FEATURE: "Re:ZERO" Director and Composer Discuss Their Fixation on Theatrical Music

Find out the inspiration behind the music, how it was incorporated, and more!

This article originally appeared in Japanese on Animate Times, and we have Kim Morrisy to thank for the translation! Also, as you might have guessed, there will be a few spoilers if you're not relatively current on Re:ZERO.

 

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Re:Life in an Interview from Zero is a special series of interviews with the voice actors and theme song artists of the TV anime Re:ZERO -Starting Life in an Another World- (henceforth, Re:ZERO). The series is published in Animate Times. Issue 15 features the director, Watanabe Masaharu-san, and the composer, Suehiro Kenichirō. This time, Watanabe-san discusses the details behind the music he requested from Suehiro-san, while Suehiro-san discusses the things he kept in mind while working on the music production. Continuing with this popular relay interview format, the pair answer questions from last week’s guests, Kobayashi Yūsuke-san and Minase Inori-san, so don’t miss out!

 

 

Re:ZERO made Suehiro-san cry


16 episodes have aired so far. Please tell us your impressions at this current point in time.

Director Watanabe Masaharu (henceforth, Watanabe): I am putting particular effort into performing the checks and revisions for Subaru’s low point in the story, so it’s been tough. The anime’s production is receiving high praise even as it’s still ongoing, so I can’t afford to relax. Things just don’t let up (laughs).

 

 

Composer Suehiro Kenichirō (henceforth, Suehiro): When I read the novel I cried, when I saw the director’s storyboards I cried, and when I saw the anime on TV I cried again. That applies to episode 15, too. It reaffirmed to me how great this series is.

 

Watanabe: Now that you mention it, if I got shown something like that, I’d cry.

 

Suehiro: I feel proud to have worked on such an emotionally-moving production.



Watanabe-san and Suehiro-san have a lot of things in common

 

 

Many of the fans and cast members praise the music in this series. Watanabe-san, could you tell us what made you choose Suehiro-san to handle the music for you?

Watanabe: I’m a big fan of dramas and I watch them all the time… although since I started work on Re:ZERO, I’ve barely watched anything (laughs). When I was thinking about who should do the music, I wanted to ask for someone who had worked on something that had “hit a nerve,” so to speak. Something with social commentary, something with bite

 

When I was watching the medical drama Death’s Organ (by WOWOW), there was a scene at the end showing a corpse lying still. When the song started playing in reverse, it was really impactful. I looked up the name of the person who created that song and it was Suehiro-san. “I feel like I’ve seen that name somewhere,” I thought.  It turned out he was handling the music in some of the other dramas I was watching. Not only was Suehiro-san behind the dramas that made me cry every time, he also created my favorite anime ED songs. I was like, “Who is this guy?!” (laughs) 

 

Suehiro: (laughs).

 

Watanabe: I looked up everything about you. It seems that you like Ennio Morricone (the composer). 

 

Suehiro: Yep. I’m a big fan.

 

Watanabe: I also like the music Ennio Morricone-san did for Cinema Paradiso and Once Upon a Time in America, to name just a few titles. Even our tastes are similar. Also, you’re a Capricorn as well, right?

 

Suehiro: That’s right. You’re a Capricorn, too.

 

Watanabe: That was the clincher for me. In your music, I could feel that unique (?) ability of Capricorns to create a heightened mood of tension (laughs). That’s why I asked you to join the Re:ZERO project too.

 

Suehiro: That’s the first I’ve heard of that (laughs).


Listening to Suehiro-san’s pieces also caused the episode plans to change?! 

 

 

The two of you are completely compatible. It must have been fate that caused you to meet.

 

Watanabe: For instance, the ending sequence of episode 15 was really unorthodox, so the original plan was to use a different ED song for it, but the moment we heard Suehiro-san’s music, things started to fall into place. Yoshikawa-san (a WHITE FOX anime producer) said, “Let’s play this song over a black screen while the credits roll.” And then I said, “Instead of a black screen, Subaru’s dead body would evoke more despair, don’t you think?”  The song most definitely determined the ending sequence. 

 

Suehiro: It certainly did. I was surprised when I saw it on TV. My song was used very heavily.

 

 

Watanabe: Normally, there’s a problem with the length time, meaning that we can only use fragments of the soundtrack. There are plenty of moments when I think, “The song is just reaching the climax, but I can’t use it!” I wanted to use the entire song somewhere. In episode 7 when Subaru was getting killed by Rem, we used the entire song’s runtime. It makes me want to use the entire song for every climactic part.

 

Suehiro: That’s rare for an anime. Using one song for a lengthy amount of time, I mean. The song used in episode 15’s ED was seven minutes in total. I thought it was amazing that the whole runtime was used. 

 

Watanabe: In order to match the visuals with the music, we started a new cut each time the song changed modulation. Sometimes, the songs and the visuals just happened to match up.

 

Suehiro: Because we’re Capricorns?

 

Watanabe: Because we’re Capricorns (laughs). Also, the original author Nagatsuki Tappei-san has got “the magic touch,” don’t you think? Otherwise, I don’t think it would have been nearly as effective.


What orders from the director did Suehiro-san keep in mind?

 

 

When you were producing the music, what kind of orders did you receive from Watanabe-san?

Suehiro: He told me roughly three main things at our first meeting. Firstly, he told me that he wanted to use human voices when depicting the Return by Death. Secondly, he told me that he wanted to nail the emotional scenes, so he asked me to create the music in the same way I would for a drama or film. Finally, he told me that he wanted to pull all the stops for the suspense scenes. And so those were the things I kept in mind.

 

Watanabe: The songs were more intense than I imagined. 

 

Suehiro: Thank you for the compliments.

 

 

Were there any orders specific to each arc? 

 

Watanabe: For the first cour, which contains the first two arcs, I asked for suspenseful music. For the second cour, which contains the third arc, I asked for something with a romantic feel to it. For example, I like the sound of Hans Zimmer’s music in The Dark Knight, so I asked for something with a “Dark Knight-like” vibe. I used choirs during Subaru’s fight with Elsa in the first episode and Rem’s transformation into a demon in the ninth episode, when she turns berserk. I asked for the songs to feel suspenseful. I liked the droning guitar sound when the Joker got beaten up in The Dark Knight, so I asked for something like that.

After listening to the music from Suehiro-san, what did you think of it? 

 

Watanabe: I imagined that the music would be electronically recorded for the first cour and that live instruments would be used in the second cour, but when the songs arrived, I was surprised at how full the sound was. Everyone was talking about how it didn’t sound very “anime-ish.” 

 

In Re:ZERO, much of the drama takes place through the dialogue rather than through highly animated movements. Since the screen is quiet, I figured that we had to ramp up the tension through some other means, and so music was vital in bringing out those feelings. When we watched episode 1 at the studio without the music, people were saying, “Will this be interesting to watch?” But when the music arrived, they were saying, “I’m getting goose bumps.” We really would have been in dire straits if we didn’t have the music (laughs).

 

Suehiro: You flatter me (laughs). 

 

Watanabe: The sound director was also great at handling the sounds, but I think that the music really helped us out in this case, and the audience felt that as well.

 

Suehiro: Thank you very much.


The music might sound like something out of a drama or movie, but the slice of life scenes were made to sound orthodox 

 

 

Suehiro-san, what did you think of the final version of episode 1? 

 

Suehiro: Judging from the storyboards, meetings, and the director’s explanations, I imagined that it wouldn’t be very anime-ish, so I poured my heart and soul into making music that sounded like something out of a drama or a film. And so I had my worries right until the day the episode was completed. “Will this be okay?” I found myself asking. But when I saw it, I was surprised at how well the visuals synchronized with the music—not to mention how engrossing it was. When I saw episode 1, I understood everything that the director was trying to accomplish.

 

Watanabe: You think so? Thank you very much for the lip service (laughs). 

 

Suehiro: No, it really was amazing!

The Roswaal’s mansion arc contains various story elements, including comedy, light-hearted romance, serious scenes, suspense, and battles. I feel that all these different elements are expressed through the music.

 

Suehiro:  That doesn’t just apply to the Roswaal’s mansion arc. I was told to make the songs related to everyday life sound somewhat anime-ish. Because that only applied to the slice of life scenes, I had to make them from scratch. I was also told that this is the ordinary life that Subaru seeks, so I was cautioned not to overemphasize the fantasy element. Yet because the fantasy theme is such a prominent part of the series, nature and fantasy are strongly intertwined. As I created the music, I mulled over those words from the meetings.


Can you tell us about your favorite part of the soundtrack? 

 

 

This series of interviews has a relay question format. Last week’s guests were Kobayashi Yūsuke, the voice actor of Subaru, and Minase Inori, the voice actress of Rem. They have questions for Suehiro-san. First off, from Kobayashi-san: “What is your favorite part of the soundtrack?”

 

Suehiro: I have a strong emotional attachment to every song, so it’s hard to say. This might be a somewhat unusual choice, but I liked the song used in the scene in episode 1 when Subaru gets killed by Elsa. In that song, the string instruments play low notes. I was trying to express feelings of fear and tension when I created it, but that wasn’t all I was aiming for. Despite being a scary song, I wanted it to be easy to listen to, something that you would want to listen to more than once. It got a good response because it was used in such an engrossing scene.

 

 

 

Incidentally, what is the director’s favorite part of the soundtrack? 

 

Watanabe: There are plenty of songs that I’m still saving for later, but I’m particularly fond of the song used in episode 7 when Rem kills Subaru. At first, we had plans to use it earlier, but the sound director (Aketagawa Jin-san) said, “You should wait until that scene in episode 7,” so we held off on it. Ever since I drew the storyboards, I’ve been thinking that there’s no other song that could fit the scene. Just how did you come up with it?

 

Suehiro: During the preliminary stages, you told me that you liked Morricone, so I tried to compress a lot of different emotions into a song the way Morricone does. Films that use Morricone’s music convey a lot of the atmosphere and information through the footage. The dialogue is also well put-together, so there’s no need to use the music to explain what the audience is supposed to feel. That’s why the songs are fraught with complexity and emotion. I wanted to create music that feels compelling in a similar way.

 

 

Watanabe: I wanted to use this song for all the critical moments. I am fond of the main theme and the Return by Death tune as well, though: “Weeeefuuuu, weeeefuuuu.”

 

Suehiro: I don’t think everyone would share that opinion (laughs).

 

Watanabe: There were plenty of people who said that the Return by Death would be expressed better through emoticons.

 

Suehiro: Nobody was certain about how to sing that part.

 

Watanabe: I also requested that for the song.

 

Suehiro: You sure did. For the Return by Death song, you wanted to use human voices.

 

Watanabe: It might be grotesque, but it’s not simply grotesque. A different approach can evoke various emotions—or something like that. If things get too depressing, people won’t want to watch it, so it’s hard to strike a balance. If anything is even slightly off, the anime will become tasteless, so I took care not to make it simply disgusting. Particularly during the dubbing sessions.


I want to support soundtracks that take a different approach from anime music

 

 

Now then, here’s Minase-san’s question: “Tell us what you kept in mind when you were creating music for Rem. Personally, I like the song that played when Rem was turning into a demon.”

 

Suehiro: Thank you for saying so. I didn’t create songs with each character in mind, at least not for this project.

The song plays during Rem’s scenes, so from the audience’s perspective, it feels like it was made specifically with Rem in mind. 

 

Watanabe: Now that you mention it, it might feel that way.

 

Suehiro: As the director mentioned earlier, the series has a main theme. The characters who appear in Re:ZERO are burdened by the existence of the witch. Their lives are toyed with because of her. Since the series is about living on and resisting against the witch’s curse, I created the music while imagining the magnitude of that struggle.

Going forward, tell us about some of the music-related aspects you’d like the viewers to pay attention to.

 

Suehiro: I made this anime’s music in a different way than I would for a normal anime. Because the source material is incredibly dense with information and the story is constructed so meticulously, I tried not to overdo it with the music. Instead, I wanted to elevate the story from below. I constructed the music so that all the viewers would await the finale of each arc with heightened emotions. As a composer, I’d be really happy if you could enjoy the music as part of the whole package.

 

 

In issue 16 of Re:Life in an Interview from Zero, the director Watanabe Masaharu-san and the composer Suehiro Kenichirō will appear once again. Stay tuned to find out how the conversation goes!


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