Interview: Music composer Shiro SAGISU on his return to BLEACH

Bleach is back, and it’s better than ever. To mark the release of the anime series’ final arch Bleach: Bloody Thousand Year War, Milan records released eight anime series soundtracks and movies on digital platforms. We also had the opportunity to speak with the music composer Shiro Sagisu on his work on the entire series so far, plus what to expect from the anime series’ final arc Bleach: Bloody Thousand Year War.

© Tite Kubo/Shueisha, TV TOKYO, dentsu, Pierrot

Thinking back to the hundreds of tracks you’ve created for BLEACH, which songs stood out to you the most? Please tell us the reason, too.

You have chosen a difficult question to begin with. I’ve written so many songs but each one is like my child so it’s very hard to choose which is the best. They are all equally memorable and important. But if I absolutely had to choose one, I would definitely choose “Number One” because it became the face of BLEACH. Originally, I wrote it to be Ichigo Kurosaki’s theme song, but for the fans, it became a victory fanfare, so it’s very memorable.

Have you read the original manga? What is your impression of it?

When I first read the manga, I was blown away by its style and how different it was from any other Japanese manga I had read at the time. Each panel was like a sophisticated artwork; I felt like I could put any of them in a frame and it would be a work of art.

In my personal opinion, BLEACH combines urban horror with hot-blooded battles. They are two very different genres. Musically, how did you try to bring these two genres together?

That’s a very good question. The answer is actually quite easy, however. This idea of ​​mixing urban horror with hot-blooded battles already represented my music very well. It was a very unique mix, but since it was a natural part of me, the main thing I had to do was express myself through music.

How did you develop this kind of style in the first place?

I’ve worked with many different artists and developed an eclectic approach to the music I write. I think that’s where my ability to mix different genres comes from. It also helped a lot in writing film music. I also grew up with a manga artist father who owned a special effects/animation studio. Urban horror and hot-blooded battles were all around me in this environment, so it all came naturally to me.

The original manga art is heavily influenced by contemporary pop and rock music. What was Tite Kubo’s musical taste factor on your work on the soundtrack?

It was a big influence. As I mentioned before, each panel was sophisticated and very tasteful. It was very easy to look at a sign and feel Kubo’s contemporary pop and rock influences

Are there any particular anecdotes that you remember from the time you created the Original Sound Track?

I don’t know if this is a very funny anecdote or anything, but I have a behind-the-scenes story. A recognizable part of my musical writing is the use of large orchestras and grandiose sounds. But when I first wrote the soundtrack to BLEACH 18 years ago, I actually put all that aside because I wanted to represent the contemporary pop and rock influences mentioned above. I used simpler, smaller sounds to bring out that essence.

Were there any particular difficulties in using smaller sounds?

There weren’t really any difficulties, but at the very beginning of the soundtrack, I tried to use more samples, like hip-hop, in the songs I was writing.

Because BLEACH is such a long series, do you feel that the tone of your work has changed over time? Or did you consciously try to keep things consistent?

It has always changed. I think change is an important part of BLEACH musical personality.

I would like to add one thing: I already mentioned that I used smaller sounds for the soundtrack at the beginning, but I ended up using a bigger orchestra soon after because BLEACH was such a long series. I wanted to keep challenging myself and trying new things with music.

Where do you usually start when creating? Is there a specific order you tend to follow? For example, starting with the main track or the fight songs…

I’m very animalistic in the sense that I write whatever comes into my head. I constantly have music coming out of my head. Every time I take a daily walk, a song pops into my head and I write it down. So there is no definite order.

I also want to add this because BLEACH was such a long series that I had to constantly write songs for the TV series and movies for years. I was always writing songs. But I actually think it worked out for the best because composing became like a battle for me. Writing songs that matched battle scenes and such was very easy.

You are also working on the soundtrack for the final arc of the anime series, Bleach: Bloody Thousand Year War. How does it feel to be back in this anime after so long, and has anything changed in your approach to music in the meantime?

Because I had worked on BLEACH for so long, it was very exciting for me to be able to come back to the show and work on it again. As I mentioned before, when I’m in a state of excitement, it’s much easier to make music for BLEACH, and it often comes out better. I feel like I’m in a really good position right now. Even though there was a big break between the last series and this one, it didn’t really matter to me. I was able to change my Bleach brain immediately and rewrite music for it. It was very natural.

You also create a new version of the iconic theme song “Number One” titled “Number One – Bankai”. What new aspects do you hope listeners will pay attention to?

As I mentioned earlier, I think the best part of the music in BLEACH it is constantly changing. “Number One” is also changing. I’m working on “Number One – Bankai”, but I also have ideas to reinterpret it because I want to make sure that listeners, or rather viewers, hear the best version when it comes.

Do you have any comments for your overseas fans?

Everyone is connected these days through social media or the internet. No one imagined it would be like this 20-30 years ago. Even though the Internet existed back then, now everything can be broadcast instantly to the world. So whether it’s a thought you’re having right now or a sound you’ve created that you want everyone to listen to, you can deliver it in real time.

The connection between me and my fans is much closer and stronger now. It’s very important to me and I like to stay in touch. I have a Twitter, so I would like everyone to follow it.

Also, unlike many other Japanese composers, I always travel around the world to places like Europe or America. Whenever I write my name in a hotel, restaurant, post office or anywhere, people recognize me and talk to me often. I already had people asking me what will happen in the next BLEACH series. If you see me, feel free to chat.

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