If there is one thing that I have noticed in all the years I’ve been watching anime, it’s that the music for the opening and closing credits tends to be fairly forgettable. True, that’s an observation that could probably be also made about most other forms of visual media; but given my particular affinity for anime as an art form, I have always been slightly disappointed that when it comes to opening and closing credits, my impulse is usually to skip straight over them because there was nothing about either the music or the accompanying visuals that motivated me to stay and watch.
There are, of course, exceptions. And it is in honour of those exceptions that I’ve put together this short list of opening credits whose music has not only stayed with me, but introduced me to what have become some of my favourite bands and/or musicians. For that alone they would deserve a place on this list; but they are also here because they convey something of the story to which they are attached, they’re more than just something to grab your attention while the titles and credits are rolling on the screen.
So here’s my list. It may not be the same as your list. It’s not even intended to be an exhaustive list. It probably doesn’t even cover all the opening credits music that I’ve experienced through anime and enjoyed in some way. It’s not even in any order of quality. It’s just a list.
1. “Out of Control” by Nothing’s Carved in Stone. Series: Psycho-Pass, Season One (second half)
Okay, full disclosure: I have been a huge fan of Nothing’s Carved in Stone for years, and loved “Out of Control” regardless of its association with what also happens to be one of my all-time fave anime series. That said, however, the use of this song in the opening credits of the second half of season one was simply inspired, precisely because there was so much about the song that resonated with the series itself. The driving guitars and industrial synths depict the dystopian landscape within which “Psycho-Pass” plays out, while the lyrics in the chorus ironically attest to the all-seeing, all-knowing nature of the Sybil System, the totalitarian AI at the heart of the series’ narrative. A cyberpunk love song par excellence, “Out of Control” perfectly fits this cyberpunk noir/philosophical thriller.
2. “Shiokaze” by Taiiku Okazaki. Series: The Great Passage
Based on the acclaimed novel by Shion Miura, “The Great Passage” is a sweetly-natured slice-of-life comedy that centres on a socially awkward man and his attempts to find meaning in life, navigate the tricky waters of love, and bring to fruition a long-held ambition. It therefore seems strange that what at first glance appears to be a frenetic house/dance song with pulsating electronic rhythms was chosen to be the opening credits music for this series. And yet close listening bears out why this song so perfectly fits the bill. The upbeat tempo matches the fundamental optimism of the story. The deceptively simply harmonies hide a complexity of composition that stand as a metaphor for the main character. The lyrics (once you get them in translation) likewise reflect the concept of the ocean as emblematic of the passage of life itself, and the hidden depths and surprising truths it may contain. Like the series itself, you will find your heart strangely – and surprisingly – caught on the affecting tides of “Shiokaze”.
3. “Fiction” by Sumika. Series: Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku
This song makes it onto this list for much the same reason as “Shiozake”: because what at first appears to be an unlikely piece of music with which the front an anime series actually turns out to be a stroke of genius. For starters, the energetic tune with its pop, folk, and jazz (think Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli) references perfectly captures the light-hearted mood of this slice-of-life comedy. But the lyrics – again, once you get them in translation – speak to the uncertainties, fears, and ambiguities the characters experience through the series, the complexities and difficulties of love and of relationships. It also reminds us that “comedy” as a genre is not necessarily about laughs: rather, it concerns itself with the sad-funny realities and ironies of life. All these ingredients are definitely present in this series, and “Fiction” is the perfect encapsulation of that fact.
4. “Chiisana Hibi” by Flumpool. Series: Kakushigoto
So – what opening theme song do you choose for a comedy about a manga artist who specialises in creating “ecchi” (“sexy”) manga series, but who doesn’t want that fact to become known to his precocious 9-year-old daughter? You choose the song “Chiisana Hibi” (literally, “small days”) by J-rock band Flumpool. The music alone is enough to get your heart singing: not only is it toe-tappingly upbeat, it contains a depth of composition that will also touch your heart-strings. But the lyrics (again: translation!) also reveal the dramatic depths of the series, the hints at past tragedies and future painful discoveries that mark the transitional points in the lives of the characters. And this is what “Chiisana Hibi” shares with both “Shiokaze” and “Fiction”: powerful, intelligent, poetic lyrics that put to shame the saccharine expositions of love, life, and reality that one all-too-often encounters in pop culture.
Click here for a link to the official (non anime) MV.
5. “Battlecry” by Nujabes (feat. Shing 02). Series: Samurai Champloo
Part of what made this series so good was director Shinichiro Watanabe’s use of hip-hop and rap to re-cast both historical context and the familiar tropes of on-the-road buddy movies into something that approached pure genius. And commissioning Nujabes to create the opening credits theme was a masterful move that cemented this series’ iconic status. The driving rhythms and urgent vocals articulate all the chaotic violence and strutting bravado associated with Mugen; in the underlying sustained keyboard harmonies resides the contrasting calm and enigmatic lethality of Jin; right at the end, asynchronous piano stabs illustrate Fuu, the courageous adolescent who binds these three unlikely travelling companions together, and whose relative powerlessness cuts across and subverts their violent machismo. Watanabe is a keen observer of human nature; and in Nujabes, he found a musical collaborator who could summarise and present those observations in a memorable, concise form.