Some final comments on Macross Frontier part 4: a few words from the maestro

Kanno Youko’s Interview

from the Official Complete Book, p.92-5

I swear, it's impossible to get a good screencap of her!
I swear, it’s impossible to get a good screencap of her!

Disclaimer: You’re welcome to link to this or quote parts of it, but please don’t copy and paste substantial amounts elsewhere.

Also, intersped through this interview are Kanno’s comments on the songs that appear in “Wings of Farewell”. Please note that, unless otherwise stated, the music and arrangement is always by Kanno, and the lyrics by Gabriela Robin (which is a pseudonym, by the way).

And without further ado, enjoy!

-karice

Please start by telling us what you thought about the second film.

Normally, when I watch a work that I’ve been involved in, I check the audio for it as well, so I tend to be a harsh critic. This was probably the first time where I was able to clap whole-heartedly after it finished. It was entertainment of a level that I’d never experienced before – I was barely able to blink (laughs). I usually get the feeling that I’m really riding in a valkyrie, so my body inadvertently tenses up as I watch. At the end of the first film, I was so tired that I was in a daze. But this time, even though I was overflowing with the same sensation, when it ended I just wanted to watch it again, to get on that valkyrie again! There were no gaps in the love, the battles and the songs that were through at us – like, “what’s with this chaotic information overload!?” (laughs) I was also really happy that we were able to use the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra to the fullest. The combination of animation full of sensation with the rich music, the feel and personally of a film really came through.

How did you go about creating the music (for the film)?

It was a process where the first and second films were both mixed in. Because I had to compose the music to unfinished animation – stills that were still completely white – I had no idea how the story progressed until the day of the premiere, so I was completely surprised. Normally, I’d change the order of songs as well as the arrangement depending on whether the ending is happy or sad, but I couldn’t find out how the film would end (laughs). Hence, I went with songs that called out to each other, and songs whose lyrics flowed on from one another. Compared to writing songs from scratch, the process of combing old and new songs together into medleys was far more troublesome. On top of that, (I had to keep in mind that) in the gap between the two films, both May’n and Megumi would steadily mature as singers. How should those changes be represented? As their producer, it was something that both troubled and interested me. For those sensitive and flexible fans who could enjoy following virtual idols, we created CDs that brought their characters to life, approaching the timing of their releases and the creation of the jacket covers as if they were real idols.

There were some songs that had already been completed when the first film was released, right?

“Get it On” and “Love is a Dogfight” had both been written at that time, but I put them aside at the director’s bidding. The songs that were written by request for Wings of Farewell were “Kindan no Elixir” [Forbidden Elixir], the title song and the “Nyan Nyan Final Attack”. But I felt that it wasn’t quite enough, so I started working on the Christmas album after that, and came up with “Houkago Overflow” [After School Overflow]. The last songs to be written were “Hoshikira” [Twinkling Star] and “d-Shudista-b” [d-Shooting Star-b], in that order.

Were there any particular directives from Kawamori Shouji?

Until now, I’ve heard that the director has often been inspired by the music to add to the animation. But this time, the opposite was also true. He gave me a few keywords and ideas for costumes, which helped me come up with some of the songs. For Sheryl’s concert, he wanted to have nurse costumes and test tubes; for Ranka’s, he wanted a magical girl costume and for her to be holding a key or a baton; those directions helped me develop the songs in question. With regards to the magical girl idea, I’ve never seen anything about magical girls, so when I asked what kinds of things he had in mind, he answered “Instead of “Open Sesame” (開けごま / hirake goma), “Open Bear” (開けクマ / hirake kuma) and so on. “A bear?!” Though I was taken aback by that, I imagined how cute it would be if a bear toy came out and wrote the song. The most impressive thing about the director is how he is overflowing with such ideas. Of course, he’s got a lot of fresh ideas on the technical side and also in terms of sensitivity, but particularly after I saw the second film, I realised that he was an entertainer to the core. Generally speaking, the deeper a story becomes, the more attention people put into the emotional and psychological aspects. So it says a lot that, even at the climax, he comes up with ideas such as making Sheryl a nurse and Ranka a magical girl. The whole atmosphere of Ranka’s concert scene was like that of a magical girl – it was amazing. The weight of opening a picture book was clearly conveyed in that scene.

Kindan no Elixir [Forbidden Elixir]

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Mr. Kawamori spoke to me about how he wanted to paint a picture of a laboratory for Sheryl’s Concert, and amongst the keywords that he raised was the word ‘elixir’. Following on from the first film, The False Diva, I thought that I’d like to try something that gives off a whiff of death, the sense of danger that comes with deceiving someone or being deceived. Something like ‘a thrilling doctors game between adults’ (laughs). Thinking that it would have impact if it were the first song sung, I composed it as such – who’d have thought they’d really go with that. Up til now, I don’t think we’ve used such a solid sound in Macross, but May’n’s singing was perfect. Even when it’s a difficult song, when she sings, I become the catcher. It’s something of a mystery.

Gira Gira Summer (^ω^)ノ [Glittering Summer (^ω^)ノ]
lyrics: Gabriela Robin / Tokunaga Keisuke

MF_Music_02

A song that Sheryl put out based on misunderstanding what was being asked of her,* something that she wrote with all her youthful indiscretion. I was just happy that we were able to use it in the second film as well. Everyone just digs into me about it, with director Kawamori himself leading the charge. And we were also able to perform it at the Christmas Live, so it’s a song that was given more life than I ever thought possible.

*This is the song Sheryl proposed for the film ‘The Bird Human’, the film-within-a-film from the TV series. From the notes for the Universal Bunny album, 「When in a meeting with the director about the music, Sheryl left halfway though, grinning as she told him: “I’ve already written it. I’ll just get to recording it then.” She’d haphazardly picked up just the key phrase “a southern island,” and had no idea what the story was about, so it was way off the mark.」 It ended up being used as a CM for a new cosmetics product. -karice

Shima Aimo [Island Aimo]

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Because this is a song that I wrote right at the beginning of the project, there are quite a few versions of it. Here, I took a take that Megumi recorded back then, which has something of naiveté to it, and used the orchestra to make it sound a lot grander. At the time, we recorded it as if she were singing about Ai-kun, so when I found out that it was actually a song of love, I was really surprised. Like, “no way! Is the ‘little child of green’ Ranka?!”

Nijiiro Kuma Kuma [Rainbow-coloured Bear]

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The director came to me with the idea of making Ranka’s concert with the image of ‘a magical girl’, with chants like “Open Ranka” and “Open Bear,” and swinging around a key or baton. This grew from those ideas. The chant at the start is the director’s own invention. At first, I thought about naming it something along the lines of “Magical Girl ~,” but when I found out that one of Sheryl’s lines would be “Your new song, ‘~~~.’ I really like it,” I just wanted to make Endo Aya say something in that sexy voice of hers. I was just waiting for a reaction of “No way!” from both the staff and the fans, but they just took it in their stride. That was quite disappointing.

The album for the second film, “the end of “triangle,” has the title “Spoiler Album” attached to it. What does that mean?

It’s neither a soundtrack nor a vocal collection, it’s a new genre that I’ve come up with (laughs). It’s something of a warning, that people who listen to it before they’ve seen the film may spoil themselves. That said, it’s not like they’ll find out everything, so I want them to let their imaginations run wild as they listen to it. In contrast to previous times, when the animation was almost perfectly matched with the lyrics, this time, even I, the person who wrote them, was completely shocked at many of the twists and turns. Meaning that I was mistaken (laughs). Please mislead all the people who listen to the album beforehand as well.

Amongst all those songs, you’ve also included a few instrumental tracks.

Even ones that didn’t end up being used in the films. I’d actually composed a whole lot of instrumental pieces, so I went through them and chose ones that fit with the flow. Even I don’t really know just how much music I composed for Macross F.

On that note, what was the first piece that you composed for Macross F?

The first was “Aimo,” the song that is associated with Ranka. “What about my star?” and “Welcome to my Fanclub’s Night!” were next – they were originally part of the same song. Right from the start, I composed them with live performances in mind, so I even included cheers from the crowd in the demos.

I’ve heard that you were involved in other projects whilst you were working on this series – how do you manage to handle such a large volume of work?

Even I don’t really know (laughs). I’m the type of person who can work on different things at the same time – perhaps I just have a large capacity for it. While I’m writing a score, I can listen to some other piece of music and discuss it with another person. In my head, I have lots of folders, for Ranka, Sheryl and others. When I’m out on the streets, if I feel something, I’ll pop it into the appropriate folder for safekeeping, to be worked on later. In fact, having three or four different projects to work on at the same time might be better for me. Sometimes, a link is born between them, and its this kind of thing that keeps me interested and prevents me from getting bored.

What were the recording sessions like?

We had several sessions, all recorded in a studio in the outskirts of the city. We were immersed in music from morning to night, but because the air and water were so fresh that it just felt different. At night, the deer would start bleating. Together with May’n and/or Megumi, we’d have barbecues, play around with fireworks, like having a camp with a great balance of work and play.

Did the mood of the recording differ depending on whether you had May’n and Megumi recording singles or duets?

Completely. For a duet, each of them would enter the booth alone, and they’d be listening to a recording of the other whilst singing their own part. That way, it was like each of them was sensing how the other was growing (as a singer), which help boost up the feelings of rivalry in their hearts. Both of their voices improved in leaps and bounds, but if I had to say, Megumi was the one who shot up the most. May’n was the one who had to match her. Surprising, isn’t it? But if you listen to the final recordings, it sounds like it’s the opposite. May’n’s songs showcase a strong will that does not yield to anyone, and it sounds like Megumi is the one who had to match up to her when they were singing together. It’s really quite strange. It wasn’t just that their voices were compatible, I think that they also made the perfect combo in terms of their affinity with their characters. And I guess I’m something like the mother who makes them compete and also watches over them (laughs).

Koi wa Dogfight [Love is a Dogfight]
lyrics: Kurokawa Eiji*

MF_Music_05

Mr. Kawamori* wrote the lyrics for this song first. In show, it’s a theme song for a shooting game that Ranka’s producer has her do. With today’s idols in mind, I gave it a somewhat mechanical sound. But Megumi’s unaffected singing gave it some character, and I ended up liking it more than I expected.

*Yup, this is a pseudonym. I don’t know why he uses it for some songs, and doesn’t for others (e.g. Sayonara no Tsubasa) -karice

Diamond Crevasse
lyrics: hal

In the film, the PV scenes from “Nyan Clip” were used for this, weren’t they? The version that we included in this album is the one that we performed for the Christmas Live in Kobe. The ambiance that we achieved at the time was really good, so we recorded it once again. Rather than the sorrowful feeling of “where has the person I love gone?,” it’s got this warm ending that speaks of a new, forthcoming journey.

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One thing that’s interesting about this song is whom May’n thinks about when she sings it, as opposed to whom Endo Aya thinks about when she hears it. It was a question put to them for their interviews for Sheryl ~Kiss in the Galaxy~ vol. 2. May’n indicated that although she thinks of Alto generally for all songs after they met, for the first Vajra attack, she thought of the family and friends that she probably had as a very young child, and when in the shelter, she thought about all the people that she was singing for, despairing people who’d lost something precious. Endo Aya, on the other hand, observed that the more she listened to this song, the more she thought about Grace, because she’d always been there bringing Sheryl up, protecting her. Considering that Sheryl wrote this song long before she met Alto, it makes a lot of sense. -karice

Seikan Hikou [Interstellar Flight]
lyrics: Matsumoto Takashi

MF_Music_07

This is the version that we presented at the Christmas Live, which we recorded with the fans in attendance right after the concert. Of course, they sung together with us too. Even Megumi’s “All together now!” and “Here we go!” were recorded live. Because we were able to capture the high of the concert, the mood of the song and the accompaniment were both really good. It was just perfect for the film.

One thing I thought I should note here is that Matsumoto Takashi actually is his own person, who has written lyrics for loads of Japanese artistes… -karice

Get it on ~Kousoku CLImax [Get it on ~Climax at the speed of light]

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This is a song that I wrote when we were working on the first film, the director told me to keep it aside because he wanted to use it for the ‘jail break’ scene. The first version was in English, and we turned it into a Japanese one for the second film. It’s a happy and hopeful song that suggests Sheryl and Ranka heading off to their next performance with a stride in their steps. We talked about how it would be fitting either for the end of the first film, or even of the second. It’s a song that we had ‘a recording camp’ for.

Houkago Overflow [After School Overflow]

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In the film, this is the first number for which Ranka wrote the lyrics herself. Remembering that, right from the beginning of the TV series, the director always described this series as “a story where, once parted at the end of the school day, we might not be able to meet again,” I ventured to take the classic route. The point is that, when you’re involved in a war whether you’re risking your life, you do become concerned about whether you will meet again at school or not. To 16 and 17 year olds, I think it’s like saying that you should live to your fullest, whether in love or war. From the point where I wrote it, I thought that this would be the hit that followed “Seikan Hikou” for Ranka. Megumi’s frank singing in this song is simply fantastic.

With Sayonara no Tsubasa [The Wings of Farewell], you presented a duet as a rapid-fire dialogue.

The key was really high, it had some very long notes, and was really fast on top of that (laughs). The two of them sang to the point where their blood vessels were close to bursting; I wrote it without deciding on a limit for either of them, because I want them to keep testing the limits of possibility. Both of them are young and have an earnestness about them, and when I see them reaching out as far as they can, it really grabs my heart. If I were a guy, I’d totally fall for them (laughs). It’s not like it was a one-way street where I, as their producer, was responsible for their development; I also took many things away from working with them. It was a incredibly stimulating for me. It was like they themselves were calling out for their songs. The second film was about Ranka growing up, and with the stimulus from Megumi, “Hoshikira” was born. The two of them were my models, they held all the answers. All I did was scoop out the subtleties of their growth and turned it into music.

“Hoshikira” was the song that was sung through the epilogue.

It’d pretty much been decided that the final songs would be “Ao no Ether” [Blue Ether] and “What ‘bout my star?,” but after we’d completed the Christmas album, I felt like there were some feelings that I had yet to get out, and so I wrote this song. When we recorded it, Megumi had yet to receive the script, so she was singing it without knowing what the background of the song was, or where in the story it would be used. If we just look at the lyrics, it seems like a happy song that she’d sing to him at (the) wedding, but there’s a note of sorrow in her voice. I think that the intuition (that produced such a fitting song) just came naturally. “d-shudista-b,” a song I wrote because I wanted something they’d sing energetically together, took the place of “What ‘bout my star?” In my mind, it’s a song that Sheryl wrote when she was touring the galaxy with “Iteza…” [Sagittarius…] etc; a song that, at the encore to one of her own concerts, she’d magnanimously call on Ranka to sing with her. Perhaps it’s something that can be thought of as taking place several years after the end of the film, a song that Sheryl and Ranka sing together. We made it an ending filled with hope and implication.

Another song that stood out was “F refrain”.

“F refrain” is a song I wrote much earlier, during the second half of the TV series. I wrote it for the scene where Sheryl, having fallen down, is stumbling in the rain on the street, and there she hears Ranka’s song. By including this song in the album, I feel that we were able to show the pain that Sheryl feels when she accepts reality, and as Ranka sings “Do you remember love?,” that that she is destined to keep on living. It’s as if Megumi’s tender voice was conveying the peace and warmth of a hymn.

Nyan Nyan Final Attack Frontier Greatest☆Hits!

MF_Music_10

In terms of medleys, I made around three or four of them using completely different songs, but chose this one because it fit the animation best. I had a discussion with Mr. Kawamori about perhaps making a ballad out of a song that wasn’t a ballad, and when I played it through and had a listen, I decided that I wanted to have an a cappella beginning to “Northern Cross” as the ballad. Though Ranka being able to say “Open Ranka!” straight after that…she’s a bit of an airhead! Then the girls get right into “Lion,” switching to a “Let’s go!” tempo – but really, if we didn’t flick the switch like that, the music wouldn’t be able to keep up with the speed of what’s happening on screen. Finally, I finished it with “Obelisk” because I wanted to end with the the world view encompassed in those lyrics.

Sayonara no Tsubasa ~the end of triangle [The Wings of Farewell ~the end of triangle]
lyrics: Gabriela Robin / Kawamori Shouji

MF_Music_11

The director told me that Valkyries are also known in legend as beings who ferry the souls of warriors, so I incorporated that into the lyrics. I wrote them with the vision of Sheryl and Ranka soaring through the sky with those warriors’ souls. The line “the future we are heading to choose right now,” along with the feeling of the tune and the musical arrangement – I wrote them all to convey a story of those maidens right in the middle of making their important life choices. Whether to give up their wings to save their loved one or to fight; whether to stick to their love for Alto or to grasp their music. When I watched the film, I was like “that’s really what it was!!” (laughs). Until now, May’n and Megumi haven’t had a song with such a rapid-fire dialogue, so I wanted to have them really duel it out. When I heard them pouring their souls into it, my palms just started sweating.

Hoshikira [~~“Twinkling Star”]

MF_Music_12

This is one of the songs that suddenly came to me after the creation of the Christmas album. At the time, Megumi had worked herself into the ground, so I wanted to give her a song of encouragement. Additionally, the final movie has Ranka, who used to sing only as she’d been told by her producer, becoming more independent. Because of that, to me, it became something that represented Megumi singing a song that she herself wanted to sing. Rather than Ranka, this is a song that was written for Megumi.

d-shudisuta-b [“d-shooting star-b”]
lyrics: hal

MF_Music_13

This is one of the last songs we recorded. As I wanted it to be timeless, a song that could be from the past or the future, I told hal, who also wrote the lyrics to “What ’bout my star?,” that I wanted something that feels like a delinquent Sheryl. In universe, it’s a song written by Sheryl, which she invites Ranka as a guest to sing with her during the encore of a live. And because it’s a live, I thought some MC work was needed, so I added a few lines of dialogue for the two of them.

On that note, what was most enjoyable for you as their (music) producer?

That the two of them completely exceeded my expectations. No matter what challenge I threw at them, they’d overcome it. This repeated experience is probably what I enjoyed the most. You might ask whether I foresaw their immense growth when they auditioned, but it wasn’t quite like that. Because May’n as Sheryl was set up as a top idol, it would have been a problem if she did not sell, but from the moment I met her, I had no doubt that she would sell. I couldn’t see a future for her where she would not sell. Not that I had any basis for making that judgement – her singing is also different now from what it used to be. As for Megumi, she was pretty much Ranka right from the start. She’s got a charm and riskiness about her that prevents you from pulling your eyes away, and before you know it, she’s shot right through the ceiling. She’s amazing, and very frank, really really strong. The balance between the two of them was far more interesting that any drama.

In producing these two new artistes, was there anything that you kept in mind?

The Megumi who played Ranka and the May’n playing Sheryl, versus just Megumi and May’n. In order to make sure that we could keep them separate, I made sure to cultivate an environment where they could chose to shoulder their characters, as well as choose not to play them. If they feel like they want to say “but that’s not the real me,” it’d be hard on them. In truth, I think that both of them were worried about that in the beginning. For the first concert, each of them in turn came to ask me whether they should stand on that stage as their characters, or as Nakajima Megumi and May’n: “Which should I do?” Depending on which one they choose, what they’d say as MC would be different, be it starting with “How are you feeling, everyone?!” or “Good evening, I’m Nakajima Megumi / May’n,” or even in terms of their costumes and attitudes. But after two or three months, I think that Megumi naturally became Ranka, and May’n chose to distinguish between herself and Sheryl.

How about yourself? Who do you stand on stage as?

That’s the difficult part (laughs). Even if I worry about whether I should step onto stage as a producer or as a performer, fans probably wouldn’t care. But if I don’t decide, then I can’t even start. Because I understand that trial, I really admire how the two of them were able to stand on naturally on a real stage in such a short period of time.

I was able to attend the rehearsals for the Christmas Live, and thought that you were quite different there, with a stricter countenance.

For the Christmas Live, we weren’t able to set aside much time for rehearsals. Normally, the reason we repeat things so many times is so that, when it comes to the actual performance, we don’t have to think about what we’re doing on stage. Without worrying, we just do it. I really think that preparation is key.

Which of the concerts has left the greatest impression on you?

There have been 7 concerts in total – if we count the one at the Expo in LA, then 7.5 (laughs). This is the first time I’ve had to do 7 concerts for a single title. For the first concert at Zepp, it was the first time I’d ever produced a virtual idol, so I had no idea whether fans would come, and what I really remember is how we fumbled through it. When we did “SMS Shoutai no Uta” [The Chant of the SMS], the fans started singing ahead of us; during “Ninjin Loves you yeah!” [Carrot Loves you yeah!] people spontaneously called out “Ranka!” and so on. I felt like ‘culture’ was being born right there and then – it really stunned me, like “what in the world is happening here…?” As the producer, my work is to put all the ingredients together into a package for sale, but it was the fans who brought about developments that I’d never even aimed for. I was really surprised. I came away thinking that idol concerts really are quite interesting.

I think that there will be many fans who want to see another concert after they’ve caught the film.

I often get asked if there will be any more concerts. Well, we wanted to leave this as a project that people wanted to see more of, that they felt wasn’t quite complete, so I dare say that we held our last concert just before the film opened. When you want to see something, it’s no longer possible; that’s precisely why that one moment is so important. That’s what life is about.

That’s a pity. After all, there are so many songs that haven’t yet been performed live (laughs). Finally, you’ve been involved with Frontier for around four years, if I remember correctly. Please tell us how you feel now as the time for parting approaches.

I feel a bit relieved that it’s drawing to a close, because the climax for me was when I was working with May’n and Megumi for the recordings. There are many things that go into producing a good sound, but for me, the most important is to record a great song. I feel that if I just wrote the songs and handed them over to the staff to be sung however they wish, I wouldn’t be able to bring out even half of the emotions I wish for. Vocal recordings take up a lot of time, and I was there for every single song.

Do you have any regrets?

I achieved everything that I wanted to do, so I have no lingering regrets (laughs).

If you had to choose just one song…

MF_Music_16   MF_Music_14

for Sheryl Nome starring May’n: Universal Bunny
for Ranka Lee = Nakajima Megumi: Hoshikira

That’s a difficult question (wry smile). “Universal Bunny” is a song in which two divas with different characters appear, so it’s something that’s difficult to do with just one person in a concert. And not to rely on costumes or lighting, but becoming someone else just by whirling around to face the other way. That just shows the depth of what May’n, who is able to dance and sing, can do. “Hoshikira” is a song that binds Megumi and Ranka together completely. I still vividly remember the expressiveness with which she sung it every single time.

And a bonus: album notes for my own favourite song from the first film…-karice

Sou da yo [That’s how it is]
lyrics: Sakamoto Maaya / Gabriela Robin

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Right after Ranka Lee’s breakout, this song was used in the CM for a mobile device. The bittersweet melody and the CM’s story became much talked-about topics, and it remains one of her most popular songs. The person she kissed – or did not kiss – at the end was left unclear, giving rise to a huge controversy amongst ‘net users across the galaxy. To the many enquiries they received, the company made the evasive comment that “even though it’s a mobile, although it should connect it doesn’t…or something along those lines,” which led to the debate heating up. Speculation that Ranka was in love created network congestion on a galactic scale.

About karice
MAG fan, amateur translator and political scientist in training. I also love musicals, photography, travel and believe it or not, the game of cricket. よろしく!

2 Responses to Some final comments on Macross Frontier part 4: a few words from the maestro

  1. Pingback: For the record: Yack Deculture! | HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

  2. Pingback: Sounding off on anime sound design | HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

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