Saturday, June 16, 2012

Best Opening Themes of Spring 2012


Well, I suppose everything generally got better this season. Last season's ugly opening-theme performance aside, there were just too many good shows in Spring of 2012 to screw up the OPs for the second season in a row. Even with the passing of the Gintama' anime, there was a lot to choose for musical services, and a lot of opening animations were nice to watch.

So just sit back and listen to the dulcet tones of Mutta Nanba(?) as we count down the Top 25 Opening Themes (and the Worst One) for Spring 2012.

Not actual soundtrack cover

Worst Opening. "I.N.G." - Sweet Arms
(Upotte!! OP)

Don't bother. Upotte!! was so bad as a series that I can't recommend any part of the show, not even its harmless opening theme. The nondescript main characters basically go to school, pose with guns, and do schoolgirlish things...with said guns, while the nondescript male lead slips on a bullet casing. The song itself is a cheese-grater to my eardrums with its out-of-tune opening—if you want a better "I.N.G." song, opt for Rip Slyme.

Other shows missing the cut: "Paradoxical Zoo" - AKINO with bless4 (Aquarion EVOL OP2), "Happy Crazy Box" - Minami Kurabayashi (Medaka Box OP), "Hitori no Kimi ga Umareta to sa" ("Once You Were Born") - Shoko Nakagawa (Folktales from Japan OP), "Reboot" - Everset
(Sket Dance OP5), "Zutto" ("Always") - Tomohisa Sako (Kimi to Boku OP2)

25. "*** Passionate" - Iori Nomizu
(Kore wa Zombie Desu Ka? Of the Dead OP)

I can't help feeling a bit disappointed by the second season of Kore wa Zombie Desu Ka?, as the show was picked up late by Funimation and slid into their lineup nonchalantly, but I'm also disappointed by the opening theme. It seems they've added only two new things to the opener—a new song from Nomizu (who sang "Ma-ka-se-te Tonight" for the first season) and a lot more boob-bobbling. Other than that, there's really nothing different about the opener, and that's a huge drag for a show that probably had to score some major points to be recognized this season.

Not actual soundtrack cover.

24. "Pegasus Fantasy, Ver. Omega" - MAKE-UP feat. Shoko Nakagawa
(Saint Seiya Omega OP)

The new rendition of Saint Seiya didn't really grab my attention this season, but the rendition of its opening theme at least caught my ear. For what it's worth, while the original song from MAKE-UP back in 1986 was pretty good for its time and had more impact, I like this more dramatic version with its use of piano in the opening refrain. At least it's good to have the band back together.

23. "Non-Stop Road" - Sphere
(Natsuiro Kiseki OP)

Yeah, this run-through-the-meadow of an opener is just like Upotte!! in the sense that it really doesn't tell much about Natsuiro Kiseki as a story, but at least the song was sung well. I like the spirit that Sphere has always brought to their music (they sang "High Powered" in the second season of Squid Girl), and there's none of that missing here. Besides, no guns.

22, "Real" - ViViD
(Mobile Suit Gundam AGE OP3)

For me, less is more when it comes to mecha openings. I can tell that Mobile Suit Gundam AGE has entered a much grander stage of drama, as the opener is full of less personable stares into oblivion and more action sequences that the first two OPs. The song from ViViD also seems to dictate more urgency and attention to battle strategy and less towards the beautiful vastness of space that we got from Galileo Galilei's "Asu E" from the first season.

21. "Escape" - Hemenway
(Eureka Seven AO OP)

For the most part, I guess running and piloting a mecha has to happen in the opening animation of a mecha show (saw that in Gundam AGE a few times already), and while I haven't been properly introduced to Eureka Seven, I get the idea that it's going to get about as dramatic as a shônen mecha show can get. At least Hemenway provides a nice little rock reverb to go with all that running.

20. "Nee" - Maiko Fujita
(Hiiro no Kakera OP)

If you spend your time helplessly watching your angry male harem fight with a bunch of glowstick attacks with a warbling ballad playing in the background, only for them to all grin at each other after they've been roughed up in the most bishônen of ways, then you might be the lead to this show.

19. "Me wo Tojite Gyusshiyo" ("Close Your Eyes and Hug Me Tightly") - ABCHO
(Sengoku Collection OP)

I'm not going to say that being a graduate of the Hello! Project isn't what it used to be, but I'm surprised to find Rika Ishikawa and Hitomi Yoshizawa, graduates from Morning Musume, playing it so close to the anime front. I'm not sure how official this is, but this might be the first time I've heard any Morning Musume grads approach anime songs as a milieu. The song itself isn't bad with its robotic interruptions and zizz, but there's just not enough appeal to have the characters pose like candy-coated mannequins.

18. "Chase the World" - May'n
(Accel World OP)

While May'n produced a pretty solid dance number for the first-season OP to Phi Brain ("Brain Diver"), this para-para number with its uninspired electronica feels like a step backwards. The animation takes two approaches to introducing the show by presenting the characters in their humdrum lives and in the field of battle, but neither really define the opening. That's a bit of a shame, since the animators seem to want to identify it with a topless Kuroyukihime for some reason.

Not actual soundtrack cover.

17. "Koi no Orchestra" ("Love's Orchestra") - Ayano Yoshitani
(Mysterious Girlfriend X OP)

So far, I've heard a few people describe Mysterious Girlfriend X as an homage to 1980s-romance anime shows, and perhaps they might be swept up into the comparison by associating Yoshitani's debut single with the show. If you've seen the show, you'd know that it's more of a deconstruction of a budding high-school love story, but the opener tells more of a typical story with Akira and Urabe enjoying more traditional things a couple might do. The song itself does have strings and bells that might remind the listener of Seiko Matsuda, while the animation floods us with those telltale "lemons" associated with sex.

16. "Miracle Rush" - StylipS
(Saki: Achiga-hen OP)

There's very little that's wrong with Saki: Achiga-hen's opening, but there's also very little in terms of technical style. It makes sense to flood the viewer with the syrupy smiles of every teenage girl in the mahjong moe-fest, whether they are simply spinning back to the camera or throwing down a tile. The song itself has no major malfunctions either, and at least it's accompanied by something better than the pole-dancing flab we saw at the end of Highschool D&D.

Not actual soundtrack cover.

15. "Shin Arashi ga Oka"("New Wuthering Heights") - Naruyoshi Kikuchi and Pepe Tormento Azcarar feat. Ichiko Hashimoto
(Lupin the 3rd: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine OP)

If there ever was an opening that tore a hole in convention, it is this spoken-word presentation for the Fujiko Mine show. Etched in black charcoal, the stop-motion animation is bare-boned and bare-skinned with Fujiko's breasts exposed to the world. While Ichiko Hashimoto waxes poetic about the philosophies of theft and sensuality, we find a metaphoric confrontation as Fujiko demonstrates her hatred (a scene with Fujiko pointing a gun at her doppelganger) and love towards herself (a lip-lock that likely blew a few minds). A bit mystifying for an opening theme, and unless I can figure it all out by the end of the show, it won't be as good as its ending theme.

14. "Acchi de Kocchi de" ("Here and There") - Rumi Ōkubo, Nobuhiko Okamoto, Hitomi Nabatame, Kaori Fukuhara, and Shintarō Asanuma
(Acchi Kocchi OP)


That's all we really need to say, but I suppose there's more. It's really just a nonsensical song, but it's good to hear it coming from more than just the high-pitched voice actress. Real good sense of tempo changes and runaway drums at the right time.

And the "Nyahoi!" helps.

13. "Yasashisa no Riyuu" ("Reason for Kindness") - ChouCho
(Hyouka OP)

After 26 episodes of Hyadain fun, it was tough adjusting to a very serious opening from Kyoto Animation this season. It's also tough to really grab what Hyouka could be about by just looking and listening to the opener, but at least ChouCho gives us a crystal performance that is delicate and musically sound. The animation also proves my point that you need something to catch the viewer, and at least overlaying the animation with cuts from the show that lurk in shadows and spreading ripples gives them something to look at.

12. "Dots and Lines" - Hitoto Yo loves Mummy-D
(Zetman OP)

I'd like to say that we've found a distinct line that separates the average OPs from the good ones this season, but I wasn't expecting the Zetman OP to be among them. I also didn't see this interesting combination between Yo Hitoto, one of Japan's surprising multinational stars, and Mummy-D, originator of Rhymester, one of the oldest rap groups in Japan. Hitoto is usually known for her folk-song style of singing, so to hear her perform a clear-cut R&B song so well is quite liberating. Some pretty good accompanying animation with ZET and Alphas battling in the background, all while the other characters tap their toes to the beat.

11. "Now or Never" - Nano
(Phi Brain OP2)

As one white-haired antagonist leaves, another takes his place in the second season of Phi Brain, but at least we're getting a solid grasp of tandems in the new OP, each character matched up with someone that will matter in their life. It's good to see the symmetry between Kaito and his new opponent in a physical sense (one shot flows from the bad guy's stance on a glass floor to that of Kaito standing on the underside). The song is also nice to listen to, the opening verse in a slower syncopated form before skipping into an off-beat discotheque dance.

10. "Choir Jail" - Konomi Suzuki
(Dusk Maiden of Amnesia OP)

It took me a few viewings, but I feel like I was almost tricked into ranking this OP too high. Granted, I will attest to Suzuki's voice as being one of the fullest ones I have heard in a long time, and her debut song for the Dusk Maiden anime fits right in with the withering sense of desperation that the show is looking to portray, but there are little things with the animation that keep it from attaining glittering marks. Frankly, an opening with only our brainwashed ghost Yûko might have been enough, but sneaking the klutzy Momoe into the scenery pulls the score down. Not enough sincerity in the OP.

9. "To The Beginning" - Kalafina
(Fate/Zero OP2)

There really isn't anything that I feel the animation of Fate/Zero has left to prove, so it's good to get the sense from this opener that the ending is coming close. The ratio of close-ups to distance shots is relatively even, each pawn in the Holy Grail War getting its parcel of time to show their preparations. Kalafina once again provide another incredible operatic song, the trio's voices fuller than any unit I can think of in current anime. This OP didn't need to do too much; it just needed to do enough.

8. "Taiyo Iwaku Moeyo Chaos" ("The Sun Says, 'Burn, Chaos'") - Ushirokara Haiyoritai G
(Nyarko-san: Another Crawling Chaos OP)

It has to be done. Haiyore! Nyarko-san has to be given this spot out of obligation for planting the "Uu! Nya! Uu! Nya!" bug in our brains. The animation is pretty much your typical harem-fest opener, but the sugar coming from the VA's for Nyarko, Kûko and Tamao is just too sweet to resist. If this song was a stick of gum, you would be chewing it long after the taste was gone.

Besides, any song that can get Norio Wakamoto (Vegeta, Dragonball Z; Mechazawa, Cromartie High School) to sing it is already golden in my book.

7. "Borderland" - Mami Kawada
(Jormungand OP)

As a series, I'll admit that Jormungand really isn't what I want to see in an anime about war—it feels a little bit like someone accidentally spilled a little bit of Gunslinger Girl into Pumpkin Scissors. I suppose that's why I'm a lot more attracted to this 90-second injection of audio adrenaline, as Mami Kawada's electronic pop-rock feels a lot more appropriate for sending a chill up your spine than getting you to break out into dance.

Of course, this OP wouldn't be ranked highly at all if it weren't for Koko Hekmatyar's chilly Cheshire grin. One moment, she's calmly seated before a white background as a business dealer, the next she's smugly facing the camera while a surface-to-air missile rises into the air like a dying sun. Very little motion, but enough to convince us she's a monster in white.

6. "Sakamichi no Melody" ("Melody on the Sloped Road") - YUKI
(Kids on the Slope OP)

Yes, I was expecting the opening theme of a jazz-based animation that employed Yoko Kanno as the show's composer to be exhilarating, but not every show can have a "Tank!" as its keystone. Nevertheless, while this isn't a Coltraine cover or a Thelonious Monk tribute, we're put in just the right frame of thought and time for a story about the confusions of youth and Western influence in Japan. As YUKI's wispy lyrics pull into a faster tempo with Kanno's music, scenes flip with the sweep of musical notes and staffs cast in the wind, the musicians lost in their crafts.

Honestly, I'm glad that director Shinichiro Watanabe didn't push for too much jazz in the sequence; it might have ruined the vibe.

5. "Can Do" - GRANRODEO
(Kuroko no Basket OP)

The last time we heard GRANRODEO on animated airwaves, they were providing the opening theme to that post-apocalyptic bishônen squee-fest Togainu no Chi. It was strong in its own way, but the feeling was obviously very dark. Having the duo perform a speedy rock anthem for a sports anime almost sounds counterproductive, but turning that minor key into a major one actually provides a ton of spirit into the opening.

Probably one of the more venturesome challenges was to introduce the characters without having them play too much basketball, but I think the animation staff hit it the right way. Distance shots, slow-motion sprawls, spots from behind the shooter that don't show the ball being released—these are angles that aren't usually considered for sports, and I'm glad they were introduced. The best sequence? The brash Taiga merely acknowledging Kuroko's presence with the look out of the corner of his eye while calming pigging out on an armful of burgers.

4. "Tsurezure Monochrome" ("Tedious Monochrome") - FUJIFABRIC
(Tsuritama OP)

I wasn't expecting the noitaminA show with the better opening to be the show that wasn't about music. Tsuritama's opening animation is broad and cheerful for its seaside setting, ribbon-like colors and fish-shaped bubbles dancing about the sights of Enoshima, all while the characters dance in a happy traditional Enoshima haino dance. Considering all the angst we got from Guilty Crown the past two seasons, this is a pleasant change of pace.

I also wasn't expecting to discover the interesting background behind Fujifabric. What is mystifying is that the band's original members are no longer in the band, as the band's former drummer Takayuki Watanabe quit in 2004 and lead singer Masahiko Shimura passed away in 2009. Despite the hiatuses and set-backs, the new incarnation of Fujifabric provides a song of surf and sun, their music a mix of Tube's summer rock and keyboards that climb like ivy.

3. "Feel So Moon" - Unicorn
(Space Brothers OP)

Personally, I'm not asking for the stratosphere when it comes to opening themes and animations. If you have the structure of a good story already in place, there's no need to fill your opener with profiles of your characters, no matter how important or small they are. You do need to catch the viewer's attention, and that starts with a good song or animation.

What truly surprises me is who the staff decided to get for the opening song. Unicorn was one of the "band boom" groups from the late 80's / early 90's that, along with The Blue Hearts and BOØWY, really launched beat rock in Japan. Their break-up in 1993 was unexpected, but it launched the solo career of lead singer Tamio Okuda, whose guitar rock influenced the likes of Puffy. The band reunited in 2009 and have released three chart-topping albums.

Fortunately, this space anthem isn't a melancholy "Major Tom" or "Rocket Man"—this is childhood victory. It's a sun-drenched rock style mixed with airy strings and a mid-song key change that really sends the opening theme into orbit, and Okuda does a good job not to crowd the music with too many lyrics. Combine all this with Mutta's goofball poses and a creative rocket-launch of sundry items, and you have a terrific start to the show.

2. "Boku ni Invitation" ("My Invitation") - JP
(Polar Bear's Cafe OP)

And there goes my theory that Autotune ruins anime openings.

Perhaps it's the fun that comes from the lighthearted comedy in Polar Bear's Cafe, but I guarantee you it is virtually impossible not to crack a smile during this opener. All you get is Polar Bear, Penguin, and Panda breezing about in a transforming automobile, coupled with dancing characters and panning shots from the cafe, and that's all you need. The bounce factor in the R&B-pop number will get your head wobbling, as you hunt for that melodic fly that has flown into your ear. Yes, the Autotune is prevalent, giving the "Ma-Ma-Mahalo" chorus hypnotic charm, but that's what gives this opener energy.

Someone better lock this one away. A song and opener this placid and mind-easing could be dangerous if it gets in the wrong hands.

1. "Esoragoto" ("Figment") - nano.RIPE
(Sankarea OP)

I have read a few of the early Sankarea manga chapters and was first appalled by the subject matter. No. Please do not go THERE by introducing a story about a guy who wants to fall in love with a zombie and a girl who becomes a zombie. There would be too many subtle hints that necrophiliac moe-comedy would make its way into the genre, and I wasn't having that. A deep breath (and many bitter swallowed pills) later, I'm finally ready to say that my mind is flexible towards Sankarea, and a lot of that has to do with the Herculean task of selling the story artfully through its opening sequence.

First of all, I'm extremely impressed with how negative space is used in the animation. White backgrounds do have a place in this world, and using them in the opening animation, coupled with a distant perspective, makes this opener feel like a stage play, each of the "actors" appearing as if being stared at by thousands in the audience.

Second of all, the transitions are scripted very well. Whether each small group of scenes is punctuated with the vague drop of an unbroken vase or pierced with a tennis ball splitting the sun in two, there's a sense that an appropriate metaphor is there. Even the very end is bound to be telling, the two main characters crashing into a tombstone with a splash of blue petals.

Most of all, nano.RIPE's song manages to pull up just enough of a lump in the throat from the music alone. The plucked lead guitars echo as if coming from outer space, while the lyrics from lead singer Kimiko speak of confidence growing from childhood loneliness. The song may not be as good as their works from Hanasaku Iroha, but the utility of its lyrics and sound certainly shine when they're needed most.

1 comment:

  1. I really like the Nyaruko and Amnesia ones!