Talent Trumps Discrimination: Yoko Kanno

Most of us can agree that music plays a large part in cinema; it creates an atmosphere, emphasizes emotions to the audience, and, most importantly, invests the audience into the story. The same holds true for anime; in fact, music probably plays a larger role in this medium, since only so much can be portrayed by animated visuals as far as atmosphere and emotions go. With such an increased expectation for music in anime, the competition must be fierce, and it must surely be a lot harder for the average composer to get noticed.

Likewise, considering Japan’s reputation of traditional gender roles and scanty attempts at gender equality— Japan ranked 54th of 93 countries in 2008 according to the Gender Empowerment Measure, and 106th of 189 countries for the proportion of women in the House of Representatives, according to a 2009 survey— it would be especially hard for women to become successful in a competitive work force. However, one Yoko Kanno has overcome both these adversities.

Best known for her work on the Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell series, Yoko Kanno is one of the most in demand composers in the anime industry and is considered to be one of the great musical geniuses of our time. Aside from anime, she also does work on video games, live action films and TV series, advertisements, as well as her own music career, including work in The Seatbelts. Her styles mainly compose of Jazz and Classical, and occasionally J-Pop.

The strongly-musically influenced Cowboy Bebop is still considered to be among the greatest anime of all time, and the soundtrack is a magnum opus that all composers look up to even to this day; in fact, it’s hard to tell which is more talked about: Cowboy Bebop or its soundtrack. However, even as the Cowboy Bebop OST being her masterpiece, it certainly isn’t Kanno’s one hit. She’s done the music for dozens of anime, and fan favorites vary; my personal favorite is her work on the original Darker Than Black. Not only is her work extremely talented, but it seems to be limitless in inspiration and consistently impressive.

I recently did my own little survey on a few different forums, asking that the members pick a few notable anime composers and give a link to an example work. Here is a list of the top mentioned (in no particular order):

  • Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell, Darker Than Black)
  • Shiro Sagisu (Neon Genesis Evangelion, Bleach, Kare Kano)
  • Susumu Hirasawa (Millennium Actress, Paprika, Berserk)
  • Michiru Ōshima (Fullmetal Alchemist, Tatami Galaxy, Sora no Woto)
  • Kenji Kawai (Devilman, Ghost in the Shell, Higashi no Eden)
  • Yasushi Ishii (Hellsing, Darker Than Black 2)
  • Joe Hisaishi (Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke)
  • Satoru Kōsaki (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Lucky Star, Star Driver)
  • Kuniaki Haishim (Monster, Macross Zero, Blue Gender)
  • Koutarou Nakagawa (Code Geass, Scryed, Gun X Sword)

Among this consensus of truly noteworthy anime composers, only two of the ten are women (the second being Michiru Ōshima). While this may seem like the playing field is uneven for women, Yoko Kanno was probably the most mentioned, and generally agreed to be the best of the best among this small group of composers.

What does this mean? Well, despite the difficulty for women to become successful in Japan, and the large amount of competition and pressure among musical composers, Yoko Kanno still came out on top, which is impressive by any standard. Whether it be her crowning jewel of Cowboy Bebop, or her several dozen other works of perfection, Kanno never fails to please, and continues to be a favorite among fans and directors alike; she certainly is my favorite. Here’s hoping we get to see several dozen more works of perfection, and more work with The Seatbelts. Until that time, this has just been another geekgasm by none other than The Geek With Taste!