The music of Studio Ghibli is fantastically mesmerizing. From thoughtful piano pieces capturing the whimsy of unseen worlds to the thunderous battle cry of marching orchestrations, the soundtracks to these world-renown animated movies are often essential to driving the plot. Their storytelling finesse comes from the creative heart of Japan's best composers. Most famous and commonly featured by the franchise is Joe Hisaishi. His compositions include Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and several others. He is also an accomplished electronic music, a topic we covered recently.

Several YouTubers have clearly been inspired by Studio Ghibli and Joe Hisaishi's work. While many have trained with various instruments, they are eager to reproduce works from the classic movies using their novel instrumentation. The result often provides another perspective on the music of Ghibli, while adding to the original feeling tone. Here are some of the more ear-popping covers on YouTube.

The Zimbabwean Mbira

Mbira thumb pianos are a traditional instrument of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. They are made from a resonant wooden board or body. Attached metal tines are plucked with the thumbs and forefingers to create a sharp, sweet, and percussive tone. They are available in many shapes and sizes. Smaller mbiras can be held while others must be played sitting.

YouTuber xuan xuan featured the array mbira in her cover of Spirited Away’s “One Summer’s Day.” As you can see, the result is rather magical.

The plucky and resonant sound of the mbira adds to the childhood dreaminess of the song. While the composition must be difficult to transpose from the piano to her mbira—the notes of different octaves are grouped so that all Cs, for example, are neighboring—the vlogger makes it look easy.

Later on, while traveling in Malaysia, xuan xuan recorded a cover of another Spirited Away song, “Always with me.”

She shot this video on the beach using a smaller westernized mbira (a kalimba). With the waves in the background, the whole recording has a feeling like Sunday morning and almost seems like a lullaby. Very relaxing, and a beautifully simple rendition of a classic piece.

Ghibli on the Harp

On her channel, YouTuber harpsona shows off her finesse on the harp. Her interests seem to have something of a Japanese bend as there are many Nintendo video game and anime songs covered. And, of course, she's included a few Ghibli pieces.

Here she plays "Merry-go-round of Life" from the movie Howl's Moving Castle. It's another piece by Hisaishi, and, as such, has a fantastic ambiance and is all around amazing. harpsona, on the other hand, shows off her chops. She plays the piece wonderfully and makes it look easy.

Here, ever the Hisaishi fan, she chooses "Carrying You," one of his pieces from the movie Laputa: Castle in the Sky. The piece feels like some fantasy from the romantic era. It is well suited to the harp, and the video is enjoyable. I could almost imagine harpsona's version in the original film

Covering Joe Hisaishi on the Vibraphone

Indeed, over numerous generations, many individuals have been struck by the music of Joe Hisaishi and Ghibli. Jeremy Lawi, on his channel, performs many pieces on the vibraphone. If you're unfamiliar, the vibraphone is a mallet instrument that is arranged similarly to a piano. The black keys are represented further back, and the white keys near the performer.

Like xuan xuan, Jeremy Lawi is a fan of Spirited Away. He covers "One Summer's Day" excellently in this video. While its the same song, its interesting to compare the versions on the mbira and vibraphone. The vibraphone has a more crisp timbre capable of faithfully reproducing the song's harmonies. For me, its less dream-like than on the mbira, but allows the listener to focus more on the melody and the song's construction. Both add their own dimension to the piece.

Finally, My Neighbor Totoro makes the list. Jeremy Lawi and his bandmate cover "The Path of Wind" which was also composed by Hisaishi. The instrumentation is superb for the piece: the vibraphone provides a sweetly resonant rhythm while the flute weaves a floating melody. It's hard not to be reminiscent of the movie while listening to the duo. Indeed, after listening to all the videos featured here, it's definitely time for a Ghibli marathon.

By - Luke Mahoney.