Falcom’s hot, new music series, the “Zanmai” albums, is in its fourth installment with the debut of “Sora no Kiseki Zanmai.” The scope of the album is the Sora no Kiseki trilogy proper: no Ys vs SnK, no Ao, Zero or Nayuta.
And that’s perfectly fine with me. This trilogy of music, written in the ’00s, is some of Falcom’s finest work during that decade. The source material is rich for new arrangements, even beyond the Super Arrange Version and vocal albums released in years past.
The Zanmai arrangement trio (Jindo, Kamikura, Okajima) have defined their roles on these albums pretty well by this point. Let’s break up this track-by-track review by arranger. We’ll start with Yukihiro Jindo, who is Falcom’s most senior audio guy among the trio.
Jindo opens the album with “The Fate of the Fairies” from Second Chapter. Somehow, I think I’d forgotten how great this song was in the last few years. Jindo revived my love for this tune by bolstering all the “epic” sounds. Guitar and violin carry the melody together, and the synth-orch/prog-rock style works really well. Every single measure is fresh, whether it’s a new melodic line, a new instrument carrying that melody, or some fancy percussion work. This one starts awesome and doesn’t let up for a second.
Jindo’s next contribution is track 7, “The Silver Will” (which I believe he’d arranged before on the SAV). Jindo doesn’t really change up the style too much. It’s still the bright, powerful electro-rock piece it always was. I think there’s a little more emphasis on bass and percussion. The violin still sounds beautiful. Not much change from previous arrangements, just some improvised solos in the middle of the piece; but then, not much change was needed. It’s an awesome song. At some point, I would like to see Falcom take a big departure and try a whole new style for this piece…
The final Jindo arrangement is the Sora no Kiseki (first chapter) theme song, combined with “Hollow Light of the Sealed Land.” Epic, epic, epic. Here, Jindo applies the same style he put to “The Depth Napishtim” from Ys VI. It’s incredible how he blends traditional orchestral instrumentation with in-your-face electronic drum loops and pad synths. And the production quality, the dynamic balance of the different layers… it’s like eating tiramisu. Apologies for a food metaphor, but man, that synth choir at the end? It’s like that beautiful dusting of chocolate atop the layers of creamy tiramisu goodness.
Now then, it’s time to talk about Noriyuki Kamikura’s tracks. Kamikura, as you may recall, was a long-time member of Hitoshi Sakimoto’s organization “Basiscape.” But he left a few years ago to join Falcom’s Sound Team JDK. The experience he gained with Basiscape, specifically on arrangement projects with Manabu Namiki’s CAVE scores, made him the right man for the job here.
He starts with “Sophisticated Fight,” the ridiculously fun and catchy standard battle music from First Chapter. I remember the first time I heard the OST version, freaking out about how good it was. And then the SAV made it even better. Question: can the Zanmai arrangement take things up another level? Answer: YES. Some key moments for me include the break at the one minute mark, the solo trade-offs between sax and guitar, and all the punch of the big-band brass that was lacking in the OST version. The strength of this arrangement cannot be overstated. Great work Kamikura-san!
Unfortunately, Kamikura’s awesomeness isn’t consistent across this collection of music. His next arrangement, which includes additional arrangement credits from one Satoshi Ohyama, is an instrumental version of “cry for me, cry for you” from Sora no Kiseki The 3rd. Granted, it’s not the world’s greatest source material to work with, but this jazzy arrangement just seems less inspired, like less work went into it. I appreciate the little decorations (the sparse use of xylophone, for example). But this track, in my opinion, works best as a vocal. Having the brass carry the vocal melody was an awkward choice. It may have been safer to let the winds carry it 100% of the time or perhaps add a piano part.
Kamikura closes the album with another instrumental of a vocal theme. This time it’s the end credits music to SC, “I swear…” and I do swear, this is a marked improvement over both his previous arrangement and over the original vocal theme from which this derives. Kamikura keeps the sax center-stage, he ups the tempo, and adds a great dance beat. It’s not the world’s greatest piece of music, but again, it’s a marked improvement over the original.
Now then, to Okajima, the drummer and newcomer.
“Fateful Confrontation” has been slowed down, smoothed over and ambient/grooved up by Okajima. This piece from SC has never been imagined in this way before. It was a bold choice on Okajima’s part, and I’m appreciative of the unique style here. This is a very key-heavy arrangement, with piano, organs, and other synths. I think it came out nicely. Not the most memorable tune or the most memorable arrangement, but something to enjoy, definitely.
Track 5, “Overdosing Heavenly Bliss” (I hope “heavenly bliss” isn’t a street name for heroin laced with PCP or something) is one of my favorite tracks from SnK The 3rd. The melody tends to stay within a pentatonic scale, but there are enough modal shifts to throw the listener off-balance. It’s fresh and interesting; the guitar melody is strong, and the drums are even stronger. The high-octave crystalline synth doesn’t hurt matters either.
Finally, we have track 6, “Masquerade of Lies,” also from 3rd chapter. Elsewhere on the album, the violin is recorded by one Akiko Nagano, but for this track, the violin is played by Mizuki Mizutani. There’s a different touch, a different personal style, to the violin on this track. I like that. But it’s not just violin that holds our attention for the entirety of the track. At different times, keyboard (performed by Kamikura) and guitar (Toshinori Hiramatsu) hold the listener’s attention. This is a great, super-fast-pace rock track. Good stuff all around.
$12 on iTunes nets you this fine piece of Falcom music craftsmanship. I can’t help but speculate on what the next “Zanmai” album will be. It’s anyone’s guess at this point. Another franchise, like Zwei or Brandish, could be nice. Or maybe another “theme-based” album (like Falcom Boss Zanmai). Hmm… “Falcom Town Zanmai?” We’ll just have to wait and see!