Anyone who has seen my review of Hanamaru Kindergarten over at UK Anime will know that I wasn't hugely enamoured of the series in itself - However, I couldn't help but be drawn in by the wide-ranging and varied ending credits employed by GAINAX, all of which had a unique visual aesthetic that was matched by a staggering array of musical panache, including some tracks that left me gasping and scrabbling at my screen in the hope of being able to hear these tracks in their entirety sooner rather than later. Thankfully that dream has been realised, courtesy of this two-CD "Childhood Memories" album, the first disc of which gives all of those ending themes the loving platform they deserve.
Okay, before we get to the "serious" stuff, let me just say this - Do not listen to track fourteen, a rendition of the show's Panda Neko song, unless you want said cutesy refrain from becoming irretriveably stuck in your head, possibly forever. It isn't pretty to see a grown man wandering around the office at work singing "Pa-pa, pa-pa, panda neko"... at least, so I was told in my formal warning debriefing...
Meanwhile, the show's bouncy opening theme only appears in its TV size variant (translation: buy the single, otaku!), while all of the show's incidental music is thrown almost without regard onto CD two, almost hiding the fact that there's also some pretty good stuff in there as it is, with orchestral stuff jammed against cutesy stuff sandwiched between twee but oddly subversive electronica.
Back to CD one however, and things kick off with a pretty bouncy and run-of-the-mill effort almost entirely ruined by the cutesy kindergarten out of key singing of the main trio of female characters. It's to be expected, but thank goodness they chose to ruin this track and not one of the better offerings. From here, track two couldn't be more different, with its operatic start and piano solo... that leads to more kindergarten wailings before we break into a more soft-rock oriented effort which for some reason I can picture Miku Hatsune singing. To be honest, I seem to remember this particular tune working better (and being more humorous) when matched with its visuals. Still, it's pretty fun to hear Hiiragi building up this rock opera wannabe, monologues and all, before it loses its way entirely.
After that shock to the system, Kusa no Yubiwa Hana no Kanmuri brings us back down to earth for track three with a lilting acoustic guitar offering which is so relaxing to listen to it could almost be criminal, while the voice of Yamamoto's voice actor backs it up perfectly. Put simply, it works. Track four changes the pace again, with Anzu's cutesy voice suiting the saccharine electro-pop of Hatsudou!! Love Beam☆ (even though it sounds like a drunken karaoke offering) - It's fun though, and that's what counts in this song's favour, as does the false ending which I'm oddly enamoured of.
Track five, Ano ne Kiite ne, starts out as the stuff of nursery rhymes before hitting a more dreamy electro-pop note, before track six goes into pop/rock overdrive with Heart no Housoku for a slice of hyperactive fun which both works and doesn't for me in equal measure. We then get to chill out with a little jazz duet courtesy of Tsuchida and Satsuki which works surprisingly well, before moving on to Nadeshiko Romance, a track which owes more than a slight nod to Kraftwerk in its composition to match its pop sensibilities. I like things that remind me of Kraftwerk though, so I guess that's me sold on this track.
That leads me in nicely to what is easily my stand-out track on this album - Kokutou Drop, a track sung by Yamamoto and Mayumi's voice actresses that is a perfect piece of shoegazing, guitar-drive pop that frankly blows me away with its craft and beauty, while being all the more effective for being exactly the kind of track I wouldn't normally expect to hear on an anime soundtrack at all, especially not for a series like this one. If I had a cigarette lighter handy, I'd be holding it up in the air and swaying gently sometime around now...
Continuing the guitar-driven goodness is Boku no Wasuremono, track ten on the album which serves to remind me somewhat of Dubstar (bonus points if you've heard of them) with its slow, precise yet captivating mix of guitar, bass and drums. Bonus points for Hino Satoshi's singing on this track, which also has a place in my heart for going together well with the episode that came before it in the series itself. It's another beautiful offering which I could happily listen to again and again.
We then return to the electronica for the far more upbeat eleventh track, Yes, We Can!!, an ode to President Obama. Probably. Okay, maybe not, but it still works for me with its simple but madcap beats that jump all over the place without ever sounding any worse for doing so. This proves to be only a brief respite before we return to the guitars... and also to Anzu's off-key voice, which manages to ruin Sekai de Ichiban, saved only slightly by the fact that it's a duet with the Sakura's voice actress who doesn't try to deliberately ruin everything. This is followed up by the even better and oddly motivational Yasashii Hidamari, which blends violins and guitars to good effect in a song which doesn't stand out in any particular way yet still works wonderfully in its own right.
Overall, Childhood Memories is one of the more unique anime soundtracks I've listened to in some time simply on account of the eclectic selection of material contained within, yet despite this quantity of varies works the quality never really suffers - Yes, some of the tracks become little more than joke material on account of being sung by supposed little kids, but there's still plenty of genuinely high quality content in here. Dare I say it's enough to make this a must-listen album, even if you haven't watched Hanamaru Kindergarten and have absolutely no interest in it? Yes, I do dare say that, and I honestly mean it - This is a quality effort.