The Last Ranker Piano Trio Arrange album, arranged by Hironori Osone and Ayako Ishikawa and featuring the performances of Yuka Narita and Ayano Kasahara, comes right on the heels of Yoko Shimomura’s excellent original soundtrack. It offers arrangements that incorporate violin, piano, and cello, and was included as a preorder bonus for the game. It leaves two thoughts in my head after listening through it several times. First, it sports five string arrangements of tracks from the original soundtrack, and each of these arrangements is strong and well-suited to Yoko Shimomura’s original compositions. Second, the arrangements, while technically sound, lack emotional thrust (save one), and feel empty. After listening, I felt none of the excitement or sense of cohesion that the original soundtrack imparted. One other important thing to note is that, at least for me, the track selection seems questionable. While the main theme was an obvious choice and “The Bloom of Passion” was an enjoyable track on the original album, the rest are culled from some of the original’s less memorable songs. I couldn’t help feeling like there were numerous others that would have been better suited to arrangement.
The first track, an arrangement of “Main Theme of ‘LAST RANKER,'” sets the tone for the rest of the album. It is based on the recurring theme song from the original album, and offers a strong performance from the trio, much like the other songs on the album. However, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that a great deal of the original’s emotional thrust was lost in the arrangement, a problem that plagues the entire disc. The arrangement is both more subdued and slow-paced than the original, which was a high intensity piece that set tone for the rest of the album it was included in. The familiar main hook of the theme song survives on the strength of its original composition and the occasions where it is utilized are the high points of the arranged version. Ultimately, this is a competent arrangement and a solid performance, but the loss of the original’s fullness and emotional impact hurts the track overall.
The second track, “Wanderers, Look Up at the Sky,” offers the same strong arrangement and performance as the main theme, as well as a strong introductory section that builds well into the main melody of the original version. Again, however, it suffers from the same problem as the main theme: it loses the emotional impact of the original version, and as such much of the song’s impact as a whole. The original version had a fullness that is missing in the arrangement, especially in the middle sections of the song, where it is sonically a bit bare and plain.
“Ghandoar, a Gorgeous Capital” is the next track. The original was a swelling anthem that was perfectly suited to a place that bore the title “a gorgeous capital” and wouldn’t have sounded out of place in one of Shimomura’s Kingdom Hearts compositions. The arranged version, however, takes a different tack and becomes a somber, calm piece, which is an interesting arrangement decision given the source track. Despite the change in tone, this track fares much better than the previous two and is full of emotion and feeling, and is one of the more memorable on the disc. The instruments work exceptionally well together here, the cello and violin complementing one another wonderfully as the piano slowly climbs up and down in the background, creating a much more full soundscape than the album has offered to this point.
Continuing the album’s upward momentum, “The Bloom of Passion” is an excellent arrangement that is arguably the best track on offer. The original was a slow-burning song whose sound mirrored its title: a slow bloom of passion. The arrangement succeeds not only in maintaining this impression, but magnifies. In the original, there were sections that were a bit bare and felt more like breaks; these sections are filled in with fluttery piano pieces that complement the sense of building passion in the song. The song’s main break also translates superbly to the piano trio format, offering a climax that is both tonally appropriate and satisfying.
The final track, “The Flower that Blooms on the Shore,” was originally a calm, tranquil song that has been rearranged into one whose mood is decidedly more upbeat and showcases a sense of building curiosity, a light, whimsical sound that, while inappropriate to the original, works in the context of a self-contained arrangement. Unfortunately, this renders the track somewhat unmemorable and, much like the main theme and “Wanderers,” it lacks a sense of emotional impact.
In the end, this album is solidly arranged and showcases some skillful performances. Unfortunately, the choice to tinker with the mood of many of the tracks, combined with the somewhat strange track selection, has robbed the original compositions of much of their former impact and rendered many of them somewhat forgettable. Much like a Hollywood summer epic’s soundtrack, this album features strong performances by undoubtedly talented musicians and arrangers, but is almost entirely forgettable. While great as a preorder bonus for those who did so, anyone else would be better served by getting the original soundtrack, where these compositions put on a much stronger, more memorable showing.