Barbarians and Slap Bass

Guin Saga – Seven Mage Doctors (グインサーガ 七人の魔道師)

I have a lot of soundtracks to anime I have never seen. But they don’t hold a candle to the number of soundtracks I have to manga I’ve never read.

That’s right, soundtracks to manga.

In yet another example of how crazy a bubble economy can get, there were scores of soundtracks to manga in the mid-80s in Japan. Many of these were official releases sanctioned by the publishers, while a few were not 100% up-and-up affairs. You can always tell which ones were vaguely unofficial because they didn’t use any licensed artwork from the series, instead opting for abstract graphic designs. This is what an overwhelming number of the Synthesizer Fantasy albums do, which is one of the many reasons why they’re so dope.

From what I’ve noticed through my casual observations shifting through record store racks, a lot of yaoi (teen gay-themed romances written for straight girls) were given soundtrack releases. I haven’t bought any of them, mostly because I absolutely abhor the artistic style on the covers, far too flowery and fruity for this flower-loving fruit. I will probably pick some up eventually though, especially the ones by my favortie manga/anime synthesizer composer, Osamu Shoji.

One series that is not of the hot teenage manlove variety that I often see in the soundtrack section is Guin Saga, which is a long (long) running novel and manga series about a mysterious leopard-masked warrior who doesn’t hesitate to throw down when the time calls. There is an anime of this series now, and that anime has a soundtrack. I have not seen that anime, nor have I listened to that soundtrack. But no matter how good it is, it can’t hold a candle to the Guin Saga album I have.

Guin Saga 〜辺境篇〜 (roughly translated as Seven Mage Doctors, I think) is an all-synthesizer album much like the Digital Trip/Synthesizer Fantasy albums that I love. However, it is much more lush and varied than many of those albums are. That doesn’t have anything to do with the composer, Goro Ohmi composed many Synthesizer Fantasy albums as well as this record (and several other in the Guin Saga series), so I assume it must’ve been a stylistic choice. Whatever the reason, it certainly works this album. Guin Saga is a big adventure story filled with magic, monsters and barbarians, it needs a big sound, and this album sure as hell delivers.

The opening is very stereotypical synth, with an obvious synthesizer melody and mechanical drumbeat. But as the album progresses, Ohmi takes more liberties with his instruments at hand, delivering us synthesized string arrangements, echoing chimes and faux-choral accompaniment. It even becomes less like a collection of songs and more like a proper score at times, with ambient, moody pieces filling out a good chunk of the record.

One thing that really strikes me about the album is how much it sounds like the game music that would come in the following decade. While the SNES couldn’t have featured instrumentation as lush and involved as this, it has a similar vibe. If you told me that some tracks from this album were cut from a proposed Actraiser soundtrack, I’d believe you. I can’t really place why, it just feels right. Maybe its the rad synth slap bass. SNES tracks were all about the synth slap bass and this album is just overflowing with it.

If you’ve never heard of Guin Saga or Goro Ohmi, don’t let that discourage you from giving this album a test run. Anyone who is a fan of instrumental electronic music of the 80s should certainly check it out.

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