Sunday, October 9, 2011

Best Opening Themes of Summer 2011

It's me! Whatever you do, stay away from R-15 and Mayo Chiki!

Somehow I must have sent a D-mail to myself from the future. I have the faintest feeling that I had warned myself not to watch much anime this season, and running the first three episodes of each anime over and over again in my mind pretty much confirms what I've thought.

There really wasn't anything in anime this season that was new enough to drag my attention away from the Spring 2011 shows that I've continued to follow. Likely it had to do with the waving flag of surrender constructed out of recycled anthology pages—eight shows from Shônen Jump ran on Crunchyroll, Funimation and Viz Media—but it probably has a lot to do with the deluge of average shows. Still plenty of beach episodes on shows that could have been mistaken for other shows. (Was I watching A Dark Rabbit Has Seven Lives or Kore wa Zombie Desu Ka? I can't remember.)

I did manage to stay awake enough to pay attention to the songs in the beginning and end. At least, I hope I did. Many of them, much like the shows themselves, failed to impress.

Last Place. "Onna no Ko 'tte Maji Cho Angel!!" - ave;new Project feat. Saori Sakura and Rie Shirasawa
(Kaitō Tenshi Twin Angel: Kyun Kyun Tokimeki Paradise!! OP)

I don't know where to start with this opening theme. It's a bit like an amusement park, in which you have to look and listen in so many directions to the candy-like attractions, but the producer of this OP seems to want to compress time. If anything, it feels like a car hurtling down the edge of an incline, the music and lyrics sped up to the point of non-comprehension. To make matters worse, the song is whirled through too many key changes, leaving a sense of confusion. I hope we learn our lesson here—too much in an OP produces headaches that extend into the show itself.

15. "Yuriyurararayuruyuri Daijiken" - Nanamori-chû Goraku-bu
(YuruYuri OP)

There's no doubt this song got into your head by the first episode and threatened to bust through it like a cat escaping from a pinata. People may have been driven crazy by the catchy "ra-ra-ra" portion of the song sung by the voice actresses for the four main characters, but the song had chirpy energy that was likely the glue that kept people interested in the series. At least the animators were clever to change the opening animation to reflect the "disappearance" of Akari in one episode.

14. "READY!" - IM@S 765PRO All-Stars

If anything, the opening to The iDOLM@STER does a pretty good job of introducing such a large unit of singers without taking the shine away from the cohesive leader of the unit, Haruka (the idol on the far left). This is a production that was to resemble Morning Musume numbers at the get-go, so an opening number in front of a cheering crowd probably was the best bet. I'm not even bothered by the producer Ritsuko jumping in there to act as the 13th member.

13. "Orpheus" - Mamoru Miyano
(Uta no Prince-sama: Maji Love 1000% OP)

Much like The iDOLM@STER, Uta no Prince-sama is built on the songs that flow through it, but the opening is surprisingly left for a soloist, while the ending theme is buffered by the full group. Considering that I've really only absorbed Miyano's voice-acting work, I only knew about his hammy over-the-top roles and guiltly glossed over his performance work. After much self-study, he was probably the best choice as the lead role and the natural choice for the rock opening.

12. "Boku Ni Dekiru Koto" ("What I Can Do") - HOW MERRY MARRY
(Natsume Yûjinchô San OP)

The third season of Natsume Yûjinchô is the first I've actually watched, but looking back at the opening themes of the first two seasons, I'm pleased that the producers went back to a theme that sounds a little more melancholy (similar to "Issei no Sei" by Shuuhei Kita) than upbeat (the misplaced "Ano Hi Time Machine" by Long Shot Party). How Merry Marry are known more for their harder ending theme to Soul Eater, so hearing them produce a rain-swept opening convinces me they're capable of many different styles. The animation does a very small yet clever trick with the main character's white silhouette caught in the foreground of a flashback of scenes.

11. "Missing Link" - NOVELS
(Tiger & Bunny OP 2)

It's a little disappointing to see the opening theme to the second half of Tiger & Bunny resembling the opening theme to the first half, but I suppose a show with as much talent in the story and design doesn't really need a serious grab the second time around. A very good song by Novels for their first appearance in an anime, but it would probably be a whole lot more attractive if we hadn't gotten just another roll call of the major characters.

10. "Cras numquam scire" ("Tomorrow is Never to Know") - Yucca
(The Mystic Archives of Dantalian OP)

The opening theme to Dantalian almost feels like there has been a mistake to the soundtrack. The song, sung in a very romantic Latin, drifts along while a golem fight interrupts the normalcy of gothic European life. The singer, Yucca, a graduate member of the Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus who released an album of operatic covers in 2009, is perfect for the song, and the opening does the song justice with lyrics in Japanese.

9. "The Rock City Boy" - Jamil
(Fairy Tail OP 8)

Not exactly sure why I picked this song in this spot on the list, but I suppose I am more impressed with the idea that Jamil, an American rap/rock singer, clawed his way into Asia via Thailand and Japan and managed to blast his way into J-pop music in the same manner Becca did with Black Butler. True, the song has little to do lyrically with Fairy Tail (and we once again get floating-island imagery!), but the song has this catch to it that makes it hard to release. Besides, any song that ends its English-lyric rap with "You don't know what the hell I'm saying, right?" in Japanese deserves a gold star.

8. "Kamisama to Issho" ("With God") - Haruka Tomatsu and Yui Horie
(Cat God OP)

Cat God was a warm fireplace to sleep around this (contextually-speaking) frigid season. Comfortable characters and amusing scenarios included, it was a nice show to watch while fending off sleep under the heated kotatsu (but not before switching it off, of course). The opening song reflected this by displaying the main characters interacting with each other, instead of cutting to individual portraits of each god and their characteristics. Good call.

7. "Sweet Drops" - PUFFY
(Usagi Drop OP)

Puffy's American presense is likely not going to be that big anymore, as they peaked in the early to mid-2000s with their own animated series and the theme song to Teen Titans, but it's great to see them settle into modern culture as overall ambassadors to the J-pop sound. Usagi Drop really needed a theme that let viewers bounce like kids before the subject matter went to that of being a parent, and "Sweet Drops" really does the trick. Coupled with its toddler-book animation style, the song dares you not to smile. Two cool things; Ami and Yumi also made cameos in the show, and the promotional video for the song is pretty funny too.

6. "In My World" - ROOKiEZ is PUNK'D
(Blue Exorcist OP 2)

It was totally naive of me to think that ROOKiEZ is PUNK'D was more of a veteran band, but their debut was only a year ago for the second opening theme to Durarara!! ("Complication"). The band's got some good melody to it, and they definitely show some harder rock chops that didn't quite shine through before. Considering Blue Exorcist's first opening was a little more on the comic scale, it needed a serious montage for the second half of the show. Good to see one presented with a harsh vibe to it.

5. "Fukanzen Nenshô" ("Incomplete Combustion") - Chiaki Ishikawa
(Kamisama Dolls OP)

Perhaps the connection between Chiaki Ishikawa and Yuki Kajiura isn't immediately evident, but the two of them made up part of the trio See-Saw. While their '90s works were not as popular, their reunion in 2002 led to a resurgence from appearances in soundtracks for Noir, the .hack series (specifically the "Obsession" opening theme to .hack//SIGN), and Mobile Suit Gundam SEED. While Kajiura has gone on to produce her own haunting soundtracks, Ishikawa continues to sing for anime themes. Her warbling voice in the Kamisama Dolls opening provides a great dichotomy that the animation is trying to draw between the village and urban settings. The animation is nice too, splashing stationary character profiles with revolving triangles that highlight a second color pattern.

4. "Spell" - LAMA
(No.6 OP)

The song's drowsy and may be a little too happily psychadelic for a serious end-of-humanity science-fiction show, but the animated sequence is the reason I put this opening closer to the beginning. If anything, this is an interesting way of presenting the two main characters by blowing panels of their pasts off their skin like a blast of hot air. Hard to say if the end result leaves a free-and-clear meeting between the two, but simple and clean is likely the best way for this animation to open.

3. "Kimi + Nazo + Watashi de JUMP!" ("You + Mystery + Me Jump!") - Larval Stage Planning
(Baka to Test to Shôkanjû Ni! OP)

Although the name of the trio is suspect at best, I was quite surprised by the pleasant nature of the opening animation for Baka and Test's second season. The first season's opener was fine for presenting the characters, but it was nice to find the animation style for the second go-around matching the pastel colors of the show's actual animation, but the attempt to do so without heavy outlines really gives the opening a unique feel. In fact, there was so much to like about the opening, from the subtleties of using a unique font to the surprising impact that icons representing the characters made, that I had to rank this opening higher than most. In addition, the song's got a J-poppish sweet tooth without resorting to syrupy messes.

2. "Hyadain no Jôjô Yûjô" ("Hyadain's Amazing Friendship") - Hyadain
(My Ordinary Life OP 2)

I couldn't do it. I couldn't call the second opening to My Ordinary Life the best of the season.

The obvious reason is probably the pure similarity to the first half's opener. I mean, it worked the first time to have characters introduced in that cool picture-inside-a-picture transition, but they went to the well again to do it. Granted, that still makes the opening better than most of the openers this season, but variety is still the spice of life.

However, some things still work, such as scripting another Hyadain song for the sequence. If anything, I like this song a touch better than "Hyadain no Ka-Ka-Kata Kataomoi-C", due to the variety of song-switches. Yes, this might violate my pledge against key changes, but this circus-like opener gets me wiggling in my seat. More shows need more energetic openers like this one.

And 100 Ed Grimley fans agree that any song with a triangle in it rocks your world.

1. "Nornir" - Etsuko Yakushimaru Metropolitan Orchestra
(Mawaru-Penguindrum OP)

Am I surprised to find Etsuko Yakushimaru providing us with another breathless song for animation? Absolutely not. Her works for Arakawa Under the Bridge ("Jesus and Venus", "Cosmos Vs. Alien") and Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko ("Ruru") were both mirthful and gentle, especially for shows that thrived on comedy.

Am I surprised to find her singing for the Mawaru-Penguindrum opening? Absolutely.

While the show has terrific bouts of comedy, it is deeply rooted in drama and mystery, meaning that the opening song had to capture that eccentic fusion. To hear Yakushimaru singing a song with flowing orchestral vibrations, complete with a full organized string section, is somewhat familiar at first, but the allegro tempo seems so unfettered without the staccaco nuances that guided the Arakawa Under the Bridge openers. Most of all, the song itself is so melancholy that we see a different side of Yakushimaru; the childlike hops from "Ruru" are now somber apologies.

Simply put, the opener is quite pure in its white background and hard to diagnose with its vague introductions to the cast, but everything gels together for a terrific sequence, framed mostly by Yakushimaru's light voice. The best bet is to let this opener ride for the entire series and to let the insert songs and ending animations vary to change the flow. Definitely the best from Summer 2011, and it could be the best for Autumn, as well.

Next time: the best ending themes to Summer 2011!


  1. I love that OP for Mawaru it does get stuck in my head quite frequently. I thought the opening song for No. 6 was as equally catchy but the song for Dantalian was definitely the most beautiful!