Thursday, October 20, 2011

Best Ending Themes of Summer 2011

Thank God it's all over. It all couldn't have finished soon enough, and that was after abandoning Mayo Chiki!, R-15 and Kaitô Tenchi Twin Angel by their second episodes.

The summer season's shows were so tough to swallow this year that I almost didn't make it to 50% of the ending themes. In fact, I probably didn't make it—considering how many songs came from The iDOLM@STER and Uta no Prince-sama shows alone, I probably left a ton on the editing-room floor. I'm so burned out that a mindless second season of Shinryaku! Ika-Musume is quite welcome.

Since the ends of the shows were literally music to my ears, I probably enjoyed more ending themes this season than last. With this ranking of the best 15 ending themes of the summer, we finally end this sad season. Once again, all credits for the pictures go to CDJapan.

Last Place. "Nyanpire Taisô" ("Nyanpire Exercises") - Nyatsuko Asô & Nyadain
(Nyanpire ED)

I understand there's a large demand for Hyadain after the popularity of My Ordinary Life's opening themes and his work on past songs with Natsuko Asô (see #15). Perhaps the ending theme to Nyanpire would have made a great single, but considering that the show itself is only about three minutes long each episode, there just isn't a need for a 90-second ending theme. I mean, imagine a One Piece episode ending with a ten-minute finale!

Instead of using thirty seconds of the song and shooting a promotional video for the single, the producers tried to kill two birds by making a full-blown live-action ending theme for the show. It's too much. Animate the ending, and we'll be much happier. Or you can just...

15. "Eureka Baby" - Natsuko Asô
(Baka to Test to Shôkanjû Ni! ED)

...leave Natsuko Asô's songs for their "perfect area".

Not to pigeonhole her talents, but Asô was much better known for her openings to the first TV season for Baka and Test ("Perfect-Area Complete") and the "Matsuri" OVAs ("Ren'ai-Kôjo Committee"). The song itself is a bubbly concoction that shows Asô has a bit to go before she can truly flex her vocal ability, but at least the animation is a creative multi-level collage of the show's characters. Bonus points for that, even though the animation is tough to view from a distance.

14. "Nanairo Namida" ("Rainbow-Colored Tears") - Tomato n' Pine
(Beelzebub ED 3)

Every now and then, a show's ending sequence will take a character in a direction we aren't normally familiar with. Yes, we've already been exposed to the gentler, alternate portrayal of the rugged Aoi in Beelzebub, but it's quite surprising to find a show that loves its cornier side of comedy appreciating its female characters. All of the wind-swept scenes of Aoi looking wistful and lonesome do tend to be a bit repetitive, but it's nice to see the directors using a lighter palette of colors for the more feminine scenes.

13. "Maji Love 1000%" ("Serious Love 1000%") - STARISH
(Uta no Prince-sama: Maji Love 1000% ED)

Well, it's cool to have the show about idols and composers end on the obligatory SMAP number. The animation's pretty fluid with plenty of thought left for the dance moves, perhaps with more individual movement than the opening to The iDOLM@STER. The song itself isn't really one for my CD rack, especially with Hiro Shimono not able to hold notes like the other five in STARISH. A good ending, but the songs during the show are better examples of vocal display, especially when each member is allowed a solo number.

12. "Switch ga Haittara" ("When the Switch is Flipped") - Chiaki Ishikawa
(Kamisama Dolls ED)

Well, at least the final sequences don't spoil the appearance of any of the characters that have yet to show, but if the intent is to hide back any spoilers for Kamisama Dolls, why provide silhouettes at all? The song is a terrific mixture of rivers and valleys, Ishikawa's ethereal voice again reverberating across the transition into the ending animation, but the animation itself is just a replay of everything we'd seen through the eyes of the "dolls" piloted in the show. A little dull of a finish, especially when we're only there to watch the twenty-second puppet-theater tease for the next episode.

11. "Wani to Shanpû" ("Crocodile and Shampoo") - Momoiro Clover Z
(Double-J ED)

I'm a bit surprised that I generally enjoyed the Double-J series, despite its brevity, but I'm even more stunned by how well the producers dissected the ending song from Momoiro Clover Z to make it work for the diminutive episodes. Only twenty seconds are taken from the song by the pop-idol quintet, and truth be told, the full song is hard to follow with all its directions. After listening to the full song in its cumbersome form, I'm rather glad it was sectioned out. The animation is short and succinct (take some notes, Nyanpire!) in its photonegative style, leading us onto the next five-minute short.

10. "Oh My God" - Haruka Tomatsu
(Cat-God ED)

The ending theme, sung by the voice actress for the cat-god-in-question Mayu, shows a decent vocal range and has some pretty good pep to it, making it a head-bopper for the show's end. You'd think there would be something a little more creative than just showing Mayu's nondescript reactions to things over a white background, but the song at least sends the audience away happy with its fresh tempo and catchy send-off. "Hey, Baby, Oh My God!"

9. "Rokutôsei no Yoru" ("Evening of the Sixth-Magnitude Star") - Aimer
(No.6 ED)

I'm not really a big fan of opening or ending themes that try to get away with "animation" through still-life images, but the ending theme to No.6 is one that can be read in ways that make the show rather sad. Are Sion and Rat on a playground during nuclear winter? Are we watching as two youths, forced to mature years beyond their age, catch up with their childhood in a dilapidated setting to which they can never return? Coupled with this extremely lonesome song sung by Aimer and the slow-motion roll of a snowball losing its flakes in mid-air, the last transition into a spring scene feels like it hardly provides the hope the story calls for.

8. "Clover" - The Sketchbook
(Sket Dance ED 2)

The opening theme from The Sketchbook ("Michi") seemed like it didn't quite fit with the Sket Dance program, a little too rock-and-roll for a show that was much more "Saved-By-The-Bell". The ending theme is much more melodic than the opener and much less clunky, the three Sket-Dan members laying in a field of clover without a care in the world. I'm probably reading too much into the animation, but watching the computer geek Switch stare at the sky in his robotic manner makes him look both totally emotionless and more human than ever.

7. "Wired Life" - Meisa Kuroki
(Blue Exorcist ED 2)

Vocally, "Wired Life" sounds like it gets a good boost of Auto-Tune as an addictive additive, and while Jay-Z might not approve, it gives Meisa Kuroki's lyrics a good mesh with the disco sound. While there's a lot of still-life in the animation, the producers at least know they have a budget to glamorize it with two-dimensional computer graphics. Probably the best dance-hall track of the season.

6. "Colorado Bulldog" - Mr. Big; "Asunaro" - Kenichi Suzumura
(Kami-sama no Memo-chô ED)

While the first ending theme is really no big feat of strength with its flashes of black-and-white photography, it's pretty amazing to note that Mr. Big—yes, THAT Mr. Big—is still around. "Colorado Bulldog" may not fit the idea of the anime (it's a mix of Vodka, Kahlua and Coke), but it's still pretty good fuel after the show, surprising from a folksy band like Mr. Big.

The second ending theme is certainly more the pace of the show, the main character Harumi given an opportunity to appear more stoic and serious than he starts in the show. It's very rare to hear an alternative-rock ending theme from a male soloist in Japan, so it's good to hear the strength in Suzumura's voice accompanied by firm electric guitars. Probably could have been a good song in the early 2000s from Duncan Sheik.

5. "Kimi no Kakera" ("Pieces of You") - Kôsuke Atari feat. Emiri Miyamoto
(Natsume Yûjinchô San ED)

As if drawn in a sumi-e style and colored with modern inks, Natsume Yûjinchô San ends like a lonely summer at home, the main character Takashi watching the last embers of a senko-hanabi (incense-fireworks) drop from his hand. The song from Kôsuke Atari features the flow from Japanese R&B singers such as Ken Hirai and Chemistry while invoking the feeling of admiration towards all things. This fits the total idea of the anime, each episode meant to instill thought towards the shortness and ephemera of life.

4. "Tsubasa wo Kudasai" ("Please Give Me Wings") - Sayaka Sasaki
(My Ordinary Life ED 2)

There is a lot to know about the second ending theme to My Ordinary Life, as "Tsubasa wo Kudasai" is quite popular as a song for singing contests in high schools.The song itself was composed back in 1971 and sung by Akai Tori, but it's been covered over a dozen times. Megumi Hayashibara sang it in an Evangelion soundtrack, and the girls from K-On! turned it into a rock song. An English version was even covered by Susan Boyle on the Japanese release of her debut album, I Dreamed A Dream.

What makes this ending solid is how complex the animation is in its simple scroll from east to west. As we watch from the sky down to the unnamed town supposedly in Gunma Prefecture, we see all of the characters, from major to minor, going about their business as the day comes to a close. Considering how many scenes there are in anime where the background characters never move, this ending is both refreshing and breezy.

3. "Balance Doll" - Prague
(Gintama ED 15)

At first, this ending theme might appear a little bland compared to some of Gintama's spring submission, but consider the fact that the producers aren't afraid of calling audibles—the season's opening theme ended in one episode with the Yorozuya trio getting into a fiery accident, only for the three to wonder if it had been stock footage all along.

While Prague does make some very sound music for the ending, the blue skies of the animation matching the smooth guitars like a motorcycle ride, it's that variety that makes the ending anxious. Each episode seems to be represented by a funny scene, whether it be characters from Sket Dance making a cameo or Edo's shôgun standing in a stretched pair of underwear. Nonsense in a field of sensibility—isn't that what a gag anime's all about?

2. "DEAR FUTURE" - Coaltar of the Deepers
(Mawaru-Penguindrum ED)

You may have never heard of "Coaltar of the Deepers", but you've likely heard their leader's music before. NARASAKI, the music producer for shows such as Paradise Kiss, Deadman Wonderland, and the new show Un-Go, formed the band in 1991 from the dregs of the "shoegazing" movement in the late '80s. Hence, their style has always been diverse and heavy in electronica and post-punk.

It's that sort of haze that brings each Mawaru-Penguindrum episode to such a lucid end. The tone swings from metaphysical to melancholy and back while Himari dresses into her "Survival Strategy!" outfit and plays hand-held percussive instruments with the idol duo that populates the subway's warning signs. Good luck understanding what all it means, but considering how drowsy the music sounds (and the fact this is an Ikuhara production we're talking about), it's bound to keep a dream interpreter working on its meaning.

1. "High High High" - Kasarinchû
(Usagi Drop ED)

At first I had my doubts about choosing Usagi Drop's ending theme as the best of the season, but there was something definitely familiar with the animation style. It took me a second to confirm the biggest "DUH!" moment of my life—the animation was done by Gekidan Inu Curry, the same animators that turned Maria†Holic into an 8-bit paradise, Zan Sayonara Zetsubo-sensei into a button-eyed film noir, and Puella Magi Madoka Magica into an experimental nightmare of sin.

The use of Gekidan Inu Curry's animation style almost gives the ending theme an unintentional haunting style. Darker pastel colors, combined with a movement that pulls the background into the unfocused foreground, give the ending a sugar-glass appearance, while the stop-motion animation gives it a flip-book feel. It's almost as if the main character Rin is dancing with rabbits that belong in a Tim Burton fairy tale. However, the song, a spirited guitar strum by Kasarinchû, is so uplifting and afloat in the clouds that it gives the animation the happiness the show seeks.

There are definitely some somber moments to the Usagi Drop show, so perhaps this ending is meant to draw that parallel. The animation looks a little scary to kids and sounds pleasant to parents—yeah, that draws a pretty good comparison to how children and adults see the same thing as both scary and serene.

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