Note: according to the back cover, the tracklist is labeled continually from tracks 1 to 56 (like the Nobunaga’s Ambition Online OST and some others in recent years). For the sake of convenience, we have labeled the tracks as they would appear in a CD player (disc 2 track 01 instead of track 21, etc). Please keep this in mind.
It takes years of consistent, high-quality musical compositions to be deemed a “masterful” writer. In my mind, very few composers deserve this title. Certainly, Yoko Kanno and Koichi Sugiyama have earned it. I don’t know if Uematsu and Mitsuda deserve the title, simply because they haven’t been composing as long and they have had more “ups and downs” than Kanno and Sugiyama. Consistently good composition is the key here. If there were a third composer I’d add to my list of “masterful” VGM composers, it’d have to be Kouhei Tanaka. The man has been writing music for VGM and anime for nearly 25 years now, and he seems to be putting out high-quality compositions at a phenomenal rate.
His most recent work is the two disc soundtrack for Sakura Taisen V ~Farewell, Loved Ones~. Released months after the game, I had been anticipating this title for some time. Sakura Taisen 4’s one soundtrack release had left me wanting more, and the Sakura Taisen V Episode 0 soundtrack whet my appetite for some serious Sakura Taisen music. My appetite has now been sated through the new and refreshing musical experience that is the Sakura Taisen V Music Collection.
The album opens with the new theme song “Surface Warriors.” While I do miss the traditional “Teikoku Kagekidan” theme, this new song is a wonderful replacement, and it operates under the same formula and structure as the older theme songs. The entire female cast sings the chorus, and different members of the group trade off different lines during the verses. After this short vocal introduction, we are treated to a three minute “title version” of the song, where a saxophone comes to replace the vocals. This version is also quite enjoyable.
“Little Lip Theater” is both a stunning and enjoyable big band piece, as well as a great way to introduce the atmosphere of an early 20th century New York. The big band sounds continue with “Coffee Break,” but the pace slows down, and a walking upright bass keeps the band in check. It’s already clear this early in the soundtrack that 1920s jazz will be one of the musical focal points for the soundtrack; I have no qualms with that.
Things go even softer at track 5, where we hit a piano solo track that is soft and thoughtful. However, things are livened up quickly with “Welcome to Broadway.” This Vaudeville-esque song, with its honky-tonk piano, solo clarinet and brass band, keeps toes tapping and feet dancing through the night. Honestly, it is as if Kouhei Tanaka was able to travel back in time and spend time working with the great big band leaders of the past century.
Of course, Tanaka hasn’t abandoned some of the styles that he is best known for. The next track, “Fury”, is a tense and explosive orchestral piece. The next track, one of my personal favorites, is “Closed Heart,” a pensive piece with piano and oboe as the star instruments. Only eight tracks into the two disc set, and Tanaka has sent us through a whirlwind of soundscapes and emotions.
The first disc continues in this pattern of big band jazz, tense orchestral themes, and soft/reflective pieces in a way that blends together nicely and can bring the listener to points of joy, fear, and sorrow. This disc alone makes the purchase worthwhile, and is clearly the superior of the two discs.
What makes disc two less enjoyable is essentially its track setup. Placing all of the movie scene music in one section makes for some bad listening, as most of the movie scenes do not surpass a minute. After hearing these beautiful songs that pass the three minute mark, we run into short musical fanfares that are either borrowed from elsewhere on the soundtrack or are otherwise forgettable melodies. Also, the beginning of disc two puts a heavy emphasis on the “bad guy” music, and this becomes slightly overbearing after a certain point.
Do you know who the villain is, by the way? Disc 2 track 6, “Cover Everything Under Heaven with the Sword” (or simply “Tenka Fubu”), was a term coined by Nobunaga himself during his reign. The villain of Sakura Taisen V is a very intimidating resurrected form of Nobunaga, and this song (as well as the songs surrounding it) do quite nicely in capturing the awe, fear, and grandeur of this imperialistic war-mongering demon of a man. Mind you, it is as I said before: overbearing. But it still does its job nicely, and I’m sure it works even better in-game.
Disc two also contains the instrumental versions of the character themes, the vocal versions of which are found on the Vocal Collection (which I highly recommend, perhaps even more than the Music Collection!).
My favorite part of disc two is definitely the ending vocal theme, “Over the Rainbow Sunshine.” This song is not found on the Vocal Collection, making it a great exclusive bonus and incentive for purchasing the two disc OST. This song puts our six heroines back in the spotlight to carry the game out on a bang. The slow jazz ballad builds slowly but surely to the point of a swelling blend of voice, strings, and piano, and it’s enough to make one cry.
It is difficult to find older Sakura Taisen soundtracks these days, and while they are certainly decent, Tanaka’s most recent composition is in no way inferior to the previous four. In fact, I would say that it is clearly superior to 2 and 4, and probably equal with 1 and 3. That is my personal opinion of course, so be sure to listen to the samples and decide for yourself. But I promise you, you cannot be dissatisfied with the work of a “masterful” composer, and that is exactly what Kouhei Tanaka is.