Bonus Post #42- Music: A Look at Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge’s Soundtrack

Tanaka Title.jpg

Hello readers, and welcome to another musical bonus post! This time, I will be taking a look at the soundtrack of one of my personal favorites: Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge, or Tanaka-kun is Always Listless. There may be some very minor SPOILERS ahead for the show. If you haven’t watched Tanaka-kun yet, I highly recommend it, and recommend you check out our review of it as well!

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get started. In talking about this soundtrack, I’ve decided to start at the most logical place possible. I’m sure you know where I’m going with this one…

doom

That’s right. Doom!

Doom 3 is a pretty good First Person Shooter that I personally wasn’t all that into. I’ve heard some people say that it’s an extremely scary shooter, so I was definitely curious to give it a shot when I saw it on sale on Steam. The game has you playing a soldier arriving at a base on Mars, when suddenly a portal opens, and all Hell breaks loose… Literally. As in literal demons show up, wreck the station, and do standard demon stuff. Since you seem to be the only person who is immune to demonic possession and instant death from trying to fight them (you are the Doom Guy after all), you pretty much have to go through the station alone, fight the demons, and do various tasks.

There is a certain satisfaction to killing the demons. I found myself using different strategies for each enemy type, and using every weapon I had obtained to deal with them all. Despite this, the game has numerous issues in my eyes. The game is full of dark and claustrophobic hallways to try and create a scary atmosphere. However, these hallways can feel kind of bland, and all that comes from this attempted atmosphere is endless jumpscaring enemies. There were multiple instances where the jumps were utilized quite well, but they were often more frustrating than anything. This was actually my first Doom game, but I still knew that Doom was (and still is with the remake) all about high octane action and gore. The action in Doom 3, while somewhat strategic and fun, ends up suffering thanks to the implementation of its horror elements, and the horror elements themselves really aren’t that good. The game has the jumps and the darkness, but its biggest flaw to me is that I never really felt any intrigue. There was nothing to really make me want to immerse myself in the atmosphere. There is a backstory that you can piece together, but it just didn’t interest me. It’s not a bad game by any stretch, I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to.

doom3

(Don’t worry, there is a point to this)

After putting multiple hours into the game, I really didn’t feel much drive to see it through to the end (even though I hear the end gets much more interesting), and decided to uninstall it. But first, I wanted to play it one more time. At the same time, I found on my YouTube suggestions that someone had uploaded the Tanaka-kun soundtrack in full (it’s since been taken down). This lead to a surprisingly amazing combination: Playing Doom 3 while listening to the Tanaka-kun soundtrack! It was absolutely hilarious to me, running around in dark hallways and shooting demons while listening to this:

It absolutely killed any of the atmosphere the game was trying to create. This made it utterly ridiculous, sometimes even feeling like one of those old silent films but with a strange and violent twist. I had so much fun with this combination (at least until I started getting attacked from behind because I missed enemy audio cues) that I decided to keep Doom 3 on my computer.

Doing this also made me truly appreciate the Tanaka-kun soundtrack. I honestly didn’t give it much thought when I started watching the show, but I then realized how amazing it is at creating a certain atmosphere and tone.In fact, I would argue that the soundtrack is an essential component of what made Tanaka-kun such a unique and interesting show.

The description of Tanaka-kun on Crunchyroll describes the show as a “Surrealist comedy”, and I would absolutely agree with this. It’s definitely an oddball show that’s in its own little world. A slice of life, but with a subtle surreal and dreamy feel throughout its episodes. I found it to be a great late night show, because it feels like it demands to be watched when the viewer is in a relaxed state with limited outside distractions. Overall, I would describe Tanaka-kun as a fun comedy, but also a relaxing and heartwarming one.

Conversely, I feel that a lot of comedies want to be full of energy and keep the audience alert so they can laugh more. I’m sure the creators of these shows feel that the worst thing their comedy can do is to be considered boring. With that in mind, it makes sense for the soundtrack to be mostly loud and full of energy, right? Well, since Tanaka-kun does not fit into that mold, the music tends to be the opposite. The music here has very deliberate styles and tones that on their own do not feel akin to a comedy, but rather to its created world and main character. Let’s look at a few examples:

Let’s start with Languissant Kedaruge. It’s a rather simple and smooth piano and voice composition. The vocals are absolutely drenched in reverb, and it sounds like something that would be played at a fancy bar or jazz club. It’s extremely relaxed, dreamy, and most of all doesn’t really feel like it fits in with a comedy show.

It gets even more interesting when you consider where this theme is used in the show. Despite the jazz club feel, one place an iteration of this theme is used is in the first episode when Tanaka falls asleep in gym class with shuttlecocks in his hair. That’s pretty far off from this sophisticated nightclub feel the song itself conjures up, at least in my head.

Tanaka Gym.jpg

I feel that this combination can cause two things to happen in the viewer:

  1. The contrast between the steamy and delicate piece and an image of a kid falling asleep in gym class is humorous.
  2. The song and emphasized sleepiness of Tanaka makes the viewer feel relaxed and reinforces the world’s tone.

These two reactions are very important. The first helps with the comedic aspect of the show, and the second helps give Tanaka-kun its uniqueness. The musical choice here somehow feels both ironic and serious. I laughed at the way the music clashed on a surface level with the image of Tanaka sleeping (as well as how the music clashed with how the moment was supposed to be somewhat of a punchline), but it never felt like the music was there just for the punchline. It also simply felt like that was the music of Tanaka-kun. Even through it was only the first episode, it somehow still felt natural to hear the smooth and washed out tune in the world that had been created here.

There are more jazz themed tracks in the soundtrack, some of them feeling very inspired by bossa nova. Take for example the above bossa nova rendition of Languissant, which to me sounds really cool and sophisticated.

Other songs sound like what you would hear at a classical music recital. These tend to feel like duets between the piano and another instrument, string quintets or classical orchestral pieces, or an instrument is featured with piano, acoustic guitar, or harp accompaniment. Again, one subtle feature that ends up working extremely well here is the reverb. That’s what really makes it feel like a recital hall performance. The large amount of reverb, as well as the at times sparse instrumentation gives these songs a lot of open space. Having so much space makes it feel that much more dreamlike and atmospheric. It’s like how the visual style in the show has a lot of white space, and looks a little washed out. It feels distant, and not fully conscious.

Unless it aids in the humor, Tanaka-kun’s music isn’t exactly meant to be in the foreground. To exemplify this, after writing my original review of the show, I realized just how much of Tanaka-kun doesn’t have any music. There are long moments of silence or moments of just dialogue and sound effects, but because the music is usually so non-intrusive, I don’t always remember that there are times when it’s not there at all. However, in this case, that is not a bad thing by any stretch. It’s not the most in your face music, but it’s very dependable and comforting in a subtle way. In the show, while there are many antics to be had with the characters, it still all centers around a guy who just wants to be comfortable, relaxed, and in the background (kind of like the soundtrack). The music honestly does its job by being more discrete. It works with the visuals, subconsciously lulling the viewer into that relaxed state perfect for watching the show. If you have yet to watch Tanaka-kun, or want to rewatch it, definitely pay a little attention to the soundtrack (there are some very catchy tunes), but for the most part I recommend letting it do its job and focusing on the character interactions more.

I do want to emphasize that not every song has a super slow tempo, and Tanaka-kun itself is anything but a snore fest. There is still a sense of tempo and pacing in the show, just not as much as others. There are songs in the soudtrack (such as some of the more jazzy ones) that give the show some energy, and there are plenty of comedic interactions and characters that liven up the show (Miyanno being a big example). Again, it’s just not as energetic relatively speaking. In my review, I contrasted Tanaka-kun to My Bride is a Mermaid in how Mermaid left me in constant stitches during its runtime, while Tanaka left me more relaxed and smiling alongside the steady bursts of laughter. There’s nothing wrong with Mermaid’s extremely active approach (both in my mind are extremely well done comedies). It’s just that Tanaka decided to go the opposite route, and the music couldn’t be a better fit for the route Tanaka decided to take.

Where do the OP and ED fit into this?

I didn’t forget about these. I’ll quickly dive into both of them.

The opening feels very sunny, fun, and hits a sweet spot in terms of volume and tempo for the show. The whimsical and innocent feeling the opening has shows the happy vibes of Tanaka-kun. It doesn’t coincide with the jazz and classical background music, but it’s for the best that it doesn’t do that. If the opening of a show is meant to transition one into the show itself, reveal a bit about the plot and characters, and/or show tonal aspects of the show, this opening does a good job. It shows the happy and fun world Tanaka, Oota and co. live in, and does such in a more condensed and accessible form. I feel that if they did use a song more in the style of the rest of the soundtrack, it wouldn’t get the viewer as excited for the show itself.

The closing, however, feels much more upbeat and lively. I think it’s good to end each episode on this kind of a note. Finish it off with a bang, so to speak, but not too much of a bang. What I love the most about the closer is the sheer number of keyboard, synth, and sample tracks in it. There are so many different tones!!!! The full song has even more diversity, and the structure of the song was definitely unexpected, but actually really cool. I give the utmost props to the writer(s) and producer(s) who put these tracks together, either through an epic initial vision or a lot of experimentation. The closer not only has some cool little visuals and awesome still frames (note that the video above intentionally washed out some of the colors), but it also emphasizes the fun aspects of the show. It’s very colorful, and the little montage of strange images that somewhat make sense in the context of the show (including a bear) shows that Tanaka-kun still has plenty of zany moments despite its laid back vibe.

It’s interesting how the opening and closing contrast the show in some ways, and in other ways fit in. They’re much more upbeat (relatively speaking), and I feel that it was a great choice to make them that way. Tanaka-kun is still a lighthearted and fun show, and the opening and closer show that. They’re like the pieces of bread that hold the show together in a sense of reality, or a sense of direction before and after the ‘surrealist comedy’ takes over. The opening and closing songs are almost perfect selections.

Conclusion

In my musical discussions, I find that many people admire soundtracks that are filled with memorable themes and/or bombastic musical moments, and I definitely cannot blame them. Composers like John Williams and Howard Shore are incredible at making these amazing and memorable themes in the movies they work on. For example: I bet you could hum the title theme of Star Wars or one of the many Lord of the Rings themes right now if you’ve seen any of those films. These themes are often presented in the foreground, and become synonymous with the movies themselves because of how insanely well written they are. These soundtracks are absolutely deserving of praise, but let’s not forget the soundtracks that do their jobs differently. Though Tanaka-kun has a somewhat memorable theme in Languissant, it’s definitely not a bombastic one, and it still for the most part feels like the show’s soundtrack has no desire to grab your attention like the aforementioned themes. The composer definitely knew what was needed for the show, and achieved it in perhaps the best way possible. It’s a soundtrack that many viewers will pay little mind to at first, but once someone does pay attention to it (like, say, when they decide to listen to it while killing demons on Mars), they’ll find a very comforting, interesting, and fitting set of songs. Because of that, I would rate this an excellent soundtrack.

Oh, and as for Doom , I recently picked up Doom 64, and I feel like that game succeeds in what Doom 3 seemed to be trying to do. It has more suspenseful and atmospheric elements mixed in, but it also has a good amount of action, and manages to stay mysterious rather than riddled with predictable and/or annoying jump scares. I also recommend System Shock 2 for the PC. It’s an excellent (though difficult) horror RPG shooter that absolutely nails it in the atmosphere department.

Thanks for reading! What did you think of Tanaka-kun’s soundtrack? What shows, movies or games have you watched/played with relaxing soundtracks? Have you ever played a Doom game? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s