I think after 15+ years of watching dozens of different anime movies and television series I can now say with some confidence that I’m an anime fan. Sure, it hasn’t all been great and in some instances it’s been downright terrible, but on the whole I think I’ve got a lot more positive things to say about anime than I do negatives. One thing I think we can all agree on, experts and “casuals” alike, is that anime has some pretty friggin’ awesome music.
Anime TV series in particular feature a constant rotation of new songs in the form of openings and endings: one-and-a-half to two minute “bookends” near the start and end of each episode featuring music combined with unique and eye-catching animation. A lot of times these little animated music videos are the only part of the anime I’ve actually seen, and sometimes these little bookends are so enjoyable that they actually rise above the series itself. I’ve had these sorts of songs stuck in my head more times than I can count, and today I thought I’d shine a light on a few in particular that I love, specifically from anime openings.
Now to clarify, this isn’t meant to be like a “Top Ten Anime Songs” type of post; I’m not looking to cover songs that are a perfect blend of music and art that “transcend the medium” or whatever. To be frank, I ain’t nearly smart enough to cover that. This post is just a random assortment of music I’ve stumbled upon over the years that for whatever reason I still enjoy. So, yeah…enjoy, or whatever.
CLOSER by Joe Inoue — Naruto Shippuden Opening 4
Despite the hours I’ve sunk into the books, TV show, and movies, I personally find Naruto to be just kind of okay. Still, over the years I kept up with the series and watched for new openings, which lead me to CLOSER. I’m not sure how to categorize this one: the music is loud and triumphant, but at the same time if you know your Naruto you know the series is covering a real somber moment in these episodes. It’s kind of a bummer, but it also gets my blood pumping every time I hear it.
FLYERS by Bradio — Death Parade
This opening — really, this whole series — came right the heck outta nowhere for me. First off the tone of this opening, all happy fun times and dancing, does not match the tone of the series at all. Maybe it’s the fact that the opening is so much brighter and cheerier than the actual show that makes it so entertaining. Well, that, and the fact that the opening is practically a work of art all by itself with perfectly synced music and beautiful animation. Even when the show is at it’s most downbeat this opening instantly perks me up.
ALL THE WAY by Mikuni Shimokawa — Kino’s Journey (2003)
I found this one when I was looking for something a little more quiet and reflective after a string of loud and bombastic shows. Kino’s Journey did not disappoint. It’s got this very muted color palette and overall introspective tone that let me just settle in and enjoy the ride, like I was watching a series of old fairy tales. While the first couple songs I talked about didn’t quite line up with the overall spirit of the show, this song captures the spirit of the series perfectly.
BATTLECRY by Nujabes & Shing02 — Samurai Champloo
Anime fans: back when you started watching for the first time and were looking for new stuff to find, remember how everyone and their mother told you that you MUST watch Cowboy Bebop? Yeah, that wasn’t any fun for me, but what was fun was discovering this equally good series by the same creative team. The opener for all the episodes is serene and yet action-packed at the same time, with bold colors and striking visuals mixed with a slow but powerful heartbeat of a song underneath it. Samurai’s and hip hop, what more could you want?
ROLLING STAR by Yui — Bleach Opening 5
Bleach is kind of like “style over substance”, but in a way I actually like? I dunno, but I do know that I love the energy of it. ROLLING STAR came just as the story was beginning to ramp up after a long period of stagnation and boy did it get my hyped again. There’s just this feeling of momentum driving the song and the animation, like it’s lighting a fire under the story and the audience to get everyone back into it. All these years and I still get goosebumps.
GUN’S AND ROSES by Paradise Lunch — Baccano
Ah, Baccano. If this series wasn’t so partial to stomach-turning gore I would wholeheartedly recommend it to every man, woman, and child I ever met, but alas. Still one of my all time favorite anime with one of my all-time favorite openings. No lyrics here, just some fantastic instruments playing a zippy little jazz number as we meet our psychotically large cast of characters. If you feel lost by it all, don’t worry, that’s the idea.
TSUKIAKARI NO MICHISHIRUBE by Stereopony — Darker Than Black: Ryusei No Gemini
I have…not entirely positive thoughts on Darker Than Black. This opening comes from the second anime in the series, which I had hoped would address some of my misunderstandings from the first. Years later and I’m still pretty confused. Still, the song they chose for the opening is a nice little tune; it’s a bit of a divergence from the tone of the original, but then that was pretty much the sequel in a nutshell. Regardless of the quality of the episodes, this opening was usually good enough to carry me through the worst of it. Usually.
HACKING TO THE GATE by Kanako Itō — Steins;Gate
This song, much like the first half of Steins;Gate, was a slow burn for me. At first I thought it was pretty good but nothing too great, although the visuals are certainly striking and Itō’s voice is hauntingly beautiful. Then, about halfway through the series, everything sort of clicked. The opening began to take on a whole new meaning, turning into a frantic race to the finish. At this point it’s not just a catchy tune, it is a declaration to face the world and change the future. So glad I stuck with this one.
KOKORO NO CHIZU by Boystyle — One Piece Opening 5
I probably could have filled this whole list with openings from One Piece; picking just one is like choosing which of my kids I love most. Still, if I absolutely had to limit it down to one, this would be it. This opener perfectly encapsulates that feeling of voyaging the seas and crazy adventures, and it doesn’t get more literal than the Straw Hat Pirates and their ship literally crashing down into the ocean. It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s One Piece!
TABI NO TACHUU by Natsumi Kiyoura — Spice and Wolf Opening 1
A merchant and a six hundred year old wolf deity travel the country and learn about economics? Yep, it’s definitely an anime. This was another one I was reluctant to check out and was pleasantly surprised to find I liked it. The opening sets the stage for a wonderful fantasy tale with mystery, charm, and intrigue, and that’s exactly what you’ll get here. I haven’t said it with my other choices, but you should definitely listen to the full version of the song when you get a chance. Love, love, love this music.
Apologies if none of these songs appealed to you; obviously taste varies from person to person and we can’t all expect to like the same things. I hope you found one or two you enjoyed or, if you’re already familiar with them, perhaps you enjoyed listening to them again.
Feel free to share some of your own favorite openings with me below, I’m always happy to discover something new to listen to. If you don’t like any of the songs above, you are also welcome to try and set me straight, though I will warn you ahead of time that I am extraordinarily stubborn when it comes to music. Just one small request: no death metal, please. I’ve tried it and it…it just doesn’t work for me. Sorry.
Happy listening, Squares!