Having not watched a great deal of Shippuden, I was a little disturbed to initially find that Toshiro Masuda, composer of the original Naruto series, wasn't on board to create the music. The character and battle themes of Naruto were so important in setting up the story and conveying the drama of the series, I was quite surprised Masuda-san didn't follow on with the rest of the staff after doing such a good job.
So in comes Yasuharu Takanashi. He's not a name I was familiar with, having not watched Gantz, Ikki Tousen or New Fist of the North Star. My first foray into his music was with the Naruto Shippuden Movie soundtrack that I bought on a whim at the London Expo last October. And I was not disappointed in the least.
Naruto Shippuden track listing:
2. Heaven Shaking Event
4. Battle Experience
5. Lightning Speed
8. Departure to the Front
11. The Disaster Victims
15. The Secret Fighting Spirit
16. The Unmatched
17. Setting Sun
18. Everyone's Achievements
20. Dark Clouds
25. It's All or Nothing
26. Reversed Situation
28. Hurricane Suite
With the shift in tone of Naruto to Shippuden, it's probably no surprise that the music should reflect that change. The bright, perhaps slightly more innocent melodies that accompanied the first series are gone. There's little comedy on this CD, and the overall atmosphere is quite heavy. There are some lighter pieces, specifically 'Comrades' and 'Homecoming' that serve as nice interludes for the rest of the tracks, steeped in tense atmosphere. They're well composed and still retain the Naruto feeling, whilst being more mature and standing out incredibly well as individual pieces of music.
Battle music and ethereal themes of sadness or evil are Shippuden's main course for the day, then, beginning right from the start with 'Shippuden', a rousing battle theme that sends shivers down my spine every time I listen to it. There's a real story to this dramatic, action track with a burst of inspiring flute and drum kit in the middle for the real hit. Not content with already making me feel I'd got my money's worth with that single track, it then throws 'Heaven-Shaking Event' out, which, if you've got the Shippuden Movie soundtrack (that ironically enough came out before this one), you'll recognise instantly. It's a longer version of this heroic, victorious music with a heavier electric guitar presence and more pronounced drum kit usage. I haven't decided which one I like more yet. This version has a whole 54 seconds more than the Movie orchestration. Longer track = yum.
Anyway, great as they are, to go on about these two tracks would cheapen the rest of the music, which is at least as good.
The most prominent instruments in Naruto, as in the original series' soundtrack are definitely the electric guitars, Shamisen (traditional Japanese guitar), Shakuhachi (traditional Japanese bamboo flute), violins, an assortment of drums and a male chorus for shouty Japanese bits. There's supporting brass and woodwind, augmented somewhat by synthesisers in certain pieces; on the whole there's a very strong sense of rhythm, as the percussion and staccato chorus both play big role. It fits together seamlessly, the only occasional mesh that doesn't quite fit together is when some of the guitars have a little too much echo. But that's very rare.
The soulful, sensitive tracks are there too, needless to say to accompany Naruto's inevitable sadder moments. There's little to distinguish them unfortunately, and this is perhaps where the score falls down a little. They're very nice to listen to, but all very similar and sound too much like variations on the same theme: a disappointment considering the huge variety of rousing action themes. The Shamisen strums, the strings flow, and there's a soft atmospheric drone in the background. Nice, but not quite as moving as the original series' 'Sadness and Sorrow' track. Looking over it all now, I'm not sure I've heard a single piano in this entire soundtrack. I could be wrong, though.
Other notable tracks: 'Reversed Situation' is an epic four-minute rock battle track with synth, electric guitar and Shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute used prominently throughout Naruto) melodies carrying it through. 'Akatsuki' is a great dark piece with an organ and those deep male vocals providing a rhythmic chorus that captures (hah) the evil organisation very well. There's a great sense of danger running through it. 'The Secret Fighting Spirit' is unique in the album in that it's very tribal-sounding, far-removed from the guitars and drum kits in the other pieces.
In all, this album far exceeded my expectations. The action themes are some of the best I've ever heard, atmospheric and exciting. It is well worth buying if you're a fan of the anime or music in general- I'd highly recommended picking it up. A staunch 9.3/10.
I have edited together a selection track snippets for you to listen to. They are, in order: Shippuden, Homecoming, The Secret Fighting Spirit, Akatsuki and Reversed Situation. I've provided a link to the piece on myOtaku. Bit of a roundabout way of doing it, but I hope you can get a feel for it. Here it is... we hope :p
REMEMBER: If you are buying the Shippuden soundtrack, make sure it's genuine. The code you're looking for is SVWC 7509. It's released by Aniplex, and you can pick it up from, amongst others, Play-Asia and CDJapan. That's where I
live buy my soundtracks.