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Music / Yuki Kajiura

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"I have a love of songs that get me out of the quotidian. I like operas. Operas are completely in their own world, aren’t they? Within the sanctuary of the opera house, they weave otherworldly spaces for four hours. I love such songs with vistas into other worlds―-songs that seem to distort the size of my rooms when I listen to them. When I make melodies in my own little way, the lyrics end up that way. Lyrics like “I bought three radishes and found them cheap~♪” aren't relevant to my interests! It goes like “A traveler searching for eternity~♪” instead."
Yuki Kajiura

A Genre-Busting Japanese composer, music producer, impresario, and ethnomusicologist, born in Tokyo on August 6, 1965 but raised in Bonn, Germany. After returning to Japan as a teenager, she worked as an Office Lady before quitting in 1992. She first came to musical prominence as one half of the group See-Saw with Chiaki Ishikawa in the 1990s, and established herself as a solo composer around the turn of the millennium with the seminal soundtracks to Noir and .hack and a few musicals (as well as at least some of the Japanese institution that is Sakura Wars), subsequently spending many years as the 'house composer' for Bee Train.

Widely considered second only (or equal) to Yoko Kanno as an Anime soundtrack composer, her Genre Mashup sensibilities, Reclusive Artist tendencies and generally unusual way of life, and undeniable talent have invited comparisons to such figures as Ennio Morricone and Ludwig van Beethoven—amazing compliments, considering her dilettante background and relatively late start in music for a modern artist, not devoting herself to it full-time until about the age of thirty and not reaching major success until thirty-five.

Her music ranges from Ominous Constructed Language Chanting (Madlax) to "Psycho" Strings (The Garden of Sinners) to sweet pop music (many a My-HiME Image Song) to lushly instrumented suites (Noir) to whatever her band Kalafina is supposed to be. El Cazador de la Bruja is notable for having shown Kajiura's work in ethnomusicology and the musical traditions of Latin America and the American West, evoking musicians from Daniel Alomia Robles to Johnny Cash and Frankie 'Old Leather Lungs' Laine. She was for a time an impresario for the innovative pop group ALI PROJECT, and brought them into the Noir production. All of this is held together by her adherence to a distinctive blend of classical and folk-based music theory regardless of instruments and tempo and her Romantic-influenced emphasis on melody and circumspectly psychological and spiritual lyrics.

All in all, she's generally thought of as a unique, still relatively young musician of great talent, worthy of her widely perceived status as The Rival to Yoko Kanno (although they don't seem to bear each other any ill will at all).

Yuki Kajiura is the producer of Girl Groups FictionJunction and Kalafina.

Her closest Western equivalent is Hans Zimmer, who also bears a penchant of crossing high-tech modernity with epic opera.

She's associated with the following tropes:

  • The Cover Changes the Meaning: Velvet no Inori (sung by Noriko Ogawa) versus Hoshikuzu (sung by Fiction Junction). The former is about being able to feel secure in love for the first time, the latter is about optimistically trying to move on from a relationship that has ended. Remember kids, if it ain't bittersweet, it ain't Yuki Kajiura!
    • It's worth nothing that "Velvet no Inori" was written as the theme song for a dramatic reading of The Velveteen Rabbit, and so the lyrics are likely from the rabbit's point of view and aimed at the little boy who owned it.
  • Deconstructor Fleet: She started to make it big around the same time she took two of the most wildly different types of music imaginable, J-pop as it existed around the Turn of the Millennium and Romantic music as it existed before the Turn of the Century, and erased the dozens of cultural and historical barriers between them.
  • Determinator: Virtually all characters in her song. Sometimes it goes too far, as in signal.
  • Eternal Recurrence: A major theme that permeates her works. Well okay, the focus is not on the recurrence itself, but the Nietzschean or Kierkegaardian strength to keep fighting even when the fight seems to be without end, simply because you have a moral reason to fight or a love to live. The theme is reflected best in Consolation, which is also a sort-of image album for Fate/Zero and Puella Magi Madoka Magica, in which the respective main characters fight to break a Vicious Cycle.
  • Fictionary: 'Kajiuran', an apparently full-fledged Constructed Language that is phonotactically and morphologically sophisticated, but semantically meaningless. Her singers have said that it isn't meant to be meaningful intellectually but it's set up to guide their vocalisations emotionally and is written out and broken up into 'words' in a way that makes it resemble a Romance or Japonic language.
    • According to one of her most common singers, rewriting the lyrics is sometimes allowed as well, and it's all written out in katakana to be easily readable.
  • Genre Mashup: In addition to 'classicising' pop music, she also does some fine work in reproducing the sounds of cultures that interest her or are relevant to the projects on which she works.
  • Enlightenment Is Love Song: Many of her songs written on her own recognizance (as opposed to for soundtracks), as well as some of her soundtrack works, come across this way, making certain allowances for explicit expressions of horror at the secular world. She uses a set of lyrical conventions explicitly interested in themes of repeating rebirth as a painful experience, dreams as fundamentally indistinguishable from reality and each as distractions from the fleetingness of the other, humans as basically defined as individuals by trauma (although also by love, which can inflict trauma but is also a temporary way out of it), and lost love or perceived betrayal from loved ones as disillusioning sometimes to the point of Loss of Identity. This sort of song can be anywhere from optimistic and upbeat about recovering from the 'miserable state of the world' ('aikoi') to dark and foreboding about 'oceans of tears' and the 'last sky' ('Red Moon'; the moon is also a symbol for enlightenment in Japanese Buddhism).
  • Intercourse with You: Mostly she avoids this, and in interviews she and her singers have alluded to lack of romantic experience and/or celibacy on her part. The few more or less straight examples in her work use very florid, ethereal imagery (frequently focusing on hands, eyes, and kisses that would otherwise be implicitly chaste, which further complicates things since she likes this imagery in the rest of her mostly-asexual body of work too) that deemphasizes the actual act.
    • "In Your Eyes", by Kalafina, is an especially good example. The 'pure-hearted' narrator of the song, by nature of being pure-hearted, is unable to understand physical intimacy as anything other than 'a kiss that does not just end at a kiss', and this is presented as a good thing, as though making qualitative distinctions about such things implies suspect priorities.
      • The lyrics for "Love Come Down", which go so far as to say "if we love each other this way, our bodies will melt into one"...
    • She also wrote a weird short story once called "The Echo of Instruments" about a boy whose violinist girlfriend leads him through an array of music-related sexual fetish but eventually leaves him, implicitly because she's realised that her greater attraction is to music itself.
      • However, the story can also be interpreted as being about a girl and her violin, especially given the final paragraph, in which the "boy" wonders whether he'll be "only an instrument" for the rest of his existence.
  • Loudness War: An interesting example, she makes particular (not universal) use of dynamic range compression as a deliberate artistic choice and accounts for it in the rest of the production. Sometimes she brickwalls whole albums but with different songs adjusted to different volumes. Sometimes she only brickwalls a few songs, or the choruses within a song. Sometimes she doesn't do it at all.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Every now and then, there is a song who seems rather optimistic of the future. Then you learn that it's about inevitable hurts, tears, disillusionment, and some more hurts. Case in point: Alleluia.
  • Mythpunk: Her default lyrical sensibility is a little like this, particularly in her early-2000s See-Saw and late-2000s/early-2010s Kalafina work.
  • Perspective Flip: Recently her more narration-like lyrics will occasionally play with expectations as to who is referring to or addressing whom, especially when she has multiple singers to work with.
  • Religious Horror: Some of her recent lyrics have this vibe. Buddhist version, with implications of living in the Age of the Degenerate Dharma, with no Future Buddha yet in sight.
  • Sex Is Evil: Sort of. 'Love Is Good' is the more prominent message; her lyrics excel at depicting every facet of romantic love from the best to the worst, and her body of work presents a world defined almost solely by romantic love; but the actual sex act, when the music addresses or alludes to it, tends to come across as something almost Lovecraftian.
    • "Love Come Down" subverts this. The lyrics seem to be about a young couple who are pursuing a relationship despite others' disapproval, and they pretty much state the boundaries of the couple's relationship as well.
  • Silly Love Songs: Averted. She's only really done work with conventional romantic material in Kalafina's After Eden album and a few miscellaneous songs elsewhere and the relevant lyrics approach it obliquely and/or highly psychologically (the latter is her usual stock in trade for romance).
  • Spiritual Successor: "Ongaku", to a Matthew Arnold poem called "Dover Beach". Maybe.
    • Each Kalafina album in general is a spiritual successor to the last, although with major changes such as Red Moon being darker and less tied to a specific set of soundtracks than Seventh Heaven (The Garden of Sinners in Seventh Heaven's case) and After Eden including some of the most normally (or least abnormally) psychological work Kajiura has done so far in between songs like 'Magia' and 'Destination Unknown' that could have fit in on Red Moon. Consolation is more ethereal than After Eden but somewhat less dark than Seventh Heaven and Red Moon. Kalafina itself is one to Fiction Junction, although the latter still exists conceptually.
  • The Hecate Sisters: Multiple:
  • Undying Loyalty: One of the themes she's attracted to, and something she seems to inspire in many of her singers, who discuss viewing her as anything from a mother or sister figure to an unattainable paragon.
    • One of her singers referred to her as the air, water, and soil necessary for a flower's blossoming.
  • Worldbuilding: Of sorts. A Kajiura piece for a soundtrack is almost always an exercise in the intersection of Kajiura's 'otherworldly spaces' and worldview with the independent assumptions of the text that it's composed for. Often (Noir, Madlax, El Cazador de la Bruja, The Garden of Sinners, Puella Magi Madoka Magica), this works very well. Sometimes (parts of My-Otome, Fist of the North Star) it's a little jarring, and often either the series or the soundtrack ends up a lot more valued and appreciated than the other. Among other things, she likes to musically or lyrically evoke perceptions of the lead characters' gender, age, social status, and so on, which leads to some of the interesting gender ambiguity in her body of work; some series make this a lot easier than others.

Yuki Kajiura may be heard in: