One thing that’s always given me trouble as a critic is audio. I just don’t have a good ear for things; I have trouble assessing the technical quality of voice acting, and I simply don’t know a whole lot about music. So, why should I talk about anime openings, things that are just supposed to be nice songs? Because they’re not just nice songs. Openings are the very first thing you see of a show, and the part that gets repeated the most (except possibly Magical Girl transformations). And anime fans seem to have an odd affinity for these things because, when done right, they express the show they come from and can even make it better.
So here it is, my top 10
top 20 top 50 anime openings! Because if there’s one article worth of substance in an idea, I’ll find a way to stretch it to three! 50 through 31 demonstrate the basic traits of a good opening. 30 to 11 will be more about uniqueness and style. And from 10 right down to the number 1 spot are where we’ll look a special handful of openings that stand high right along side the show’s they are born from.
And just to preemptively cut off comments asking why I didn’t choose this opening or that opening, I haven’t watched every anime ever made – trying, but not quite there. And no opening makes this list unless I’ve seen the show. So, if you think I’m missing an opening that absolutely has to be one of the best and you just couldn’t believe I’d think otherwise, just assume I’ve never seen it. Or that your opinion is stupid. Either one works. So, with that in mind, here are my top 50 anime openings.
Before we understand what makes some openings great, we have to understand why others utterly suck. Though I’m already cheating a bit; I’ve never watched Welcome to the NHK, but I’m a fan of the original book. People often describe the story as “about Hikikomori”, or modern-day hermits, but I think NHK is broader than that, including several different types of reclusive, hidden, and socially troubled people. Still, “Hikikomori” isn’t far off the mark. The author, Tatsuhiro Takimoto, was a self-proclaimed Hikikomori when the book was published, and hasn’t created much else since then. As sad as the lifestyle is in NHK, Takimoto’s description of himself in the afterword is downright devastating to anyone who has ever experienced depression.
But, what’s wrong with this opening? Well, the imagery, mostly. Typically in anime Hikikomori-ism is show with trippy visuals depicting isolation, indicating how unstable a person’s mind can get when their entire life is confined within the walls of a small sad apartment, and they go months at a time without talking to another person (see MeMeMe). “Puzzle” gets the trippy imagery, but it doesn’t capture the isolation. The whole thing looks more like a drug trip than a head trip.
Though this may be my own perceptive, from the book not the anime. I’ve heard the anime described as a comedy, but that’s not my experience at all.
49) “Watashi ga Motenai no wa dō Kangautemo Omaera ga Warui!” (“No Matter How I Look At It, It’s Not My Fault!”) from WataMote:
Major points lost for the nearly full line of title. More points lost for the punctuation in the title. But the most points lost for the discord between the OP and the show itself. This is a case where both the opening and the show are really damn good, when taken separately. The animation here is fluid, stylistic, chaotic as all hell breaking loose, and just plain good. Unfortunately, except for the character design, the show itself is completely different. Good in its own way, for sure, but an OP should complement its show, not contrast with it. The only part of this that’s really representative of the anime is the lyrics, but uh, you may have noticed that I’m writing in English. The Japanese lyrics don’t count for much here.
48) “Soramimi Cake” (“Cake of Mishearing”) from Azumanga Daioh:
Continuing a bad trend of negatives in these “top” openings. Sorry, but undertanding faults is as important as understanding boons. “Soramimi Cake” is slow, weird, and leans much too heavily on the surreal parts of Azumanga. But other people seem to like it, so I’ll give it some credit. One thing I do have to say is, if you do enjoy this weird and random OP, you’re probably in for a treat with the show.
47) “Bamboo Beat” from Bamboo Blade:
It’s about Kendo, I guess? That’s pretty much all you get out of this opening, and while it’s kinda pretty in its being about Kendo, that’s not enough. The animation is lackluster (though that is actually representative of the show), and it doesn’t convey any of Bamboo Blade’s great sense of humour. While re-watching this intro, I found myself asking, “Who’s that character again?” not because I don’t remember the show well enough, but because this OP doesn’t showcase any of their personalities. It leaves out memorable and important thematic icons in the show, like Red Braver. I think the only reason this made the list at all was my reaction upon hearing those first few notes again, and seeing the sunflowers pop on screen. I like Bamboo Blade a lot, and sometimes it’s hard to separate that from an OP.
46) “Scramble” from episodes 1-26 of School Rumble:
This OP tells you everything you need to know about the show; that it’s a hyperactive high school romcom with a love triangle and eccentric cast. Match that with some pretty animation and a fun audio track, and you’ve got an opening that I don’t skip every time. Unfortunately, that’s all it really has going for it. This marks the first of many OPs on this list that succeed in doing their job, and nothing else.
45) “Hishoku no Sora” (“The Scarlet Sky”) from episodes 1-16 of Shakugan no Shana:
Typically when I call an anime “beautiful” it’s in regards to the animation. Shana is one of a fairly rare breed of anime that earns its beauty through its story and characters, and this OP kinda showcases it. It’s not perfect, but it gets most of the main points across. Some character showcase that conveys a bit of the personalities, magical items, a cool sword, and transformations and demon fighting. Also romance, and beautiful (there’s that word again) music. It’s all here in this neat-ish little package.
44) “Cherry Moon de Odorasete” (“Hot Dance in Cherry Moon”) from Dominion Tank Police:
I have a little game I like to play, where I randomly pick out genres of music then see what anime openings I can name to fit it. Jazz? Easy, “Tank” or “Guns & Roses”. Opera? “Lilium”. How ‘bout Disco? Well for that, there is only one, “Hot Dance in Cherry Moon”, or as I like to call it, “Tank Police!” It’s just such an odd thing to stumble upon while studying your otaku basics and working through Masamune Shirow’s works. But the most amazing thing is how well this cheesy track works! Of course, it’s helped a lot by the fact that the show’s pretty simple and easy to convey, and some stunning moments of animation that my eyes still enjoy feasting on every time I go back to watch it.
43) “Cry for the Truth” from episodes 1-4 of Rokka –Braves of the Six Flowers:
When I first saw this OP just a few months ago, I didn’t get half-way through it before I started digging through Full Metal Alchemist openings to prove that every single shot is taken from them. I never did finish my comparison, but I think most people familiar with FMA and FMAB will see what I’m talking about. Still, this opening showcases the Braves and their different powers, which is all it really has to do for a show like this. It also looks pretty, and the music’s not bad. The lesson is, if you’re gonna copy, copy from something good.
42) “Deep in My Heart” from Cybersix:
Here’s something you’ve probably never heard of, but is a personal favourite of mine, Cybersix. It ran for just a couple months in 1999, and was supposed to get a second season but plans were scrapped due to low ratings outside of Canada. It’s a kid-friendly, though still very dark, adaptation of an Argentinian comic series of all things, about a genetically engineered super soldier trying to take down her Nazi creator. The anime cuts certain things out, such as the fact that Cybersix got her black cape and outfit from a prostitute, and the whole Nazi background, but that doesn’t mean it’s watered down.
As for the opening, well, it follows suit. Really why it makes this list is the art style. Cybersix has a great unique look, and so does this OP. Death Note could tell it to cut back a little on the black, but it pulls it of without sacrificing any of subtly of of gentler shadows. It may not be groundbreaking, but we’re still in the 40s.
41) “Shinryaku no Susume” (“Let’s Invade!”) from episodes 1-12 of Squid Girl:
On the one hand, this looks totally generic. On the other, it has that same, just-faster-than-you-feel-it-should-be, pacing that I’ve praised the show for. That’s about all there is to it.
40) “Love” from Excel Saga:
And next up is a weird and random opening that I love. Excel Saga is a mess of slapstick fun both in product and production. The lyrics of this refined work of art were written by the show’s director, Shinichi Watanabe, “on the train, five minutes before the deadline,” by his own admission. Clearly it shows, as genius lines like, “Even if I slip on a banana peel, that’s all for that one man,” can only come straight from the heart, with none of that dirty thinking business polluting the raw emotion!
This is goofy, and weird, and only gets goofier and weirder for the Special. And I love it.
39) “Through the Night” from Outlaw Star:
Why this makes the list can be summed up in four words: It’s really really good. Yes, both “really”s are necessary, and probably a third! It looks good. It sounds good. It portrays the characters well (especially my beloved Aisha). And it’s very Outlaw Star. Unfortunately, there’s nothing else to really say about it. This OP doesn’t do anything special, it’s just, well, really really good. Works better then a lot of others as a stand alone, but doesn’t do much more for its show.
38) “Mag Mell” from Clannad:
I said what I needed to say about Clannad in my review. I don’t like it. But one thing I can’t hate on is Kyoto Ani’s great animation, and this OP has it. It also has a character roll-call, showing each of the five main girls along with their name. This is a nice feature in some instances, which is why I wanted to give it some attention, but Clannad really isn’t the best use of it. The show doesn’t have a massive cast, and you’re not going to have trouble picking up their names anyway.
After Story reusing the same idea actually annoyed me a little. Not because I wanted to see something different, but because it did the roll-call with the same five characters. In After Story, only one of those girls is still important. Why not do it with the characters we didn’t see much in the first series but get entire arcs in After Story? Like Akio, Sanae, Yukine, Misae, or Yusuke? Or better yet, why do it at all? We’ve already seen the first series; if the viewer hasn’t figured out who’s who by the end of that, that’s their own problem.
We’ll see a much better example of this later, but I figured Clannad‘s deserved some mention, even as a “how not to”.
37) “Zankoku na Tenshi no Tēze” (“A Cruel Angel’s Thesis”) from Neon Genesis Evangelion:
Windows barred: ✓ Doors barricaded: ✓ Alright, we’re ready to have calm, civil conversation about Eva‘s opening.
I love Eva as much as anyone else. I’ve said before that it’s my favourite anime, and that’s probably still true. But let’s get one thing straight, one major part of what made Eva what it is was the time it came out. Go Nagai started a major in who was watching anime, and someone else needed to adress the more serious side of that new audience. Anime was waiting for change in 1995, and Neon Genesis Evangelion brought that. Despite what a big deal critics make of this show, its significance is still often underplayed, because it’s hard to state it without sounding like your exaggerating.
That doesn’t mean Eva wasn’t great in its own right. But it does mean, far too often, the show’s legacy is mistaken for quality, and many of its pretentions don’t get called what they are, including the Angel and Tree of Life that start off this opening. I’m not going to pretend that Eva has no Christian or Religious meaning, even if its creators do, but these two images are purely, “Eh, it looks kinda cool.”
The bulk of the OP features different characters, both in colour and silhouetted, overlaid against a sky background in different poses. It looks all pretty, but none of these shots give you any inclination of what the characters themselves are actually like. These depict emotion (mainly loneliness), not full fledged characters. While loneliness is a major theme of Evangelion, the show is largely character based. Show us some character.
As a whole, “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” looks and sounds really REALLY pretty (like, REALLY damn pretty!), but looks fade, especially when you’re in the spotlight for nearly twenty-one years. More substance, less style.
36) “High Touch!” (Japanese opening 12) from episodes 96-133 of Pokémon: Diamond and Pearl:
Pokémon has had a LOT of OPs over the years. Some good, some bad, and some purely nostalgic and not as good as you remember so don’t expect to see it on this list. But I chose this one because it, along with an English counterpart, were the first that seemed to understand the fanbase. For an entire Pokémon generation, the anime just wasn’t that good due to uninteresting new characters that didn’t have much chemistry with the established cast. Then Diamond and Pearl rolled around and, with it, Dawn. The way she and Ash played off each other, like best friends learning from one another, addressed all the problems of the previous five seasons, and this opening finally gave her the credit she deserved as a major character who saved this branch of the franchise.
The reason I ultimately picked this version over the English counterpart is one shot of her and Ash that conveys some idea of their relationship. It was a tough choice, and both deserve credit for actually understanding the fans. too few things in this franchise do.
35) “Genshi, Joshi wa, Taiyo Datta” from episodes 1-12 of Genshiken:
Genshiken is a brave show because it depicts both the best and the worst of Otaku culture. It shows that Otaku are just normal people, and good anime can stand up to critical but enthusiastic reception and actually has something to offer a thinking fan base. It also shows an Otaku who repeatedly and intentionally fails to graduate college because he doesn’t want to leave his anime club, the disturbing prevalence of child pornography among doujinshi, and the fact that many Otaku do have weak social skills.
Genshiken is a slice of life show, where members of an anime club go around shopping for manga, cosplaying, and playing fighting games. I like this OP because it communicates that very well, as well as what subculture within Otaku each character is most into. We have a cosplayer, a gamer, a model kit builder, etc.. But the OP never addresses the negative parts of Otaku culture, which is a shame because what makes Genshiken stand out above so many other Otaku themed slice of life shows is down to earth realism.
34) “Southern Wind” from Full Metal Panic!: The Second Raid:
As an anime progresses through seasons and series, any new OPs should evolve with it. Full Metal Panic is a tough one because each one of its three series is very different from the others. The first, done by studio Gonzo and based on the original light novels, balanced the comedy of a highly displaced, paranoid soldier attending high school, with a dark military and political plot. When Kyoto Animation took on the second series as their very first TV anime, they left the source material behind and went full high school, slice of life comedy (yeah, Full Metal Panic is the precursor to Haruhi and Lucky Star). For the third series, The Second Raid, Kyoto Ani went back to the light novel material and proved that they can make a damn good mech show, complete with political intrigue, deservedly dark themes, and one of the funniest scenes in anime.
So how does this OP keep up with the tonal whiplash? By playing it straight, showing the viewer, in a natural way, the way the characters are now, rather than where they started off, and what the themes are now. Simple and quick character introductions done though just facial expressions for the handful of characters that you need to know, clear imagery to convey the military focus, mechs, and some mysterious characters to start building the political intrigue before the show even starts.
It gets the seriousness of the show through darker close-ups, the grittiness through narrow industrial corridors, the lightheartedness through blue skies; it conveys everything about TSR’s tone without ever feeling obvious or insecure in its direction.
33) “Get Along” from Slayers:
Another one where I don’t have much to say. Meets the basic criteria. Gotta love that 90s animation. And it’s got a freakin’ Kamehameha!
32) “Makafushigi Adventure!” (“Mystical Adventure!”) from Dragon Ball:
A distinct lack of Kamehamehas. But it’s Dragon Ball. What more needs to be said?
31) All of them from Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood:
All 10 of these openings are great and deserve a spot on this list, but that would be a little much. They’re all good for pretty much the same reasons, and we’ve already gone over those reasons enough; good animation, good look at the characters, clear conveyance of the story, excreta. There is of course detailed analysis that could be done for each of these, but that’s for another time.
“Aggressive Zone” from episodes 1-12 of Needless:
This shouldn’t be on this list. Not only is it not an OP, but it’s also horrible. That it exists confuses me, and that I’ve watched it disturbs me. But I can’t just ignore it because it’s done something that, until this, even anime had failed to do; it made me ask, “What the fuck am I watching?” and “Should I call the police?” simultaneously.
“Sentimental Generation” from School Rumble – Second Term:
Much more visually interesting then the OP that made this list, but I haven’t watched the season.
Again, better themes from a franchise already on this list, but I haven’t watched these seasons yet. Watching through the Shana openings made me excited to keep going with the series. There’s a clear improvement in the animation quality without altering the artistic design, and recurring characters obviously grow. Just watching them in order, you can see the broad strokes of several character arcs. Much like with Full Metal Panic, this is a series of openings that grow with their show.
Don’t Lose Your Way