Sometimes you listen to a soundtrack without ever watching a show, and instantly fall in love with a piece. For me, this happened with Encounter from the Blast of Tempest soundtrack.

Encounter (Kaikou) is an orchestral piece from the 2012 series Blast of Tempest (Zetsuen no Tempest), composed by Michiru Oshima, whose other soundtracks include those for Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) and Sound of the Sky (2010). I can’t explain its charm—maybe it’s the powerful violins driving the melody forward, or maybe it’s the bass and winds somehow giving the piece a classical symphonic feel. This piece is played, as far as I am aware, during battle scenes and action scenes. And it’s particularly well-suited, not only because of the adrenaline-inducing themes, but also because of its structure. Let’s take this moment, then, to analyze the piece, and using hypothetical scenarios, show how each section of Encounter contributes to building the atmosphere of action sequences.

Sheet music
The piece is, in fact, versatile enough to have a long version (also known as 舞姫変奏曲—Dancing Lady Variations) for long scenes, as well as a short version for short scenes. Both can be found easily on the internet, so I won’t post links here. On the other hand, the sheet music is harder to find. Since I couldn’t find the orchestral sheet music, I will be constantly referring to a piano arrangement instead. This was arranged by a fellow who goes by the name of Sperion.

Theme A

Selection_001

The piece opens with a bold statement from the strings (seen in the treble clef), punctuated with emphatic staccato bass notes. This serves to build up a dramatic atmosphere, perfect for those mandatory scenes of exposition before a decisive battle.
In a hypothetical battle scene…
The wind howls. The city blazes. Standing astride his most recent masterpiece, the villain grins at the hero: “Join my kingdom, and rule the world!” Hero: “I refuse!”
Alternatively, in a hypothetical action scene…
The tower glows crimson from the fire within. Far up near the summit, we hear the faint cries of help from the prince trapped inside. It is utter pandemonium at the tower’s base. What are we to do? Who is to save him? Only the princess, clad in twelve layers of ball gown, has the magical abilities to access his room. But she spent so much time with her dress, hair and makeup! After much deliberation, she casts off the ludicrously cumbersome dress, and leaps into the flames in a black jumpsuit.

Theme B

Selection_002

This theme is all about unrelenting drive, from the unyielding beat of the staccato bass notes, to the quickened pace of the violins’ sixteenth notes (as seen in the treble clef) in a rising sequence (bar 12). Sequences are short musical fragments repeated in succession at higher or lower pitches. They are great for drawing the listener into the music through variations of a repeated theme. Examples can be heard in the chorus of “Angels we have heard on high” or in the final stanza of the German national anthem.

Selection_003

This theme concludes with repeated “cadences” (bar 16, notice the F-sharp chord in the bass twice progressing to G-minor) and an entire measure in the home key of G-minor (bar 17). This is often seen in classical music, such as in the ending of Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca, to conclude a piece of music in the home key. In the short version of Encounter, this makes a well-suited ending for the piece, but in the long version, the piece can nevertheless continue.
In our hypothetical battle scene…
The hero and villain are deep in the fight, trading parries and blows. In a short battle, someone would win at this point.
In our hypothetical action scene…
The princess, scaling the castle, is only visible as a darting speck of black against the backdrop of bright orange flames. In a short scene, she rescues the prince and lands safely on the ground.

Theme C

Selection_004

Four dissonant chords (G – G#dim7 – A7 – Adim) are repeated within each bar to further build up tension. Repetition of this chord progression allows the music to go for as long as the scene needs. Dissonant diminished chords allow for fun with modulation—for example, if the composer wanted, she could progress from the diminished A chord (bar 25, last chord) into B-flat major, and restate theme B in a major key (starting from bar 26) for a new feel.
In our hypothetical battle scene…
Sweat begins to bead on both combatants’ foreheads. Neither want a battle of attrition. It’s time to bring out the ultimate weapons.
In our hypothetical action scene…
Out of practice for so long, the princess’s stamina begins to fade. To make matters worse, the tower begins to crumble.

The rest of the piece
Return to Theme A in a different key
Starting from bar 30, Theme A is restated in C minor, with a more free-flowing accompaniment, as opposed to the punctuated bass notes at the piece’s beginning. This change in key allows for more exposition, but in a slightly different mood.
In our hypothetical battle scene…
This is the mandatory dramatic speech in the middle of combat. The villain talks of his traumatic past—framed and betrayed by his friends, imprisoned and left to die in the depths of space, he has truly experienced the insignificance of his existence, and wants to leave a mark on this world. The hero repeatedly affirms that True Righteousness will prevail.
In our hypothetical action scene…
The princess finally reaches the prince’s room, only to find that her adopted brother is reluctant to leave. Priceless mementos of the prince’s birth parents lie scattered across the room, and the prince is panicking over which to bring with him. The princess blows up: “Let’s get out of here already!”

Return to theme B in the home key
Theme B returns in bar 40 in C minor and returns to G minor in bar 46. This is the climax and resolution. The hero defeats the villain. The princess rescues her prince. We all live happily ever after.

Conclusion
The above scenarios are completely made-up, but Encounter could probably be used as background music in these scenes. As shown above, this orchestral piece builds up tension, allows very flexible control of timing, and even allows for modulation for subtle shifts in mood. These qualities make it truly a wonderful piece for battle and action scenes.