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In-Depth: Classic Game Soundtracks Re-Imagined At Japan's Comiket

We talk to many intriguing Japanese musicians selling unofficial tributes to classic and modern game soundtracks at Japan's gigantic fan-based Comiket convention.

February 5, 2010

9 Min Read

Author: by Jeriaska

[Taking a look at the Japanese fan-based Comiket (Comic Market) convention and its gigantic cache of video game music-inspired cover albums and even books, Gamasutra interviews many of the intriguing Japanese musicians selling their unofficial tributes to classic and modern game soundtracks.] Comic Market, which takes place twice a year at the enormous Tokyo Big Sight convention center in Japan, defies comparison with any other hobbyist gathering in the world. Over the course of its three-day run "Comiket" attracts hundreds of thousands of amateur artists from all over Japan. As with the comparatively intimate Music MediaMix Market, booths are set up for individuals and groups called "circles" to sell their homemade doujin collectibles. This winter's 77th installment was host to all manner of retro game revivals, particularly in the sphere of videogame music: Freelance writer Ryota Musha helped publish a book on the contemporary use of retro game consoles in the creation of original chip music. Meanwhile the delightfully named Magical Trick Society looked to a Western game series for their latest remix album, paying tribute to Kentaro Haneda's influential game soundtracks to the Famicom ports of the Wizardry series. This in-depth look at the remixed videogame music of Comic Market 77 includes interviews with the participants and embedded video Q&As with band takrockers!! and two industry game composers frequently in attendance. Freelancer Ryota Musha and the expression of his 8bitlove Drawing staggering numbers to the Tokyo Big Sight building not far from Kokusai Tenjijo train station, Comiket is widely popular among gaming enthusiasts for featuring a varied mix of the familiar and the unexpected. Crowds grow so large prior to the 10 o’clock opening each morning that the event staff equipped with loudspeakers are constantly directing the giant, snaking lines around blocks and up stairways. Admission is free, while event organizers recoup costs by selling program catalogs whose girth calls to mind the Yellow Pages. One of the biggest surprises for chiptune enthusiasts this Comiket was the coffee table book 8bitlove, independently financed and on sale for 1000 yen. While several of the writers contributed anonymously to avoid potential conflicts with employers, Ryota Musha was on hand to field questions about the publication. A freelancer and frequent contributor both to Kotaku Japan and Gizmodo, the writer says that embarking upon publishing the book reinvigorated his love for writing, a process emphasizing fun over business. 8bitlove offers Japanese readers a window into the overseas chip music scene, compiling photos and URLs in a visually dazzling layout of low-fi phenomena like the band Anamanaguchi, video jockey Paris Graphics and filmmakers 2 Player Productions. Also featured are Japan's chiptune luminaries, among them Hally's VORC Records label, Saitone and Kplecraft. The custom pixel art depicted on the cover comes courtesy of illustrator ta2nb. Comic Market: takrockers!! interview!! Having explored the history of Japanese games through musical arrangements, Magical Trick Society chose Comiket 77 as an opportunity to pay tribute to an influential Western series. Wizardry was first released by Sir-Tech for the Apple II computer in the early 1980's, and was treated to background music by Kentaro Haneda upon being ported to the Nintendo Famicom. Orchestral performances of the 8-bit music were recorded and published as part of the Suite Wizardry series as early as 1989. "I notice the number of traditional videogame cover albums decreases each year," says music director Gunzy of the experienced doujin circle. "It's a motivation to keep delivering the kind of music that people like me have come to love." Sound in Labyrinth -The World of Wizardry- can be sampled in a nine-minute YouTube video. The music CD, combining electronic and orchestral aspects of Haneda's Wizardry releases, comes in a DVD box with original artwork depicting the series' iconic green dragon. Similarly prolific, Excelsia of the EtlanZ circle previously released the elaborately titled "EtlanZ Best Collection Series Vol.16 Ever Green: Tapestry of Mana and Time." A compilation remixing celebrated Super Nintendo titles by Squaresoft, the album adapted compositions from the World of Mana series by Hiroki Kikuta, Yoko Shimomura and Kenji Ito. Sample mp3s for the album on the theme of nature and time are available on the artist's site. This time out, EtlanZ had with him a retro shooter installment entitled STG: Shooting Best Collection: 1st Stage. A nod to the three-letter genre demarcations like ACT and RPG that were popular in the days of the Famicom, Excelsia says the album was in part a response to the waning popularity of console game arrangements that Gunzy observes. STG's track list runs the gamut from '80s shooters like Gradius II and Star Soldier to Hitoshi Sakimoto's Radiant Silvergun score. One reason these days fewer artists are covering the kinds of console games the West is familiar with is that Touhou shooters have taken over. Their creator, a polymath programmer and musician named ZUN, embraced a Creative Commons-esque license broadly permitting derivative works, giving Touhou an edge among doujinshi over the more strictly enforced intellectual property of console titles. Excelsia mentions that as Touhou mania has expanded to encompass several rows at Comiket, his favorite remix circles have fallen victim to often incompatible pursuits, like married life. Holding his own as a champion of the retro shmup, he already has plans for Shooting Best Collection Volume 2. Nijeil with a copy of his F-Zero hard rock album Nijeil of the circle earth Japan says of F-ZERO The Graded Driver 2201 that the project was inspired by the inflated game soundtrack budgets of the '90s bubble economy, when the CD-ROM format first arrived on the scene. The material was chosen by earth Japan's otaku culture connoisseur Hao-san and primarily arranged and performed by Nijeil, though Toshinori Hiramatsu can also be heard on the guitar solo passage of the BIGBLUE demo. Earthbound fans might be interested in United Daft Attack's YouTube samples of Mother 1-3 remixes. The circle's two EPs, featuring Mr. Saturn cover art by Mr.Gin, follow an Etrian Odyssey arrange album, and subtly reflect the quirky sentiment of the original Nintendo game series, particularly on instrumental samples like the off-kilter, warbling saxophones. On another end of the emotional spectrum, Dangerous Mezashi Cat's metalcore remixes of Shin Megami Tensei tracks reinterpret early Atlus game themes. Promotional posters sporting Beelzebub on the drums were part of the group's successful bid to draw attention to the fan tribute. While the pre-Persona games energetically covered are decidedly niche, ten contributing artists turned out to lend a hand on the cross-fade sample. The story behind Innocent leaves & Aggrieved cry is a familiar one among enthusiast arrange albums. The collection of Final Fantasy XI music by the circle m_box was an expression of admiration for the massively multiplayer online world, borne out of two conflicting impulses. Musician obstinate_A says, "One side of me didn't want to break from the original, while another wanted to introduce my own personal tastes." The collaboration with artist Sarumotto strikes a balance between aggressivity and repose, and can be sampled on YouTube. Further treatment of Square Enix soundtracks can be found on the Final Fantasy and Romancing SaGa vocal collection by little white snow, titled REFLECT. Arranger Ebisupa says, "The album seeks to approximate the sound of film scores by layering sound recordings on top of one another. At the same time, I dispensed with the ideal of a clean mix by inserting snippets of dialog in the middle of tracks and stylistically incorporating passages intentionally sung out of tune." For certain Square Enix devotees, taking a listen may well kick-start some deeply engraved game-related memories. Shin'ya Mitsuda and his 7th Dragon classical arrange album A group of musicians participated in the compilation PORTRAIT, arranging music from Wild Arms 2, known in Japan as Wild Arms: 2nd Ignition. The album comes in cardboard packaging, complementing the earthy tones of Michiko Naruke's game soundtrack. Kotukimiya of Allegory Works contributed the theme song "Miracle," which expands upon the tune found in-game by adding a second verse. The vocalist says attending Comic Market and meeting people who have enjoyed her singing has given her the motivation to produce more music. A sample of the track "1st Ignition" has been uploaded to YouTube by organizer Hiro Shiomi of Sound Team LAYER-0. When Yuzo Koshiro wrote the music for the as-of-yet unlocalized Nintendo DS RPG 7th Dragon, he gave listeners contemporary and retro mixes of the game's themes on the soundtrack release, while also commissioning classical arrangements for a piano and strings arrange album. Having received three interpretations of the same melodies ranging from low-fi to orchestral, the doujin scene was quick to elaborate on Koshiro's compositional foundation. It should come as no surprise that two ambitious 7th Dragon arrange albums made their debut at Comic Market. The concept behind Studio IIG's release was to gather seven musicians for a numerically appropriate tribute to the Nintendo DS title. However, failing to find friends who had cleared the cart, the album ended up as a duo collaboration with musician ziki_7. The arrangers contacted an artist called Tanu through pixiv, Japan's deviantART equivalent, to help with the cover. Only later did they find out that the illustrator had won an art contest held on the 7th Dragon official website. More can be viewed on Tanu's site, while samples of each track from the album can be heard on the official webpage. Meanwhile, Smalt Erz explained that his collaboration with Shin'ya Mitsuda of Music Pandora was originally slated for release at a 7th Dragon fan festival called Akai Hana no Oka II. "We were both so emotionally involved in the original that we became self-conscious during the arrangement process." Though the project took longer than planned to complete, both musicians are satisfied with the results. Samples of tracks 1, 8 and 12 on the live orchestral album can be heard on the Smalt Erz blog. Tracking down copies of albums sold at Comic Market oftentimes requires taking a trip to Akihabara. Among the stores to check for doujin releases are Toranoana, MelonBooks and Messe Sanoh. Comic Market: Shinji Hosoe & Hiroki Kikuta interviews [Photos by Jeriaska. Translation by Yoshi Miyamoto. Video interviews by Miyu. For more photos from Comic Market, see the photo sets: C76 & C77]

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