Buddy Mission BOND Soundtrack, Kosuke Mizukami, 2021
One of early 2021’s most polished Nintendo Switch games was Buddy Mission BOND. With character design by Yusuke Murata (manga author of Eyeshield 21 and One-Punch Man), Buddy Mission BOND’s visuals indeed impressed, particularly during the 2D story sequences, presented in the style of comic book panels. Emphasising the interactions between the quartet of protagonists, Buddy Mission BOND was split into three portions. First, the visual novel segments with multiple-choice dialogue options; then, investigation episodes where the player has to uncover clues; finally, the 3D infiltration segments where players break into the villain’s base, solving puzzles with the information gathered during step two.
However, it wasn’t just the game’s visuals that developer Koei Tecmo lavished great care (and considerable resources) upon. In keeping with the storied tradition of Koei games receiving well-funded scores, Buddy Mission BOND benefited from being recorded with a live ensemble of 20+ players strong, including a small string section and several brass instruments. The composer wielding this group was Kosuke Mizukami, who had previously worked on several Koei Tecmo franchises, including Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, Dead or Alive: Xtreme and Atelier. The Buddy Mission BOND soundtrack was a rare opportunity for Mizukami to establish a game’s musical world from the ground up rather than conforming to an existing franchise framework.
The results aren’t consistently strong. Mizukami wrote around 160 minutes of material (looped) for Buddy Mission BOND, spread across a 2CD soundtrack release. Quite a bit of the score’s material is meandering – and several compositions overuse a particular saxophone motif to also comical effect. However, there is one area where the Buddy Mission BOND soundtrack really shines, and those are its jazz pieces, which deliver just over one hour of excellent material. It’s here that Mizukami makes the best use of his live performers. These are full-bodied, fully-fledged jazz compositions that are lavishly arranged and flow organically from solo to solo – constantly delivering new ideas in the kind of complex arrangements you would expect from the genre.
All the jazz presented here is of the melodic, immediately ingratiating kind – Mizukami eschews the genre’s more experimental leanings and instead deploys its effortlessly classy character to underscore the game’s stylish design. However, that does not mean that the Buddy Mission BOND soundtrack is a one-note endeavour. On the contrary, Mizukami’s work feels like a rundown of various approaches to the jazz genre.
There are, of course, the more traditional jazz cues. Take “Track 03”, switching back and forth between sumptuous brass and string inserts, and classic bar jazz led by piano and swiftly plucked double bass. Thanks to the first-rate recording and mix, the double bass rhythms remain sufficiently audible underneath all those competing layers to energise the cue, while the staccato brass fire the music up further. “Track 06” breaks into the soundtrack’s liveliest pace, announced by vivacious brass fanfares and driven by insistent, rhythmically tricky drumming. Again alternating between larger and smaller ensembles, “Track 06” does a particularly great job at contrasting the warmth of its string arrangements with the hectic drums. “Track 02” is just as elegant and sophisticated but prefers a mid-tempo approach to showcase its languid succession of brass soli – and isn’t afraid to throw simpler, pop-inspired elements into the mix.
Elsewhere, the Buddy Mission BOND soundtrack slows down and moves away from jazz’s brassy inclinations to focus on the genre’s romantic side. Carried by their refined string orchestrations, “Track 08” and “Track 17” don’t aim to dazzle like their flashier counterparts. Instead, they manage to sway listeners with their tender melodies whose emotional restraint gives them just the right amount of understated grace and avoids any cloying tendencies. Out of the two cues, “Track 17” runs a bit longer and has more time to develop its interplay between strings and piano, as well as its dynamics, leading to passionate forte sections. Again, the material isn’t particularly complex but moving in its sincerity and refinement.
That’s only the start of Mizukami’s sojourn through various jazz sub-genres though. He tweaks his densely layered piano/strings/brass approach on several compositions, often to address the game’s tenser moments (likely the stealthy base infiltration segments). “Track 05” convincingly blends taut funk guitar, quivering strings and discordant piano with the soundtrack’s trademark silky-smooth brass leads. “Track 06” builds on hammering staccato rhythms and jagged piano melodies before leading into a raucous confrontation between screaming brass, string ostinati, piano and what sounds like a massive drum being struck during the soundtrack’s most conflict-laden moment. Finally, “Track 14” manages the very impressive feat of mixing jazzy complexity and swagger with elements of modern action game music, including programmed percussion and echoing cold synths.
However, the Buddy Mission BOND soundtrack goes one step further still in its creative take on jazz music – by blending it with traditional Japanese music. It sounds like an unlikely combination, but Mizukami makes it work effortlessly. Take “Track 04”, another cue to foreground its funk influences – only this time the flute lead is actually a shamisen, before the composition passes the melody back and forth between Western and Japanese instruments. “Track 10” takes after the score’s slower-paced string pieces. Its suitably pentatonic violin material doesn’t succumb to oriental clichés, and the hushed intensity of its shakuhachi leads produces an effect that is once more restrained yet romantic. “Track 11” might be the soundtrack’s most daring piece, relying on stringent, droning sonorities before segueing into a more static and texturally-focused string adagio. The result is music of great originality and elegance that bridges Western and Eastern influences with astonishing ease.
Finally, the Buddy Mission BOND soundtrack opens and closes with a trio of songs that are as well-written and -produced as the rest of the score. “Track 01” sets the scene with verve as a sassy jazz song. Vocalist Celeina Ann’s constantly switches between English and Japanese, underscoring the music’s unbridled fun, energy and playfulness, as well as the cue’s ability to change between sleek and pulsating episodes at the drop of a hat. “Track 17” surprises with its ritualistic koto drum rhythms and shakuhachi calls that perfectly match the measured, introspective vocals and unexpectedly achieve a calm, moving majesty. Closing proceedings is “Track 18”, which opens with dreamy piano strains, moves into soft rock (staying classy and tasteful at all times), before concluding with a jubilant, impassioned jazz-pop chorus that ends the score on the perfect note.
- 01 - Track 01 Mizukami, Kosuke 2:44
- 02 - Track 02 Mizukami, Kosuke 4:46
- 03 - Track 03 Mizukami, Kosuke 3:18
- 04 - Track 04 Mizukami, Kosuke 3:13
- 05 - Track 05 Mizukami, Kosuke 3:44
- 06 - Track 06 Mizukami, Kosuke 4:18
- 07 - Track 07 Mizukami, Kosuke 2:49
- 08 - Track 08 Mizukami, Kosuke 3:12
- 09 - Track 09 Mizukami, Kosuke 2:12
- 10 - Track 10 Mizukami, Kosuke 3:10
- 11 - Track 11 Mizukami, Kosuke 2:23
- 12 - Track 12 Mizukami, Kosuke 3:55
- 13 - Track 13 Mizukami, Kosuke 2:06
- 14 - Track 14 Mizukami, Kosuke 2:59
- 15 - Track 15 Mizukami, Kosuke 2:15
- 16 - Track 16 Mizukami, Kosuke 4:21
- 17 - Track 17 Mizukami, Kosuke 4:59
- 18 - Track 18 Mizukami, Kosuke 3:18
- 19 - Track 19 Mizukami, Kosuke 3:48