Musical Impressions- Darwin’s Game

It’s a survival anime. People are trapped within a game creepier than Sword Art Online. They use their phones but not quite like in Mirai Nikki. At least this time Kaname, one of the main characters, is nothing like bystander Yuki and actually shows some backbone from the very first episode.

DISCLAIMER: May contain spoilers ahead. May also contain eggs, milk, soy, nuts and the tears of your enemies.


The Opening Theme. The sound of an unfair game. “CHAIN” by ASCA

Discover more on ASCA’s official YouTube channel.
singer ASCA in front of a dark red background, wearing a bright red top, looking directly to the camera, with straight long dark brown hair.
Singer Ōkura Asuka, aka ASCA (source)


Prejudice. This was my first reaction when I listened to the Darwin’s Game opening theme for the first time. I was expecting it to be less melodic, more dissonant with harder and bolder turns. Why? Probably because I linked it with Mirai Nikki unconsciously. However, the only Mirai Nikki hint I got was during the pre-chorus. Despite it being a good anime opening, I sort of felt let down as it could have been so much more. And although I was psyched up about Darwin’s Game and had the bar set up high, I did not misjudge the OP. Which got me thinking…

It’s an Aniplex production. The fact that we are talking about a big producer comes along with some benefits and some drawbacks. The benefits include the quality of the production, the choice of the tie-up artist and the high industry standards. The drawbacks become more prominent when due to certain standards, the artistic freedom becomes limited. To elaborate. OP themes need to be recognizable, not only as J-pop songs, but also as anime tie-ups. The anime music genre has certain clichés and sometimes these clichés are so heavily used that can become a handicap to the entire song. Meaning that a composition may take you a certain way but a harmonic cliché may hold you back, thus altering the profile of the entire song.

Well, prejudice aside, I wasn’t expecting any strings or the sound of an acoustic guitar, as both instruments are commonly used in lighter contexts. And my mind blown moment was when I found the pre-chorus more interesting than the chorus itself. But on second thought, the chorus has more to it. What makes it exciting isn’t just the ascending parts of the melodic line; it’s what leads us to those parts. And even though Phrase 1 of the chorus seems ‘static’ and with minimal development, it becomes a characteristic and a memorable/identifiable part of the entire composition. But still, it’s not enough to make the impact it should’ve made. I just craved for more diversity, for something bolder and harder. I was expecting to listen to an outside-the-box genre mash-up, to a more interesting instrumentation… Not an SAO-inspired song.

Now this is the limitation I was talking about earlier. ASCA is one of the featured artists in Sword Art Online. It became a thing in 2012. The Darwin’s Game manga was published in 2012. Although ASCA is a good artist for such a tie-up, her identifiable sound becomes something like an invisible barrier. When we listen to the OP, we actually listen to a soft-core mainstream J-Pop sound, as this is actually ASCA’s sound. However, the anime may require something more that’s not included in the artist’s sound profile. Hence, you either mess with the sound of the anime, or you mess with the sound of the artist. As the second one would probably mess with the artist’s career, it’s common courtesy that you don’t. So… yeah.

Other than what I though it would have been or what I had hoped it would have been, it’s a nice intro for this story. The thing is though, I cannot make up my mind about the OP. I see a gap between the vibe of the music and the character of the anime. If this gap remains as is, episode after episode, then the OP is a misrepresentation of the show. If the gap becomes smaller and smaller, then Episode 1 was simply misleading.

Find ASCA here:
Official Website // Twitter // Facebook // Instagram // YouTube


OST first impressions. by Suehiro Kenichiro

Suehiro Kenichiro, close-up, only head and part of shoulders is visible, wearing dark brown jacket and white shirt, short straight dark chestnut hair, posing in an angle looking towards the camera.
Composer, arranger Suehiro Kenichiro (source)


We are not supposed to pay attention to the music. It is used as a tool that can make the anime pleasant and interesting to watch. It was a really good accompaniment to the story, the visuals and the sound effects. And when comparing it to other anime, this soundtrack wasn’t prominent or distracting. It wasn’t tiring or ‘chatty’ as it usually is during first episodes. I liked the contrast between the full orchestral sound and the electronic sounds that could as well be SFX. It quickly becomes apparent that Suehiro is inspired and influenced by TV scoring from the second half of the 1900s, combined with contemporary style scoring.

Find Suehiro Kenichiro here:
Official Page on ONEMUSIC // Twitter


The Ending Theme. Two sides of the same coin… “Alive” by Ayano Mashiro

Discover more on Ayano’s YouTube channel.
Ayano Mashiro posing in front of a mirror, wearing a white top and a black vest.
Singer Ayano Mashiro (source)

Contrast. This is what this song is about. We are quickly struck with anguish and the sense of reaching a dead-end. But almost at the same time, we are reminded that there’s something that opposes melancholy: the will to fight. The will to overcome the exact thing that makes us feel hopeless. The source of the song’s dynamism may appear to come from the vocals. Well, even though that’s true, what lies underneath is what makes all the difference. And that pillar is nothing other than the arrangement. It’s what leads us to the 30 second climax.

The thing is that it sounds sooo much like 2012. If you happen to wonder why, it’s mainly the use of the piano’s high register, coupled with the minimal accompaniment during the verse that becomes more sturdy little by little, until we reach the pre-chorus that in turn leads to drums that pack a punch and a kick and leave us with no escape other than going through the chorus.

Even though I got passionate about this ending, I have to say that it has a predictable sound, especially after familiarizing with the sound of the OP and with the anime itself.

Find Ayano Mashiro here:
Official Website // Blog // Twitter // Facebook // Instagram // YouTube


Generally speaking…

I really liked that the first broadcast was a double episode in length. It felt packed and it definitely kept me interested throughout.

TL;DR (Dude- don’t start reading the spoilers. Read the entire thing.)

  • Good opening theme but with drawbacks, as it closely follows harmonic clichés that possibly influence the melodic line.
  • The OP definitely makes an impression but not as strong as you’d expect.
  • The anime and the OP seem to work well together.
  • The soundtrack works really well with the story and the sound mixing helps it shine.
  • The ED follows the same concept as the OP. I like it since it has more emotion.

Score

⭐⭐⭐⭐


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