Romeo X Juliet Original Soundtrack :: Review by Juan2Darien
I've always felt that Sakimoto was somewhat of an acquired taste. When I first received Final Fantasy XII's soundtrack, I was morbidly disappointed. Having spent $40+, I was unwilling to dismiss it. I listened again and again, and one day I came to the realization just how great it is. I feel many of Sakimoto's works are very much like Final Fantasy XII: Not immediately enjoyable, for whatever reasons, but they eventually bear their merits. I understand not everyone has this kind of patience, so luckily there's is the score for Romeo X Juliet, which features some of Sakimoto's most vibrant, colourfully orchestrated, and blessedly enjoyable music. Like many new Sakimoto scores, this score offers performances by the Eminence Symphony Orchestra. Like many fans, I have been waiting for the day I'd get my hands on a fully orchestral Sakimoto score since I first heard Final Fantasy XII's "Opening Movie". Here it is, and it does not disappoint.
One thing I've admired about Sakimoto's compositions has been his ability to fuse epic and intimate tones. The score starts off with "Tragedy in House Capulet", which begins in a manner oddly reminiscent of some of Howard Shore's more somber work for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. After 40 seconds, though, it shifts to strictly Sakimoto territory, and we know what we're in for. The track relies heavily on brass, but, as I said before, the intimate nature of his music is always present, as heard through short interludes for winds, strings, and harp. The next score track is "Red Storm", which is probably a bit more "Hollywood" sounding than I'd like because it loses the flair that would characterize it as a Sakimoto piece. Besides that, however, it is a marvelous track, again dominated by strong brass that is nearly the epitome of "swashbuckling". "Neo Verona" is a piece that I consider to be one of Sakimoto's finest creations. One thing that this track demonstrates is Sakimoto's ever-growing maturity as a composer. However, it also offers a very youthful exuberance I've not heard from him since Final Fantasy Tactics even the light-hearted pieces from Final Fantasy XII had a strange seriousness that prohibited them from ever truly becoming playful. This time the strings get to take the lead in this soaring, adventurous music.
The piano is an instrument that is very underused by Sakimoto, which is a shame because the next track, "Comrades" shows how great Sakimoto's piano work can be. This is a playful piece, and the strings and winds get their turns, but it's the piano work that makes this track a delight. It's not the best piece of music, nor is it entirely original, but it is very enjoyable, being almost jazzy with its rhythmic flair (and maracas!). "Unexpected Encounter" represents more of Sakimoto's piano work. The melody is nice, and the harmonies are suitable, but not daring (which is a good thing for this kind of piece). If I were to compare it to anything, it'd probably be Hamaguchi's arrangements for the Fional Fantasy Piano Collections. Are they creative, daring arrangements? No. Do they capture a certain mood of the original? Yes, and this is the case with "Unexpected Encounter". It may not be one of Sakimoto's most innovative pieces, but it does present, in my opinion, one of his best, most accessible melodies. "Unexpected Encounter" and the subsequent "Contact" are also the definitive arrangements of one of the main themes of the score. Having never seen Romeo X Juliet, I can only wonder what the theme represents, but it sounds to me to be a love theme, which is appropriate given the story. "Contact" is a particular stunning track. Again, it's probably closer to really good "Hollywood" music than standard Sakimoto work, but that does not change the fact that the theme is lovely, sweeping, and romantic. It is performed initially by strings with chimes and woodwinds to give a magical feel before the brass comes and steals the show again, bringing it to a majestic climax.
Now that I've covered most all of the bases playful, romantic, swashbuckling, epic, etc. I'm going skip forward a bit. "Wail" is a track where Sakimoto takes a very serious turn. It is a very anxious track with strings, piano, and harp constantly shifting back and forth between chords, creating an uneasy atmosphere, while a melody in the brass is heard. Sakimoto uses silence to great effect hear with tremolo strings being separated by dramatic rests. The beginning of "Grief" brought a great big smile to my face. Quite an ironic comment for a track called "Grief", but it corrects the problem one of only a few problems I have with this score. Many tracks on here are great, yes, but lack that identity and style that would usually characterize something as Sakimoto's. With the beginning of the "Grief", we are reminded of many other tracks by Sakimoto in previous scores. It begins with the arpeggios in the harp that have begun a great many pieces like A.S.H.'s "People of the Forest", Deltora Quest's "Deltora Picture Book", and Final Fantasy XII's "Eruyt Village" and "A Moment's Rest". If you've heard those pieces, you know what to expect after that: flute solos. But that's where Sakimoto threw me for a loop with; alas, not his usual flute melody, but rather more of his piano writing, this time fragmented, cold, and almost percussive. The piece warms up after a few minutes once the strings gain a more-than-supporting role.
"Plot" also features some familiar Sakimoto techniques. Again, if you've heard Final Fantasy XII's "Tomb of Raithwall", Odin Sphere's "Battle in the Land of Fire", or practically every other track from Vagrant Story, you know what to expect: A moody, mysterious, dark atmosphere with deep rumblings, twinkling chimes, rattling, and other percussive devices. Unfortunately, to my ears, this appears to be the first track to be all synths and no orchestra. "Parting", another synthetic track begins very ominously with an added touch not heard in the score yet: choir. Unfortunately, the piece always seems to be building up to some great climax that it never reaches. "Various Thoughts" saves the score from monotony with a lovely intimate piece for string quartet. It is a mournful minor key variation on the love theme. I was reminded of a quote from the film Eastern Promises when listening to this track: a man is explaining to his granddaughter how to play the violin with passion. "Make the wood cry", he says. When listening to "Various Thoughts", you can almost feel the performers mourning with the music.
Have you ever wondered what a Sakimoto battle theme would sound like orchestrated? That's just what we get in "Recapture"! As is characteristic of Sakimoto's battle themes lately, the music here is brutal, dominated by brass with string arpeggios, and kept interesting with its relentless rhythm, chaotic nature, and, as seems to be becoming a staple for Sakimoto's battle themes, inventiveness with percussion. "Friendship ~ To a New Land~" is nothing too special, but I feel it warrants at least a mention because of Sakimoto's use of acoustic guitar, something we don't hear too often from him (at least to my knowledge!). Though it presents a nice melody, it probably won't go down in anyone's book as an essential Sakimoto piece in their collections. Several tracks later, a miracle happens in the form of "Fate". It is tragic, yet hopeful; mysterious, yet resolute. This deserves to be recognized as another of Sakimoto's finest creations. The piece consists of heavenly, wistful strings and, in the beginning section, the gentle strumming of a harp (perhaps strumming was the wrong word, but I still think it fits). The piece brings tears to my eyes with such raw, determined emotion that I'd not heard from Sakimoto since his "Staff Roll" for Vagrant Story.
"Flight" comes in with a steady tapping before taking a turn for more of that swashbuckling, adventurous music that characterizes so much of this disc. Here, though, unlike "Red Storm", it is pure Sakimoto. The music perfectly inhabits its title to the T. You can almost feel yourself begin to soar with such heroic brass. Skipping to the penultimate track on the score, Sakimoto presents something new in "The Twin Trees of Escalus". His music, as I've tried to make abundantly clear, for this score always has an intimate quality, even in its most daring, solemn, mysterious, or brutal moments. However, not until "The Twin Trees of Escalus" had Sakimoto used the strings in such a lush manner that it literally makes my heart want to melt. To add to this is a beautiful, lyrical oboe solo. The final piece of score is a bit of a disappointment. Not that the music itself isn't good, but it is not orchestrated. One would think that the best way to finish off a score like this would be with a bang, and such a bang could only be achieved with a live orchestra. On the plus side, though, it doesn't make too much of a difference since the piece is dominated by piano, which seems to have been nearly perfected to give the final interpretation of the love theme.
"Prayer" is an odd little track. It consists of a single voice singing the melody while more wordless vocals, sounding like from the same singer, harmonize. It reminded me a great deal of some of Mitsuda's vocal work such as "Upon the Melodies of the Moon" from KiRite and "Ring" from Soma Bringer, although it is much less successful. The problem is that the melody doesn't quite sound right, for whatever reasons (probably its simplicity and inability to stray from the same four notes), and the harmonies are quite simply monotonous. The other songs are really nothing special compared to the score and weren't created by Sakimoto. The first, present on track two, is just "You Raise Me Up" in Japanese. This brought quite a smile to my face, being familiar with the English version. The other two songs are blessedly after all the score material. The first, "Cyclone (TV size)", is an absolutely jarring rock song, complete with grungy electric guitars. The next song, "Goodbye, Yesterday" is still incoherent with the rest of the album, but at least it's pleasant to listen to with soothing guitars, although it's a rather standard sounding pop ballad. I tend to ignore these songs.
There are a few very minor quibbles I have with this score five, to be exact. First, some of the pieces resemble game music in that about halfway through they loop. This kills any hope of development (although several culprits of these, such as "Neo Verona", are diminished in no way by this). It would have been nice to see Sakimoto write complete compositions, with ideas reaching full fruition before moving onto the next piece. Second, I cannot understand why, when Sakimoto had the Eminence Symphony Orchestra at his disposal, selected a few tracks to be implemented synthetically. Perhaps they're the more exotic tracks such as "Plot" with its eerie percussion or "Parting" with its use of a synthetic choir, which tends to not blend too well with a live orchestra, in my opinion. Third are the songs. I understand that they must have been used in Romeo X Juliet, but they are such a departure from the wonderful musical adventure we've just been through and stick out. Fourth, some of the tracks lose Sakimoto's identity by either sounding too much like Hollywood-blockbuster music such as "Red Storm" or, well, like typical anime music such as "Rehearsal for the Performance". The fifth and final issue I have with this score is something to be expected: not every track can be a masterpiece. While no score pieces are particularly bad, some are considerably less interesting, perhaps even mediocre. Fortunately, though, the truly great pieces far outweigh the lackluster ones.
I told myself at the beginning of writing this that I would not do a track-by-track review, although it seems that's nearly what I've done. The reason is that there is much diversity here, although it forms a very cohesive whole. This is not the kind of diversity of Sakimoto's Final Fantasy XII with tribal percussion, ethnic instruments, etc., but rather a score that runs the full gamut of emotions. Fans of the composer should be drooling over this score, and there is also an accessibility here that most other Sakimoto soundtracks do not have, which, I hope, will attract more music fans. For an introduction to Sakimoto, this is the best place to start. Apart from a few very minor quibbles, I have no gripes with this score. Special mention, though, should go not only to Sakimoto for writing such wondrous music, but also the orchestrators and arrangers who elevated his music to the next level. And of course, cheers for the Eminence Symphony Orchestra whose dedicated, flawless performance make this the quintessential Sakimoto score.
Overall Score: 10/10