Hiroyuki Sawano (born 12 September 1980) is a relatively new arrival on the Japanese entertainment scene. He first became famous for the soundtrack of the Live-Action Adaptation of Team Medical Dragon. Since then, he has composed for movies and TV series both live-action and animated.
His style fuses electronic and orchestral music in a sweeping, bombastic mix that imbues anything he works on with as much Hollywood-esque grandeur as it can support. He stands out in particular for his usage of energetic Insert Songs during action sequences, almost always featuring lyrics in Surprisingly Good English (or German!) sung by an array of associated artists from both Japan and the United States
- 86 (anime)
- Aldnoah.Zero (anime)
- Attack on Titan (anime)
- Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War (theme song only)
- Blue Exorcist (anime and movie)
- Blue Protocol (video game)
- Bubble (movie)
- Crisis (2017)
- Gigantic Formula
- Guilty Crown
- Juni Taisen: Zodiac War (theme song only)
- Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
- Kidou Sentai Iron Saga (video game)
- Kill la Kill (anime)
- KILL la KILL - IF (video game)
- League of Legends: "Light and Shadow" (video game)
- Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These (theme songs only)
- My Girl (Live-Action Adaptation)
- No Guns Life (theme song only)
- Project Blue Earth SOS
- Promare (movie)
- Re:CREATORS (anime)
- Sengoku Basara (anime and movie)
- Seraph of the End (anime)
- The Seven Deadly Sins (anime)
- Soul Link (anime)
- Team Medical Dragon (Live-Action Adaptation)
- Thunderbolt Fantasy (puppet show)
- Xenoblade Chronicles X (video game)
- Yoake Mae Yori Ruriiro Na (anime)
- Zombie Loan (anime)
Tropes associated with his works:
- Autobots, Rock Out!: Often combined with Orchestral Bombing. Many energetic songs are composed and start off in the range of 100-125 BPM, which is a typical for a heart rate when the human body is exercising or experiencing adrenaline spikes. This is followed by the signature "Sawano Drop", where the song shifts its tone, often accompanying the visuals where the hero regains their resolve or all hell breaks loose. Examples include "Before my body is dry", "The Reluctant Heroes" and "BLAZE Crimson Lotus". The Cartoon Cipher channel on Youtube released ''The Science of the Sawano Drop", which goes into better explanation of just how he makes this work so damn well.
- French Accordion:
- "80$$" from the BOSS film combines a proper french-style accordion with guitar and saxophone to give a real Phantom Thief vibe not out of place with Lupin III.
- "Tang" from Tokyo Tower puts the accordion front and center for the full song.
- Promare provides us with "fanFAREpiZZa". The first half of the song is a triumphant fanfare as the name suggests, but the 1:32 mark of the song switches to an accordion and eventually a fiddle which are mixed with a Trap beat.
- Gratuitous Foreign Language: Used frequently in both lyrics and track titles; Gratuitous German and English are particular favorites. Very few of his songs actually feature any Japanese lyrics to any major extentFor example , and those that do are mostly concentrated to live action films and other non-anime productions that never left the Japanese market.
- Leitmotif: Sawano is a fan of setting up themes to help establish the moment and tone for the various characters, settings, and story elements that accompany the projects he works on.
- "Before My Body is Dry" is the most established song in Kill la Kill, whose refrain often plays when Ryuko makes her transformation into her battle form. The first half of "k1ll◎ill" builds up to a Triumphant Reprise of the refrain of that song, which plays at a critical moment in the story when Ryuko regains her resolve to keep going.
- Early on in Guilty Crown, a song called "κrOnё" helps set up the mood of the story's setting. A high energy version called "βίος" often plays during some of the heroic action sequences.
- Lonely Piano Piece: Given that Sawano himself is a master pianist and never seen in live concerts without a piano, a majority of his soundtracks feature at least one melancholic piano remix of a given leitmotif.
- In Xenoblade Chronicles X, "The Way" is a soft piano ballad of the main "Theme X" that starts off with just a piano accompanying Sayulee's vocals before being joined in with a drum and guitar at the first refrain.
- "Ad la Lib" from Kill la Kill is a more straight example, being a slow piano rendition of "I Want To Know", which itself is already starts off as a Lonely Piano Piece before getting a little more complex.
- Re:CREATORS features "re-pianohi1tars" and "Pf-Creators" parts II, III, IV, V, and VI, which are all just performed on piano.
- Lucky Charms Title: His pieces tend to have exceedingly strange titles, featuring a jumble of symbols and letters from various different alphabets. To wit:
- The title theme for Attack on Titan is "ətˈæk 0N tάɪtn", whilst another track, "Titan's Attack", is transcribed as "凸】♀】♂】←巨人". In fact, the entire second soundtrack one ups the first by being filled with these; see Self-Referential Track Placement for one such naming theme.
- Ditto for Kill la Kill, which is mostly consisting of different variations of the anime's title (save for the vocal themes like Ragyo's Leitmotif "Blumenkranz" and Ryuko's "Before my body is dry"). The second soundtrack, while mostly in Japanese, adds a number convention to tracks 1 through 12, with an added "boshi" (i.e. star, referring to the show's Goku uniforms).
- One of the tracks from Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn also has a dose of this: the light-hearted track named "H@R0".
- Meanwhile, a lot of his tracks from Guilty Crown have Greek names, such as "βίος" (Bios) and "Βασιλευζ" (Basileus).
- Aldnoah.Zero continues the trend with titles like "Bre@th//less" and "[aLIEz]".
- The main Leitmotif of Thunderbolt Fantasy is titled "thunderBOLTfantasy". Another track is titled "蔑、guy" and that's the leitmotif for villain Mie Tian Hai (Betsu Ten Gai; the comma is meant to be read as "ten"), and there's also "Kguy&kill don't 生kiLL" which is the leitmotif for both Xing Hai (Kei Gai) and Sha Wu Sheng (Setsu Mu Shou). Then there's the songs "⚡bolt-arr1" and "⚡bolt-arr2" that can't be properly formatted most places because the first character ends up being parsed as an emoji if at all.
- On the 2nd season soundtrack it's fairly obvious which tracks were composed by Sawano and which were composed by Takafumi Wada because it goes from titles like "Thunder801tFantasy2", "TBFworld", and "○KN" to "Lang Wu Yao", "Huo Shi Ming Huang", and "Qi Sha Tian Ling".
- A lot of songs in Xenoblade Chronicles X are written in code, with the title of the song mixed in between other random characters, such as "z5m20i12r04a28" and "z39b20co13mi01cal09" (aptly named, as it is a light-hearted song that plays during comedic scenes). There are a few wingding titles as well, such as "no5=KAKU-WEST-→▲★★KAI" and "no7=G-LOW-S→F.S.K.O".
- His (to date) 4 studio albums as SawanoHiroyuki[nzk] are: o1 ("Oh One"), 2V-ALK ("Walk"), R∃/MEMBER ("Remember"), and iv ("Eve").
- Ominous Latin Chanting: Usually in German instead of Latin, but certainly ominous. This crops up a lot in his villain motifs, like "Devil King of the Sixth Heaven" and "This Is A Fight To Change The World" from Sengoku Basara, and "XL-TT" from Attack on Titan.
- One-Woman Wail: There's always at least one in every musical score he composed, courtesy of the powerful singing voices of Mika Kobayashi, Eliana, and Gemie. This notably became one of his staples after "Before My Body Is Dry".
- Orchestral Bombing: Action scenes will either be heavy on the electronics or dive straight into this - there's not much of a middle ground.
- "Psycho" Strings: Uses jarring electronics to achieve the same effect, as in "Banshee" from Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, the outro of "The Key We Lost" from Xenoblade Chronicles X, or the outro of "The Reluctant Heroes" from Attack on Titan.
- Punny Name: Many of his bizarre track titles are actually complicated puns making use of wingding fonts and wordplay based on kanji or Goroawase Numbers. Some examples include AL°C-@ (Allusia), 2chi城 (Nichijou/Daily Life), and 美♂-K+$タすpAd (Bios feat. Kobayashi Mika with Strings and Synthpad).
- Self-Referential Track Placement: Used to an incredibly frustrating extent for Attack on Titan. Some tracks have naming schemes such as "進撃 gt20130218 巨人", which effectively translates to: "Attack, primary instrumentation, date of production/composition/completion, Titan." So in the example given, the theme's name is: "Attack on Titan track, primary instrumentation is acoustic guitar, dated February 18, 2013." What stage of production is listed in the track titles can only be assumed, as the dates given generally precede the first airing of the season the track is used in by a matter of months.
- Surprisingly Good English:
- Several songs have perfect English grammar, like "DOA" for Attack on Titan, performed by Aimee Blackshleger (an American singer living in Japan), who also sung for Guilty Crown, Final Fantasy XIII-2, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, Kill la Kill and Devil May Cry: The Animated Series. David Whitaker, a rapper from Atlanta, Georgia who moved to Japan in 2005, has also provided music for Blue Exorcist, Kill la Kill, Guilty Crown, and Xenoblade Chronicles X.
- He also has a good number of the Japanese singers he works with sing English & German songs. Depending on which singer he collaborates with, the pronunciation can be anywhere from passable to total gibberish. mpi's thick Japanese accent makes it difficult to understand what he's saying, but it works out pretty well when he sings with another artist on the track.
- Strictly Formula: A very common arguement by detractors is that Sawano's soundtracks are rather similar in terms of what they offer for each genre: for example, his mecha soundtracks (Gundam, Aldnoah.Zero, Guilty Crown) all have a characteristic "modern warfare" sound to them not unlike that of Hans Zimmer.
- Theme Naming: Promare's songs have fire-related names, including "Inferno", "Λsʜᴇs", "WORLDBIGFLAMEUP", "BangBangBUR!...n?", and "PIROMARE".
- Victorious Chorus:
- Regularly used to give a Triumphant Reprise some extra zing. An example would be "Zero Gravity", a reworking of the main theme from Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn.
- His stellar work on the Thunderbolt Fantasy soundtrack. Perhaps one of his most victorious tracks is the series action scene leitmotif, thunderBOLTfantasy.
- "thunderBOLTfantasy" got retooled for the 2nd season to be the opening theme "His/Story", now with vocals by Takanori Nishikawa. Similarly, "show-no-feel" got retooled into "Claymore" which is a B-side to the Thunderbolt Fantasy: Bewitching Melody of the West theme song "Crescent Cutlass".
- Word Salad Lyrics: The lyrics for the chorus portion of "ol", performed by mizuki, have to be seen to be believed. One has to wonder if she got an aneurysm while trying to recite the lyrics in the intended, computer-like intonation.S-dream & trick & lie
Shine & ring & Live│S-tring & Lie
2-1 to 1 A→Z conner
dream & trick & lie
Shine & ring & Live│S-tring & Lie
Kowasu to word│ENC-ode