Track samples for disc eight leads to their video counterpart on our YouTube channel.
Note: In both the packaging (DVD Insert) and the menu of the DVD, tracks 6 and 8 are mislabeled. Both list “F.D.D.” as the background audio track, when in fact, the song used is “fake me.” This review page lists the correct songs for those movie files.
Before STEINS;GATE, there was CHAOS;HEAD. This visual novel marks the beginning of a meta-series from 5pb and Nitroplus entitled the “Science Adventure” series. It goes on to include STEINS;GATE and ROBOTICS;NOTES, followed by direct sequels CHAOS;CHILD and STEINS;GATE 0 (and a planned ROBOTICS;NOTES DaSH). Alongside these six main titles, dozens of spin-offs, radio dramas, manga, anime, and even live stage plays have been created. All this to say: CHAOS;HEAD launched something huge.
Sadly, this first title has yet to be officially localized in English. So as I delved into this stuffed box of music, all I had to guide me was my time playing the sequel CHAOS;CHILD. Listening to all of this music without the context of the game to lead the way has actually been an eye-opening experience for me.
We can get started with the first two discs, which feature vocal performances of various kinds. Having already reviewed the equivalent box set for STEINS;GATE, I have a good sense for the the usual suspects involved in these vocal tracks. Especially noteworthy are the works of Kanako Ito and Yui Sakakibara (aka “Phantasm” for this project). Ito’s voice is impossible to forget, as it has such a distinct, soulful sound. Her opening themes for the PC, anime, and Xbox 360 CHAOS;HEAD titles are absolutely fantastic. These tracks (“Find the blue,” “F.D.D.,” and “fake me,” respectively) sound remarkably similar to her expert work on STEINS;GATE. This, of course, suggests a formulaic approach. It also suggests the same team behind the vocalist: sure enough, arranger Toshimichi Isoe worked on all three of these tracks, and many of the studio musicians are the same not just on Kanako Ito’s songs, but across all of the performances as well.
There are a handful of exceptions. On the first disc, there is only one song that is not from Ito or Sakakibara, and that is Seira Kagami’s “Super Special,” the ending theme for the CHAOS;HEAD anime. I adore this song. It’s sugary and simple, and it would make an ideal track for a rhythm game (DDR, Project Diva, etc). So good.
But for me, the greatest song among the openings, endings, and inserts, is the CHAOS;HEAD NOAH (Xbox 360 port) ending theme “Gospel of Hallelujah” by Yui Sakakibara. You’ll notice that among the many songs from Sakakibara, all of the convoluted titles use a sort of Gothic Christian language. The lyrics to “Gospel of Hallelujah” do an incredible job balancing the sorrow of a tragic sci-fi story with the sacred pleas of someone struggling to find solace in the face of grief and loss:
As He, clad in white garments, had spoken His final word,
I asked Him not to return to the throne.
I listen to the song of praise, the forbidden fruit and eternity
salvation, given me in faith, will bring back the meaning of love.
New sky, hallelujah, I’m crying to God, calling His name,
forgetting solemnity; If I’m to lose gentle warmth and my directions
let me lay in breathless sleep.
(translation credit to Arkveth at AnimeLyrics.com)
Every time Yui Sakakibara belts out that powerful “hallelujah,” I detect the same sort of sorrow one associates with the classic Leonard Cohen piece, but under a completely different musical framework. These Gothic J-Rock pieces may be underappreciated by highbrow critics, but I cannot help but indulge in such music.
Disc two’s vocal tracks are character themes from each of the character singles, as well as their accompanying “Fantasy Voice” mini-drama tracks. These tracks tend to decrease in quality compared to the excellent opening/ending/insert songs. But there is hope! The voice actors also happen to be some talented singers. Among the cast, we have Chiaki Takahashi, Ui Miyazaki, and…wait for it…Yui Sakakibara herself. Even with the decent vocal power, the composition and arrangement of these character themes are a mixed bag. Fortunately, there are a few that stand a cut above the rest. And yes, Yui Sakakibara’s “Cut Off the Darkness of the Heart” tops the list. But the songs are all still far better than most character vocal albums I’ve heard in my decades of voraciously consuming imported game and anime music.
So those two discs make up the vocal portion of the Complete Box, right? Well…actually, no. Like many aspects of this box set, the selection of vocal tracks leaves no doubt in my mind that the publishers didn’t realize what a hit they’d stumbled upon at the time, because they went on to create more and more content for CHAOS;HEAD over the 12-18 months following the August 2009 publication of this box. For example, the CHAOS;HEAD Vocal Collection (catalog #FVCG-1172) features a total of 29 tracks, excluding the Fantasy Voice tracks. That makes for a total of nine additional vocal tracks, including the original opening and ending themes for the PSP port of the game, as well as other new material published between late 2009 and 2011. So we might want to think of this as an “incomplete box.” More infractions to follow.
One area that is fairly complete, though, is the OST portion: discs three and four, composed by venerable visual novel music guru Takeshi Abo. What we have here are 36 tracks of excellent BGM; the “Synchro” and “Trigger” discs are now expanded with some additional instrumental music from Takeshi Abo not found on the original OST (catalog #FPBD-0073, which includes some vocal tracks from the earlier discs of this box set). So in this instance and this instance alone, we get more from the Complete Box than from its related publications. Kudos to 5pb and to Takeshi Abo!
If you’re familiar with Abo’s work on STEINS;GATE, SG0, or even CHAOS;CHILD, you can get a sense for how he was beginning to establish that particular style with CHAOS;HEAD. Compared to other Abo soundtracks, like his work on the Infinity franchise (Ever17, Never7, etc.), electronic ambient music takes second chair or else is enhanced by a variety of textures and layers I’ve never heard him use before. Tracks like “In the ward” and “Prologue” demonstrate Abo’s masterful soundscape crafting. The melodies can be memorable, but they are rarely what makes the song itself memorable. That is the true feat.
And now, for the rest: drama, or as my favorite high school teacher liked to say, “save the drama for your mama.” To non-Japanese-speaking listeners, we’re looking at disc after disc of meaninglessness. But — and this is not the first time I’ve made this point — how I long for an English-speaking audience to have some kind of consumer demand for re-voiced or dubbed drama. And they come in different forms, too. Disc five, for example, is like a film in drama form. “The Parallel Bootleg” is a well-produced drama with plenty of music and sound effects that make you feel like you’re listening to a film. On disc six, “BLOOD TUNE,” you can experience what feels like a TV special episode. And disc seven is a real treat for Japanese-speaking fans. It’s a series of ten weekly radio broadcasts, as well as a special finale show, all encapsulated in a single CD-ROM (with mp3 data) featuring nearly seven hours of content! Before the days of television, Americans did amazing radio broadcasts like this. It’s all but dead now, though public radio programs like Live from Here (formerly A Prairie Home Companion) do some interesting dramatic and comedic radio one-acts. For anyone who wants expansion of the world, content, and lore of the Science Adventure meta-franchise, or of CHAOS;HEAD’s characters specifically, these three discs exemplify the lengths to which 5pb and others are willing to go so that fans can be satisfied.
Not that it matters to us poor gaijin, but plenty of additional CHAOS;HEAD drama has been released long after this box set was published. So yet again, I call it an “Incomplete Box.”
Finally, there is the DVD. It is short, but it is certainly cool. Opening anime FMVs for each version of the game, as well as the TV anime? “Ringtone Movies” are a thing? I learned so much in 13 minutes! Also, having 15-second TV spots not just for a game, but for a new single released by Yui Sakakibara related to said game? I can get behind that kind of promotional material.
All told, while this is a neat set to have, it pales in comparison to the STEINS;GATE box set, which had six discs of music, and its CD-ROM had significantly more drama content, as well as five albums’ worth of 8-bit audio arrangements. A set of arranged tunes, such as the Science Adventure Dance Remix album, would have been perfect for this set, if only it had existed when 5pb put together this collection. Normally, I would say that I hope 5pb considers waiting longer before trying to publish any kind of definitive or “Complete” set going forward, but considering the age of this collection and how well they did with STEINS;GATE, perhaps they have already learned their lesson.