A Certain Magical Index: Theme Songs

If ever there was an anime I could have liked just for the theme songs, it was A Certain Magical Index. This is one of the few shows where I consistently sat through the opening credits just to listen to the songs. It’s probably not a coincidence that they’re all by the same artist, Mami Kawada.

1. PSI Missing

I like the techno vibe in this song. In case you didn’t guess, I’m a bit of a fan of techno music.

This song doesn’t sound particularly fast, but if you consider the number of notes sounding throughout each beat, there’s actually quite a bit of stuff going on. For me, that created an impression of hushed excitement. From the first time I watched this show, that caught my interest immediately. Just remembering it almost makes me want to go back and watch it all from the beginning again. It makes it sound like the show is all mysterious and stuff. Much more effective than an over-the-top hyped up song. Making this the first opening song in the series was definitely a good move.

This one is probably my favorite of these songs. So NATURALLY it’s the only one that isn’t on iTunes. Well, there is a sped-up version, but it’s just not the same.

You know, I think I have a thing for non-hyped-up theme songs, because two other anime theme songs I’ve liked a lot also weren’t very overtly exciting: “Pray” from the old pre-2011 Hunter x Hunter adaptation, and “Juukyuusai” (“19 years old”) from xxxHolic. Not that the hyped up songs are never good, but the ones that aren’t hyped up are always the ones I like best.

2. Masterpiece

This one has a quirk that’s kind of interesting from a music theory point of view; it’s in an unusual mode. A mode in music theory is a pattern used to divide the octave into a set of musically useful notes; basically it’s a template for a scale. Nowadays, there are only two modes in common use in Western music, viz. the major mode and the minor mode. In fact, this has been the case ever since the Baroque period or thereabouts. Before then, there were seven possible modes, all named after various Greek peoples; back then the major mode was the Ionian mode, and the minor mode was the Aeolian mode. This song, on the other hand, starts out in the Lydian mode. I’m pretty sure this song is the only piece of music I know of that uses this mode. There is some Gregorian chant that claims to be in the Lydian mode, but they usually flatten the fourth, which makes it equivalent to the Ionian (major) mode. Actually, I vaguely remember reading somewhere that “Lydian” in the context of Gregorian chant refers to what we call the Ionian/major mode, so I don’t know if they just never used what we call the Lydian mode, or what.

You can make a Lydian scale by starting at F on a piano and going up on the white keys to the next F.
masterpiece exhibit lydian scale
The most unusual thing about this scale is the fourth scale degree, which in this case is a B, the note on the middle line of the staff. Ordinarily, the interval between the first and fourth scale degrees is a perfect fourth. In this scale, on the other hand, the interval is an augmented fourth. Now, the thing about fourths is that whereas the perfect fourth sounds really nice, the augmented fourth, which is just a half-step wider than the perfect version, is perhaps the most dissonant interval in Western music. Try playing F and B on a piano, either at the same time or one after the other. Both harmonically and melodically, it sounds pretty terrible.

But this song is really friggin’ proud of its augmented fourth. Consider the electric guitar riff that plays pretty much right at the beginning of the song (transposed here to F Lydian):
masterpiece exhibit riff
The riff consists of a few notes of fairly similar length, followed by one noticeably longer one (made of two notes tied across the bar line in the picture). Guess what the interval is between the long note and the one immediately preceding it. Yup―it’s an augmented fourth. Actually, it’s an augmented fourth upside down, so that makes it a diminished fifth, but either way it’s the same two notes and the same dissonance.

Then the singer comes in with the actual melody (again, transposed to F Lydian):
masterpiece exhibit melody
(The rhythm is altered between verses, so this is kind of a compromise between all the rhythms.)

You probably noticed during the verse that some of the notes in the melody sound horribly dissonant. Well, if you look at the written notes, all but one of those dissonant notes are on the middle line of the staff. You know, the fourth scale degree.

Incidentally, I know of one other song by Mami Kawada that uses this same pattern of heavily dissonant verse followed by much more consonant chorus: “Break a Spell,” used as the second ending theme for Tokyo Ravens.

One other minor point. (No pun intended. Honestly.) There is one rhythmic pattern that recurs throughout this song:
masterpiece exhibit rhythm
The dotted quarter notes are often manifested as a quarter and an eighth, but it adds up to the same thing, and the placement of the accents clearly marks it as a variation on this pattern. “PSI Missing” also features this rhythm when the sine wave or whatever it is plays at the very beginning. Now, what I find funny about this rhythm is that I’ve heard it everywhere. It seems like almost any time someone comes up with a syncopated rhythm, it can be reduced to this. Recently I attended a performance of African folk music, and this same rhythm was there too. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s naturally wired into the brain or something.

3. No Buts!

I actually don’t have much to say on this one. It’s a fun song.

 

There was one other opening theme, “See Visions,” which I didn’t really care for. One of the two Kawada songs I’ve heard so far that I didn’t like particularly, the other being “Hishoku no Sora” from Shakugan no Shana.

So, yeah. A Certain Magical Index. The reason I started watching it was because the title sounded weird and that made me curious. I liked it up to episode 20, but after that it kinda went downhill. A Certain Scientific Railgun made up for it to an extent by having one of my favorite death scenes ever, though.