in the US, but I’m uncertain of whether it still has the same cultural significance of the early postwar era or is seen differently).

Toku

I’m always hesitant to bring “cultural tastes” into the mix, but Japan also has a thing for nostalgia and whatnot in their historical narratives and art forms, with their focus on things like mono no aware or the Floating World from stuff like The Tale of Genji or ukiyo-e. I mean, they still use much of the same motifs (e.g. sakura), so maybe there’s something there.

Sakurasou

Taking all this together, the mixing of two seemingly thematically similar genres into “anime jazz” seems quite fitting to me. And this is just talking about the music – you get a completely different spin on things if you look at another type of “anime jazz” like Cowboy Bebop or Kids on the Slope.

Kids on the Slope

You even see it featured prominently in shows like Trigun, where, like the shows mentioned above, elements of the past are big parts of the plot, both in terms of the setting/atmosphere as well as how it relates to the main character(s).

Trigun

And if we’re looking at Ghibli stuff, which is even more thematically focused on transition periods in the past, you can get something that’s pretty much guaranteed to be nostalgia-central.

Ghibli Jazz

Plus the whole point of these jazz anime songs is to bring back memories of the show while you’re listening to them (I mean, stuff like that is the whole reason people more generally have anime playlists in the first place, right?), so you get an explicitly nostalgia-inducing genre based on two nostalgia-focused genres.

Here's a snippet of one of my playlists, for example.

Here’s a snippet of one of my playlists, for example.

Do any of your guys listen to jazz remixes of anime songs, or am I the only one here? And if so, do you have any favorites? I’d also be interested to hear what your favorite anime OPs/EDs are more generally as well.

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4 responses to “Back of the Envelope: Anime Jazz

  1. I can’t say i’ve listened to any Jazz adaptations in the past, though it may be worth looking into as i’m a fan of most music genres. I usually just pick up the original song.
    As for anime music i’ve enjoyed, there’s the weekly Music Spotlight on my blog, although that includes Visual Novel music as well so i’ll list some of my Anime favorites here.

    I love a lot of music by Girls Dead Monster from Angel Beats!; I think I have about 7 of their songs in my current playlist (including Brave Song (Yui Version), Alchemy (Yui Version) and Run With Wolves). More recently i’ve been listening to some of the Ao no Exorcist (Core Pride, which features a saxophone, I believe, In My World and Take Off) and Baka to Test (Perfect Area Complete, Love Improvement Committee, Baka Go Home, You + Me + Riddle = Jump!) OPs and EDs.

    Those last ones aren’t usually what I listen to but they fit the series brilliantly and I find them hard not to like.

    • I really enjoy your weekly music spotlight – very often it’s a trip through memory lane, and brings back a ton of memories about the shows/VNs in question :).

      Those are also some pretty great picks for music (yea GDM!), although I’ve only heard the music for the latter two (haven’t watched them yet), which just reminds me I need to get around to them soon!

  2. Not too versed in anime jazz (that said, obligatory mention of the Evangelion ED), but reading your thoughts on nostalgia reminded me of something slightly different.

    From Bill Evans’s liner notes to Kind of Blue:

    There is a Japanese visual art in which the artist is forced to be spontaneous. He must paint on a thin stretched parchment with a special brush and black water paint in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment. Erasures or changes are impossible. These artists must practice a particular discipline, that of allowing the idea to express itself in communication with their hands in such a direct way that deliberation cannot interfere.

    The resulting pictures lack the complex composition and textures of ordinary painting, but it is said that those who see well find something captured that escapes explanation.

    This conviction that direct deed is the most meaningful reflections, I believe, has prompted the evolution of the extremely severe and unique disciplines of the jazz or improvising musician.

    I’m not too well-versed in Japanese aesthetics, but I think there may be some term for what’s going on here? Not sure, though.

    • That’s really intense, and absolutely wonderful to imagine.

      I’m not sure if the Japanese have a term for this type of thing, but I do see parallels in some East Asian philosophy, the most relevant of which is Zen Buddhism. The idea of one of the main founders, Dogen, espoused in his book “How to Raise an Ox”, was that simple action, devoid of cluttering and irrelevant thoughts, was the best form of meditation that allowed one to realize their inner Buddha-nature and achieve enlightenment. This idea definitely seems to be related to the practice Bill Evans describes, although I’d have to do some research to get to the bottom of it. Great find!

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