Saturday, April 14, 2012

Best Opening Themes of Winter 2012

I'll state my position on the Winter 2012 opening themes by restating my position on the ending themes. There was not a lot to be excited about. I have a feeling that many staffs asked their moneymakers to either take the season off or nap until it was time to shine for the last two minutes. I suppose that's why so many shows felt dry in Winter; too much hibernation, not enough hi-fidelity.

Okay, then. Let's try to pry whatever meat we can find on these carcasses left over by the buzzards and make some sort of ranking for the opening themes. Slim pickings, folks. Hope you have eaten earlier.

Worst Opening. "Kill Me no Baby!" - Mutsumi Tamura and Chinatsu Akasaki
(Kill Me, Baby! OP)

No doubt that this out-of-tune polka from hell was the worst opening for the season. Mindless alien violence coupled with bad singing and music that sounds like it's coming from a broken accordion--how can anyone consider this opening to be a good lead-in for the show? And what the hell is Sonya referring to when she calls Yasuna "Naamin"? Is that some sort of toilet paper this opening theme was wiped onto?

Not mincing my words, folks. This was a horrible opener.

Not actual soundtrack cover

25. "key plus words" - Shihoko Hirata feat. Yume Kawamura
(Persona 4: The Animation OP3)

I got pretty tired of the broken English used in the openings for Persona 4: The Animation real quickly. It was cute in the first place, but then it became a strain to the ears. Hirata has a good voice, but she's not singing a song--she's singing random poetry. The animation is nice as well, but it's really nothing unique from the show itself. Characters put glasses on, their avatars fight, characters take glasses off. Nothing shocking about that.

24. "Trip -Innocent of D-" - Larval Stage Planning
(Highschool DxD OP)

Actual thoughts while watching the opening to Highschool DxD:

"Well, this show shouldn't be so OH YEAH THERE'S A NIPPLE. AND ANOTHER ONE."

Four sets of nipples later, and my computer was off.

It's a shame, since I thought Larval Stage Planning had a great opening to the second season of Baka and Test, but nudity from the waist up in an opening theme really drives me from watching any further. At least they didn't blind my eyes with those censorship sunbeams.

23. "Only You ~ Kimi to no Kizuna" ("Only You ~ My Bonds With You") - lc5
(Beelzebub OP5)

Drab, lifeless Shonen Jump opening with the main characters facing off against an unnamed faceless evil? Check, double check, triple check. I was hoping we'd see a show venture outside of the box, but it looks like Beelzebub has assumed its role as the assumed sequel to Yu Yu Hakusho. I do wish that someone would figure out how to put Pampers on that kid already.

22. "I'll Be There For You" - Ichiko
(The Familiar of Zero F OP)

Nothing really new with the fourth opening to the Zero no Tsukaima series. I do like the direction with the joyful approach from Ichiko, as this is meant to be a "happy ending" series, but there's really nothing new about the animation. Louise and Saito kiss, Louise punishes Saito--throw in a few sword clashes and magic spells, and that'll do. Of course, why must the female characters be presented starting at their busts?

Not actual soundtrack cover

21. Whatever it is they call the opening song for Poyopoyo Kansatsu Nikki.

I don't care what they call it. I don't care how long it runs. I don't care who performed it. The 30-second snippet of Poyo turning towards the camera and going "Hya?" is enough to make me put this on auto-loop. Poyopoyo is too adorable to give up.

20. "Serment" - Mami Kawada
(Shakugan no Shana III OP2)

I had to squint during the final opening theme to the final Shakugan no Shana series. With all of the synthesizer-piano soundtrack and bright lights illuminating the screen, I could have sworn I was watching some sort of Touhou final-boss battle. The animation is okay when the spinning clock is involved, but other than that it didn't feel fluid enough to justify ranking this one higher.

19. "Synchrogazer" - Nana Mizuki
(Senki Zesshô Symphogear OP)

I couldn't quite tell by the animation as it was going a bit fast, but were the Symphogear duo singing the OP theme song by Nana Mizuki while they were fighting? You know, that would be an excellent way to open up a show, but there were just too many cuts and action sequences to tell. There's also no doubt Mizuki has talent with her songs, but a little too many switches back and forth in the para-para dance song for me.

18. "Message" - The Sketchbook
(Sket Dance OP4)

Sket Dance is certainly trying to launch their own branded musical trio, but I just can't buy The Sketchbook as a talented group. Their sound is typically hampered with a little bit of vocal tampering, and that really weighs down on the opening itself. I love the Sket-dan trio for what they've become, but please don't try to turn them into some sort of rock band. The opening theme would be much better suited for a developed band, and the right sound could easily produce a terrific opener.

17. "Black Rock Shooter" - Supercell feat. Hatsune Miku
(Black Rock Shooter OP)

Again, I will emphasize this a thousand times. I would pay money to have Supercell take the hiatus that School Food Punishment took this winter. I don't consider them a bad ensemble, but I feel we've been hit too hard by lead composer Ryo's works. Too much of an average thing.

It's not fair to call this opening average, as the animation is quite good, but I question the use of Hatsune Miku as the songstress. Don't get me wrong--I'm impressed with the whole Hatsune Miku thing--but I'm afraid a virtual idol doesn't fit with noitaminA. I expect creative storylines and interesting angles, not eight episodes of Vocaloids fighting. Yeah, it's unfair to strike down an opening for the whole concept of the series, but life's not fair either, bucko.

16. "Happy Girl" - Eri Kitamura
(Listen To Me, Girls. I Am Your Father! OP)

I'm not heartless enough to vote this peppy number off the island. I rather like Eri Kitamura's personality in anime, and she really lets it shine in the opener for PapaKiki. Considering how grim this show is on paper--the three girls lose their parents early in the show--I'm glad the opening and closing themes are so bright and colorful. Of course, you do get the middle-school and high-school girls protecting their skirt flashes, so that's a pretty big downer there.

Not actual soundtrack cover

15. "marshmallow justice" - Eri Kitamura
(Nisemonogatari OP2)

And so we come to the first of three from the series from which I had expected big results, Nisemonogatari. I have always put Shaft high on the shelf in terms of openings and closing, especially with the five Bakemonogatari produced, but now I have to put this one under the microscope. I like how the trumpets paint Karen's theme as a brash ska-based number, and I enjoy the creativity when it comes to placement (for example, the "me" in Koichiro Natsume's name means "eye", and it's put right over Karen's right eye).

However, Karen's theme is the one I dislike the most out of the three. Hard to pin exactly why, but for all that energetic brass there seems to be little that happens in the opening. It's just a demonstration of all the angles one could view Karen, and some of them, such as those that try to make her appear more exotic and sexy, fall flat. Great opening, but probably the worst of all the -gatari OPs.

14. "Higher Ground" - S.R.S.
(The Knight in the Area OP)

I could listen to this up-tempo piece from S.R.S. over and over again. Fueled by guitar and synchopation on the hi-hat, "Higher Ground" has the feel of an alternative-rock number that could fit with the rumble of a motorcycle skirting the seaside. The corny introduction of the minor characters do pull the song's appeal back a few steps, but then again I don't think I'll find many soccer shows that can compete with the soundtrack from GIANT KILLING a few years ago.

13. "Dead End" - Faylan
(The Future Diary OP2)

Bummer. The opening to the first half of The Future Diary really had no comparison last season, so the pull-back from flip-flopping the performances for the second season (Faylan glitzes up the OP, while Yousei Teikoku demolishes the ED) is evident. Again the production staff does a good job at portraying the sicknesses of the characters, possibly better than the first season's OP, but there are also plenty of recycled spots. Of course, how can you rank Faylan's number so high when "Kuusou Mesorogiwi" blatantly destroyed the scale?

12. "The Everlasting Guilty Crown" - EGOIST (Supercell feat. Chelly)
(Guilty Crown OP2)

Finally, we can put Guilty Crown to bed. Am I the only one who felt like people were trying too hard to make this a memorable show? Supercell likely have really lifted their image to the stratosphere with these pulsing, chaotic numbers that bury piano music behind dance-hall crunchers, but there's just too much action in the animation. I do have to at least give it props for the hidden transition from wasteland to a field of flowers by the song's end, but yeesh. Turn it down, guys.

11. "Mōretsu Uchū Kōkyōkyoku Dai-Nana Gakushō [Mugen no Ai]" ("Bodacious Space Symphony's Movement VII [Infinite Love]" - Momoiro Clover Z
(Bodacious Space Pirates OP)

Oh yeah. You know it's a Hyadain number when the choir is in the background and the cathedral bells are ringing. In the span of ninety seconds, we get a march fit for a war general, a waltzing interlude, and Top Gun anthem, all packaged inside a quintet that's more Power Rangers than Morning Musume. Certainly a creative whirlybird of a song that fits a galactic miniskirted pirate patrol.

10. "Try Unite!"- Megumi Nakajima
(Lagrange: The Flower of Rin-ne OP)

Now we're getting to numbers that start to produce lumps in throats. The animation itself is a cool neon to the pastels that we've seen in most mecha shows, and we get a gradual introduction of the three main heroines. Visually, it may be less than stunning, but I really enjoy the groove that Megumi Nakajima gets into once this song takes flight. Perhaps Lagrange is a gentler mecha show, but the song feels more like a jet taking off instead of a rocket, streamlined and stabilized from gravity instead of trying to tear itself away from it.

Not actual soundtrack cover

9. "Futakotome" ("Second Word") - Chiwa Saitô
(Nisemonogatari OP)

At first I thought this was a replay of the first Bakemonogatari OP "Staple Stable" but it turned out to be a fake, a similar song from Chiwa Saito, the VA for Senjogahara. That being said, as the series taught us, sometimes fakes are more powerful than the real thing.

Well, maybe not. Saito has a lilting melodic voice that makes her perfect for these lighter openings, and she's well equipped for slight changes in the key. However, I can't help but feel that the staff got lazy with this opener, as the first version was incomplete, and we never saw the completed version past Episode 3. The animation is commendible in its simplicity, but I can't help but wonder if a little more thought could have been made to this one.

8. "Kimi no Shinwa ~ Aquarion Dai Ni Shô" ("Your Legend, Aquarion - Chapter 2") - AKINO with bless4
(Aquarion EVOL OP)

There's quite a bit happening in this opening, so much so that it's hard to really concerntrate, but Aquarion EVOL is certainly swinging for a home run in this grandiose opener. I hadn't realized until now, but those magestic musical arrangements are from Yoko Kanno herself, so the music is terrific and uplifting with nice blends of harmony. The animation is polished as well, transitions from scene to scene in ways more than just typical camera swings and pans, and I can't say I've ever seen flowers bloom during a midnight mecha battle. This would be a Top 5 intro if they left out some of the more blatant boob-jiggle, but beggars can't be choosers.

7. "Shiny Tale" - Mix Speaker's, Inc.
(Daily Lives of High School Boys OP)

There isn't much special to the opening of NichiBros, and I believe that the staff knew not to turn it into some outlandish opener to lift the audience's hopes up too high. You get the boys acting like boys, running and fooling around with each other while the misunderstood female characters just pose and scowl. To tell the truth, I picked this opener more for the value of its song, as I feel "Shiny Tale" is probably the best one from the season. Surprisingly, Mix Speaker's, Inc. is an amalgam of visual-kei bands, but you wouldn't be able to tell from the feel-good chorus and the run-away tempo. A terrific spring breeze of a song that totally fits the image, "Shiny Tale" is destined for my iPod.

(By the way, you'd definitely be able to tell MSI is a Vis-K band by the promotional video for the song, but that just makes the final product that much more fun.)

6. "Kyômu Densen" ("Nightmare Contangion") - Ali Project
(Another OP)

I never thought that one of the slightest details in an opening would scare the bejeebus out of me. Granted, this opening, a haunting neoclassical number from anime-theme veterans Ali Project, isn't as scary or terrifying as some other psycho-thrillers in anime (e.g. Shiki), and even the first Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni opening was scarier, but there's some good flashes between the inanimate dolls in Mei's store, the somber faces of the characters, and deathly situations you'd find in a Final Destination movie.

The one thing that does it for me is a shot 45 seconds into the OP. A shot of a standing coffin, partially open, and the doll's hand can be barely seen. Before the scene cuts, it moves ever so slightly. I swear that scared me more than any insignificant scene I can remember.

Nope, still not the actual soundtrack cover.

5. "Platinum Disco" - Yuka Iguchi
(Nisemonogatari OP3)

I have to hand it to meg rock and Satoru Kousaki; the partners in crime have been there for each other for every Bakemonogatari and Nisemonogatari opening theme. "Renai Circulation" really suckered me in when Bakemonogatari was on the air, the song's oompah tubas and Hana Kanazawa's playful singing style, and now their song for the "Tsukihi Phoenix" arc is just as addicting.

The bouncy tune from Iguchi is a throwback to the flute-driven "wasshoi, wasshoi" summer festival songs amplified with a plucky bass line and a dance from Tsukihi as random as her hairstyle. We see a very subtle animation style, as images of Tsukihi blend into each other while Araragi stands stonefaced in the background. Probably not the best from the NisiOisiN line, but the best from the Nisemonogatari series.

4. "Ima, Kono Toki" ("Now, This Time") - Hiiragi
(Natsume Yûjinchô 4 OP)

One thing I'll miss about the Natsume Yûjinchô series is the simplicity of its themes. The ending animations stick to the natural extremes of the summer and winter equinox, while the openings depend on folk rock and walks to school. This number from Hiiragi, a folk duo that's waited ten years for their big hit, sounds so comfortable in its precision, while we get bonus nostalgia as a young Natsume passes his older self. These are the themes that make me want to lounge on a grassy knoll and do absolutely nothing.

3. "Sign" - Ray
(Ano Natsu de Matteru OP)

I'll be frank ("Hellooooo, Frank!") about NatsuMachi; I didn't see much reason for it to be animated, and in the end it became just a retelling of Onegai Teacher! with a younger alien female. However, I did like the opening much more than the closing, and in general the show had a better soundtrack than the first two Onegai shows. The animation is crisp in the way it manages to flash between photography and 8-millimeter film recordings. "Sign" itself is a nice song in the way it is able to catch the breeze with its synthesizer, and Ray hits a very nice melodic purr at the end. Nothing wrong with this OP at all.

2. "Nirvana" - Mucc
(Inu x Boku SS OP)

I'm not entirely positive why I went with Mucc's "Nirvana" and the OP for InuBoku. Perhaps I'm partial to the series being solid in presenting itself as a romantic comedy with a slight twist and leaving itself open for a second season. Perhaps it's some remaining attachment to the ending themes, which I felt were all worthy of being the only closer for the show.

No, I think it might be the OP's animation knowing its accompanyment too well. The song seemed to flow very well with its animation, and any introduction of the cast was left as quick comings and goings, all the attention rightfully on Ririchiyo and Miketsukami. Lots of well-placed symbolism in the opening without giving too much away. As a plus, "Nirvana" also plays to a grander scale, sounding wide when it needs to soar and staying quiet when it needs to let the animation run.

This OP, truthfully, could have been ranked in many places. That's how scant Winter 2012's offerings felt.

1. "Wonderland" - FLiP
(Gintama' OP3)

However, there was no doubt that the last OP to Gintama' was the only (and I mean ONLY) opening theme that I am certain it deserves its spot. Gintama was never a show that cared what other people thought about it, and its themes always demanded brightness behind a brash guitar and comedy hidden amongst the drama.

Take this presentation from the four-female-unit FLiP. "Wonderland" starts out sullen and monotone as Gintoki and his group start the day, only for the guitars to dominate the melody and present the harder edge of the show. The comedy itself is presented in blips--Katsura and Elizabeth dash across water, only to be swallowed whole by...something--but then makes way for the meat of the animation, the Shinsengumi standing tall and invincible after a blood-spattered fight.

And that's the way I've learned Gintama on the whole has managed to survive. By taking the drama and severing it off from the comedy, you have yourself an enjoyable show. It worked well with Excel Saga, a parody anime that mocked everyone (including itself), and it works well with Gintama.

Okay, I sorta went off on my own tangent there that wasn't related to opening themes at all. Whatever. There was Gintama', and there was "the field".

That's the kind of season it was. If most of the shows from Winter 2012 started without a theme, I don't think I would have cared at all. Let's hope the shows for Spring 2012 at least understand enough to either go all out or not go at all.

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