Hiroshi “Hiro” Kawaguchi – Fantasy Zone ファンタジーゾーン

5 out of 5

Label: Data Discs

Produced by: Shaun Crook (vinyl master)

Goodness gollyness, if’n this ain’t one of the most aw-shucks feel-good scores of all time, and hopefully my homespun verbiage tells that to ya.

“Hiro” Kawaguchi’s approach here can maybe be best sensed from the ‘Fantasy Zone Medley’ arranged version played by a full band that takes up the majority of the B-side of this release: while there are tons of bands nowadays playing this stuff on guitars and drums and whatnot things that bleeps and bloops, there’s generally some translation necessary, or done purposefully to amp things up a bit. This medley… doesn’t need that. Yeah, it starts to rock out and get psych-y towards the very end, but hey, the band’s gettin’ into it, which it’s impossible not to. But prior to that, you’re pretty much hearing Fantasy Zone 1:1, and it’s amazing how directly it ports over to this fleshed out sound, except that if you’ve just listened to the original tracks preceding the medley, you’re nodding in knowing approval. Yeah. This music just flat-out works.

Lookit that cover art, lovingly reproduced by Data Discs’ bright, full-bleed printings; Kawaguchi’s bouncy, sprightly music falls right in line with those bubbly characters, while not forgetting to include notes of urgency – it’s a shmup, after all. But I think what’s more striking than its catchiness is, for a 1986 release, how fleshed out Hiro was able to make his composition, after some learnings and getting to go hands-on with the programming, as per the liner notes; that’s why the full band approach makes sense: the layers of “drums” and “guitars” are easily imagined from the careful way the music’s put together. Assisting this, of course, if a beautiful mastering from Shaun Crook, which maintains a really warm consistency at perfect levels to pick out all the bits and pieces.

And there’s a certain amount of luck here, in that a lot of classic arcade / Genesis stuff requires some choices in how much to loop, and whether to go 45RPM or 33 depending, in part, on length of the selections… There’s enough material here such that each track gets enough time to shine without overstaying its welcome, and also is choicefully sequenced so the B-side has a more “serious” vibe to it, over A’s irrepressible joy.

Definitely a great soundtrack all on its own, but then presented in next-level glory by Data Discs.