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Pacific Theater of Operations – First Movement (Hiroshi Miyagawa)

December 8, 2009

For today’s historic events, I’ve picked a piece from an album that recently was on Slightly Dark, “First Movement” from Pacific Theater of Operations. Pacific Theater of Operations (or PTO) is a strategy game produced by KOEI about World War II. KOEI produced dozens of strategy war games for the computer, and can kind of be thought of as the Japanese Avalon Hill of PCs.

Pacific Theater of Operations – “First Movement” (Hiroshi Miyagawa)

“First Movement” depicts the opening events of the war in several striking ways (illustrated below). It is taken from the orchestral remix of the album rather than the original midi version on KOEI Original BGM Collection Volume 6. Oddly enough, the soundtrack’s composer,Hiroshi Miyagawa, a respectable-looking gentleman, is also credited with composing the anime series Space Battleship Yamato. The album was also performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Makes me wonder what they were thinking as they recorded it.

This album is very interesting for its treatment of one of Japan’s most infamous acts. The track begins with a dramatization of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which is startling for its starkness, which makes it all the more striking as it comes from a Japanese composer. However, there are no screams here, only water, aircraft, explosions, and automatic weapons fire. The track then moves into the “Opening” theme (1:00), which illustrates an immediate reaction to the horrible events, with very dark, minor chords and discordant trumpets. It is followed up by the dramatic “Overture” (2:30) which seems to do a good job of capturing some of the darkness of World War II. While it is very martial, it fits with the grim theme of conducting the tactics of a world war.

The movement then transitions into “Wu” (4:30), which is a more reflective, human – and I suppose romantic – section. It fits surprisingly well even if romance isn’t suggested by the game theme. I haven’t played the game, so I don’t know the original context, but it gives a more sweeping feel to the song. The following section, which I think is from “At Sea” (6:53) gives a sense of waiting; a clock ticks and tensions rise as battle plans are laid up and the flight crews ready for liftoff. The ending of the “First Movement” is the parade tune “Departure” (7:41), which sends the naval fleet out to the war. All the pomp and glory leads us to consider: do these soldiers and sailors really know where this conflict will take them?

PTO is also one of those albums that sounds a LOT better as an actual orchestral score than it does on the original sound chips. It really illustrates some of the limitations imposed by early game audio technology. The original tunes have a slightly gritty quality to them, but this is nowhere near as powerful as the orchestral arrangement. The entire KOEI orchestral remix series is simply fantastic and well worth checking out at Slightly Dark.

The album art, which is taken from the original game, also needs to be examined. While it isn’t the first Japanese cover to explicitly depict World War II (that would be 1942), there are some odd things here. First, the characters most prominently depicted are the Japanese naval officers, with a large portrait of Yamamoto Isoroku front and center. Second, while 1942 depicts an American plane shooting down a Japanese plane, PTO has the opposite (the US plane I think is an SBD Dauntless with rear gunner). Finally, the battleships in the background prominently portray the imperial crest, and so these are Japanese. In all, it seems quite politically charged and jingoistic – not that American wargame covers aren’t, but it’s a little surprising to see something like this coming from modern Japan. The US cover art is, of course, the complete opposite.

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