Sekaiju no MeiQ 4 -Denshou no Kyoshin- Super Arrange Version :: Review by Don
The Sekaiju no MeiQ series has always been known for its diverse arrange albums. While the first two were produced by Norihiko Hibino's GEM Impact, the arrange album for the third game in the series was delegated to Basiscape with Noriyuki Kamikura taking the lead role. Once again, Noriyuki Kamikura is in charge of the arrange album for the most recent game in the series; however, having left Basiscape, he brings with him an intriguing blend of arrangers. They include chiptune group KPLECRAFT, Final Fantasy XIII impressionist Masashi Hamauzu, the still mysterious newly formed c.l.o.u.d. unit, and Falcom veterans Ryo Yonemitsu and Yukihiro Jindo. The album surely offers a diverse sound, but is it consistent enough for a purchase?
The album opens with the title music, "On an Adventure Gliding Through the Skies," and with it, Kamikura offers a slightly different take on it. While the core sound is still present, the inclusion of more tribal percussion and sultry saxophone work really help give it a more heartwarming atmosphere. "Area I - Windy Plains" takes the grandiose theme and turns it into a stunning jazz rendition full of beautiful trumpet solos, sleek saxophone part, and sultry piano work. It fits the original quite well, while offering a new dimension. The instrumentalists all offer wonderful performances and the crystal clear sound quality also enhances the experience. The series' arranged albums have certainly grown more polished over the years. "Labyrinth III - Grotto of the Adamantine Beast" transforms the haunting original into an exuberant dance arrangement. While the change of tempo and style is quite drastic, I really like how Kamikura kept the core atmosphere of the original in the melody line. It's also fantastic how he gradually introduces some jazzy piano and rocking guitar work to make the final sound richer and denser.
In series' tradition, there are several fully-fledged vocal arrangements featured on this album. Continuing the jazz vibe, "Labyrinth V - City of Radiant Ruin" features a standout performance from Anemone of blue chee. She provides a beautiful vocal rendition of the original tune, while accentuating the atmosphere with solid instrumental backing and a reat smooth jazz saxophone solo. The English words are quite well written and pronounced. "Labyrinth I - Cerulean Woodlands" is a vocal arrangement featuring the acclaimed Haruka Shimotsuki. Kamikura's rendition of this tune is more pop oriented, featuring romantic strings, although it does maintain the core jazzy soundscape of the original tune and even includes a stunning woodwind solo that ties in quite nicely with the tune. While Haruka Shimotsuki's voice may not be for everyone, I think she does a great job at complementing the musical style that Kamikura chose to pursue.
When it comes to battle themes, Kamikura's two themes definitely adopt the spirit of the J.D.K. Band that he has recently been associated with. "Battlefield - Storm," the normal battle theme, boasts heavy rhythm guitar riffs, plenty of synthesizer and violin melody lines, and of course, the requisite electric guitar leads. What I really like about this one is that the original style was done in a similar fashion don't forget that Yuzo Koshiro pretty much conceived Falcom's signature sound back in the 80s but Kamikura intensified it a bit. More surprising is his take of "Battlefield - The End of the Raging Winds." While Kamikura tackled this theme in the previous arrange album, this version is much more successful. The first half maintains the Falcom sound with wailing guitars, a violin lead, and heavy guitar riffs, while the second half of the arrangement does something quite different. It features powerful and haunting choral tones before moving into a series of guitar, violin, and synthesizer solos that effectively play until the end of the arrangement.
Of course, the album also features contributions by Falcom's most famous arrangers. The main force behind Falcom's current arrangements, Yukihiro Jindo offers two impressive arrangements. His rendition of "Unrest - The Legend's Successor," the final battle theme, combines the orchestral nature of the original with some sinister choir work. I was really worried that the elegance of this one would be taken away, but Jindo was able to maintain the sinister atmosphere while accentuating it with his inclusion of choir and his beautiful orchestration. While impressive, I'm more impressed with his transformation of the last labyrinth's battle theme, "Battlefield - With Eyes Blazing." He manages to take the synth rock-oriented tune and turn it into this bombastic and powerful orchestral tune, in essence, making it a much more effective and sinister sound. From the chaotic violin lines that simulate that alien synthesizer in the original to the brooding brass and oppressive percussion, it's a theme that truly comes alive. Jindo's rendition would make a perfect boss theme for the series.
Also notable is Ryo Yonemitsu, who arranged tracks by Yuzo Koshiro for the J.D.K. Band and other projects back in the 90s. His arrangement of "Battlefield - Faith is My Pillar" is an interesting blend. While the classic Falcom sound is present, it also sounds like it would fit in quite well with a G.rev shmup, since it has that modern yet retro sound. It's an arrangement that features some excellent guitar lines and solos, as well as some really catchy, bubbly synthesizer work. Moving to another guest contributor, Masashi Hamauzu's rendition of "Labyrinth II - Misty Ravine" is, as expected, a beautiful piano arrangement that plays to his ability to create minimalistic piano interpretations of more lush originals. I particularly like how Hamauzu was able to keep the Asian vibe of the original, yet at the same time, add some slight jazz influence into his arrangement to help keep with the overall theme of the original soundtrack as well as the overall style of this album.
The only arranger on this album I had not heard of was c.l.o.u.d. Of course, no information is yet available on this mysterious group, despite my efforts to found out by asking Kamikura, so going into this arrangement, I did not know what to expect. Their rendition of "Labyrinth IV - Library of Puppets" takes the original progressive rock sound of the original and amplifies it. It features heavier guitar riffs, plenty of jam-style synthesizer work, and leads that sound almost improvised, as well as a nifty piano jam in the arrangement. It's an interesting rendition that keeps to the original, but improves upon it greatly, in my opinion. It will be interesting to hear more from this unit in the future, as well as to find out a bit more about them!
Lastly, chiptune group KPLECRAFT tackles the FOE theme for the game, "Battlefield - Fall of the Final Enemy." As expected, the chiptune rendition manages to capture the same intensity of the original and also conjures up images of the past Sekaiju no MeiQ albums, despite being oriented around 8-bit rather than FM synth. However, the most surprising addition of all to this arrangement is the fact that it also features a lengthy saxophone solo, played by KUSKE of KPLECRAFT. It really fuses together the idea of the old style of the series music and the recent evolution in the music in this past soundtrack. The albums closing track, "The Relentless Melody" by Kamikura, takes the last section of the lengthy original and turns it into a beautiful, rustic rendition featuring piano and acoustic guitar before introducing the saxophone again to give a nice parallel to the opening theme. While this track doesn't really push the creative boundary, it's a very pleasant and fitting way to close the album.
In the end, I think that the Sekaiju no MeiQ 4 Super Arrange Album is definitely worth a purchase. While the majority of the arrangements are by Noriyuki Kamikura, he shows his diversity as an artist, providing a mixture of jazz, acoustic, vocal, electronic, and rock arrangements. Complemented by the chiptune, piano, synth rock, and orchestral arrangements by the guest contributors, it's a varied take on the original. And what's more, in addition to being varied, everything is very passionately arranged and well-implemented. It manages to stay faithful to the originals, while pleasing the fans of any of the featured artists.
Overall Score: 9/10