Music Review: Suzumiya Haruhi no Gensou

Suzumiya Haruhi no Gensou is a new album from the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, who has a long history of doing orchestral adaptations of video game music. Gensou puts an orchestral spin on several songs from the original Haruhi OST, including (surprisingly enough) some of the hit vocal tracks such as God Knows. I recently acquired Gensou, and decided to write a track-by-track review. Enjoy!

1. Koi no Mikuru Densetsu

This song is easily the highlight of the album. The strength of the melody, which was originally eclipsed by Yuki Goto’s intentionally tuneless crooning, is allowed to shine through fully in this arrangement. This, combined with the skill of the orchestra, creates a piece that would not sound out-of-place in a Hayao Miyazaki movie.

2. Itsumo no Fuukei ~ Gekiretsu de Kareinaru Hibi

This is the first of the album’s many multi-part adaptations. The first part, Itsumo no Fuukei, is a lovely adaptation of the original with a nice piano solo. Gekiretsu, however, loses much of the original song’s Katamari-esque quirkiness as an orchestral piece. Overall, this is an average song.

3. Saikyou Pare Parade

I’m not a huge fan of the original Saikyou Pare Parade; I do, however, find the orchestral adaptation to be a bit better than the original song. The chorus, with its driving tempo and perky brass section, is a delight to listen to.

4. Higeki no Heroine ~ Hi Nichijou he no Sasoi ~ Beach Vacation

The first part of this song is pretty much a straight-up adaptation of the original Higeki no Heroine, only with a better violinist. The rest of the song follows this strong violin theme, shifting from the somewhat creepy Hi Nichijou to the perky Beach Vacation. Excellent violin playing makes this song very enjoyable.

5. Kouchou Kouchou ~ Mikuru no Kokoro ~ Chiisakute mo Shiawase ~ Oi Oi ~ Comical Hustle

This song superbly adapts no less than five songs from the original Haruhi OST. It begins quiet and pensive, put shifts into a toe-tapping beat with just a touch of Latin influence. The multiple clarinet solos were a particular highlight of this piece for me. ^_^

6. Bouken Desho Desho?

My feelings on this adaptation are mixed. While it sounds good in places, the Aya Hirano’s voice just doesn’t mix very well with the orchestra throughout most of the song. I would have preferred if they had opted for a straight-up orchestral adaptation instead of trying to mix the vocals in as well.

7. Koukyou Kyoku Dai 7 Ban C Chouchou Sakuhin 60 “Leningrad” Dai Ichi Gakushou Yori

This song, like the original used in the Haruhi episode “The Day of Sagittarius”, is an adaptation of the second part of the first movement of Dmitri Shostakovich’s classic piece, Symphony No. 7 in C Major, “Leningrad”. Classical music fans well enjoy the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra’s rendition of this timeless classic, but more casual J-Pop fans might find it too lengthy and repetitive for their tastes.

8. Sunao na Kimochi ~ Aru Ame no H I ~ Haruhi no Omoi

Just as track four prominently features the violin, this song is structured around the piano. The result is a truly beautiful and serene piece… the kind of song that, in a film, usually accompanies a stunning natural vista. During the song, I found my thoughts drifting once again to Hayao Miyazaki’s work… in particular, My Neighbor Totoro. I think this song matches the tone of that film very well.

9. The Mysterious ~ Asakura Ryouko no Shinjitsu ~ Fuyu no Ashioto

The original pieces used in this adaptation are filler songs; although they function well in their respective anime scenes, on their own they tend to be rather boring. The orchestral adaptation is much the same… although the music is thematic, it is also quite dull. Although it picks up a bit towards the end, this is still a weak song.

10. Lost My Music

The original Lost My Music sits squarely in the long shadow of the much more famous God Knows. Ironically, this version of the song is actually the best vocal adaptation on the album. It manages to merge Aya Hirano’s singing and the orchestra fairly well, with neither drowning the other out. Even so, it is still inferior to Gensou’s purely orchestral pieces.

11. SOS Dan Shidou! ~ Nanika ga Okashii

This is another compilation of filler music. Although it features some interesting brass instrumentals, overall this song is mediocre.

12. Yuki, Muon, Madobe Nite

Unfortunately, this song’s adaptation isn’t as good as it could have been. The distinctive elements of the original (in particular the heavily modulated voice and instruments) are gone, and with it the original’s charm. However, the orchestra’s spectacular background music somewhat makes up for this deficiency… but is frequently drowned out by Minori Chihara’s singing. Once again, I feel this piece would have been improved by removing the vocals entirely.

13. Nodoka na Shoutengai ~ Yuki Toujou ~ Pinchppoi! ~ Mikuru Henshin! Soshite Sentou! ~ Daidanen

To me, this piece brings to mind a chimera… a jumble of various parts, none of which are thematically related, assembled in an unnatural configuration. The song begins with a sentimental melody featuring wind and string instruments, but quickly switches to a heavy brass and percussion piece that resembles some of Katsuhisa Hattori’s Seikai compositions. Finally, it becomes a Mikuru-themed melody thematically similar to the first track, Koi no Mikuru Densetsu. Although each of these sections is enjoyable individually, when strung together they merely sound disconcerting.

14. Hare Hare Yukai

This song presents an excellent example of what I was talking about earlier. It was originally a vocal track; however, the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra opted to adapt it without the original singing. This allows them to express the work’s musical themes in a unique and refreshing way. The result, while not as good as the original song, is still enjoyable.

15. God Knows…

This song is a mess. The original God Knows is notable for featuring both strong vocals from Aya Hirano and driving guitar music. The orchestra, however, make a poor substitute for a guitar. During the chorus, when Aya’s vocals reach fever pitch, the orchestra attempts to match them with strong brass. As a result, it sounds like the vocals and the instruments are trying to drown each other out, producing a rather deafening din of noise that is highly unpleasant.

The Bottom Line

Suzumiya Haruhi no Gensou is a good album. A strong performance from the orchestra combined with some superb arrangement results in a very enjoyable classical album. In particular, Koi no Mikuru Densetsu and Sunao na Kimochi et al. are very well done. Where this album falls flat, however, is in the vocal adaptations, where they attempted to mix Minori Chihara and Aya Hirano’s vocals with the instrumental music to poor effect. If you’re a fan of classical music, you will enjoy this album. Among more casual J-Pop fans, it will be hit-or-miss.

Note: As best I can figure, the Gensou (弦奏) of the album’s title means ‘string performance’, although when written with different kanji, it can mean ‘illusion’. Perhaps it’s a bit of that infamous Japanese wordplay?