Can't get that Kenshin opening song out of your head? What about that cool drumbeat that starts up every time we meet one of Kenshin's foes? Or maybe you're one of the fans who loves the lyrics to the first ending.
Being a Kenshin BGM [background music -Ed.] fan myself, I have to admit that there is a lot of Kenshin music out there to acquire, and without a clear guide, I first found it hard to decide which CD to buy. With twelve albums released (and six singles), picking which Kenshin CD is your first could be a tough decision.
Well, don't fret, if push comes to shove, you can always buy all of them. No? Not that much of a fan, eh? Okay, well if you are going to decide to buy one or two CDs, I guess you should know which one to get. It all depends on what you like.
As of right now, you're starting out on an amazing journey with Kenshin, that is, the start of the Kyoto arc. And if you loved the BGM so far, you'll love the new music in the new story arc. This is one of the things that I appreciate about Kenshin; for each major story arc, the staff for Kenshin went through the trouble of creating new BGM. That's why there are four original soundtracks available. Most of the BGM is done by Takashi Kodama (SPE Visual Works).
The first OST (released 4/1/96, ESCB-1727) focuses on music contained in the first 27 episodes (before we see the moon rise above Kyoto). It also contains the first opening.
The second OST (released 10/21/96, SRCL-3674), entitled "Departure" (sorry, I guess that's sort of a spoiler), contains most of the music for the next 15 to 20 episodes. No openings or closings on this one; it's total BGM immersion, complete with suspenseful strings, Japanese drums, and that cool whistle that always finds itself playing while Sanosuke is on the screen (in the woods, lost).
But if you are looking for dramatic BGM, then you definitely want the third OST (released 4/21/97, SRCL-3794). This contains the awesome BGM that plays during the end of the Kyoto arc. Everything on this album is serious, again no openings, but the third closing, "Heart of Sword ~yoake mae~" does make an appearance. This album is a must-have if you are a fan of the Kyoto arc, and trust me, you will be.
Lastly, we have the fourth OST (released 2/1/98, SRCL-4178). The BGM in this CD skips over to the last few episodes of the series. It is very different from the first three soundtracks, and I would only recommend this CD to true BGM lovers.
The BGM for the episodes between the Kyoto arc and OST 4 is captured on the Kenshin movie OST (released 11/21/97, SRCL-4148). Not produced by Kodama, this music was done by Taro Iwashiro. This CD is heavy on the instrumental and will put you to sleep if you're used to the synthesized BGM of today's movies.
Still not enough BGM for you? Well, you can also get the special Director's Collection Kenshin CD (released 7/21/97, SRCL-3999), which features, among other things, director's mixes of most of the coolest BGM from Kenshin. Unfortunately, this is the only CD that has the cool rapid drumbeats mentioned in the beginning of the article, but it does have 28 tracks of pure, cool Kenshin BGM, so if you don't intend on collecting all of the OSTs, or if you're new to listening to BGM, this would be a cool "starter" CD.
Okay, okay, not everybody is a BGM guru. I myself like to hear lyrics and voices every now and then. If you like the openings and closings, and not much else, buy the Kenshin Best Theme Collection (released 3/21/98, SRCL-4206). You'll find performances by many of today's top J-Pop groups (Judy and Mary, T.M. Revolution, Bonnie Pink, and Siam Shade). It has seven of the openings and closings from the show, plus the movie ending and two bonus tracks by Animetaru (What's Animetaru? Just combine voice samples from the show, one of the best Japanese heavy metal bands, and what do you have? Not just Animetaru, but 3 really kick-ass tracks that'll make Metallica sound like the Hanson Boys).
But if you really want to hear the voices of all of your favorite Kenshin characters singing, there are two albums where you will hear just that, Songs and Songs 2 (released 96/7/21 and 98/7/18, SRCL-3620 and SVWC-1001, respectively). These CDs also contain many of the tracks contained on the individual (six) singles.
As many of you big Kenshin fans might know, the Kenshin franchise has also made it into video games, namely two PSX titles, a 3-D fighter as well as an RPG. Well, there are also soundtracks devoted to each title available as well for you video game music lovers out there (ARCJ-58 and SRCL-4233). Having yet to listen to these two, I can't recommend them.
So, you've just received your order from UCI Anime, Tokyo Pop, or CD Japan, but you still want more, right? Don't worry, for the real members of the Kenshin-gumi, you can also get the ultra 3-CD box set, that is, the Memorial Box Albums (also called the Kenshin Brilliant Collection). This package includes 3 CDs, a thick book that includes a lot of cool pictures and a full Kenshin discography, and a Kenshin CD carrying flip case. The first CD is a compilation of BGM (mostly from OSTs 2, 3, and 4), and the last two CDs focus on the two vocal albums (Songs and Songs 2).
What about extras? Well, all first pressings of the OSTs come with a transparent slip cover which is almost sort of cel-like. The first pressing of the movie OST has a cardboard cover, a la the first pressing of the Escaflowne Lover's Only CD, while the Best Theme Collection comes in a fold-out cardboard box. Availability of the first pressing OSTs is starting to run slim, while those for the movie and theme collections are still pretty plentiful. The Memorial Best Albums comes in a two-piece cardboard box and the flip case is pretty damn cool, although it only fits about 5 CDs. Each of the 3 CDs has its own color and comes in its own jewel case.
Still not enough? Well, even though the TV series is over, the Kenshin OAVs [original animation videos] (Tsuioku Hen) are just making it onto LD. And with this arrival comes the arrival of the OAV OSTs. The first OST is scheduled to be released between the first and second LD releases (3/20/99, SVWC-1006), and with the OAVs stretching well into August and September, the first OAV OST will certainly not be the last CD to feature an image of Kenshin on the cover.