An OST is meant to consistently be a force in a show's production, enhancing and complementing it without ever being jarring and distracting from the show's narrative. It's something that is meant to make a narrative more impactful and not be manipulative at the same time. That said, there is something very unconventional about an OST that is capable of driving a narrative and not the other way around. Liz happens to be a show with an OST that is so deeply embedded in its narrative, it's difficult to tell the two apart. Normally, this would create problems with an OST's intended usage. It's very easy for an OST like this to become straight up manipulative. A lot of these end up lacking variety or they distract from the story the show may be trying to tell. Liz's OST is unique because it never breaks away from the purpose of an OST and still manages to drive the narrative. It manages to be the quintessential OST with every important quality: emotiveness, variety, tone-setting and mood setting, punctuative silence, sensitivity to volume and fluid track changes. Liz sacrifices loud sounding and bombastic music to go for more gentle tracks that serve to enhance the story it is trying to tell. It sacrifices a standalone OST to make an OST that was made for Liz and Liz alone. I will now proceed to illustrate how these qualities are displayed throughout the film
As the Kyoto Animation logo pops up, "Beginning of the Story" plays. It's a track that's very similar to the 3rd movement, "A Decision of Love" and the reason for that is very simple. The track kicks off the storybook narrative of the film and that narrative ties into the events in Kitauji. The reason why the same sequence of music (with notable changes) plays in both the 3rd movement and "Beginning of the Story" is because that music has a strong narrative tie-in with Liz's plot. At any rate, the feeling created by the track coupled with the backgrounds is that of a fairy tale. Something I would like to point out is the changing volume in this sequence as both the track and volume change as Liz encounters the bluebird. It is easier to map these changes to Liz's feelings at the time since Liz's movements dictate both the sound and the volume. e.g when Liz is about to meet the Blue Bird, the volume lowers and creates anticipation. That anticipation builds up into the track becoming high volume once again before the moment that the bird flies off. These fluid track changes are something that Liz uses very often to tie its music into its on-screen events. As the track fades, the next track plays but there's a lot more that happens.
Wind, glass, bluebird might be one of the more prominent tracks on the OST but its instrumental arrangement does not indicate that. On the other hand, I think it perfectly encapsulates what Liz's OST is like. It's a very simple arrangement that punctuates every beat with silence yet maintaining a high volume because of the lack of dialogue in that particular moment. Once again, it's better to map how the track proceeds with Mizore's internal feelings. As we begin, Mizore's solitude and anticipation is highlighted by the track. The screenplay and the OST blend together to pass that sentiment on to the viewer in a loud manner. The first part of Wind, glass, bluebird is interesting to me. It follows the rules of Liz's OST to be as discrete as possible in moments when gentleness is required yet it uses a relatively high volume. Part of it is the lack of dialogue of course. But another part of it is that it sets up the tone for followup tracks that are similar in usage yet incredibly diverse and built to match different tones.
Back to the scene at hand. There is a drop in volume during the middle and then it gets more upbeat as the track once again changes to reflect Mizore's feelings, this time when she notices Nozomi. The beats become far more frequent as they're synchronized to Nozomi's hair swishing. This entire sequence is an example of a fluid track accompanying screenplay and complementing it to create feelings of emotion. As they approach the lockers, the track provides a mood-setting backdrop to their movements. An important moment in this sequence is when Mizore sees Nozomi above the stairs and notices the distance between them. The track becomes more sombre in that movement and then carries onto the next sequence.
During the flashback, the music changes appropriately to reflect the proper tone of the scene. It evokes a certain gentleness as Mizore recalls the time she spent with Nozomi and melancholy as she contrasts that with her current state. Mizore puts Nozomi on a pedestal and the track conveys those feelings in a gentle manner during the flashback. As they enter the music room, the track switches back into upbeat mode and then fades away as the walking sequence ends.
Wind, glass, bluebird is ONE track that exemplifies every definitive trait possessed by the Liz OST. It conveys more emotion than entire soundtracks and at the end of the day, it is one, albeit very good track.
The track is punctuated by silence. The silence leads into the opening dialogue of the film and connects the two sequences together.
There's a very good reason no music plays during the conversation before the timestamp. The silence during that is used to build up into profound usage of the next track. It sets the mood as the divide between storybook and reality begins to blur in Mizore's mind. She draws parallels between her meeting with Nozomi and the Blue Bird's meeting with Liz. She recalls meeting with Nozomi and the track reflects her grateful feelings at the time just as the Blue Bird was overjoyed to meet Liz. However, when we break away from the spell within Mizore's mind and get jolted back to reality, the track changes and becomes almost inaudible when Mizore realizes her current situation.
The Third Movement debuts but something's off. During this sequence, Nozomi and Mizore play without feeling and something is clearly missing in their synchronization as they fail to understand each other. The lack of feeling becomes evident when you listen to the performance and contrast it with the track on the OST. On the other hand, the disjointed performance sets the tone for the rest of the film. It tells a tale of two people struggling to understand each other and being out of sync with each other. Throughout the film, the Third Movement evolves as Mizore and Nozomi change.
In the conversation that follows The Third Movement, low volume music plays. Once again, Liz's OST understands the importance of creating atmosphere like a spell. One wrong incantation and it all breaks. It knows that it must not interfere with the dialogue because outshining the screenplay will only lead to chaos. Thus, it uses low volume OSTs to maintain a spell throughout the course of the film. It lets the dialogue take center stage and seeks to complement it rather than outshine it. It is once again punctuated by silence. That silence leads into...
Once again, the preceding silence leads into a different kind of atmosphere. If we recall the previous sequence, the atmosphere was much more serious and at the very least not cheery. The silence that connects the two sequences alleviates what would have been a jarring transition. It follows a natural progression into another sequence where the OST is prominent. This time, the music highlights the mood that's created when Nozomi is around her friends. It provides a narrative contrast to the previous sequence. When Nozomi was around Mizore, this was not the atmosphere she created. But the cheery atmosphere created by the track serves to emphasize that Nozomi treats Mizore differently from her other friends. In actuality, the difference exists in Mizore's mind. Once again, the music in Liz is used from Mizore's perspective. It is her that notices how at-home Nozomi is around the other members of the club. The track may be cheery and mood-fitting but the atmosphere that is conveyed to us by the music is actually how Mizore perceives it. And it further emphasizes the existing distance between Mizore and Nozomi.
Silence once again follows this usage. The silence this time does not serve to emphasize or lead into the usage of a new track. It builds up to a dramatic revelation that would have easily been ruined by placing music alongside it.
As we move back to the storybook, the track this time goes for another atmospheric angle to create a fairy tale like feeling. It feels very similar to the Third Movement except that it's more upbeat and less sombre. It also carries less emotional nuance as The Third Movement needs that nuance while this track does not. As we move through sequences, the track never stays static rather it is constantly changing to reflect the mood. This prevents the OST from becoming one-note as not only is there variety between tracks, but the sequences within the tracks have variety as well. Changes in the scenery are punctuated by changes in the music and that particular trait of Liz is very effective. It's worth noting that this is a particularly long sequence that would hurt from a one-note track. Thankfully, Liz's tracks aren't one-note and the fluidity of these tracks helps atmospheric moments like this.
The music here follows a dual pattern. As backgrounds change to a more dreary and bleak look, the music changes as well. Nothing note-worthy to point out as something like this is a natural expectation in pretty much any Disney-esque film. However, as the storm passes, the backgrounds are switched back to their original look and the track instantly becomes cheerful. The previous OST usage may not have been notable but the responsiveness of this track to the situation is. It creates anticipation for Liz's meeting with the Blue Bird. As we move back into the real world, the track fades but it lingers for a while even after we switch to Mizore as the lines between Storybook and real world have become blurred in her mind.
The next time we see Nozomi's groupies, no music plays during the sequence. This is in part to Mizore's absence from the scene and to create opportunity for the next track.
Here, we're introduced to Ririka and her theme. It's upbeat, bursting with energy and pure fun just like her character. It reflects the kind of situation that she creates around her. On the other hand, the track stops very abruptly after Mizore pushes her away. The OST's ability to respond to these situations is worth pointing out. This moment is followed by silence once again before more conversation.
Ririka's theme reemerges along with her but this time it gets cut off even earlier. The shorter interval highlights Mizore's unwillingness to open up to her. Silence follows once again which leads into Ririka's conversation with Nozomi. The question arises why Ririka's theme does not reemerge this time. Well, for one, the film is careful not to overuse the theme. And the other reason for that is because the mood created in this scene is not the same as the mood that Ririka previously created trying to interact with Mizore. With Nozomi, she wants to understand Mizore as a person and her interaction with Nozomi is simply different which means that her theme playing wouldn't have made sense in any way. A conservative approach works wonders on Liz.
During this sequence, a very low volume variant of The Third Movement plays. I've talked about the evolution of this particular track throughout the film and this is an example of what I meant. It conveys the formation of a new relationship between Liz and the Blue Bird and builds into a more upbeat version. The upbeat version carries throughout the next few sequences changing every so often to not fall into stagnancy. I'd like to point out how the volume lowers at the end and becomes gentle once again as it appears that the distance between Liz and the Bluebird is becoming smaller. It fades into a backdrop as the conversation begins. It follows the same rule dynamic OST rules followed by the other tracks where it uses subtle changes to switch the mood. Once again, the OST lingers for a moment as we switch back to Mizore. I would once again like to point out that this track went on for ages and went through more changes in those minutes than the entire OST of some shows.
Low volume music here once again to let dialogue take center stage. It's a track that isn't meant to evoke feelings but rather build up into something. And indeed it creates an ominous feeling before Mizore's attempted hug. It follows with silence once again as Mizore goes through mundane moments of her life.
We're back to Nozomi's friends and a similar track to the first time plays once again setting the atmosphere except this time without Mizore. Important to note is that this cheery atmosphere builds up to the blowfish scene with Mizore. It serves to contrast the state of mind between the two people as Nozomi is surrounded by people and Mizore sits in solitude with nothing but a blowfish to keep her company. Here, the beats of the music are synchronized to Nozomi's footsteps as Mizore daydreams about her. This is one of the reasons that Liz's OST is so difficult to evaluate in a vacuum. Some tracks flow into the next one and complement each other really well. The Nozomi track leads into the daydreaming Mizore track and that track leads into...
The window scene. The window scene is something that has left an impression on me throughout all my watches. There is a profound gentleness and an apparent innocence in this track that is unmatched by literally any non-vocal track. The way this track matches the screenplay is possibly one of the best usages of OST in the whole film. It does a great service to the relationship that Mizore and Nozomi have. It begins playfully and complements the non-verbal interaction on the screen. Then it follows by a tone shift that highlights Mizore's isolation after Nozomi disappears with a sombre mood. This moment is one of the most powerful moments in the film. And it wouldn't work without the OST at all. Liz punctuates this important movement with silence before moving on to band practice.
We move back to the storybook and an atmospheric track. Once again, it sounds a lot like The Third Movement except this time the ongoing screenplay reflects the narrative of "A Decision of Love" too. As the Blue Bird leaves, the track grows more somber when Liz realizes the Blue Bird's desire to fly and that she's holding her down. When we move to the morning sequence, the same track conveys tension as the dynamic between Liz and the Blue Bird has changed. Silence once again follows as we cut back to Mizore.
Something worth highlighting is Mizore's playing the piano being a good excuse to insert music into a conversation. Mizore playing the piano also showcases her affinity with instruments.
The piano playing stops at some point replaced by more ambient music to create tension. The music grows louder as Nozomi asks Mizore about her plans. It highlights the effect Nozomi's questioning has on Mizore and does it very well. Silence follows again.
Ririka's theme also plays at a lower volume but it's a different, less peppy version to have more variety. This less peppy version grows more upbeat after a moment of silence when Ririka meets Mizore again. This time, the volume is lower because Mizore is more responsive to Ririka. It does not get abruptly interrupted rather it fades into the next library sequence.
Ririka's theme strikes back with a low volume again. However, this time, around 00:46:08, the track undergoes a drastic change as Ririka opens up to Mizore about failing her auditions. This is possibly one of the more powerful track changes in the film and definitely a major moodsetter for Ririka's breakdown. It's very unconventional for a peppy track to so suddenly turn into something so melancholic but this one's executed perfectly.
Mizore and Nozomi's interaction in this sequence is punctuated by tension created by the background music. This tension slowly builds up throughout the film into the climax and a large part of that is the OST.
If the previous instance of Ririka's theme was melancholic, I would describe the final evolution of her theme as serene. Ririka finds a friend in Mizore and regains her self-confidence. The kind of peace that this track conveys is also important for Mizore's growth as well as Ririka. Using the previous track as contrast, the new track conveys a new beginning for them as it builds into both of them practicing oboe in harmony while Nozomi talks to her friends during that. At this point of the film, the paths of the main characters have diverged greatly.
The Third Movement plays during practice but it sounds emotionless and disconnected. Nozomi appears to be dragging Mizore along with her and they fail to synchronize with each other. Taki points this out and silence follows.
Music starts back up and builds tension during the conversation between Reina, Natsuki and Mizore.
This time the instructors also witness the disconnected and out of sync performance of The Third Movement.
An incredibly ominous track plays during this movement as Nozomi appears to be jealous at Mizore talking to her sensei. A lot of the music serves to build tension into the climax of the film and this one's a major part of it. It leads into Mizore offering the Daisuki Hug to Nozomi and Nozomi declining. At this point, this is the last sequence that creates tension for the climax as it slowly rears its head.
An interesting contrast here is how Reina and Kumiko play The Third Movement in perfect sync which is supposed to contrast to the disconnected Third Movement played by Mizore and Nozomi. The implication behind this is the relationship Reina and Kumiko have in Hibike that allows them to understand each other and play like this while Mizore and Nozomi are yet to develop this kind of understanding.
Another tone-setter here as the rare beats emphasize Liz's parting with the Blue Bird.
The tone preceding the scene changes as Mizore realizes the feelings of the Blue Bird. It grows more hopeful yet melancholic as Mizore realizes what she must do about Nozomi. The fading in and out of the music reflects the emotional turmoil within Mizore and Nozomi as they both realize what path they must take. "A Decision of Love" is an important narrative track because their decisions stem from the love Mizore and Nozomi have for each other. As the Blue Birds take off, the storybook sequence ends in silence which builds up to the next OST usage. At this point of the film, Mizore and Nozomi have realized their true feelings and now they must convey those feelings.
This is the definitive performance of The Third Movement. The preceding silence builds into a gentle opening followed by an explosive performance from Mizore as her feelings burst out. In response, Nozomi is barely able to keep up. Nozomi's playing gives way to Mizore's talent as she finally begins to notice the gap between them. While Mizore's feelings are now loud and clean and shining with her talent, Nozomi's feelings are more subdued as she laments the inevitability of their parting. However, Mizore's playing becomes more gentle and Nozomi is able to respond to her feelings. At that point, they have nothing but gratitude for each other just as the Blue Bird flies off forever grateful to Liz. There's a lot to be said about this moment. I'd sum it up as powerful since this is a sequence that is best experienced and not described. Silence follows this sequence.
As Nozomi struggles with her feelings, sombre music plays to set the tone of her confrontation with Mizore. The background music is once again ambient sound because the dialogue between them needs to take center stage. Liz once again displays gentle affinity with its screenplay. However, this moment isn't anything to scoff at. The rare punctuation of sound in this sequence is a fantastic mood setter and most importantly it's handled in a way that it doesn't disturb the sequence itself.
This is absolutely my favourite tone-setting track in the film. After Mizore and Nozomi pour their heart out, the track conveys the understanding and peace between them. It carries a hint of hope and sets the tone really well.
More ambient music builds into a sombre track when Mizore and Nozomi take different turns after meeting in the library. The track signifies parting and the feeling that the paths of Mizore and Nozomi have diverged. It grows into a more positive track as both of them work hard to strive for their chosen paths. Once again, this track plays for a very long time and changes things up to prevent itself from becoming stagnant.
The final OST usage of the moment is also the most important and my favourite. The entire film is a rollercoaster of emotion, a lot of which is a product of the OST. The sequences preceding its final moment is an homage to the entire film. The track signifies the friendship between Nozomi and Mizore and their newfound understanding of each other. It carries a hopeful feeling to it that is heavily contrasted by the tension in the first half or the uncertainty in the second half. There's something indescribable about the feeling this track conveys that feels like the composer completely understands the characters. It's like the track itself tells a story beyond the film and instills hope that these two will be alright because they have each other. It ends on a very serene note and so does the film. The final note really feels like a final note yet the feelings conveyed by the final note are that of a new beginning. And that's what Liz really is all about.
I don't claim to be an expert on music but it's very easy to see how much effort was put into this OST. It feels like the composer really understands the characters as much as Naoko Yamada. From a sound design perspective, Liz might very well be the best composition in anime in my humble opinion. My writeup's purpose was to prove the traits possessed by the OST that are: emotiveness, variety, tone-setting and mood setting, punctuative silence, sensitivity to volume and fluid track changes. But when we talk purely about emotiveness, nothing really comes even close and the idea of an OST conveying emotion and narrative is brought to life only by Liz.