30) “Counter Identity” from Soul Eater Repeat Show:
Now we’re into the more unique and experimental stuff. Backstory here; back in 2008 Bones made an anime adaptation of a long running manga called Soul Eater. It made such much many moneys that Bones was like, “hey, let’s literally just do that again,” and they ran the series on TV in Japan a second time, but, to generate hype and interest for the second run, they came out with a new opening to play before each episode.
I love the possibilities of this. Ignoring the fact that Repeat Show’s opening is just as good and fun and vibrant and pretty as the original, it opens up a whole new way to present a series. By the time Repeat Show ran, anime fans knew Soul Eater. It was a popular show. So it’s safe to say a good portion of the Repeat Show audience already knew the series. So the role of the OP is completely different on the second run, and having a completely different OP offers different ways to connect and communicate the series to viewers. Maybe drop subtle hints about the lore that first-time viewers might not get. Or build hype with shots that would have been spoilers if shown in the original OP.
Something like this would probably be better for a DVD release to fans who already watched the show, rather than TV broadcast where new viewers may be picking it up, but it’s still a cool idea.
What disappoints me about “Counter Identity” is that it doesn’t do any of this. It’s just a pretty looking sequence that doesn’t make use of the unique opportunity it had. It beats the drum to Soul Eater‘s success, rather than builds on it.
29) “Resonance” from episodes 1-30 of Soul Eater:
Here’s the thing, “Resonance” is just another really pretty opening, which is good, but not good enough to go much further on this list. Given the opportunity “Counter Identity” missed, it’s also just a really pretty opening. So in putting it lower than“Resonance”, am I punishing it for being in a unique position? That’s not rhetorical; I genuinely don’t know the proper placement between these two.
In terms of raw, context-free quality, I think they’re both about equally good. So should “Counter Identity” deserve a higher place for introducing us to a new concept for openings, or a lower place for not doing anything with that concept?
Anime, particularly Studio Shaft, sometimes tries some really weird visuals. I like that.
27) “BRYNHILDR IN THE DARKNESS -EJECTED-” from episodes 1-9 of Brynhildr in the Darkness:
Going by what I’ve said so far, it seems that if an OP doesn’t match the anime it’s made for, that’s a problem with the OP. I think that’s generally the case, because the OP is made to compliment the anime, not the other way around. But here’s a case where it’s the anime’s fault for not being more like the OP.
The difference is that normally the mismatch is because the artists who composed the OP simply failed to capture whatever it is from the show that the opening should express. Like the aforementioned “Puzzle” from Welcome to the NHK, which didn’t really convey the Hikikomori experience, or “Genshi, Joshi wa, Taiyo Datta” from Genshiken, which ignored the show’s critical themes.
In the case of Brynhildr, I think it was actually the show that failed to be what it was supposed to be, while the opening captured what the show should have been very well. Now I’m talking about what the show was “supposed” to be, rather than what it is, and I really have no basis for that. But I do think there was some great potential in Brynhildr that this opening conveyed, and the show itself didn’t.
26) “Red Fraction” from Black Lagoon:
It’s cool. It’s Engrish. It’s Black Lagoon.
25) Unnamed English Opening from Shaman King:
I’m no dub purest, but I do recognize that in anime, the Japanese side is where the artists are, and the Western companies just make it accessible to us Anglophones. Except sometimes the West actually does a thing or two better.
The Japanese opening of Shaman King just wasn’t that good. It wasn’t very focused, didn’t provide a sufficient showcase of the characters, and made You look too serious; this dude’s supposed to be the most chilled shounen action hero there is.
In comes the English opening, which fixes all of this. It hurts to admit it, but 4Kids did something good.
24) “Afro Theme” from Afro Samurai:
If ya haven’t noticed yet, I like to reward the experimental, the unique, and the different, and Afro Samurai is all of those things. A thirty second intro depicting one continuous, heavily stylized shot, combining the clashing imagery of intensity from heavy amounts of blood and placidity from a cigarette, all with full English lyrics written and performed by RZA of the Wu Tang Clan. This, in an anime.
I love horror anime, and I love clever OPs. Both of these make this spot for doing the same thing, but of the two links provided I recommend at least looking at “Kuchizuke”, because the video shows a bit more of the lead in.
In Shiki, the opening theme comes in a few minutes into the episode. Rather than fade out or just cut to it, like most anime do, Shiki uses the transition to the opening to linger on a specific shot just a little bit longer, letting it sink in for the episode.
In “Kuchizuke”, some kanji appear on the left side of the frame, then a figurine of a girl twirling in the snow appears on the right. Then the frame in the background starts cutting away, but the kanji and the girl remain until the main sequence comes in.
In “Calendula Requiem”, the frame gets desaturated and water starts pouring down sections of it. Then a woman reaches out the catch the water, and the frame in the background fades to gray.
Both are visually grasping alternatives to the norm, and they make the opening feel like something that’s built up to, something that extenuates that last frame. It makes it feel different in each episodes, and gives the artists something to emphasize, rather than being just the same minute and a half of repeated animation each episode. It’s something I wish other shows would take a lesson from.
The downside is, while that first few seconds is great, the rest is merely okay. I love the stylized look, but a lot of the sequences seem redundant, expressing the same idea or feeling. A shame there isn’t more variety in a show absolutely packed with different themes, twists, and visual quirks.
22) “Fliers” from Death Parade:
I drooled over this in my review, and chastised it, for being tonally disconnected from the show.Well, time often has us admit our mistakes. While I still thing the music, good as it is, clashes with Death Parade‘s themes, the visuals are both stunning and thematically and symbolically resonant. Nona DDRing on a funeral shrine is top among these.
The great character designs are put to better use here than in the actual show. That few seconds of Nona singing on stage in that red dress is a highlight of this anime masterpiece.
Now give us season two so I can stop complaining about the unfinished story!
It is easy to fail to realize just how dramatic a shift Higurashi goes through between series. While the show tries to make the change as seamless as possible, the mood, the story, and even the main character are all radically different. These really should take up two spots because, while they are both distinctly Higurashi, they are also both very different, using different kinds of visuals and music to convey the very different emotions their respective series are meant to elicit.
“Higurashi no Naku Koro ni” is devilishly creepy in all the best ways. The music is unsettling. There’s a drugged-out look to a lot of the visuals. The characters are presented primarily as strange, distant enigmas.
But then “Naraku no Hana” has a much more calming soundtrack that builds to a cry for help. The visuals are much more straight-forward. And the characters are depicted as sad, desperate, and fighting for hope; much more relatable and much more human than before.
Yet somehow, these don’t feel at all disconnected. Obviously a lot of story has to take a hard turn, but when you watch it, it feels like a progression. These characters all started off as mysteries, but now we understand that they are just sad and haunted. Just look at the shots of Rena in both OPs; she’s completely different, but totally the same character. It’s great.
Though that doesn’t excuse the fact that the ending sucks.
19) “Alsatia” from Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne:
The reasoning here is short, but not trivial. It’s simply the bondage imagery that I find fascinating. These visuals are something that anime can do better than other mediums, both in surrealism and brutality. And it’s something I wish we could see more of.
18) “ambiguous” from episodes 16-23 of Kill la Kill:
Rule of cool can still earn you a good spot on this list! It was a tough choice between the first and second OPs here, and the first nearly won out because, let’s face it, animation quality (why did you have to disappoint us like this, Trigger?). But ultimately I went with the second for two reasons.
The first, everyone’s favourite fascist, Satsuki! While we do see a bit of her in “Sirius”, she’s always presented as far away and above it all; as she should have been at that point. And as great (and completely nonsensical) as her “Subjugation is liberation” speech is, I like her when she’s down at Ryuko’s level… or Ryuko is up at her level… Kinda a bit of both, really. Her and Ryuko. They embody so many opposites; tyranny versus anarchy, cemented refinement versus developing crudeness, absolute codes versus interpretation. Having them presented as equals brings all of that out.
The second reason is just that the viewer got to be familiar enough with the show by that point to pick up on all those themes at play. The opening could convey more because the audience understood more by that point.
17) “Super Driver” from episodes 15-28 of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya:
I never understand it when anime fans complain about a show changing its OP, even when the new one is worse. The original still exists, the change just means more new content. Sure, the sequel’s almost always worse than the original, but there are those few times when it’s a change from something good, to something great.
It’s fun. It’s vibrant. It subtly yet harshly contrasts this with slow, dull realism that is actually the lifeblood of Haruhi, like mini Closed Spaces appearing around the characters. And it’s super Haruhi!
16) “Cha-La Head-Cha-La” from episodes 1-199 of Dragon Ball Z:
Higher than Dragon Ball?! Yup! Dragon Ball’s opening captured a one-dimensional sense of adventure. This captures the changing themes of DBZ. And it’s mostly focused on Gohan, who is important in this transition.
The change from one series to the next in this franchise was sudden and extreme, except Gohan. As a kid, he had a bit of that Dragon Ball spirit in him. His evolution, right up to defeating Cell, is really where the dimensions of DBZ come from, and what makes the transition work. Major points to an OP that managed to capture that for a run of just shy of 200 episodes.
15) “Inner Universe” from episodes 1-26 of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex:
These days CG can actually look really good because of how technically impressive it has become. However, being a bit older, this OP looked awesome without the help of silly things like “objectively better graphical quality”. Just a pretty song, well used effects, and damn good direction.Unfortunately, it does still have a lot of motion blur on the 3D rendered objects, which really makes no sense. Also, the Major’s teeth still totally creep me out.
14) “Digimon are the Champions” from Digimon Adventure, Digimon Adventure 02, and Digimon Tamers:
It just worked. Worked for all three series. And I don’t just mean it was good enough for all three series. With just little changes and good visual direction, it actually worked for three different seasons.
And the franchise stopped being as good as it was as soon as they stopped using it. Coincidence? Probably.
Love the red and white of the first, and the blue and gray of the second. They both wear their colours well, with “Kuusou Mesorogiwi” using the red for a blood bathed Yuno, and “Dead END” using the contemplative colour of blue to compliment the mystery creeping into the second half of the story.
While visual design is equally great, they both have their strengths and weakness in other areas. “Kuusou Mesorogiwi” simply sounds better on its own, in my opinion. The creepy vocals created by the sound of the voices themselves works as a nice horror theme. But “Dead END” gives a better character showcase of the diary holders, and while Yuno is the main appeal of Future Dairy, I don’t think it would be as great as it is if it wasn’t for each of the other diary holders having their own great personality. Also, “Dead END” is entirely in Engrish, which is just the best!
11) “silky love” from episodes 17-24 of Toradora:
While Pre-parade is the one people remember for its visuals and nice song, this is the one that best captures Toradora. By this point the audience was familiar enough with the characters, so the OP shows them each in their own social groups, rather than together, accenting their differences and emphasizing the different kinds of loneliness and angst each of them goes through. Pre-parade is nice, but Toradora is one of few anime that’s truly special to me, and this opening is what always brings me back to that.
“Toki no Mukou, Maboroshi no Sora” (“Beyond Time, Sky of Illusion”) from Okami Kakushi:
I figured we talked about Higurashi in this part, so why not? Actually this has more in common with Brynhildr in the Darkness in that this OP presented what I hoped the show would be. It doesn’t focus on the local disease, or the dam, or any of what made the show ultimately suck; it’s about Nemuru and the wolves, the interesting part of the mystery. Of course, like the show itself, it actually spoils part of that mystery.
“Cause Disarray” from Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne (Ending Theme):
It’s here for basically being a better version of Rin’s OP. It depicts Rin’s approach to sexuality; being pervasive and lustful, but not too heavy-handed. Most reviews don’t even talk about this stuff in detail, instead just warning of nudity or “mature themes”, and while I get that it’s kinda weird and off-putting to a lot of people, the taboo sexuality is a major part of the show.
“Renegade” from Gangsta:
I feel like the theme of 30-11 is style. So with that, why not show off something with a lot of style. I can pick out bits of this that look a little like almost every OP in this section, and it all comes together cohesively into something that makes me hope I watch the series someday.
Don’t Lose Your Way