Sure, this is a subject that’s probably been done to death. However, every person who writes about the closing (or opening) themes of an anime series or feature that had an impact on them shares both an overlap with, and divergence from, everyone else who has ever done so. Which is what makes this subject, hackneyed though it may be, nonetheless fascinating: because it’s interesting to see where my views come together with, and depart from, everyone else.
But before we go any further, just a couple of brief ground rules.
Firstly, every entry in this list is the ending theme of an anime I’ve actually watched. Which, yes, narrows things down a bit given there are plenty of themes, both opening and closing, which I have listened to and thought were great, but whose associated anime I haven’t actually seen. But I figured that, like every other element of an anime’s production, theme music has to be considered in its context. And part of what made these ending themes striking for me was the context in which they occurred.
Secondly, this isn’t a “best of” or “greatest” listing. As the title for this post says, I found each of these themes striking for one reason or another. Their position on this list doesn’t measure either the degree to which I was struck by these themes, or their striking qualities relative to any other theme on this list. They are just themes which have resonated with me, and which I continue to associate with their respective anime. That is all.
And so, without any further ado, let’s get into it.
- Yoko Kanno – The Real Folk Blues (Cowboy Bebop)
The iconic series Cowboy Bebop is as well known for its extraordinary film score – composed by the prolific and astonishingly versatile Yoko Kanno – as it is for its larger-than-life characters and bittersweet narrative. Legendary director Shinichiro Watanabe is noted for the central place which he ascribes to music in the story-telling process, and his collaborations with Kanno have produced some of anime’s most compelling musical landscapes. Performed by Kanno’s band The Seatbelts, and sung by vocalist Mai Yamane, “The Real Folk Blues” formed a perfect counterpart to the series’ frenetic opening, “Tank!”, capturing all the soulful pathos of Spike and Julia’s doomed love story. With its winsome vocals and dark, driving music, “The Real Folk Blues” never fails to evoke the atmospherics, and aesthetics, of this storied anime classic.
A haunting acoustic version performed by Yamane can be found here; while an energetic full-band version (featuring both Kanno and the voice of Spike Spiegel, Steve Blum) with added freestyle rapping can be found here.
2. Kana Shibue – Kawa Taredoki/Daybreak (Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, Season 1)
Created by noted television and anime composer Kana Shibue, “Kawa Taredoki” (trans. Daybreak) captures both the nostalgic mood of this historical anime series, as well as the pathos engendered by the competing tides of hope and loss that run through its narrative. Articulated through the classical jazz/blues combo of muted trumpet, soft strings, and gently rhythmic brushed drums and double bass, “Kawa Taredoki” evokes both the memories of times gone, but also the lingering hope that prevails despite the passage of time and the losses which life inflicts upon us. It is thus a profound musical expression of the ancient Japanese concept of mono no aware, the fleeting brevity of existence that nonetheless makes it beautiful and precious. This is in perfect keeping with the series’ thematic exploration of inheritance and legacy, and speaks deeply to the connectedness of every generation to and within time’s flowing stream.
3. Radiohead – Paranoid Android (Ergo Proxy)
If you haven’t got an in-house composer to create a theme for you, why not use the work of someone else if it fits what you have produced? Plenty of other anime and live-action productions have successfully applied this rule, and Ergo Proxy was no different – both its opening theme (the anthemic “Kiri” by Monoral) and its closing theme are third-part utilisations par excellence. With lyrics written by singer Thom Yorke (inspired by a confronting experience in an LA bar when he was surrounded by dangerously drug-addled patrons) and music by various band members, “Paranoid Android” captures the claustrophobic atmosphere of Ergo Proxy and the bleak dystopian world through which its narrative moves. Likewise, its sparse, guitar-driven beat and plaintive vocals express the unfulfilled desires of the series’ characters – both human and android – giving voice to the questions Ergo Proxy poses about what it means to be human (or sentient) and the implications of both. A perfect mood piece to compliment and summarise this complex, edgy anime.
4. Nujabes – Shiki no uta/Song of the Four Seasons (Samurai Shamploo)
Yoko Kanno wasn’t the only composer with whom Shinichiro Watanabe collaborated in order to produce an extraordinary anime soundtrack. Storied Japanese composer, DJ, and sound engineer Nujabes (Jun Seba) worked with Watanabe to create the rich rap and hip-hop based soundtrack for Samurai Champloo, thus giving life to an Edo Period Japan that never was but which would have made the world a far more interesting place if it had been. Throughout the series, Nujabes’ music amplifies the anarchic, violent but also intensely human realities of the storyline; but in this cool, almost languid closing theme, he provides a sweet groove full of élan and poise. Sung by fellow rap singer-songwriter and vocalist Minmi, whose crystal-clear voice adds depth to the music’s smooth funk aesthetic, “Shiki no uta” speaks to the tides of chance and circumstance that bring people together, then pull them apart, through time’s ebbs and flows. A perfect conclusion to a story about three strangers who meet through the machinations of fate, spend some time together and then – perhaps – go their separate ways.
5. Hajime Mizoguchi – Walking Through The Empty Age (Texhnolyze)
Hajime Mizoguchi had already made a name for himself as the composer of the soundtrack for Jin-Roh: Wolf Brigade when he was invited to contribute to Madhouse’s cyberpunk/surrealist thriller Texhnolyze. His song “Walking Through The Empty Age” was the second of two ending themes used in the series (the other being singer-songwriter Gakuto Oshiro’s song “Tsuki no Uta” – The Moon’s Song) and it perfectly captures both the deep pathos of the conclusion, as well as the atmosphere of ennui and the struggle to find hope in overwhelming circumstances that characterises the series as a whole. The gentle acoustic guitar rhythm with ambient keyboard backing and soft drums and bass are complimented by singer Yoko Ishida’s evocative vocals and the depth of lyricist Chris Mosdell’s poetry. “Walking Through The Empty Age” thus brings home the sadness of the denouement with all its tragic force, while leaving the listener strangely uplifted. A perfectly executed example of bittersweetness in all its thoughtful, affecting beauty.
The final scene from Texhnolyze and “Walking Through The Empty Age” can be found here (or skip ahead to 4:40 for the music).
Well, that’s it, folks. I hope you enjoyed this little stroll through what I think are some of the most striking end credits in anime. See you on the flip side.
Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2022. All rights reserved.