Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Best Ending Themes of Winter 2012

Okay, I'll set the record straight by admitting that I haven't had the endurance to watch anime since last summer. Last season was a struggle towards the finish line, so the otaku marathoner in me failed to train for the next big race. Why pull a mental hamstring while watching a Highschool DxD marathon when I should be resting up for the next season of Fate/zero?

That being said, let me wax poetic about this season's opening and closing themes by stating something I never thought I'd say—I actually liked this season's ending themes more than I liked the opening themes. It's hard to really explain why the magnetism has reversed its polarity, but perhaps the need to sell a series on its characters and plot to new viewers isn't as great as its need to keep regular viewers baited for the next episode. Personally, I couldn't be thrilled more, as we get the likes of ClariS, Aqua Timez, and Yôsei Teikoku filling the final slots.

Ready? Let's start at the end!

Worst Ending. "Enjoy!" - Amikyû Danji
(The New Prince of Tennis ED)

I shook my head when they said that The Prince of Tennis would be returning, and the opening/closing themes haven't swayed my disappointment. The show itself is full of one suspension of disbelief after another, and considering the show has prided itself on its soundtrack (even developing live-action musicals for fans), this ending theme goes from bad to worse faster than a McEnroe meltdown. The animation is tepid with its dancing shadows, and the song is uninspiring. A note to directors—if you're going to have your voice actors sing in character, that doesn't mean they must sing badly in character.

25. "STUDYxSTUDY" - StylipS
(Highschool DxD ED)

Animated pole-dancing. That's all you need to know. It's well-animated, but that's all it is. Would have, could have, should have been used for a show like Rio: Rainbow Gate!, especially with all of the allusions to playing cards, but it wasn't. Not what I would want to show people high-school girls dressed even less than normal grinding like an episode of Club MTV. Wubba wubba WTF?

24. "Party! Halleluyah!" - SKET ROCK
(Sket Dance ED4)

Okay, the ode to Blood Sugar Sex Magik on the cover is a nice gesture, but even the robotic voice of Tomokazu Sugita isn't saving this song. While the Tsubaki/Bossum arc has been a nice read in the current season, I'll say it again and again; Hiro Shimono is not a good singer. We saw that in Uta no Prince-Sama, and we're seeing it here. He should have been replaced with one of the other voice actors if they really needed an all-male "rock" ensemble.

23. "Kisu Shite Agenai" ("I'm Not Kissing You") - Rie Kugimiya
(The Familiar of Zero ED4)

This marks the fourth ED out of four seasons that Rie Kugimiya has performed for the Zero no Tsukaima franchise. Considering this one doesn't involve the main hero Saito running endlessly until he collapses with the pink-haired Louise, that should get it come points. The bubbly song is a painfully-cute tsundere anthem, one that could do without the in-character comments, but it's not so bad. Of course, ending it with the explosive punishment to Saito was totally expected and likely there to appease Kugimiya fans.

22. "Shôjo Traveller" ("Girl Traveller") - 9nine
(Beelzebub ED5)

At this point, I haven't been following Beelzebub enough to know who the female cast is, but I guess they're all headed to the shopping district to act unlike the rough yankii girls they appear to be. That's fine and all, as the vibrant color scheme that helps distinguish each girl from the other and 9nine's dance track manage to glorify a rather boring trip. The thing that gets me is the animation staff's dismissal of movement; why have the characters on a moving bus if they sit there like mannequins?

21. "Boys Be Ambitious!" - Hi-Fi Camp
(Fairy Tail ED10)

It's funny how looks can be so decieving. The cover for the "Boys Be Ambitious!" single indicates a punkish feel, but Hi-Fi Camp is hardly an edgy group, the song for the tenth Fairy Tail ending more of a classical J-Pop entry that reminds me more of "rock" bands such as Tube and Southern All-Stars. It's nice for ending the show, but there's not much matching the song to the flow of photographs in the background.

20. "Thermae Roman" - Chatmonchy
(Thermae Romae ED)

The last time we heard Chatmonchy, they were a trio performing the opening theme to Kuragehime, "Koko Dake no Hanashi" ("Just Between Us"). Since then, one has left, but the duo still has their attachment to noitaminA in this three-episode miniseries. While the series itself would have been better longer, the closing theme is at least artistic in its transitions. Let's hope the band can find a niche in comedy shows like this one.

19. "Sabrina" - Leo Ieiri
(Toriko ED3)

Had to do a double-take after watching this ending theme. Only 60 seconds?! Ye gods, you can perform this one almost three times in a single One Piece opening. Ieiri has a beautiful voice for her craft and doesn't try to overdo it when she needs to turn on the reverb for a melody. There's not much to this ending to really review, but perhaps if they stretched it to 90 seconds...

18. "Coloring" - Yui Horie
(Listen To Me, Girls. I Am Your Father! ED)

The biggest quibble I have about anime songs nowadays is the nagging tendency to hop aboard the Autotune wagon. "Coloring" is one of these cases where we don't get the true vivid nature of Yui Horie's voice. Instead of the real deal, we're given an electronic rendering that fits well with synthesizer but makes it harder to process. It's a shame, as the animation in its pastel springtime colors could really use an additives-free voice to go with it.

17. "Bokura no Ashiato" ("Our Footsteps") - Supercell
(Black Rock Shooter ED)

Okay, not a bad change of pace for the grandiose performances that Supercell has unearthed for noitaminA, but something feels missing here. Maybe it's the use of a picture book that doesn't feel related to the story itself, but it feels like such an ending could have been done without the animation and with someone turning the pages of a real book. In the end, to me it's still a Supercell song, and I hope they're given a break before their next big project (or am I saying that we need a break from them?)

16. "Anamnesis" - Annabel
(Another ED)

While Shiki, the last psycho-terror show I can remember on my radar, decided to opt for ending themes of despair and inevitable doom, I'm intrigued at the direction Another takes. Instead of highlighting the gravity of the situation and focussing on tragedy, we're given a panoramic slow-motion display of the characters to be remembered in a soft summer photograph, as if fate had taken the day off from its endless torture of Class 3-C. Nice etheral song, yes, but the lack of horror makes it more disturbing to me.

15. "Futari no Kimochi no Honto no Himitsu" ("The Secret of the Pair's Real Feelings") - Mutsumi Tamura & Chinatsu Akasaki
(Kill Me, Baby! ED)

All it takes is one dance number to save a show. I was ready to dismiss Kill Me Baby! as a one-joke comedy that was soured by a pitiful opening number, only for the JC Staff guys to drop this infectious ending theme on me like napalm. I half-expected a disco ball to drop during this unf-tiss-unf-tiss song while Akasaki and Tamura did their best t.A.T.u. impersonation, only to find myself bouncing to the beat like a Night At The Roxbury skit. Couple that with a cartoonish dance that could be danced by anyone in the Peanuts gang, and you have yourself at least a redeeming quality to the show.

14. "Vidro Moyou" - Nagi Yanagi
(Ano Natsu de Matteru ED)

Little movement in the form of forlorn glances by the six characters, a wind-swept dance number with little volume...this definitely feels like your average ending to a show, but compared to the ending themes for Onegai Teacher! and Onegai Twins!, the two shows that NatsuMachi was basically patterned from, it's 1000% better. It's probably unfair to compare this to the other two, since they're almost ten years older than NatsuMachi, but it's nice to see the focus on the characters and not on backgrounds. Nice use of mirrored symmetry too.

13. "MASK" - Aqua Timez
(Bleach ED30)

I'm not exactly sure what we're going to do without Bleach and Gintama' on our computers, so I hope that J-rock bands like SPYAIR, ROOKiEZ is PUNK'D, and Aqua Timez have gotten a solid base under them. I've been a bigger fan of Bleach's opening themes, so I'd say "MASK" ranks pretty high on my list of Bleach EDs. Good use of modern mobile technology to close out one of the longer-lasting shows out there. Not sure if I'll miss the show, but I'll be missing the music.

12. "Hello!" - Megumi Nakajima
(Lagrange: The Flower of Rin-ne ED)

Part of me wishes I didn't hibernate enough in the comforts of Crunchyroll to explore the outer reaches of this season's shows. I enjoyed the vibrant nature of the ending theme's animation and its spin on the "oh-look-they're-walking!" approach that many shows put on their EDs. The song's upbeat in its march, making it cheerful and chipper and chummy and all those darling "ch" adjectives, but I can't help feeling that it's one of the few shows this season where the opening sets the bar too high in its performance.

11. "Kokuhaku" ("Confession") - Supercell feat. Koeda
(Guilty Crown ED2)

Again, I stress that there is absolutely too much Supercell in my noitaminA this season. If it wasn't for Thermae Romae, I'd say that the franchise took a major step back in its overall attempt to connect to viewership with more eccentric titles. However, I do think that, of the Guilty Crown songs Supercell has poured on us, "Confession" is the one that I like the best. Unlike her performance in Guilty Crown's first OP "My Dearest", Koeda manages to restrain her voice and matches the music and animation in its dash towards the finish line. I also admire that the staff managed to build up Shû's character by having him led by the hand and ultimately leading the heroine in the end.

10. "Lost Child" - Momoiro Clover Z
(Bodacious Space Pirates ED)

By listening to both the opening and ending themes for Bodacious Space Pirates, it's easy to differentiate which song was composed by Hyadain and which wasn't. While the opening theme from Momoiro Clover Z is a jauntier rock-slide of a performance, the ending returns to the slipstream of space, the quintet's voices swimming in a sea of electronica. The only strike might be the decision to have the main three female characters just walking towards the camera at the end, but a pretty good robotic ending.

9. "Nakama" ("Friends") - Good Coming
(Gintama' ED4)

Was I disappointed that Gintama' went with a mellower ending after its last three rock numbers? Yes. A thousand times yes. It's a feel-good comedy with tons of characters that deserve a fraction of a second on film, but I felt it was a damper on such a gung-ho series to opt for a lazy seaside approach. However, that was before I realized the show was ending, either for good or just temporarily. Under that microscope, the image changes, and now I'm rather glad we have a parting scene with Gintoki cruising into the horizon.

Still, wouldn't it have been an outstanding trolling effort if Shinpachi was left off the roster?

8. "Filament" - Yôsei Teikoku
(The Future Diary ED2)

There's no doubt in my mind that The Future Diary is making a stand as one of the more unique horror shows out there, and while Faylan's music is helping, I still feel that Yôsei Teikoku's brand of Gothic rock is what has made the soundtrack gripping. "Kuusou Mesorogiwi" was easily the best OP from last season, a locomotive without any brakes, but this submission paints a more desperate picture of the wild-eyed Yuno we saw before. She walks like a zombie through an apocalyptic desert, lays motionless deep in an ocean, and cries herself to sleep in a torrential rainstorm. If it weren't for the odd symbolism of a plant growing from her tears, this would be a nice set of entries to an anime version of The Gashlycrumb Tinies.

7. "By My Side" - Hemenway
(Naruto Shippûden ED20)

I do give credit to the Naruto staff for occasionally trying out different perspectives for some ending themes, as there's just so many times you can re-introduce the characters in the opening themes without it requiring a little more artistic-licensing. I'm quite impressed by this latest effort to recreate the rivalry between Naruto and Sasuke, a Nara Animation mini-production. The art style looked familiar—lo and behold, Shingo Yamashita, the guy who designed this ED, also designed and drew the ending themes to Tetsuwan Birdy: DECODE. I really like the natural movement and the lack of heavy lines, and Hemenway's song doesn't clash with the underlying metaphors. A very good Naruto ending, but certainly not the best.

6."Gekkô Symphonia" ("Moonlight Symphonia") - AKINO & AIKI from bless4
(Aquarion EVOL ED)

There are a few duos that sing together in anime songs, but there aren't many duos that sing at each other in anime songs. I liked that dynamic between AKINO and AIKI, as their dance amongst a percussion-less symphony sounded like one between two lovers instead of two partners. Even better, the transitions between the pictures is flawless and artistic in two senses of the word. While the poses may be more suited for a glamour magazine, the general feel of the pages are somewhat older, as if crafted from ancient tomes.

5. "My World" - SPYAIR
(Mobile Suit Gundam AGE ED2)

My opinion on Gundam gets tweaked back and forth between passing interest and slight distance. Never been a solid follower, but also never been a vocal opponent. You have your mecha, and I'll be totally fine with my Voltron and Giant Robo. However, the latest incarnations—Mobile Suit Gundam UC and the youth-infused Mobile Suit Gundam AGE—are forcing me to rethink the franchise. While I candidly admit that I will never settle with Tomino's versions of the 80's, I'm bonding with these modern shows.

It certainly helps when you have a power-pop band like SPYAIR charging into the atmosphere with their brand of teeth-gritting rock. I thought they nailed the tension of the battlefield with their "Samurai Heart" ending to Gintama', and they assembled a decent Bleach ending theme with "Last Moment". The animation for "My World" holds together long enough to give a vigorous propulsion to the show, and while main character Asemu's run towards his Gundam may not be riveting animation, the strong singing voice from lead singer Ike and Spyair's musical talent makes me feel like I could take on the world in my own giant robot.

4. "Ohisama" ("Mr. Sun") - Amesaki Annainin
(Daily Lives of High School Boys ED)

I wasn't expecting the world from the ED for such a tongue-in-cheek series as Daily Lives of High School Boys (a.k.a. #NichiBros), but I was expecting something funnier than the opening theme's animation. Indeed, we get a jaunting holiday of a song, purposely sung out of tune by the comic trio Amesaki Annainin, but it's the hilarity of the background animation that hits the spot. A nonsensical play depicting the Sanada North High School boys as warriors turns into a mockery, as the heroes actually end up defeating the "maiden in distress" in the process, much to the audience's implied boredom. Like the series itself, the animation may not be great, but the intangibles make this ending a great watch.

Besides, any animated ending that has a character lose his clothes with the old "hidden-wire-pull" trick is automatically a plus in my book.

Not soundtrack cover

3."Rakuen no Photograph" ("Photograph of Paradise") - Yuichi Nakamura
"Kimi wa" ("You Are") - Rina Hidaka
"One Way" - Mamoru Miyano & Takuya Eguchi
"SM Hantei Foramu" ("SM Judgment Forum") - Tomokazu Sugita
"sweets parade" - Kana Hanazawa
"Taiyo to Tsuki" ("Sun and Moon") - Yoshimasa Hosoya & Yoko Hikasa
(Inu x Boku SS ED)

It's unfair for me to lump all six of Inu X Boku SS's ending together, as much like one's own children, it's hard to pick one without discriminating against the others. However, I'm more impressed with the way that the staff mixes thoughtful bits of comedy into the more impressive endings. Miketsukami (Nakamura) sings a romantic pop song over strings, all while kids off-camera watch him stand under a shower of Ririchiyo's pictures. Zange (Miyano) sings a fun disco number while Watanuki (Eguchi) interjects with angry criticism of the lyrics. Kagerô (Sugita) performs a march that quickly becomes a rock number filled with expletives, all while he rushes to separate the names in the credits by their sexual perverses ("S" and "M", of course).

Admittedly, the best ending is the candy-coated number from Karuta (Hanazawa), who reservedly sings at a low breathy register about all the sweets she enjoys. Yes, it's a blatant excuse for the staff to put Karuta in costumes while she eats different snacks like a Pocky sales-girl, but the song fits her character way too much. Almost her best song so far (sorry, but "Renai Circulation" is still tops.)

2. "Naisho no Hanashi" ("Story of a Secret") - ClariS
(Nisemonogatari ED)

As a fan who waited patiently for a follow-up, I will be the first to claim that Nisemonogatari was a deflating disappointment as a sequel to the incredible Bakemonogatari series. There were too many in-jokes for soothing the savage fans from the initial show, and Crunchyroll figured word-of-mouth would be enough to draw in newer fans. While I fault complacency as Nisemonogatari's downfall, I commend the musical selections for trying to at least remind us that the songs are Shaft's strong points.

Yes, yes, I know. Another spin-off from Supercell's brainchild Ryo. However, I do like the composition of "Naisho no Hanashi", a bouncy force that capitalizes on ClariS's ability as a duo to sing in lower registers and complementary tones once the melody comes into play. Couple that with a "hey-hey, doot-doo" bubble-burst sound that pops over twisting guitars, and I'd say ClariS has themselves a great song that serves as a sound dichotomy versus their last two violin-powered songs ("Irony", "Connect").
In addition, you do have some clever animation from Hajime Ueda, the cartoonist who gave us the FLCL manga. A bonus for the ending, even though the animation itself seems to be too complex to really serve a purpose. Definitely a memorable ending, but it could end up being forgotten due to the underwhelming effort of the show itself.

1. "Takaramono" ("Treasure") - Marina Kawano
(Natsume Yûjinchô 4 ED)

Every time I watch Natsume Yûjinchô, I get this enormous calming sensation that washes over me. There's always conflict between forces, but an outbreak of violence doesn't overwhelm the senses, and Natsume solves each problem with spiritual grace and a breath of life through paper, not a blood-curdling yell and a swing of a katana.

I suppose that's what I've come to expect and enjoy when the show comes to an end each week. Each ending is a living scroll, a picturesque seasonal landscape accompanied with a breezy track. While the first and third have highlighted the pleasant nature of the summer, the second and fourth have highlighted the chilly winter with warm songs. Marina Kawano's contribution is toasty warm in its melody, a crackling fire while the snowflakes fall. The animation itself is bountiful, Natsume joined in the homemade igloo over the ninety seconds by friends, both human and yôkai. Even Nyanko-sensei's jocular humor shines as he enjoys a swig of sake and a nap on the igloo, invoking a pet-like happiness that you might see in Snoopy or Garfield.

With all this enjoyable ease fading away as another season of Natsume Yûjinchô passes, it makes me wonder if it has enough ethereal energy to exist as a fifth season. If it did make another appearance, I wouldn't mind if this ending was rerun. Easily the best song and ending for such a serene show.

Next time: the best opening themes of Winter 2012!

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