Chulip Original Soundtrack


Review by · May 14, 2006

Chances are, even if you’re a video game music aficionado, you probably haven’t heard of the composer Hirofumi Taniguchi. He doesn’t have the rap sheet of other Japanese big-timers like Uematsu, Mitsuda, or Sakuraba, and he certainly hasn’t ever tackled any big-name games to earn himself the title of “up-and-coming artist.” But Taniguchi’s actually a fairly prolific game musician, having worked on the soundtracks for just about every game released by the obscure Japanese developer Love-de-Lic and its spin-off companies Skip, Punchline, and Vanpool. He’s done the soundtracks to “Chulip,” “UFO: A Day in the Life,” and “Chibi-Robo” by his lonesome, and assisted other composers with the musical scores for “Moon,” “Giftpia,” and “Coloball 2002,” as well. And like all good game musicians, Taniguchi’s music has a distinctive style to it that makes his works instantly recognizable — though in Taniguchi’s case, that’s not very hard, since his genre of compositions is one that doesn’t give him much competition.

Yes, Taniguchi is the man of the hour when it comes to experimental or just plain off-the-wall game music, and he’s arguably the best in the business at what he does. And Chulip, in addition to being a great game, also has what is perhaps Taniguchi’s very best overall soundtrack — and certainly his most readily listenable, save for his work on “Moon.”

Of course, it’s very definitely not for everyone, as Chulip’s OST is decidedly very odd (but it’s the soundtrack to an adventure RPG that focuses on kissing anything that moves, so what else would you expect?). If I had to compare it to another soundtrack, I’d probably go with Uematsu’s “Hanjuku Hero Tai 3D” OST, as they both manage to be extremely weird, yet strangely compelling at the same time. And if you’re in the mood for something a bit different from all the other RPG soundtracks out there, then Chulip’s OST may be just what the doctor ordered.

Now, I’m not going to go over every single track on this disc, since there are 46 of them, and many are a mere 4 or 5 seconds in length. Unlike the Chibi-Robo OST, however, which shares this particular malady, there are actually a reasonable number of tracks clocking in at over 2 or 3 minutes, and even the average track on the CD is well over 1 minute in length. In addition, the pitifully short tracks are used fairly effectively as stylistic links between longer pieces, and are scattered quite liberally throughout the album. In the end, the choice of song order results in most of this OST flowing well from one track to the next, making it quite listenable despite the frequent interruptions.

The Chulip soundtrack starts off with with three very, very different tracks. The first is an etude, or as the pun suggests, an echude, sung entirely in male falsetto “duhs” and “buhs,” and backed by pizzicato harp, distorted bells, and synth violin. You can tell right off the bat that you’re in for something very strange with this OST, and this would be a good time to press stop if you don’t think you’re ready for it, as it just gets weirder from hereon out.

After a brief pipe organ piece that sounds like something a church organist might play as people file in, we’re treated to the first incarnation of the game’s main theme: “Happy Shabby Life.” This is where things start to get good, as this piece is pure jazz-club material, with a syncapated melody you’ll be hearing an awful lot during the OST, played on muted trumpet and trombone, and backed by some powerful bass guitar, drums, jazz piano, and xylophone. This is a real toe-tapper, plain and simple, and includes some really rockin’ improvisational solos. Hear it, and I think you’ll agree, Taniguchi knows jazz.

This track is immediately followed by another fantastic jazz piece that establishes its beat with bass guitar, then adds some serious jamming on the xylophone, eventually introducing some odd sound effects that seem like a cross between animal sounds and car horns recorded to tape and heavily distorted — though they actually fit in with the song surprisingly well, and don’t really do much to further indicate the overall oddness of this CD (though if you weren’t at least a little weirded out by the first track, you probably won’t be too weirded out by anything else on the album, really!).

This is followed by the first of the insanely short pieces (6 seconds), then by another take on “Happy Shabby Life.” This time, the main melody is largely missing, with only the backbeat of the song present, sung entirely in doo-wops that may or may not be in some way distorted, with a crank in the background keeping beat where one might expect to hear beatniks snapping their fingers. By itself, this track is quite listenable, but somewhat unimpressive, as it’s literally just a toned-down version of the next incarnation of Happy Shabby Life, which won’t be heard for another 13 tracks.

Another 5-second-long transitionary piece leads you into “Strictness of the Chitama Middle School Teachers.” Beginning with a small voice snippet from the game (which, like all Love-de-Lic voices, consists of largely-incoherent gibberish), this song then progresses into a creepy, eerie take on the Happy Shabby Life melody. It’s all synth flute, but it’s good synth, with a slight bit of muffling and a lot of notes turned sharp or flat, to give it a sound like something out of a horror flick.

Next up is another short track, but one that’s actually somewhat noteworthy, as this 18-second-long bit of improvisational saxophone-heavy jamming is what you hear upon successfully kissing someonme in-game. It’s not much to listen to, but if you haven’t played the game, try imagining a 12-year-old Muppet-like boy kissing a robotic policeman, with fireworks going off and the camera quickly panning around them, while this song plays in the background, and you’ll have some idea of how disturbing yet morbidly appealing this game is.

The next three tracks are among the stranger ones you’ll encounter, as they’re all vocal pieces… with a twist. “Concerned About the Mountain Storehouse” is a Japanese enka piece, sung competently by a woman using nothing but alternating nonsense syllables beginning with “r” and “h”. “Tale of the Goldfish Carp,” in addition to (intentionally) having the sound quality of an old record (and perhaps because of this), sounds like something out of a black and white cartoon. It’s like a mournful ballad, sung by a very large oaf. The atmosphere of the song and its singer conflict in a way that’s pretty much guaranteed to get a chuckle out of you. “The Male Widow Serenade,” then, is yet another mournful ballad, this time backed entirely by acoustic guitar, and sung by a man trying very hard to sound like a woman.

We move on, then, to the eerie ambience that is track 13, “The Goings-On of an Undergrounder,” which begins with a sound effect oddly reminiscent of Samus Aran facing unfortunate demise in Metroid, then uses synth bassoon and minimal backing to really give off an effect of loneliness and terror. It’s short, but it’s an extremely effective piece, and is instantly memorable if you’ve played the game, as you likely heard this track quite a bit: it plays each time you look into cracks in the ground, to learn more about the creepy social hermits living therein.

After this, there’s another set of three typically meandering short tracks — though the middle of the three, “Michiru’s Counterattack,” might actually hold your attention due to its relative oddness, with garbled voices and panicky music fighting one another like dueling banjos. These tracks are followed by one of my personal favorites: the game’s bath-house theme, “A Gentleman’s Teabreak.” Using the same bass guitar riff as track 4 to keep the beat, this song substitutes a rather drunk-sounding man who coughs, sings utter nonsense (to the tune of Happy Shabby Life), and laughs crazily, in place of the former’s xylophone melody. If you didn’t believe me before that this is a very weird OST, then this song should pretty much be the clincher for you.

One more five-second track (this one almost an exact mirror of the first few seconds of the original “Happy Shabby Life” on track 3) leads into the soundtrack’s third rendition of “Happy Shabby Life,” which is also the one I like best. Using the doo-wop base of track 6, the “Bonnoudera” version (literally “Temple of Earthly Desires”) adds a kazoo to play the song’s main melody, then switches that off with further drunken doo-wopping by a man who sounds a bit like Cookie Monster. The effect is a track that’s extremely bizarre, but also undeniably well-written, and pretty darn catchy.

Two more short tracks of little consequence, and we get to what may be my least-favorite on the CD: a piano piece titled “The Girl’s Tea Party.” Once again starting off with a voice snippet from the game, this track then progresses into a largely droll, slightly off-key piano arrangement of Happy Shabby Life — though it has a bit more in common with “Strictness of the Chitama Middle School Teachers” due to its vaguely creepy atonality and constant yet plodding pace. This is one of those pieces that works well in-game, but just isn’t listenable on the OST.

The next track, however, is the final official arrangement of “Happy Shabby Life,” and is in close competition with the “Bounnoudera” version for my favorite on the CD. Functioning almost as the culmination of all previous versions, this one combines fast-paced jazz piano with a steady yet understated drum beat, and quickly adds a whole new set of doo-wop to the mix. The effect is a totally funky toe-tapping feast for the ears — though the doo-wop and jazz piano do clash a bit, especially when certain notes are hit. Still, this is an extremely pleasant change after the previous track, and is definitely one of the better songs on the CD.

After this, we run into a large number of very short, yet very odd tracks, including the bizarre “Tachion Correspondence Hotline!”, which starts with chaotic techie sound effects, but concludes with a very traditional-sounding Japanese koto melody, all within the space of around 45 seconds. “Heno Calisthenics One” is similarly odd, though less so if you’re familiar with Japanese culture, as the backing piano on this one is very typical of the music played at an elementary school’s calisthenics sessions. What’s odd about it, though, is the voice, which is intentionally silly and cartoonish, and is instructing the listener to practice body poses that just so happen to be named after the PS2’s face buttons. Gee, I wonder where that track is used!

The next songs of note are the two reasonably-lengthy “Passion’s Misgivings” tracks, neither of which is particularly wonderful, but the former of which, at least, provides us with another similarly creepy arrangement of the eerie ambient melody we heard in “The Goings-On of an Undergrounder.” The latter track, however, is mostly unlistenable, bearing quite a resemblance to Taniguchi’s earlier works on the “UFO: A Day in the Life” soundtrack, where virtually every song was improvisational jazz consisting almost entirely of atonal, non-melodic music that, quite frankly, wasn’t very good. And this one isn’t just atonal and non-melodic, it’s also rather somber, which makes it even less listenable. Definitely one to skip.

Fortunately, after the 7-second game-over theme, we’re treated to another of my favorites: the “Chitama Middle School Alma Mater.” It’s only a minute long, but it sounds just like a school’s alma mater should — except that all of the singers are male, and are very definitely “oversinging,” intentionally just being really goofy. Plus, the lyrics are totally absurd, translating as follows:

To give an example,
a vinyl house,
a warming temperature to cultivate the blessed avocados.
North pole, south pole bears;
Our town is a sorrowful underground waterway.
Chitama Middle!
North pole, south pole bears;
Our town is a sorrowful underground waterway.
Chitama Middle! (x6)

Once this is out of the way, we get the original stereo master source of “Tale of the Goldfish Carp” (which, if you’ll recall, was the vocal piece that sounded like an old record from earlier on the album), and then it’s off to the Tsurukame Movie Soundtrack, which covers the full musical score for each of the short films shown in the in-game movie theater. These are all particularly small-scale, with the longest clocking in at 1:14, and most under one minute. And unfortunately, the majority of these songs sound very much like they were recorded with a visual context in mind, not standing up particularly well on their own. Some are fairly worthwhile, though, with my top choice being “Squadron of the Peculiar Breed ‘Zetsumanger’,” which sounds very much like a classic Japanese superhero theme (think Gatchaman).

We then come to the end of the soundtrack: only the ending credits theme and two bonus tracks remain. Fortunately, these three tracks are an excellent conclusion to the CD, representing as much musical diversity as the first three tracks did, if not even moreso. “End Roll ~My Workplace Has a Meal Plan~” presents us with a plodding, somewhat syncapated melody, played on muted trumpet and a very odd synth brass instrument that I can’t quite identify, and backed by what sounds like a child’s toy piano, or a cross between a regular piano and a music box. The choice of instruments gives this track an inexplicable old-fashioned feeling, as if it’s the ending theme to a black-and-white movie — and the plodding backbeat makes it sound almost “hick-ish,” bringing to mind an image of a jalopy slowly struggling forward, or a very fat man lumbering down the road.

The first of the two bonus tracks, then, called “Happy Shabby Parade,” is a fusion of the first two incarnations of “Happy Shabby Life” on the CD, with voices and sound effects from the game liberally strewn throughout its two-and-a-half minute length. Just about every voice from the game is present and accounted for, as are some of the more memorable sounds, such as the robotic policeman’s gunshots, and the insane vampiric doctor’s maniacal laughter. This track is pretty much Chulip in a nutshell, perfectly capturing the feeling of the game in audio form. If you’ve played the game, you’ll definitely have fond (or perhaps psychologically scarring) memories of it while listening to “Happy Shabby Parade” — and if you haven’t, you may find yourself wanting to!

And finally, the disc ends with a reprise of the pipe organ theme heard in track 2, with the notable addition of church-like vocals, making this into something of a “parting hymn” for the oddball hour of musical madness that is the Chulip OST.

When it comes down to it, the Chulip Original Soundtrack succeeds not just because of the oddball music contained therein, but also because of the excellent flow of the songs from one track to the next. Although probably not the type of album that will live in your CD player, Chulip’s soundtrack is one of those rare gems that actually tells a story in and of itself, guiding the listener through the odd world of the game without any need for a TV or controller. It’s a great place to start if you’re a newcomer to Taniguchi’s eccentric musical style, and would make an excellent addition to any game music enthusiast’s collection, filling a space that most would otherwise not even know existed.

I can’t really give it my highest recommendation, but if you’re one of those people who really likes unusual things, and welcomes that which departs from the norm, then this CD is definitely well worth tracking down. As long as you go into it fully expecting to be blown away by the weirdest game music you ever did hear, then believe me, you shan’t be disappointed.

For information on our scoring systems, see our scoring systems overview. Learn more about our general policies on our ethics & policies page.