The Ghibli cafe collection for undiscerning consumers.
Editor's review by Adam Corn (2009-03-11)
Ghibli the Best contains selections from five albums from the Hacla instrumental music label. "Best" is of course subjective - though many of the most famous themes from Studio Ghibli's anime films are included, the focus is on basic instrumental renditions of songs well-known to the average Japanese moviegoer, rather than more substantial themes better suited to an instrumental arranged album.
Most of the albums Ghibli the Best draws from are dedicated to a certain instrument, be it piano, guitar, or harmonica. Though many arrangements also take advantage of added accompaniment, the arrangements are mostly content to rest on the merits of their original melodies without making drastic changes. Were the more substantial compositions from the Ghibli catalog given preference that wouldn't pose such a problem, but the combination of simple compositions with plain arrangements makes for an often dull album. "Always with Me" from Spirited Away is a good example; its pretty melody could certainly work as a piano arrangement, but the version here takes the theme nowhere beyond its most basic state. Combined with an uninteresting, completely uniform performance, it gives the impression of being at a children's piano recital.
Whoever decided to arrange Princess Mononoke for harmonica needs to have his soundtrack license revoked, as does the person responsible for including it on a best album. Though the instrument works quite effectively for the lonely wanderer sound in "Teru's Theme" from Tales from Earthsea, it fails spectacularly at conveying the dignity of Mononoke's sweeping, epic themes. "Love is a Flower, You are the Seed" from Only Yesterday isn't as immediately repelling but is so sappy it eventually becomes hard to tolerate as well.
The one true standout track of the album is "If Wrapped in Kindness" from Kiki's Delivery Service, an earthy folk arrangement featuring acoustic guitar, violin, and Native American percussion. Everything about it contrasts in a good way with the rest of the album, from the multifaceted instrumental ensemble to the patient, purposeful arrangement to the virtuosity of the performance. Aside from this and the aforementioned "Teru's Theme", the only tracks worthy of attention are "My Neighbor Totoro" and "The World's Promise", thanks in both cases to lighthearted but meaningful interaction between piano and violin.
With so many excellent Studio Ghibli original soundtracks, arranged albums and compilations available, only hardcore fans need bother with the easily forgettable Ghibli the Best. The superb arrangement for "If Wrapped in Kindness" would be a shame to miss, but it might be better searching out the Ghibli the Classics album from which it's compiled in the hope that it offers a few more tracks of similar caliber, because Ghibli the Best sadly doesn't.