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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Are Our Soundtracks Safe?

By RAWKHAWK2010 - Hold them tight!

For those that watched my award-winning advertisement video, "Koopasentai",  y'all may have picked up on that I'm a pretty big fan of Dragon Ball. And that's what I'm here to talk about.

"But KoopaTV is for video-games, you tuberculosis-suffering orphan!" Aha, sure enough, but for years now one could say that Dragon Ball has primarily been a video-game franchise above all else. During the years-long droughts that separate the canon Toriyama-directed movies such as Battle of Gods, how are fans' brains going to keep their new content nodes satisfied? It's the games, bro!

And that's not to say all of them (or even most) are actually good, but for the longest time, you COULD expect most of them to have a kickin' soundtrack. And that's because the composer, Kenji Yamamoto, is a fantastic musician.

Kenji Yamamoto Dragon Ball Z Budokai DBZ Composer Music Plagiarism
That's "Kenji Yamamoto", not to be confused with non-italicized "Kenji Yamamoto" of Metroid fame.

His work on the franchise began with him arranging openings, endings, and the occasional insert song for Dragon Ball Z, but he went on to be the Responsible Dude for most video games released under the banner, and was even tasked with composing an entirely new score for the revised version of Dragon Ball ZDragon Ball (Z) Kai. An example of the man's work of course includes Dragon Ball Kai's "Sanjou!! Ginyu Tokusentai!!", the obvious inspiration for breakout hit "Koopasentai." As for video games, one example I'm particularly fond of is "Fight It Out!!" from Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit; which I just painstakingly transcribed for my dear KoopaTV readers since no one knows what the English lyrics actually are!

You're welcome. You may see these characters yet again.

But just because you're a good musician doesn't mean you're the most talented composer. At first glance Yamamoto appeared to be both, but upon inspection it turned out a great deal of his work was plagiarized, from battle themes ripping off of metal band Stratovarius (even though the rip-offs are superior in every way to the originals) to the Capsule Obtain! tune stealing the melody from Earth, Wind, & Fire's September. And that's how I even know about Earth, Wind, & Fire, because I only listen to video game music and real music is just weird noise. (But not September, because I heard it in a video game first!)

It's one thing when it's something like EarthBound doing the potential plagiarizing, since its whole gig is taking the piss out of popular culture and making zany references. But as one can see from the examples above, it's pretty clear that social commentary was not Kenji Yamamoto's intent. So on May 9, 2011, upon these various scandals coming to light (except not really, since everyone was aware of them for years), Yamamoto was fired by Toei Animation. And absolutely no one knows what's become of him since, meaning for all we know he might have been finished off by a hired gun as Nintendo did with Gunpei Yokoi. (God rest his soul.)

And yeah, dudes get laid off/fired all the time, musicians included, so...what's the big deal? Well I'll tell you the big deal -- it's that Yamamoto's termination didn't just affect the future, it affected the PAST. In addition to Dragon Ball Kai never having a complete soundtrack since Toei decided to fire him three weeks before the final episode was aired, they immediately stopped printing copies of the current Kai DVDs so that they could hastily print different ones with Yamamoto's score removed and replaced with the original Japanese Z score by Shunsuke Kikuchi. The result of which sounds all sloppy and mangled, because as a "revised" version of Z, the scenes are now too short and edited to accommodate the tracks. And now there's multiple versions of the same product with no way in hell to tell what you're getting.

Dragon Ball Kai Broadcast Replacement Score Music Soundtrack Kenji Yamamoto
My OCD weeps.

Same with the video games, except far worse, because at least while the original Z score is quality as a standalone thing, soundtracks of recent Dragon Ball games have consisted entirely of recycled music from whatever non-Yamamoto-composed games the developers could find due to the franchise literally no longer having a composer. Even the Budokai remakes in Dragon Ball Z: Budokai HD Collection now have their scores replaced by generic short loops of ill-fitting music which appeared in games after the Budokais themselves were originally released. (We went from this to this, for Pete's sake.)

I understand why it had to be done, since the high volume of plagiaralysis meant that it'd be easier to pretend Yamamoto never existed than to run an originality test on everything he ever produced, but it's all very sad. Because as someone who firmly believes that a soundtrack can make or break a gaming experience, this catastrophic sequence of events has led me to declare many once-quality installments of the franchise to be forever ruined. And I can't help but think, as often as comparisons are drawn between David Wise and work of other artists (notably In a SnowBound Land vs. Vangelis's Antarctica), what if one day this happens to him, and scores of Donkey Kong Country re-releases are replaced with music from, *shiver*, Jungle Beat? Or maybe one day it will be revealed that the Cheetahmen II people actually have enough money to sue Capcom, and with no Phoenix Wright to defend them, they'll tell fans they either have to buy X copies of X game or they'll nuke the entire library of Ace Attorney music into orbit? (Capcom would do that.)

It's a scary thought, to realize that your favorite music could be so swiftly annihilated from a franchise's canon, in one fell unforgiving swoop. Fortunately, things for Dragon Ball are looking up, as the franchise actually does have a new composer now who is actually alright. AND we have word that Dragon Ball: Xenoverse (which you can expect an article on) will be the first Dragon Ball game in ages to actually have an original score. So that's nice and all, but what happens in a few years when this dude gets accused of plagiarism, and Toei ends up retroactively destroying the franchise's music AGAIN? (And again? And again? And again?)

Will the vicious cycle ever end? Can we ever again...feel safe?

The mere idea of video game music extinctions is agony on Rawk's thoughts and flesh. And misery loves company, so follow him at RawkHawk2010 on Miiverse and Twitter!

Rawk finally writes that article about Dragon Ball Xenoverse over a year later.
Rawk explains why KoopaTV ought to pay attention to his Dragon Ball fandom.


  1. This reminds me of the deaf composer who turned out to be neither a composer or deaf, although I don't think any of his music had to be removed since he *did* have a deal with the actual composer.

    1. I'm laughing out loud because I have no idea what you're talking about so what you just said makes no sense.

    2. Mamoru Samuragochi, who did music for Resident Evil and some other games,was famous for being "the Japanese Beethoven" because he's deaf. Well, it eventually was revealed that he paid someone else to compose the music and just took credit for it. He apologized and said that as he went deaf, he didn't want to stop composing, and that's why he did it.

      Then the guy who actually wrote the music came out and said that when they worked together, he started to suspect Samuragochi wasn't really deaf, because he answered questions before the sign language was complete, stood up when a doorbell rang, and other stuff like that. Samuragochi then apologized again and admitted that he kinda sorta exaggerated his hearing problems and isn't legally deaf.

      I looked it up: the real composer is credited for those games and music now.

    3. Maybe Kenji was deaf too, which is why he didn't hear that ice cream truck coming:


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