I’m starting this article out with a disclaimer: I am not a music major. I cannot play an instrument. I am a tone-deaf civil engineer.
That being said, if I can appreciate the music in anime, then its gotta be good.
While there are some (alright, a lot of) anime shows where the music is forgettable, there is still a large number that are worth watching at least in part because of the music. Why is this? Music for Western TV, and in particular Western cartoons, is rarely worth noticing other than as a cue for emotion. I can only think of one or two Western TV shows where I actually noticed the music for its quality. (In case you were listening, this includes Firefly, which has very good quality music. However, the music is almost entirely supporting. It also includes Cold Case, where the music is very noticeable. For the latter however, the music is pre-existing, taken from whatever time period the episode’s crime took place in).
And yet anime – a weekly, serialized cartoon show – consistently turns out series with amazing soundtracks. Gundam SEED, Rurouni Kenshin, anything by Yoko Kanno—even people who hate the series will admit that .hack//SIGN has amazing music. An amazing amount of effort is put into the soundtrack of anime shows; it is made to fit the type of show. Gundam SEED’s music, for example, is notably militaristic. Themes are composed for particular characters, for battles, for showdowns, even just for a particular moment. Anime music is also far more likely to have voices in the background music than Western soundtracks. This is especially noticeable in .hack//SIGN, where a good third to a half of the music has vocals.
Finally, and perhaps most interesting, is the theme songs for anime shows. Where Western TV shows tend to either acquire their themes from an already existing song (CSI) or write 30 second or a minute long song byte (Firefly, Psych) for their themes, anime shows have full length songs written for their themes. That means people can listen to the song on the show, and then go enjoy the full version, or vice versa. The themes are also often performed by famous and professional contemporary bands.
All in all, a lot more effort seems to have been put into anime music than is existent in Western entertainment for anything less than a Hollywood blockbuster. This is a pity, since at least part of the reason I’m still watching .hack//SIGN is for the music. Maybe if CSI had some interesting background music, I’d be watching that instead.