Editor’s Note: Thanks to “Ogawa Burukku” of Strawberry Sherbert for allowing us to use excerpted portions of her review for this special box set at RPGFan. While the collection covers not only game vocals but also vocals from various anime episodes and live performances, we at RPGFan felt it fitting to cover the box set as it is such a wonderful collection of music. Please enjoy this lengthy and well-written review. – Patrick Gann
If my house caught on fire and I could only carry two things under my arms before busting out the window, I would grab my stuffed skunk Stinky that I’ve had since I was five and I’d grab my Sakura Wars Complete Box, because good god I love this thing.
Fans will drool at the artwork surrounding the box; all thirteen memebers of the Hanagumi and Parihanagumi, courtesy of Hidenori Matsubara. Inside is a another cast picture with everyone in their sequened dresses from the ending for Sakura Wars 4, and surrounding the picture are signatures by the characters. Very cute. The discs themselves are decorated with artwork from various posters, CD covers, boxes, and novels (very lovely pictures) featuring Sakura, Erica, or both. So far, this is a gorgeous package.
A real treat for fans who already owned half of these songs (like me, cough cough) came in the lyrics booklet. There are interviews with the seiyuu, where they are asked what some of their personal favorite songs were to work on. Each lyric has a picture of the art for the original album the song was featured on, as well as having brief commentary by the composer, Kouhei Tanaka. At the end of the booklet is a chronological discography of the Sakura Wars music…very sweet.
The first of eight discs is a collection of songs by the original Hanagumi (Sakura, Maria, Sumire, Iris, Kohran, Kanna) from the first game and the first few CD dramas. Even though these were the first steps in the Sakura Wars franchise, they still show a great amount of depth to their music. Sakura, Iris, Kohran, and especially Ogami have all grown as singers since, but the whole cast sounds lovely nonetheless. A particular song I enjoyed from this disc was “Cinderella.” Sakura as Cinderella and Maria as the prince sing their version of when the prince goes to find Cinderella again. The other cast members have little bits of dialogue, with Iris as a very cute fairy godmother, Sumire as the step-mother, Kohran as the step-sister, and Kanna as the chancellor. It’s a fun little waltz for Sakura and Maria, but pretty much all of their love songs are wonderful. This can also be found on the TV series album, since one of the episodes was dedicated to this production.
One of the blunders of disc one is having four versions of “Kono Yo Wa Tanoshi” (“This World is Pleasant”). By the time I reached the last one, I thought: finally, the last version of this mediocre song! It’s not so bad, but one version would have been plenty. Now that I’ve heard them all…hmm…do I have a favorite? I “love” them all the same. This last one is Ogami and little Iris, with a dialogue by Kanna. Kanna and Maria were fortunate enough to not have to sing this. Or maybe we’re the lucky ones to not have to endure a fifth version…
The second disc introduces the former Hoshigumi members Orihime and Reni, as well as providing some music from the first OVA series. Musically, this isn’t as engaging as some of the later discs, and the character songs are a step down from the ones on disc one for the most part. This is probably my least favorite of the discs, but that by no means makes it a bad CD. In fact, one of my favorite songs is on this disc: “Departure of Love All Right!”. I’m a sucker for this song! I love love love it. It’s the kazegumi/sannin musume, or Tsubaki, Kasumi, and Yuri singing. Tsubaki is kinda the lead singer (and sounds great!), and I was impressed with Kyoko Hikami on this. Wow, good stuff. More of that zoot-suit big band do a dance stuff that I totally adore. Good good stuff. To me, at least. I wish these three girls had gotten to sing more songs.
Disc three is a mixed CD, featuring OVA, CD drama, Christmas, and kayou show songs. This is also the CD that introduces Dandy, giving him two really fun songs to sing. The first of them, simply entitled “Dandy,” is a real treat. I normally don’t enjoy live songs, but Dandy is one helluva character. He’s the coolest gang leader ever in his eternal attempt to be like the gangsters in all those “foreign films”…Westside Story, anyone? Heh. Though this is live, his performance quality is as if he recorded this in a studio. The only thing giving this away as live is the audience and a few minor sounds the microphone picks up. I love this, though, and would give my left hand to hear him sing a studio recorded version. Well…not really.
The other “Dandy” song, “Kamona Asakusa!”, is a song about puns. The title of the song is itself a pun, though it makes no sense in English. In this song, Dandy sings with Sakura regarding the joys of the Asakusa district! They play on words with “Steak” (“suteiki”) and “Wonderful” (“suteki”). Actually, they mention food a lot (spaghetti!) and I think they are talking about all the yummy restaurants in the district. And Dandy Boss has a great voice. This song is steak. Ho ho ho.
Disc four is another disc with songs with a variety of origins. More Beni Tokage kayou show songs, along with CD drama songs, songs from the TV series, special wedding songs and some of the image songs that were used as endings for the 2nd OVA series. My second favorite song is here, but there are also a few pooey songs on this disc. Stupid wedding specials…anyway…my favorite song on this disc is Love Toward Eternity, or “Ai Wa Towa Ni.” It is one of the greatest love songs ever! Sumire and Kanna sound wonderful here, and the musical almost made me cry. Sumire, as Beni Tokage, allows Kanna as the detective to shoot her. As she dies, they sing this song, and it was moving. The lyrics for this are lovely, and Kanna, though she doesn’t get to sing these songs often, has an amazing voice overflowing with emotion as she sings. I’d pay a million bucks to see that scene animated. Ah, the goosebumps…get ’em everytime. One of my all-time favorites, no doubt about it.
Containing songs from “Arabia No Bara” (Rose of Arabia), the TV series, the 2nd OVA series, disc five has some good stuff. The big winners are the tracks from the kayou show. A few good TV songs are found, but mostly this is a good disc because of its musical stuff. Some of my favorites on this disc were “It’s Showtime!”, which is the opening to the kayou show, and “Now Then, Stand Up,” which is a song performed by Sakura and one that I consider the higlight of the Rose of Arabia show. In this song, Sakura plays a bar wench, and she’s singing a song encouraging the patrons to stand against the land’s high taxes…and then she gets shot. This is definitely one of my favorite Sakura songs.
However, disc five also has some pretty awful tracks. The last track, “Tsubasa (TV Version)” has Kohran and Iris singing. This is a new version of the original, which is supposed to be Kouhei Tanaka’s favorite SW song (at least at the time of this release). So he re-made it, I guess. Well…I don’t like this version. I liked the original, but this is badly sung and changed in ways I don’t approve of. It’s one of my all-time least favorite SW songs.
At last! On disc six, the girls from Paris have arrived! This disc introduces the Pari Kagekidan. I love them. I love everyone. The music from Sakura Taisen 3 is so good, many of my favorite songs are on this disc! Other than those, there are more kayou tracks (live versions), Eurobeat mixes, and some remaining TV songs. This disc had a lot of “new” songs for me and in a way it really was my introduction to the Parihanagumi, since I have yet to play any of the Dreamcast games.
One of the best songs on this disc is track 16, that really long list of numbers. Lobelia sings this depressing song as a prisoner with her prisoner’s number as her reminder that she will never taste freedom again. Therefore, everything is meaningless. The music for this is very interesting, with a heavy beat, metallic clanging sounds, and the occasional footsteps. This all gives a very chilling prison atmosphere to Lobelia’s words. Although I have hated Kikuko Inoue’s singing on almost every song I’ve ever heard, it turns out I just hated the voices she used; her Lobelia voice is fantastic. The first time I heard this I nearly messed myself. Turn the bass up on this sucker, and get ready for them gooseybumps.
Another good track from disc six is Kanna’s Delusion 2. It’s so funny! In the show, Kanna imagines Kaede dressed up as a giant banana singing a song about bananas while the Baragumi dance around her. This is sung to the tune of “Watashi No Oki Ni Hitori” (“Your Favorite Person”, as compared to “My Favorite Person”), and it was very amusing in the show.
Disc seven is probably my favorite disc in the group, and it’s really no wonder why. We have songs from my favorite kayou show, Kajin Bessou, from the Parikagekidan, and yes, another new character makes her way to the disc. Ratchet Altair, the American member of the former Hoshigumi, sings a duet with Sakura from the Sakura Wars movie.
The disc starts off with a simple piano song that turns R&B…which is pretty disappointing. Orihime and Reni sound fairly uninspired on this song, so I really didn’t like it much. However, things pick up with the 3rd revision of the classic “Geki! Teikoku Kagekidan” (Declaration! Imperial Floral Assault Group) theme. This is my favorite version of the famous opening, because all the members of the Teikoku Kagekidan sing this, not just Sakura. Everyone gets a small one or two word solo bit that’s really nice, and the group sounds fantastic together. Sakura is still basically leading, but it’s clearly a group number. I like the energy it elicits, and it’s a nice counter to the Paris game opening. This is the second opening theme for Sakura Taisen 3 ~Is Paris Burning?~.
One of my favorite Iris character songs is “Ramune no Uta” (Song of Soda-Pop). Generally, Iris either has really nice songs or really bad songs. Here she’s singing about Ramune, a Japanese brand of soda that’s popular, especially in the summer. Being from France, Iris had never tried one before. This is precious; she sings this very gently, nearly whispering some lines, with almost just an accordian to accompany her. Very nice.
My favorite song on the disc, if not my all-time favorite, is track 15, “Subete Wa Umi E” (“Everything Towards the Sea”). This brilliant love song between the land princess, Sakura, and the sea prince, Maria, is so unbelievably lovely…definitely one of my all-time favorites, even outside of the SW series. Sakura and Maria make for a powerful duo, and with lyrics as poignant as these…look! I’ve got goosebumps! It happens everytime. This whole box set gives me goosebumps, but this song really brings it home for me.
Finally, we reach disc eight, the end of the collection. This is my second favorite disc, though almost all of these songs were new for me. The disc includes both the Hanagumi and Parihanagumi from CD dramas, songs from the 4th game, and the special “never before heard” three bonus tracks, two studio recordings of kayou show songs that got left off their album releases, and a very special track by the composer of Sakura Wars, Kouhei Tanaka. It’s a fitting close to a superb collection of songs.
“Black Cat Rumba” is a classic track. Erica, Glycine, and Coquelicot dressed as kitties? KAWAII DESU WA NE!!! They sing about the dancing black cat while meowing and…and…aw, this is so great. I even have a dance to it. *Paw paw paw paaaaw*…(that’s me dancing with my paws). SW usually has pretty fun Latin-beat dance songs (“Kuro Neko RUMBA”, “Yoru No SAMBA”, “Zettai Unmei No TANGO”…). I really want the Paris girls to have the opportunity to do their own kayou show someday…because I really want to see them dance to this.
The extended version of “Kore Ga Revue!” was a nice addition to the box set. It’s not a new song, being used in many of the musicals since Beni Tokage, but this is the first time we’ve ever gotten a studio recorded version. All the different girls sing about different styles of music; Sakura sings of the cha cha, Sumire the mambo, Kohran a march, Iris a very cute folk dance, Sumire a lovely canzone, Reni the bolero, Maria sings of rhythm and blues, a traditional Japanese type by Kanna, and a rumba by Kaede. The music alters for each character to fit their particular musical type. It’s great, I love this track in all its 8 minutes of glory.
The final piece in the 139 track box set is not by any member of the Hanagumi, Parigumi, Baragumi, Kazegumi…no character from the show. The final track is a cover of the Kohran and Iris original by Kouhei Tanaka, the man who composed every piece of music in Sakura Wars. You can tell he’s trying really hard to get his personal favorite SW song just right. It’s no wonder why he chose the song, but why did he decide to sing this? He probably said “I’m going to sing a song, damn it!” and they let him. Who’s going to argue against Kouhei Tanaka? I wouldn’t. He sings this with a lot of feeling, and I really love that about this song. Thanks Tanaka-sensei, you done good.
As anyone can tell you, I love Sakura Wars music. I love this box set. Though it’s not technically complete (it’s missing about 12 or so songs and the Shin Hakkenden songs), it’s close enough to keep me very satisfied. The presentation of these songs shows that everyone working on this series wants to give fans their money’s worth. I will gladly save up another $200 for the next box, if it is ever released. The limited edition collector’s box has been discontinued (and that’s what this review is based on…hurray for pre-ordering!), but the 8-disc collection is still being sold for slightly less, though I don’t know what changes have been made. This box is the mark of the true Sakura Wars fan, be it anime, games, or live shows.