Mushihimesama Double Arrange Album :: Review by Don
It seems that recently Cave is all about putting out arrange albums from some of their more popular games. Similar to the Death Smiles Premium Arrange Album, this album was released as a bundle with the limited edition version of the Xbox 360 port of Mushihimesama Futari. While many of the composers featured on past arrange albums return, this arrange album also features some new arrangers, ranging from SuperSweep's team to Yoko Shimomura to Kenichiro Fukui. I was able to preorder off of Play Asia. Does this arrangement album, featuring arrangements from both Mushihimesama games, live up to its predecessors?
Since this arrange album is so massive, it gives me an opportunity to review it in a different way than I would normally review. So, without further ado, I'm going to "compare" the respective arrangements from each disc. Disclaimer: Favorites chosen in this review are likely to change on a frequent basis.
Both Kenichiro Fukui, former Square Enix employee, and Noriyuki Iwadare, were charged with arranging the character select music. Fukui, who arranges "The Princess, Age 15," from Mushihimesama, opts for a bubbly interpretation of the original. It has a very holiday-like feel that reminds me of Christmas at times, especially with the sections featuring crystalline synth sounds. The synth melody passages are absolutely wonderful, have a bit of a jazzy sound to them, and combine quite nicely with the electronic beats. Overall, it's a wonderful experience and also makes me sad that he is now teaching as a full time job, rather than composing/arranging. Now, last time Iwadare appeared on a Cave album, it was for his arrangement of "Last Words" on Ketsui. As before, I thought that was a stunning piece. I'm happy to say his arrangement of the Mushihimesama Futari character select music, "The Prince, Age 9" totally took me by surprise. Opening with a synth guitar line and some ethereal accompaniment, it quickly transforms into something extremely upbeat and catchy, with a bit of funk and electronica. The strings section, which carries a majority of the melody, really adds to this jovial sense of style, but the thing that catches my eye the most are the copious amounts of awesome keyboard. It's a great way to open up the Mushihimesama Futari disc. If I had to pick a favorite, although both are excellent, I'd definitely say that Noriyuki Iwadare takes the prize here. His arrangement was quite a surprise!
Moving onto the two stage one themes, it's no surprise to see Yasuhisa Watanabe returning for yet another stage one theme. Joining him is reprising arranger, Yasuhiko Fukuda. Yack's arrangement of "To Shinju Forest," from Mushihimesama, is another wonderful arrangement. It's a beautiful and festive take on the original that also throws in some more risqué vocal samples, though they are only appear for a brief time. The various synth melodies, tempos, and beats are what truly distinguish this piece. I'm definitely a fan of all of his stage 1 remixes for Cave this past year and this one definitely tops the list as my favorite from him. Yasuhiko Fukuda, who arranged "Fog Warning" from DoDonPachi Dai-Ou-Jou Arrange Album, tackled "Setting Off Together" from Mushihimesama Futari. Although he opens with some chiptune arpeggios, he quickly throws in a curve ball by opting for a totally organic arrangement. It is an absolutely beautiful take on the original. Reprising her vocal work from "Fog Warning," Yuka Yamagishi's operatic vocal work here adds a layer of warmth that blends together beautiful with the drum work, acoustic guitar, woodwind work, and strings. In fact, the melodic motif of Mushihimesama Futari is accentuated in this arrangement and really shines, in my opinion, in Fukuda's arrangement. As much as I love Yack's arrangement, Fukuda is probably my favorite of the two for its inherent beauty and ability to give a beautiful organic touch to the original music of Manabu Namiki.
The boss themes are handled by wasi303, reprising his arranging role from Ketsui Arrange Album, and Nobuyoshi Sano, known for his work on the DS-10. wasi303 takes "Levi - Sense," originally composed by Masaharu Iwata for Mushihimesama, and transforms it into this excellent club mix. The intro with the start/stop beats, followed by some excellent beats and accompaniment, all really help make this theme a winner. I also love how the sinister nature of the original is retained in this remix. In fact, I could probably listen to this for hours on end, dancing along. It truly is a spectacular arrangement. "Beastial Beat," from Mushihimesama Futari, is transformed by Nobuyoshi Sano. The original was quite sinister, but this one definitely takes a more subdued approach. Sano definitely focuses on the "Beat" part of the name. In fact, it's a very driving rhythm with some pretty interesting melodic accompaniment. It really takes a keen ear to hear the original in here, but once you do, you can definitely appreciate the arrangement much more. It's another one of those arrangements I could listen to all day and dance. The rhythm is just so catchy! Both arrangements are great, but I have to hand this one to wasi303. He was able to take my favorite Mushihimesama battle theme and transform it into an even catchier version!
The stage clear arrangements bring along a newcomer, Ryu Takami, as well as Ryu Umemoto, the veteran stage clear arranger. Ryu Takami, arranging "Enough About That!" from Mushihimesama, provides a very interesting remix, combining electronic and rock elements. I'm still impressed how people transform these extremely short themes into something so elaborate and the electronic melody combined with rock accompaniment and electronic beats, really creates a wonderful listen and an atmosphere of victory. Ryu Umemoto, arranging Mushihimesama Futari's "We Did It!," opts for an entirely electronic approach. It's catchy, fun, and definitely has that Umemoto stamp. I also love the layered melodies of the motif introduced in "Setting Off Together." It really helps add a bit of cohesiveness to the entire arrangement. Another great job Umemoto! This decision was a bit tougher for me to make, but I think newcomer Ryu Takami's arrangement impresses me ever so slightly more.
The stage two themes are both arranged by newcomers to the recent batch of Cave arrange albums, Shinji Hosoe, who has previously worked with Cave on the Ibara Original Soundtrack, and Yoko Shimomura. "Furthermore, Cross the Desert Too," from Mushihimesama, is arranged by Shinji Hosoe. His arrangement is a bubbly electronic take on the original. In fact, his arrangement definitely accentuates the bubbly feel of the original. It's not the most extreme departure, like some of the other arrangements on the album, but the addition of a slow synth solo and the atmosphere having a bit more of a spacey feel still makes this one quite the enjoyable listen. Yoko Shimomura, arranging Kimihiro Abe's "Sea of Frozen Crystals" from Mushihimesama Futari, definitely lives up to her response in our Symphonic Fantasies interview. It really is quite unlike anything she has done before, on an overall basis. Opening with a playful acoustic guitar melody, it quickly moves into a pretty nice techno beat. Shimomura retains the spirit of the original quite well and it works well with all the elements she puts into it. In a way, it's almost like rustic techno. One of my favorite parts is when the piano takes the forefont. It's a slow, but very beautiful, take on the original melody. Shimomura definitely succeeds in accentuating the original and, despite her lack of experience with some of the elements heard in the arrangement, does a spot on job! Her stage two theme arrangement is definitely my favorite of the two.
The stage three themes are arranged by Keiichi Okabe and Motoi Sakuraba. The Mushihimesama theme, "Walking on the Land of Flame," is arranged by Keiichi Okabe and it rocks! It's a great rock rendition of the original, complete with live guitar played by Kakeru Ishihama. The slower B section, emulating xylophone, and the piano heard times gives it a bit of a softer touch, especially when it plays unaccompanied by other instruments, but the meat of the theme definitely relies on the rock influence. The Mushihimesama Futari theme, "Shinju Forest Army Rebel?," arranged by Motoi Sakuraba, retains the Asian flair of the original and adds progressive rock elements to the mix. It's an energetic blend. Of course, it can't be a Motoi Sakuraba prog rock arrangement with some solos! The keyboard solo in this arrangement definitely goes way back and sounds more like something you'd hear on Gikyokuonsou rather than some of his most recent works, and the bass guitar is definitely a winner! Combine these elements with some synth passages, and you have another great arrangement in my book! It's a close call here... but at the moment, my favorite would be Motoi Sakuraba's stage three theme.
Both the stage four themes are absolutely stellar. The first, "Like a Night of Falling Stars," from Mushihimesama, is arranged by Yasuhito Saito. I love how, in this arrangement, he keeps the very soothing and delicate nature of the original, yet also adds a touch of rock into the melody. It only serves to accentuate the melody and atmosphere. The piano lines are also quite moving as well. It's another fantastic blend of styles and one that fits oh so well. The Mushihimesama Futari arrangement by TECHNOuchi for "The Black Shell Beast King" is easily my favorite arrangement by him for a Cave arrange album. His transformation of the original is absolutely stunning. Ethereal electronica and some jazzier percussion help to create a very emotional accompaniment to the melody of the theme. The melody is breathtaking. The piano captures such emotion and it really shows. This theme is one of those relaxation pieces I could listen to all day. As the piece progresses, the tempo of the arrangement gradually increases and despite this fact, the delicate nature is retained, thanks to the piano line. Overall, this is a superb job. In fact, it's my favorite arrangement of the whole album. I was hooked from the start.
Both the stage five themes are also fantastic arrangements. Satoru Kosaki's arrangement of "The Direction to the Heart of the Forest," from Mushihimesama, is a very soothing and relaxing piece that accentuates the atmosphere heard in the original. Beautiful woodwind and strings passages, combined with some crystalline synth and a pop accompaniment, create a fantastic theme. The piano heard later on in the arrangement is also a touching addition. I was quite surprised hearing this from him, given a lot of the stuff I've heard him do is more electronic or rock focused. This was a welcome surprise! Kota Hoshino returns to arrange Mushihimesama Futari's "On the Verge of Madness" and boy, what a ride that one is! It opens up with a dark atmospheric piano and guitar, reminding me a bit of Silent Hill, but from there, it adds some fantastic rock elements, techno beats, and some beautiful Asian accents. The Asian accents aren't as strong as the original, but they do help give it that edge heard in the original. The fact that the majority of this piece is led by piano gives it a delicate touch, but the energy in the track is immense. This is easily my favorite Hoshino arrangement on a Cave album and out of the two stage five themes, also my favorite.
Michiko Naruke and Ayako Saso are responsible for the last boss themes. Naruke arranges "Is This How You Are?" from Mushihimesama and definitely surprised me. The intro combines some nice electronic beats with some evil sounding piano and some strings work. Throw in some Asian flair in the melody, and some jazzy piano and progressive rock keyboard work later on and you have yourself quite an energetic boss theme. I also like towards the end how it takes more of an orchestral approach. It's definitely a treat to listen to and one I didn't expect out of Naruke! Saso's version of "Cry! Scream!!," from Mushihimesama Futari, is also quite interesting. It's pretty much a hardcore techno arrangement of the original, with the melodic choir the piece of the puzzle that keeps it all together. The vocal samples in the beginning and end of the theme are pretty fitting with things like "Leave me alone now" and "Give up" mixed throughout. Around the halfway point, things get a bit crazier and some electric guitar is thrown into the mix. It's an energetic take on the original. I've noticed that some of the last boss/true last boss themes of past Cave arrangements seem to mellow things out slightly, but Saso does the exact opposite, creating an energetic romp worthy of the last boss moniker. This is another close call, but I'm gonna give this one to Ayako Saso!
Of course, most Cave games aren't over with the last boss, unless you fail to meet strenuous conditions, such as beating the last boss on the hardest mode without dying, etc. If you can manage that, you'll get to go up against the true last boss. Well, in this case, Koji Hayama and Akari Kaida step up to interpret these themes. While I really enjoy Koji Hayama's take on the Mushihimesama true last boss theme, "Requiem in the Sky," I also think his arrangement is the laziest of the bunch. It's essentially taking the original and adding some industrial accompaniment to give it that Hayama edge. I still enjoy it a lot, mainly due to the original, but I think Hayama should have taken a different approach. Now, Akari Kaida, on the other hand, completely transforms "Sky of Fragrant Souls" from Mushihimesama Futari. It's a fantastic vocal theme, sung by Akari Kaida herself, with a beautiful blend of jazz, electronic, and funk accompaniment. It has a very intoxicating rhythm. As the theme progresses, the addition of strings and piano really help kick it up a bit. Fantastic job Akari! It's definitely my favorite arrangement from you yet for a Cave album. So, as you can see, I think Kaida's arrangement is the clear winner between these two.
The name entry arrangements belong to Yousuke Yasui and Kazuhiro Nakamura. "Starfall Village," from Mushihimesama, opens up with the intro to the stage one theme in Battle Garegga, as a tribute to Manabu Namiki, no doubt, and moves into a very catchy electronic theme that reminds me of the synth used in Mamoru Has Been Cursed. It's a very bubbly arrangement and I really like how it transforms the original. The Mushihimesama Futari arrangement of "I Want to Protect You," by Kazuhiro Nakamura, is absolutely stunning. It focuses on the main motif heard in the Mushihimesama Futari soundtrack through a combination of synth, electric acoustic guitar, and chiptune accompaniment. The guitar work is definitely the star of the show and definitely showcases the beauty of the arrangement. In terms of which one I enjoy more at the moment, I'm gonna have to go with Kazuhiro Nakama's arrangement.
Last, but not least, are the ending theme arrangements, by DR. COVA, also known as Hideaki Kobayashi, and Motoyoshi Iwasaki. DR. COVA's arrangement from Mushihimesama of "I Have Something to Ask You" is absolutely stunning. It's a very beautiful orchestral arrangement that reminds me of some of the stuff you'd hear in Phantasy Star Online. Overall, it's a very peaceful arrangement and the various elements, especially the piano, really help to bring a sense of closure to the first disc. Marvelous job DR. COVA! The second ending theme, "Invisible Warmth," from Mushihimesama Futari, is arranged by Motoyoshi Iwasaki. His arrangement opens with a simple music box melody that gives a hint of the delicate nature of the arrangement... or does it? In fact, after the simple music box melody, there is a sweeping orchestral pop take on the theme. Like "I Want to Protect You," it focuses on the melodic motif of Mushihimesama Futari, something I have no complaints about, as its absolutely my favorite part of the soundtrack. It's another fantastic arrangement, reminds me a bit of Grandia at times in terms of style, and that acoustic guitar really helps add a bit of panache to the mix. The second disc also ends on a high note.
Words truly can't express the emotions I experience when I listen to this soundtrack. At times, my emotions are jerked around when it comes to the slower, softer themes, yet at others, I'm elated beyond belief when it comes to the more upbeat themes. Of course, the themes in the middle of the road are also quite fantastic. Although I chose favorites between the two discs in terms of themes, that doesn't mean that I hate anything on the album. In fact, I love everything on the album and at the time of this review, it's just what I was in love with more at the time. These favorites will likely change over time, as they have done with the other Cave arrange albums released this year. In the end, I think anyone who can obtain a copy of this should, as there is a beautiful blend of styles and arrangers. It will be difficult now, as it was only included with the limited edition of the Xbox 360 port of Mushihimesama Futari. According to the liner notes, this will be the last all-star arrange album for some time, so enjoy it. 2009 was a fantastic year for Cave arrange albums and I'm glad it ended on the highest note. I think 2010's arranged efforts will have a lot to live up to.
Overall Score: 10/10