Ah, OPs. The sequence at the beginning of almost any anime that, when done right, tells you what to expect from the show and, when done really right, add to the show or even hold up all on their own. An OP can be better than a trailer when looking for new content, and are more memorable than any scene.
They are one of the things that distinguish anime from live action. Sure, live actions shows have open sequences, but not in the same way. They’re just a couple seconds long and typically focus on the setting or tone. In anime, OPs are a minute and a half, and good ones have a little of everything from the show. But why do they still exist?
Well, there are the production reasons. Animation is expensive, but shows have to fill their timeslot. By having a minute and a half that you only have to produce once play at the beginning of thirteen or more episodes, you can save a lot of money, especially when some of the animation is taken right from the show.
But we’re no suckers right? Anime fans wouldn’t just let The Man get away with skimping us on the content in order to cut costs. We would demand to be treated with respect, right? Yeah, sure. But as luck would have it, as a fan, I actually like OPs. I think they offer a lot to anime fans.
First, there’s the artistic side. A lot of OPs can just be thrown together to fulfill the barebones obligations of showing the main characters, giving some expectations of genre art style and story type, and wasting time. But there are the aforementioned good ones. Of these I think there are two types, those that are good on their own, and those that add to the show. No OP is wholly one or the other, but has some of each type. Great OPs fulfill both.
One OP that’s good on its own is Mirai Nikki’s “Fantasy Mythology”. Mirai Nikki, aka Future Diary, itself, I think, actually lets down this wonderful opening. Not that it is a bad show by any means, but it doesn’t live up to the promise set by its wonderful opening.
“Fantasy Mythology” opens with dark, intriguing imagery, then follows it with a hit of red on black. Not exactly unique in the world of stylized pallets, and I personally prefer the red on white, but it hooks you. Meanwhile the music meets this with a build-up into an adrenalin rush. The red and degrees of grey carry on throughout the animation, as it shows the viewer pretty much everything they need to know to get into the show. A knife rusting into dust, a short-nosed revolver closing its chamber and firing and being thrust back by the force, a mysterious girl, a strange being that wants a hug, whatever Murmur is, and a moody little boy. By this point, you don’t care what the show is, you just want to watch it, and watch this intro over and over. While a lot of the shots are direct references to other characters in the show, they still add to the creepy atmosphere of the OP as a standalone.
It’s a good opening, and that last fluid shot of the two Yuno’s just clinches it. This is an opening I liked well before I watched the anime it’s from, and still like more than the anime. Others like this are the Hellsing TV opening, “Rock the Dragon” from DBZ, “Lilium” from Elfen Lied, and “Guren no Yumiya” from Attack on Titan (I still have to watch AoT, but I love this OP already).
On the other side there are the OPs that build on their shows, and in this regard I can think of none better than Trigun’s aptly named “Perfect”. I’ve said before that I’m not a music person so cut me some slack here, but there’s something just a little off about the guitar sound in “Perfect”, like it has this rock base with just a few alien notes, which is fitting as you learn in the show that, as Earth-like as the planet Trigun is set on initially feels, like the old west, it is very much not Earth. And Vash isn’t quite human.
Vash himself is the main focus of the opening as it primarily showcases him in different poses and situations. It builds the twofold image of a steely-eyed gunman and a buffoon, and makes you wonder who this character is supposed to be. While the show serves up some answers over time, both of those two faces are always present, and the opening reminds you, no matter the theme of any given episode, Vash is not one way or the other.
This is especially important for your first time watching the series, as that music and the animation accompanying it is immediately followed by that scene at the saloon. Though the mystery of who this red coated man is drags along even several episodes in, the scene does the most work in establishing the answer that we have to deal with for a good chunk of the series. We do not know.
The point is, “Perfect” works in tandem with Trigun and improves it. Other OPs like this are “Tabi no Tochu” from Spice and Wolf, and “Orange” from Toradora (an ED, which generally serves a different purpose, but this one’s just too good).
While that right there is enough to justify some OPs as art, there is another reason I think OPs are important to us as anime fans. Ours is a geek culture, and like all geek cultures we identify ourselves by the stuff we like. A lot of people really like Breaking Bad, but no one finds it personally important to them. But anime fans are different. If I hadn’t stumbled upon Elfen Lied one night about eight years ago, I would probably be a very different person (and I’d definitely be less of a danger to society). If it wasn’t for Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell, I wouldn’t have rows of philosophy books on my shelf.
Anime is important to us, and a good show can have profound effects on us. I don’t think any anime fan can watch Toradora, Gurren Lagann, or Spice and Wolf, and say it didn’t touch them in a way other media doesn’t. We consume media, especially our media, differently. We let it get to us, and we don’t just move on when it’s over. Our favourite shows stay with us.
OPs are important then, because it gives us a very quick way to relive that experience of watching the show. A good OP should carry you through the show subtly, and hit on all the key elements. Re-watching it is a watered down experience from actually re-watching the show it comes from, but it’s a quick and convenient way to remember why that show is important to you.
That’s why I hate OPs with generic J-Pop, or that don’t effectively convey their stories. I can’t get what I need from Evangelion by watching its OP, so it’s one of my least favourites. Meanwhile something like Lilum, not even the OP just the song, gives me so much of Eflen Lied; I can hum it to myself and feel what I need from that show.
OPs really are a big part of the art of anime, and they mean a lot for fans. As long as they’re done well.
Don’t Lose Your Way