That’s right, I’m picking an album from the highly-regarded woman who composes anime soundtracks who isn’t Yoko Kanno. Sorry, Cowboy Bebop fans.

What is it?

Fiction is a 2003 album from Yuki Kajiura, whose initial claim to fame was being involved in the Noir and .hack soundtracks, generally speaking.

How does it sound?

Take me back to the mix where the sampler was born:

Why this pick?

This isn’t a “best of” since a lot of the tracks are originals and the rest have been reworked and/or re-recorded for this release. It’s close enough for our purposes, though, and as a jumping-on point for appreciating her work this is a nearly ideal Yuki Kajiura release. It helps that it’s readily available in the USA without having to finagle a copy via CDJapan or something like that. (Though you want the 14-track version originally limited to Japan, because you miss out on “Red Rose” otherwise.)

To suggest that this is just a collection of stuff from anime & game soundtracks is a disservice, though. Fiction is a helluva collection of gorgeous songs, never mind where they came from originally. Absolutely gorgeous.

Which songs are the highlights?

The album kicks off with a rendition of “Key of the Twilight” from the .hack franchise, and there are few better songs ever to arise from the world of anime. A few songs later we get the title track, “Fiction,” which is an outstanding original piece for this album. A few songs after that comes the high-energy instrumental, “Red Rose.”

Along the way we get “Cynical World,” a fine rendition of Noir‘s “Canta Per Me,” and the grand delight that is “Vanity.”

Oh, and just to drive home how marvelous Noir was musically, there’s a great take on “Salva Nos” toward the end of the album as well.

Which songs don’t work so well?

The album starts to run out of top-tier material after the midpoint, with pieces like “Awaking” (despite having the same melodic line as a .hack song she’d done earlier) and “Winter” and “Lullaby” (an oddly-rendered torch song, more or less) not coming together quite as well as the earlier stuff.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

It might’ve been obvious to go with the .hack//SIGN or Noir soundtracks. Too obvious, in fact. I’d probably have picked the Mai-HiME soundtrack instead.

Any final thoughts?

In the process of writing this entry I discovered that Fiction II came out a few years ago. Well hello there, new addition to the wishlist…