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Sakura Relaxation Original Soundtrack :: Review by Muzza

Sakura Relaxation Original Soundtrack Album Title: Sakura Relaxation Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Puzzlebox
Catalog No.: Promotional
Release Date: June 17, 2005
Purchase: Buy at eBay


After a long period of inactivity in the video game music industry, composer Hiroki Kikuta rose from his musical grave with three rather unexpected scores that took true game music fans very much by surprise. Across two years, the soundtracks to the games 'Sora no Iro, Mizu no Iro', 'Ni~dzuma wa Sailor Fuku', and Sakura Relaxation were released in 2003, 2005, and again in 2005, respectively.

Compared to his previous game works, Koudelka and Soukaigi, gamers were both surprised and afraid that such a venerable composer had decided to compose for video games of the hentai genre (games with explicit, adult content; not deemed appropriate in most English speaking countries), which are known for having light-hearted musical compositions with frivolous, melodious tones. Hiroki Kikuta is well-known for being particularly talented in composing this kind of tune, as showcased in his two Seiken Densetsu works, so some listeners (such as myself) were rather excited to get their hands on this promotional release.

The Sakura Relaxation Original Soundtrack was released as a promotional item from the publisher Puzzlebox as a bonus gift for those who bought the Sakura Relaxation game for the PC. Virtually the same size as his Soukaigi score, it was a single disc release; since its release, it has become the most talked-about of the three aforementioned h-game soundtracks. Why's that, you ask? Well, just read on to find out; also read on to discover whether or not this release meets the lofty standards Hiroki Kikuta has set for himself!

Track-by-Track Reviews

1) If I Told You How I Felt...

Kaoru Kano (a vocalist I've never heard of before) lends her voice to the opening vocal track, "If I Told You How I Felt". I'm not very impressed with her voicework in this opener; while it is pleasantly tuneful, it sounds awfully passive and underwhelming compared to the more experienced female vocal talents out there who put effort into every single note. But still, Ms. Kano appropriately complements the song's bouncy, frivolous melody and guides it through numerous instrumental passages with a decent pacing. From the fluttery mandolin opening, to the verse's light strums of a guitar all the way to the delicate chimes of a triangle during the chorus, "If I Told You How I Felt" houses some intriguing instrument choices. However, they aren't giving much emphasis within the context of the melody, such as the tiny organ that culminates the chorus, which could have been much more appropriate if used more prominently. In summary, the vocals are passive, and the underlying melody isn't buoyant enough to mask it. Catchy to a certain degree, but it's still an average vocal track. (6/10)

2) Following the Wild Rabbit

Probably the most fun-loving composition on the score, "Following the Wild Rabbit" prepares a nice pace and tempo for the remainder of the soundtrack. An abundant supply of melodic fragments playfully combine with the mandolin and help its charming development, even if it is a tad predictable to those accustomed to saccharine h-game tunes (such as myself). The toe-tapping glockenspiel percussion and piano finishes are just icing on the equally sweet cake; this piece (regarding music, not cake!) would probably bode very well with children actually. Highly melodious and almost excessively joyous, "Following the Wild Rabbit" is very entertaining, but it's not the most inspired piece you'll hear. (8/10)

3) 12 Directions of the Wind

Compositionally speaking, "12 Directions of the Wind" is one of the most captivating on the entire score; it's conflicted in terms of tone, delivering both a satisfying sense of instrumental maturity and a humble tone of melodic light-heartedness. The rapid acoustic rhythm heightens the track's musical intricacy, although it still competently maintains an innocuous tone of simplicity. With subtle flute incorporations and a festively jammin' beat, "12 Directions of the Wind" comes across as extraordinarily catchy despite a severe lack in development. Indeed, it's not the most advanced composition around, but its intriguing and infectious rhythmic patterning just keeps bringing me back for more! (8/10)

4) The Girl Who Touched the Sky

Yet another bouncy track, but this bounciness is conveyed in a much more subdued way. Tastefully paced glockenspiel percussion and structurally sound bass lead to the whimsical flute solo, perfectly indicative of the cherubic girl mentioned in the track's title. Now that I think about it, "The Girl Who Touched the Sky" is accurately epitomic of h-game tunes in general; the simple, inoffensive melody, brief yet effective developments, and memorable rhythms gently convey the intended mood without making the track feel overbearing or superficial in the slightest. Musically unimpressive, but probably the most modest track so far, and that's admirable enough. (7/10)

5) 30 Days Hath September

Easily recognisable as being the background melody apparent in the opening vocal track, "30 Days Hath September" has thankfully redeemed its parent track, but only ever so slightly. Now that the give-or-take vocals and the passive structural undertones are gone, we can enjoy the melody in full, which is brilliantly highlighted by several clever ideas from Mr. Kikuta. Creative percussion and a mere piano do wonders at making the listener want to tap their feet and strum their fingers along a nearby surface. Catchy and memorable, "30 Days Hath September" (with its undeniably "h-game" cute title) is the most accomplished piece thus far! (9/10)

6) Wings of Night

After four rather up-tempo pieces with somewhat predictable features, Hiroki Kikuta has intelligently crafted an atmospheric marvel to calm the listener and offer a breath of fresh. non-sweet air. Comparatively darker in tone (yet still fairly innocuous), "Wings of Night" uses a hefty amount of reverb on its piano and otherworldly synthesizers to both sooth and intrigue. This consequently aids in constructing a fitting nightscape within the listener's mind, which perhaps coincidentally contrasts with the ebullient sunshine of previous pieces. Smartly positioned and composed with precise talent, "Wings of Night" is a sophisticatedly classy track. (8/10)

7) Lovers

Hmm, now that I think of it, this might be the most fun-loving track on the score! Less playful than "Following the Wild Rabbit" and with more of an attitude than anything we've seen so far, "Lovers" conveys a quirky tone through its toy-like rhythms and sarcastically humorous brass climax. This track will probably make you either smirk or cringe; I was of the former category, since you can't honestly knock back such a melodious piece of musical mischievousness. I'm very pleased that a romantic, sappy approach wasn't taken here, as it wouldn't have fit at all with the remainder of the score; as it is, "Lovers" is a charmingly wacky piece of music! (8/10)

8) A Gentle Moon

Ominous and serene in feeling, pensive and mysterious in execution, "A Gentle Moon" is, I would imagine, a great piece of music for moments of reflection. A hopeful melodic line is surrounded by significantly darker (yet subtle) synth work, establishing a gentle tempo with calming dynamics. The flute solo is even more reflective in nature, and skillfully concludes the melody. A simple review for a simple, thoughtful track. (8/10)

9) Left Hand of Darkness

"Left Hand of Darkness" is the most unconventional piece of music on the entire Sakura Relaxation Original Soundtrack. This trait is easily identifiable by the noticeable jazzy undercurrents and the exciting melodic pacing. Intense piano licks and subtle organ chimes elaborate upon the insanely fun melody and the adventurous atmosphere (which makes it sound like a dungeon theme to me, and a very creative one at that). Additionally, the piano solo towards the end of each loop can be described as nothing but awesome. So yeah, "Left Hand of Darkness" is undoubtedly one of the best tracks on the score! (10/10)

10) What Is This Thing Called Love

Y'know how I mentioned that if there were a romantic, emotional theme on this soundtrack, it wouldn't really work? Well I've kind of been proven wrong. "What Is This Thing Called Love", a title kind of Engrishy in nature, creates a mellow, heartfelt soundscape with its celestial piano and complex yet serene background support. There's a lot going on this track, which is surprising considering the simplicity of the melody and the easy-to-follow manner of the melodic passages. Well done Hiroki Kikuta; you've crafted a rather touching piece of music that isn’t too sappy at all. It actually fits rather nicely on the soundtrack itself, too, which is a pleasant surprise. (8/10)

11) Days of Grass, Days of Straw

"Days of Grass, Days of Straw" is an exceptionally well-composed piece of music. The instrumentation, including a fluid acoustic guitar and some accompanying lush strings, sounds musically profound in its mellow, lackadaisical tone. String plucks at the end of each loop also create an added sense of amicability and warmness. My favourite part of this track, however, is how it stirs a vivid response within the listener. Every time I listen to it, "Days of Grass, Days of Straw" makes me picture myself lying on some verdant grass with a piece of straw sticking out of my mouth, basking under the glorious outdoor sunlight with no cares in the world. Ah, life is good. (9/10)

12) Sleeping Dog

"Sleeping Dog" is undoubtedly my favourite track on the score. It melds both a laidback attitude and some joyous emotions to depict a naïve, drowsy dog. The plodding xylophone percussion cutely (and melodiously) signifies the sound and pacing of a dog's tottering footsteps; additionally, the trumpet (sounds like the same one from "Lovers") delivers an appropriate sense of naïveté and whimsicalness, complementing the dog's plodding footsteps with playful precision. Along with some tuneful drums and a twinkling triangle, each loop is tastefully completed through the use of a mandolin, evidently a favourite instrument of Kikuta-san. "Sleeping Dog" is light-hearted h-game music at its very finest. (10/10)

13) The Lights in the Sky are Stars

Of the non-vocal tracks on the Sakura Relaxation Original Soundtrack, only one disappoints me; that's a pretty good record, really. "The Lights in the Sky are Stars" is the track in question. Its pretty title correlates with a delicate and celestial reverb, which is used to decent effect to establish a piece of heavenly scenery. As for the melody, the real meat of the composition (usually), it merely meanders — or in this case, hovers / flutters — around the etherealness of the reverb and harmonic undertones. I would imagine that this track is particularly fitting when used in game, since it conveys the intended mood so well and sets up some nice imagery. However as a stand-alone track, it's boring and uneventfu with a few decorative attachments here and there. (4/10)

14) Afterimage

Given how successful the jazzy "Left Hand of Darkness" was, it would have been silly of Mr. Kikuta to not revisit this seemingly fruitful genre. Less in-your-face and more of a subdued, contemporary piece of jazz, "Afterimage" is the most sophisticated track here, almost seeming out of place. Drum percussion, thoughtfully luscious synthesizers, and that same twinkling instrument build up to the appropriate climax of a tasteful saxophone solo. University students probably play this piece of music in their maturely mellow cafes, while they lazily grasp onto their mugs of coffee or chattily sip their mochas. Go on, grab some coffee, put "Afterimage" on, and just chill out. (9/10)

15) When the Cherry Blossoms Fall

As soon as this track began to play I winced in pain, being aware of how potentially sucky the vocals could have been. Thankfully, Kaoru Kano's work here is much more accomplished and fitting than in the opening track. I'm guessing that her delicate voice complements more slow tracks such as "When the Cherry Blossoms Fall", and doesn't really cohere with songs more upbeat in nature. This ending vocal track is a wonderful piece; the lack of emphasis on a convoluted instrumental background is nice to (not) hear, and the piano does a simply divine job at conveying all of the necessary melodic components. The implied melancholia also helps me picture cherry blossoms falling from the sky, enhancing the song's intended effect. Overall, Ms. Kano's voice work is spot on and beautifully complements the melody, making "When the Cherry Blossoms Fall" an all-round wonderful track. (9/10)

16) If I Told You How I Felt... (Karaoke Version)

Taking heed of what I said in my review for the vocal version of this track, I think you can piece together what I think of this karaoke rendition already. Yes, the vocals aren't here and that's a good thing; however I'm still not fully satisfied with the underlying melody, as I insinuated earlier. It's actually more tuneful and crisp than I remember, but still sounds fairly weak and insignificant. So despite being structurally sound and surprisingly tuneful, "If I Told You How I Felt... (Karaoke Version)" is still a mediocre track, but I think it has more redeemable qualities than its parent. (6/10)

17) When the Cherry Blossoms Fall (Karaoke Version)

I was actually looking forward to this song's karaoke version, since I just know the underlying melody of "When the Cherry Blossoms Fall" is poignant and, well, good. Piano, drums, and bass: a perfect, harmonized combination in this case (the bass in particular being executed sublimely). Sappy? No. Underwhelming? Nope. Appropriately elegant? Hell yeah! "When the Cherry Blossoms Fall (Karaoke Version)" is a charming little piece of music that stands its ground even without the excellent vocal accompaniment by Kaoru Kano. (8/10)


So, just why is the Sakura Relaxation Original Soundtrack the most acclaimed of Hiroki Kikuta’s three h-game scores? Well, for starters there's only one "bad" track on the entire score, making it arguably the most consistent one of the three (consistency is severely lacking in one in particular). The music doesn't suffer sameness, and there is an appreciable amount of diversity, from the smooth contemporary jazz of "Afterimage" to the outdoorsy mellowness that is "Days of Grass, Days of Straw". Light-hearted tunes are in abundant supply as you would expect, with "Sleeping Dog" topping the lot with its charming silliness; tracks like "Lovers" aren't too far behind though, with their flagrantly exposed attitudes and catchy rhythms.

The only part where I'm conflicted is with the vocal tracks; while the ending piece is great with its talented vocal work by Kaoru Kano and lovely underlying melody, the opening song is merely passable due to her comparatively weak singing. Overall, a very solid offering from Mr. Hiroki Kikuta that any fan should definitely check out. It doesn’t match his best, but it’s surprisingly not too far off.

Overall Score: 8/10