Anime Listicles

Ranking 12 Times Dvorak’s New World Symphony was Used in Anime

New World Symphony is a hype piece. Many people know it for the slow and pastoral Second Movement, “Goin’ Home,” but when I think of it, I think of the bits that remind me of exploding battleships. And when I heard it on the radio last weekend, I finally reflected on why: it’s because I’ve come to associate it with a certain scene in an anime!

More than one anime is known for using Antonín Dvořák’s most renowned symphony as a key OST or insert song. In fact, with the help of My Anime List (it’s always funny to see classical composers listed as anime staff), I have discovered a total of 12! To make it funner, I ranked them, of course. It’s a banger, and the symbolism is readymade – nostalgia, expedition, displacement. This post on Anime Instrumentality does a much better job than me at discussing the symphony and its usage in the anime From the New World, so give it a read if you’re interested!

But before we go into my long list, let’s talk about Dvořák’s 9th Symphony, New World. It’s one of the most widely performed symphonies worldwide. Neil Armstrong brought a recording of it into space for the first Moon Landing. Throughout much of Asia, part of its Second Movement, “Goin’ Home,” is played as a school bell to dismiss children from school every weekday.

Dvořák composed the symphony in 1893 while he was in America, and was influenced by patterns he noticed across Native American music and African American spirituals. The symphony consists of four movements, the second of which was adapted into the spiritual-like song “Goin’ Home” by Dvořák’s student William Fisher, which went on to earn worldwide acclaim.

I am inevitably biased towards the anime I’ve seen and enjoyed, but I did research each of the following scenes extensively, and tried to rank each fairly based on five criteria, each worth 5 points: 1) sound, 2) memorability, 3) symbolism, 4) choreography, and 5) creativity.

12. Classicaloid Season 2 (2nd and 4th Movements)

Sound: 1, Memorability: 3.5, Symbolism: 1.5, Choreography: 2, Creativity: 2.5

Total: 10.5

As refreshing this take is at first glance, for someone unfamiliar with Classicaloid, this simply hurt my ears too much. The humour felt shallow and on-the-nose in the two episodes in which the songs were used. Dvořák wants to show people a new world! Dvořák shows homesick people the way home. The execution of these basic ideas was gaudy, and everybody was extremely obnoxious. Credits for being a earworm, I guess.

11. Heaven’s Lost Property (4th Movement)

Sound: 4, Memorability: 1, Symbolism: 2.5, Choreography: 1, Creativity: 2.5

Total: 11

This was an utterly forgettable scene, but I enjoyed it significantly more than the last entry on the list, despite its marginally higher score. The symphony was performed in Episode 10 by the New World Discovery Club’s rival school, and was used as a set-up for the protagonist and his friends’ bizarre performance at the cultural festival, and nothing else. As you can see, I couldn’t even find a video for it. It was a brief and standard-sounding clip, but it was a clever choice as a set-up for the real deal.

10. Tokyo Ghoul (1st Movement)

Sound: 4, Memorability: 1.5, Symbolism: 2, Choreography: 3.5, Creativity: 1.5

Total: 12.5

Another scene that was brief and unimportant, but kudos to Tokyo Ghoul for using the relatively under-represented First Movement in Episode 5! Foreboding music to tell us that Tsukishima is a pretty evil guy, in case viewers didn’t catch that. A dash of disturbing and a dash of drama queen. Very nice.

9. Forest of Piano (4th Movement)

Sound: 3.5, Memorability: 2.5, Symbolism: 3.5, Choreography: 1.5, Creativity: 3

Total: 14

I had been candid about my disregard for Forest of Piano when I reviewed it episodically. In my review of Episode 6, I said that I didn’t like this arrangement of the piece, but I do think the show deserves credit for adapting it for the piano. The CGI hands were bad and didn’t always sync with the music, but there was an attempt. My main complaints with the scene are consistent with my feelings towards all the show’s performances: it’s a slideshow of static images when we’re not looking at noodle hands, and there’s an over-reliance on dramatic audience reactions to hammer in the message that you’re supposedly seeing a phenomenal performance unfold.

That said, the glass piano is a cool concept, and seeing a street performance in the huge city is indeed an alien experience for Kai, who grew up playing a piano in the forest. He’s displaced, yet he finds a sense of home as he plays – a fine interpretation of the symphony.

8. Lupin III, Part II (1st and 4th Movements)

Sound: 3, Memorability: 2.5, Symbolism: 3.5, Choreography: 3, Creativity: 3

Total: 15

Again, the scenes in Episodes 48 and 108 are too short and overall insignificant for there to be existing clips, but Jigen switching the radio channel to the same musical piece in two separate instances in a long anime season is a cute touch. I didn’t know a thing about his character before working on this post, but just from those brief moments, I could tell that he probably self-identifies as the adult of the group and is an aloof elitist (with impeccable taste in music).

7. One Piece (4th Movement)

Sound: 3.5, Memorability: 3.5, Symbolism: 2, Choreography: 3.5, Creativity: 3

Total: 15.5

This is boss fight music, and One Piece uses it well. When I searched up the New World Symphony in anime, this fight was among the first results on Google. While I can’t say I experienced the culmination of emotions like everyone else as someone who didn’t watch the series, I respect a hyped up boss fight. The slow-motion punches are nicely coordinated with the heavy booms in the Fourth Movement. I’m sure the full fight is a spectacle.

6. Sound! Euphonium (2nd Movement)

Sound: 2.5, Memorability: 3.5, Symbolism: 3.5, Choreography: 3.5, Creativity: 3.5

Total: 16.5

Featuring the full melody of “Goin’ Home” in a trumpet solo is a bold choice and I respect it. Kousaka’s tempo is fast but flawless, which says a lot about her character or mood in that given moment. I have not seen Sound! Euphonium, but Kousaka seems like a girl who’s used to being harsh on herself, who at the moment feels lost and/or frustrated with the world. The clip features people’s reactions more than the playing of the trumpet, but contrast this with Forest of Piano – the reactions are much more natural and meaningful, and it is easy to see what sort of impact Kousaka’s performance has had on Kumiko. And that yell at the end – fine angst!

5. Night on the Galactic Railroad (2nd Movement)

Sound: 4, Memorability: 3.5, Symbolism: 4.5, Choreography: 2, Creativity: 3

Total: 17

This segment of the classic film, titled “New World Symphony,” follows after Hymn 306, “Draw Me Nearer,” from the previous segment. The low but increasingly rich music accompanies a mental or spiritual transition, or perhaps, transcendance, as seems to be the purpose of the mystical train ride. The human girl recognizes the symphony while it is still barely audible, perhaps because she is more ready to “go home” than the others. As Giovanni and his fellow passengers reach another new land, this one still closer to most of the passengers’ final destination, Giovanni sees the familiar form of himself as a child, standing in front of a house. Perhaps it suggests the attainment of higher self-understanding – the first step to transcending the experiences of the self to care deeply about the world beyond?

4. Gaiking: Legend of Daiku Maryu (4th Movement)

Sound: 3, Memorability: 5, Symbolism: 4, Choreography: 2.5, Creativity: 3.5

Total: 18

Okay, this boss is literally Dvořák, how could I not? Episode 37 of Season 1 – Daiya fights a big boss that holds his dad hostage inside a freak mecha inspired by the composer Dvořák. The key of the Fourth Movement coincidentally matches Daiking‘s theme song, which is a cool touch (though rather under-utilized). The only disappointing part is that an identical segment of the beginning of the Fourth Movement was used for two separate scenes in the episode’s fight – it would have been nice if they switched it up a little. But the fact that such a mecha was even conceived is incredible, and I am willing to overlook slight flaws.

3. Penguindrum (2nd Movement)

Sound: 3.5, Memorability: 4, Symbolism: 5, Choreography: 3.5, Creativity: 5

Total: 21

This fitting theme is used multiple times in the series. Kanba is trapped between his noble ideal of shouldering everything to save his family and his desire to belong to and take part in familial happiness. He wants to “go home” but must continually repress that desire, which makes the symbolic music painful to bear. The closer he is to reaching his goal, the farther he is from living his dream, and the pervasive music is there to remind him of it. I didn’t know the Second Movement could ever be tortuous, but this is an Ikuhara show after all.

2. From the New World (2nd Movement)

Sound: 4.5, Memorability: 5, Symbolism: 5 Choreography: 3.5, Creativity: 3.5

Total: 21.5

The entire anime pays tribute to Dvořák’s symphony. The anime unsettles in many ways, and Movement 2 evokes certain discomforting juxtapositions. It’s a futuristic world, yet it’s feudalistic in ways. While “Goin’ Home” is used as a school bell (the same way it is in our present era) that symbolizes safety and stewardship, it becomes evident as the series goes on that it also represents subtle, pervasive surveillance. The children are not cared for by the system, but closely watched. Hearing it in the first episode and towards the end induce drastically different emotions.

1. Legend of the Galactic Heroes (All Movements)

Sound: 5, Memorability: 5, Symbolism: 4 Choreography: 5, Creativity: 3.5

Total: 22.5

I have always liked the New World Symphony, but this anime reminded me of how much. New World Symphony just works for space operas, and Legend of the Galactic Heroes is certainly committed to Dvořák. Not only is Symphony No. 9 heavily featured, several of Dvořák’s works can be heard in every other episode.

The use of the music might not be as symbolic as some of the other entries in the list, but its incorporation is consistently masterful. Take the above episode, The Battle of Amritsar, for example. The Fourth Movement is punctuated with the sound of warning bells and sirens, and the volume fluctuates depending on how the battle progresses and which side of it we’re following. Above all, the anime doesn’t just use the intense portions of the Fourth Movement to drive home a sense of action or conflict. Sometimes, you just watch hundreds of starships blow up, the sound of their individual explosions suppressed by beautiful, polished melodies.

The scale of the wars is always shocking, but with the grandiose music, it’s so easy to feel distanced from all the human suffering undoubtedly taking place inside those ships. That’s a feeling that Yang must struggle with in his admiral’s seat. I think the New World Symphony is beautiful because it lets you experience a sense of grandness while tugging at something more intimate and tender in you, and I think Legend of the Galactic Heroes understands that perfectly.

Extra Thoughts

I’d love to hear from anyone who has seen the series that I haven’t. Do share how you might rate things differently! This list accurately represents the order of my appreciation for each anime’s use of the symphony, but in terms of relatability, there’s something a little special about Kousaka’s trumpet-playing scene. It sort of reminded me of being a lonely teen transplanted into a Canadian 7th grade, playing “Goin’ Home” on the clarinet or recorder when missing the school bells of Taiwan.

I listen to the classical musical channel on the radio at work whenever I can get away with it (my coworkers hate it, especially when it plays opera), but I’m really not that knowledgeable about classical pieces. This was a fun little project to do, and while I doubt I’ll do more, it’s always nice to think that I might.

14 thoughts on “Ranking 12 Times Dvorak’s New World Symphony was Used in Anime

  1. You’ve been making some pretty creative posts recently :). This one was a lot of fun and there are a few things that I didn’t know where New World Symphony played. So maybe I am a fake fan in some cases.

    Legend of the Galactic Heroes though. It knows what it means by a space opera by having all the cool and classic stuff playing in very interesting complex ship movements. It really is a true vibe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment! Don’t feel bad – I didn’t distinctly remember the Penguindrum example or even the Forest of Piano one after a while. I think it’s because it’s such an iconic piece that appears in so many things that we don’t especially think about it even when we recognize it.

      I’m glad someone agrees with the space opera vibes!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such a unique idea about how soundtracks and their usage is really important in anime! It seems like a lot of the lower ranks series had an idea and knew a Drorak piece could help execute it but ended up fumbling it. It’s also interesting that I consider myself reasonable well-versed in classical (played it long enough) but I never realized how often it comes into play with anime.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re most welcome! It sounds like a fun challenge with unique results! Oh man… it’s tempting especially now that I have permission lol.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m a bit silly in that Classicaloid is the /only/ anime of the list I’m familiar with.

    I wonder what would happen if someone tried to rank every instance of Beethoven used in anime? I seem to recall the guy was on the Evangelion credits for a watching challenge I did and he’s extremely ubiquitous when it comes to classical music.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh man, there’d be too many! Even with Dvorak, I had to limit it to one specific symphony – you’d be surprised by how many works he’s been credited for in anime.

      It would be fun to choose a Beethoven piece and analyze its appearance in anime for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great article (even though I’ve not seen most of the shows you’ve listed here). Dvorak is one of my all-time favourite composers (his cello concerto and slavonic dances are excellent too!), but it’s still a little surprising to see his most famous work being used in SO MANY anime shows.

    I do remember that moment in Penguindrum making me sit up and take notice though. I’m guessing that the distorted sound is supposed to evoke an overloaded PA system blaring it out at an uncomfortable volume, but it got me wondering about how they did it. Listening to it again now, I’m guessing that it’s a standard orchestral recording that’s been subjected to a bit of studio trickery, but at the time I wasn’t sure whether it was a cover version by some experimental guitar or synth artist. There’s something about the juxtaposition between the familiar beauty and unsettling lo-fi harshness that stuck in my memory!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I rarely ever consider how a work was recorded, but I’m glad somebody does. So much goes on behind the scenes after all. I’m not familiar with the Slavonic dances, but I’d love to check them out!


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