Monday, January 2, 2012

Best Ending Themes of Fall 2011

Eh, I probably could have gotten away with a much shorter list of ending themes for Autumn 2011's anime season, even though there were a ton of new songs submitted for approval. While some shows could probably use the creative juices to draw more attention to themselves, it felt that a lot were content to shrug their shoulders and scrimp on the ED budget. Have a character walk across the screen, slap down a bunch of photos, get the latest debut artist's first single, and go out for a smoke.

The good news about lesser displays of talent in the EDs is that it makes picking the best (and worst) that much easier. Here are my entries into the rankings for Autumn 2011's ending themes (pictures as always courtesy of CD Japan).

Last Place. "Kimi no Shinken wo Choudai" ("Give Me Your Seriousness") - Momoyo Kawakami, Kazuko Kawakami, Miyako Shiina, Yukie Mayuzumi, and Christiane Friedrich
(Majikoi ~ Oh! Samurai Girls ED)

This ending theme was so terribly lazy that I started to feel bad for it. Low-grade animation (if you can call it that). Inconsistent melodies. Karaoke-style singing from the main seiyû cast. Slow panning shots of the heroines in bikini tops (and later without them!) Majikoi manages to take everything I don't want to see in an ending sequence and put them all into an ending sequence. Of course, what else would I have expected from an anime that tries to get away with the ol' "hand vagina" trick?

25. "Papepipu Papipepu Papepipupo" - Nozomi Sasaki
(Beelzebub ED4)

I'm not exactly sure what the objective of this ending animation is, but I can say that it would be immensely better if Sasaki put a little more energy into her singing. It sounds like she's trying to motivate a lethargic crowd with a song that would be more suited for toddlers with its directional dance instructions and the perplexing "Don't touch me!" chant. The animation plays up the silliness of the series, but the lyrics, coupled with an unexciting melody and bored singer, make the effort fall flat.

24. "I'll Believe" - Altima
(Shakugan no Shana Final ED)

Wait, isn't para-para dead? Once the main throb of this song's melody hit my speakers, I ducked out of instinct, expecting a T-shirt cannon to be fired at me by a squad of cheerleaders. The C&C Music Factory prototype manages to dissolve into dance music instantly and is okay for an anime, managing just an average close with its still-shot animation.

23. "Departure" - Katate Size
(Nura: Rise of the Yôkai Clan ED2)

Not to be confused with the Hunter X Hunter OP song of the same name. There's not much to the animation, save for some changes to the picture over time, but the song itself is practically shimmying on velvet couch. The R&B number is pretty reminiscent of the likes of SWV and En Vogue from the 90s here in the U.S., the slow tempo accompanying the sultry singing style. I do like the harmony in the song—it gives the opening animation's rock number a good book-end—but that's about it.

22. "Milk and Chocolate" - ChocoLe
(Sket Dance ED3)

It's good for a little change of pace for Sket Dance to pay a little attention to the female cast members in this ending, but I'm not exactly sure if I would have gone for the "skin-show" angle. The song's innocent enough, but it seems a little risque to have Hime and her friends listening to music in white bikinis and slips while spatters of chocolate hit them. At least it's good to see them including Yabazawa-san as a legitimate cast member.

Note: Not soundtrack cover.

21. "Beauty of Destine" - Shihoko Hirata feat. Lotus Juice
(Persona 4 the Animation ED)

Okay, okay. We get it. Hirata's cool English lyrics and the bubbly-champagne urban-R&B rhythm worked well for the Persona 4 game and the opening sequences to the animation, but it's too much of a decent thing to overuse Hirata for the ending. There's not much of a closing animation, and while featured rapper Lotus Juice adds a better English accent to the lyrics, it exposes Hirata's rougher English tongue in comparison. I would have liked a song in Japanese, perhaps one that didn't resemble the opener.

20. "Egao no Hôsoku" ("The Rules for Smiling") - Mariya Ise
(Ben-Tô ED)

At first, I had put the ending for Ben-Tô in my Top 10—it was uncomplicated and easy to process with a smooth ballad from Ise—but the more I thought about the overall presentation, the more I started to pull its ranking down. There was an illogical sore spot that nagged in my head. Considering that Sen is such a warrior in the supermarkets and gifted with athletic skill, it didn't make much sense that she was helpless when it came to putting a "half-off" sticker onto a wall full of them. Jump, for crying out loud! That's likely how the stickers put at a higher height got there!

19. "Pieces" - AiRI / "Stardust Melodia" - Ceui
(Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere ED)

Maybe I'm ranking this high by comparing the songs to the series itself, but despite the immense cast making this show a little cumbersome to appreciate, the endings were relatively simple and clean. "Pieces" is a high-spirited song accompanied by superdeformed mascots, while "Stardust Melodia" returns the focus to our rain-soaked heroine and ONLY our rain-soaked heroine. If there ever was a set of ending themes where I was thankful for it's simplicity, it's these two.

18. "Monochrome Rainbow" - tommy heavenly6
(Bakuman. ED3)

I'm a big fan of The Brilliant Green's performances from the early 2000s, especially their work from the Los Angeles album, but I also like how lead singer Tomoko Kawase has opted for different personalities as a soloist. Granted, her "tommy february6" and "tommy heavenly6" personas aren't overly complex, but it's good for marketing. "Monochrome Rainbow" is a placid rock song with a firmer edge than the bubble-pop flair her other persona exhibits, but I'm not exactly sure if that "rock" vibe fits with a cafe-side scene and a walk in the park with an umbrella. It definitely feels better than the previous songs used for Bakuman.

17. "Just Awake" - Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas
(Hunter X Hunter ED)

I'm still ensure how to approach the idea of FaLiLV's digital punk being set to Hunter X Hunter, a show that doesn't exactly scream in the same manner as either of the band's lead singers. Don't get me wrong—I thought the band was a brilliant choice for the OP to the second season of Kaiji, but somehow the keyboard sizzle and Autotune misses the spot, especially for an ending animation that feels like it's more similar to other Shônen Jump ending animations (One Piece, Dragonball, Toriko). Good song for a show that was better than the original, but it just feels out of place for the series.

16. "Aikotoba" ("Password") - Sakura Merry-Men
(Sekai-ichi Hatsukoi ED2)

While the Sekai-ichi Hatsukoi series hasn't really been a draw for my personal interests, the ending theme for the second season does have its melodic charm. Sakura Merry Men have a distinct pop-rock sound, but lead singer Tohta Konishi's higher register definitely rounds the rock band's sound into a mellower tone. The ending focuses more on the tender moments between the show's yaoi couplings, but ends with just the bunny mascot dancing about the screen, something that doesn't quite mesh with the first half of the animation. (Hey, that's my globe pencil sharpener from 6th grade! - Ed.)

15. "Re:Pray" - Aimer
(Bleach ED29)

Regularly, I don't find anything overly impressive with the Bleach endings, but I suppose the openings and the show's content itself are enough to spark my interest in watching the occasional episode or two. I do like the darker side of the show, so the grayer colors for this ending animation are a welcome contrast to the brighter shades and sounds from SCANDAL's opener "Harukaze". Aimer's first single "Rokutôsei no Yoru", in my opinion, was an underrated song with plenty of emotion to it, but I believe much of that comes from Aimer's repression of her melodic voice until just the right time. Hard to envision her singing anything more upbeat than this.

14. "Watashi no Ki-mo-chi" ("My Feelings") - Marina Inoue
(Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai ED)

While the Haganai (yes, that's what they call it when all the Chinese characters are removed from the title—Haganai) opening felt stitched together out of odd pieces of musical fabric, the ending sounds a lot crisper and looks much less suggestive. A good deal of praise should be required for Marina Inoue's singing style—considering Inoue has played characters a tad lower in vocal tone with a curt sharpness to their voices (Matsurika, Maria Holic; Chiri, Sayonara Zetsubô-sensei), she fits the bill for a demanding rock number to end the show. Even better, the animation thankfully avoids lewd skirt angles and "come-hither" poses. See? Now was it so hard to ask for a modest display?

13. "Place to Try" - TOTALFAT
(Naruto Shippuden ED19)

I found it interesting that the quartet TOTALFAT started as a NOFX cover band, and that already puts points on their scoreboard with me. I like their punk roots, their edge translating into two parts headbanging, one part singing towards the sky. While the animation is partially borrowed from past scenes between Sasuke and Naruto, the song itself is the main rocket booster and is meant to be the center of attention.

12. "Starboard" - Hitomi Kuroishi
(Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing ED)

If there ever was a song that threatened to snap apart like a fragile butterfly's wing or a filmsy spider web, it's this delicate gem from Hitomi Kuroishi. Slow and warm, but as regal as a procession for a Chinese emperor, the song is peppered with moving photography in an ode to the main heroines. This portion of the show itself is one part of the original Last Exile series I'm glad to see return, as Kuroishi's voice really gave the first show (and the second, as well) an earthy feel to it.

11. "Departures ~ Anata ni Okuru Ai no Uta" ("A Love Song I Send to You") - EGOIST feat. Chelly
(Guilty Crown ED) 

I'll give Guilty Crown the benefit of the doubt—the staff did the right thing by hiring Supercell to play the role of the the fictional band EGOIST. While I thought the band did too much in the opening theme ("My Dearest") with their sound, Supercell does have the potential for some great songs. Their "Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari" ending song for Bakemonogatari was quite a charge, even if the creative animation was removed, so it's a pleasant surprise to hear them produce a ballad for a change. The animation isn't dazzling in terms of originality, but the song certainly carries weight from Chelly's soulful voice.

Note: Not soundtrack cover.

10. "Itsumo No You Ni LOVE & PEACE!!" ("Just Like Always, LOVE & PEACE!!") - Sota Takanashi, Jun Sato, and Hiroomi Soma
(Wagnaria'!! ED)

I like the idea that Wagnaria!! is content with splitting its cast into two divisions, leaving the opening for the main female trio and the ending for the male cast. I wasn't terribly impressed with the 50's-rock number they did in the first season's ED ("Go to Heart Edge"), but the disco number for the second season's ED is bit better for including the entire cast in a tambourine jam session. Again, I may be ranking this a bit high, but considering the ending and the series itself had no real bumps in the road, I'm content with putting it where it is.

9. "Nakimushi" ("Crybaby") - Miku Sawai
(You & Me ED)

While the characters for You & Me don't quite impress me with their quibbling (occasionally bringing to mind the nonsense that came from Akari and her friends in Yurayuri), they do present an innocence to high-school life that we don't see from boring "everyman" leads in harem shows. I suppose that's what draws me to the ending sequence, a variety of sketches from creator Kiichi Hotta that reflect the group's ability to stay whole during disagreements. I'm not sure what the medium is that Hotta uses in the end, but it fits the reminiscing brand of song Sawai sings for it.

8. "Blood Teller" - Faylan
(Future Diary ED)

It's not Faylan's fault that she's sung some good songs for some bad shows (Tantei Opera Milky Holmes, Seikon no Qwaser, Hyakka Ryôran Samurai Girls), but I like her choice for the ending theme to Future Diary. While the OP was meant to haunt the dickens out of the viewer, the techno number from Faylan, accompanied by shots of the supporting cast vanishing into television snow, does provide more of a sense of mystery to go with the show. The only bad thing is that it pretty much spoils the end of the show—the main character is the only one who doesn't vanish. 

7. "Kimi wo Shiru Koto" ("Knowing About You") - Squid Girl (Hisako Kanemoto)
(Squid Girl ED2)

Some shows are wise enough to know that changing the animation in ending themes tends to work if those changes are minor and relevant to the episodes. Gintama' made it work with the "Balance Doll" ED by incorporating more memorable elements from the show, and the first Squid Girl season did the same with the "Metamerism" ED. This time, the night sky is replaced with a sunset, as Squid Girl strolls the beaches and passes a single element that appeared on the show before. It's not as hilarious as the effort from Gintama', but it does the job to bring a smile in the end.

6. "Haiiro no Suiyôbi" ("Gray Wednesday") / "Bad News Kuroi Yôkan" ("Bad News Black Premonition") / "Ikarechimattaze!!" / "Hide and Seek" / "Private Girl" / "Tamashii Kogarashite" ("Scorching Soul") / "Asa no Kageri no Naka De" ("Among the Morning Clouds") / "Heroes" - Triple H
(Mawaru-Penguindrum ED2)

Yes, those are all the songs that are used for the second half of Mawaru-Penguindrum's episode list, all of them linked to the "Rock Over Japan" insert song during Himari's outfit transformation. All are cover songs originally performed by ARB (Alexander's Ragtime Band) and were adapted by Yukari Hashimoto to be performed by Triple H (the voice actresses for Himari and her two childhood friends Hikari and Hibari). It's interesting to see the animation basically the same with tweaks to the background color and some of the foreground designs, and each variation in color helps the songs fit the general animation. However, there's still part of me that envisions this all coming from Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Makes me shudder.

5. "Hologram" - Natsumi Kiyoura
(Phi Brain: Puzzle of God ED) 

Phi Brain certainly has been one of the surprises for the autumn season, and I suppose the soundtrack has played an integral part of its appeal. The OP from May'n was technologically vibrant, leading to this appreciative ballad framed with an acoustic guitar, guided with an upbeat piano, and punctuated with horns. I also found it clever, albeit not unexpected, that the ending animation incorporates a puzzle that features pictures of the various backgrounds used in the show, and a fade into a full profile of the cast is a fitting device.

4. "Memoria" - Eir Aoi
(Fate/Zero ED) 

As each episode has gotten more and more intriguing from the battles between each soldier in the Holy Grail War, I've been more and more interested in the stories each Servant likely has buried in their pasts. The video that accompanies Aoi's soaring production—a lofty yet majestic debut—gives us a slight hint towards their motivations and past accomplishments. Considering that their stories are likely to be explained later in the series, I don't mind the slow pan of each Servant's past, and each shot actually has a hint of a three-dimensional approach with slight movement in the foreground. I'll bet that the ending would look pretty good with 3D technology.

3. "Suisai Candy" ("Watercolor Candies") - Marble
(Mashiro-iro Symphony ED)

I have not been a fan of Mashiro-iro Symphony as a series, but there have been aspects of the show that have had their charm. In particular, the ending theme struck me with a certain chord, as I was prepared for the staff to capitalize on the harem show by putting the girls in revealing outfits or titillating scenarios for the end. I mean, isn't that what the show is all about in the first place?

I'm surprised to see the animation staff focus more on the fluffball cat mascot Pannya than the actual human characters, but I think that's the best alternative they had for the ending theme. Granted, Pannya's not necessarily an original entity (see: Momo-neko from Tamayura, the legless cat from Lucky Star), but the watercolor-like ending animation with Pannya cavorting about and dreaming about fish is enough to get a "D'aaaaaaaw!" out of me. The song, for the most part, works too, sweet without syrup and popping like a bubble at the end.

2. "Anagura" ("Cellular") - Kuroneko Chelsea
(Gintama' ED3)

Rock 'n roll will never die, but this season I worried that it might be on life support.

There seemed to be an excess of songs that depended more on orchestral direction and electronic soul this time around, while the guitar was abandoned for pianos and keyboards. I suppose it's due to a larger amount of shows that lacked the sort of razor's-edge comedy that Gintama' has, so I'm glad to see the series christen a new rock band in their ending theme.

The animations for many of the ending themes this season have also been quite static and unmoving, but I don't mind Gintama's approach. The characters are dressed in outfits appropriate for a night out in the city, hakama pants and kimonos exchanged for host-club pinstripe suits and propped collars, giving the show additional bravado as a cool show. Overlay those character portraits with the out-of-control, no-brakes guitar-rock and the singing styles of Kuroneko Chelsea's lead singer Daichi Watanabe, and I swear that the Gintama' production staff managed to reunite the Blue Hearts. Damned good rock, boys.

1. "Fantasy" - Lama
(Un-Go ED)

The Wikipedia entry for LAMA suggests that the two-woman, two-man unit is a rock band, but after hearing their first two debut efforts, I tend to doubt that term. It's true that, if you checked out the influences that shaped each member's musical experience, you'd come across bands such as Sonic Youth, Rocket from the Crypt, Triceratops, and Kraftwerk, but the ultimate mix seems to have produced a smooth electronica version of pop music. Considering I haven't heard the music from any of the members' original bands (SUPERCAR, Denki Groove, Number Girl), I'm tempted to hear how each fits into LAMA's style.

The ending animation is probably the most successful this season at catching the eye, combining moving portraits of the characters with their alter-egos or better half. The middle ten seconds alone really get my attention, Inga's dual personas playing around in a spectral cloud of spacedust. Studio Bones really plays to the unique character designs, perhaps adding that layer of intrigue to the ending animation.

This is, essentially, a whole product that kept me interested in continuing onto the next episode, the teasers at the very end wittingly recited by Inga's seiyû Aki Toyosaki. (Wait, that Aki Toyosaki, the seiyû for Yui Hirasawa in K-On!? - Ed.) While I may not have gotten the entire gist of Un-Go and its essential message to the audience, the ending is composed brilliantly with the perfect mix of animation and mystery coming from LAMA's piano-based fusion pop.

Why did this have to be the noitaminA show that only lasted one season? I would have adored a second soundtrack to Un-Go.

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