Saturday, July 21, 2012

Top 25 Ending Themes of Spring 2012

It took me a few minutes to get myself together for the 25 Best Endings to Spring 2012's anime season. By the time I was done a few hours later, I liked only one of the positions, and that was naturally the top spot.

So to hell with keeping it a secret until the end—I loved the music in Kids on the Slope, and its ending was naturally the best and only one I wouldn't change. Hell, I may end up building my own soundtrack from the jazz greats that appeared in the show.

I will say one thing about the endings this season—I was severely disappointed. In a way, I put a positive spin on that statement, as there was so much that was good about Spring 2012 that there was very little to find flawed in general. Therefore, by default, the endings get my scorn, as I really only liked about ten of them.

So perhaps we should guess to see which one I didn't like at all? Come on. Guess. Betcha you get it right.

Worst Ending: "Future Is Serious" - Aika Kobayashi
(Queen's Blade Rebellion ED)

Simply put, if you bought a Victoria's Secret catalog and took a video of the pages with this song in the background, you'd get the same effect. Horrible character designs are made even worse by the zoom-ins on chests, legs, and butts, and this is AFTER they did some trick to hide butts with the screen's edge. A purely testosterone-fueled ending with the producers lazily neglecting to animate a thing.

25. "Koi no Beginner Nan Desu (T_T)" ("I'm a Beginner at Love") - Rie Yamaguchi
(Kore wa Zombie Desu Ka? Of The Dead ED)

KoreZom ultimately realized that they were going to be eaten alive by the competition and merely ran an ending much like their last season's ED. More of Ayumu fantasizing about the female cast ending with more flowers shoved into his butt. Really disappointed by the sequel in general, but the music and animation are just Xeroxes from last time.

24. "Yunoha no Mori" ("Yunoha's Forest") - Yui Ogura
(Aquarion EVOL ED2)

Haven't been following Aquarion EVOL that much, but it seems to me the show has been trying to sing at the top of its lungs for attention. That makes this whispered ending by Yui Ogura even harder to approach. Normally, a Yôko Kanno song would be embraced, but Ogura's in-character voice doesn't make her a good singer for the ballad. If the show had a little more exposure to the world, this might be ranked higher.

23. "Te wo Gyu Shite Ne" ("Squeeze My Hand, Okay?") - Rumi Ôkubo
(Acchi Kocchi ED)

Adorable, yes, but this ending to one of the cuter shows of the season lacks punch. I suppose it makes sense, as every chaotic scene between friends in Acchi Kocchi needs an endearing one between the lovelorn Tsumiki and the soft-spoken Io, but it's a bit of a sleepy love song. Nice approach with the bottle tops, but a lot of steam is lost in the end.

22. "Madoromi no Yakusoku" ("Promise of Slumber") - Satomi Satô and Ai Kayano
(Hyôka ED)

Satô and Kayano have a nice harmony with each other in this last ballad before bed, but the animation seems to take so much away from the song. The two characters from Hyôka seem so uninterested with things on their giant bed that it's hard to really keep interest sparked. Perhaps this ending worked when K-On! was blasting rock with the characters fashionably bored, but not this time around.

21. "Ashita e no Kaerimichi" ("The Road to Tomorrow") - Sphere
(Natsuiro Kiseki ED)

Again, without an actual storyline to follow, all I see in the animation is a bunch of cute schoolgirls sitting and running and a bench with a Lawson's logo. (In this age of WcDonald's and Cora-Cola, how'd they get that done?) At least Sphere demonstrates their harmonic talents as one of the better groups in anime, producing a chorus that makes them sound like a superunit.

20. "Colors" - The Sketchbook 
(Sket Dance ED5)
The Sketchbook has been a band that seems too pre-fab for me, their origin merely a triviality, as they were purposely assembled like an automobile from Avex. I'm not a fan of their sound, as lead singer Hiroshi Tada's voice has been obviously altered, but I suppose it's good for the show, which is driven more by its comedy. The animation is there just for filler, and the song seems out of place. Would it hurt so much to use The Pillows again?

19. "Hôkago no Yakusoku" ("Afterschool Promise") - Ayako Yoshitani
(Mysterious Girlfriend X ED)

I do like this horn-laced strutter by Yoshitani, resembling more of a parklife atmosphere than a schoolroom one, but all this drooling by Urabe and the other female characters seems so unnecessary. Using drool as a plot device is one thing, but it will never be moe, no matter how often you try using it. Have a little class, folks.

18. "> Unfinished >" - Kotoko
(Accel World ED)

Another song decides to cut itself into an 80-second production, which isn't all that bad. The song is relatively forgettable with its synthesized power, but at least  the animation is nice. The scene with Haru's avatar limping after the unattainable bird of happiness with his avatar's arm blown off is pretty symbolic and at least a good way to tell a story without retelling it.

17. "Ohanabatake ni Tsuretette" ("Take Me To The Flowers") - Aki Toyosaki
(Medaka Box ED)

Ah,  Medaka Box. I'm sure there are many who wish the lily pad the four main characters are napping on would sink, but compared to the opener, this up-tempo guitar-plucker is sweet relief. Nice and relaxing after a whole bunch of oversexed images, the animation sparing us with little movement, but perhaps a little too zzzzzzz for some people's tastes. Again, at least no boobs were involved.

16. "Ambivalentidea" - Nagi Yanagi
(Jormungand ED)

The ending animation itself may be subtle with its fade-to-gray approach, a still-life photo projected on a spent bullet casing, but the fragile song from Yanagi gives it more the air of a music box than an antique cinema reel. Perhaps it's a bit too simple to rank higher, but considering how violent a subject Jormungand covers, it's surprising to get this dying petal of a ballad. (Bonus points for the 10-second rap at the end. Her name is Koko. She is loco. I say, "Oh noooo.")

15. "Kimi to Boku no Banka" ("Our Elegy") - Yû Sakai
(You & Me ED2)

You & Me pretty much stretched out and let the Spring 2012 season pass it by like the loafing cat it was meant to be, so the ending theme wasn't expected to be some orchestral production, but I pretty much preferred it over the OP, which tried to Xerox Series 1's version. The song from Sakai is just right for boys; no tearjerkers allowed in this head-bopping pop song.

14. "Tomeru" ("Stop") - Yô Hitoto
(Zetman ED)

The ending animation's a bit shoddy for organization, composed of five fifteen-second snips that really don't make sense together, but the song from Hitoto is absolutely wonderful. She's got a great sense of blues when she sings, reminding me a little of Misia with her voice and rhythm. Not sure what it's really doing in a superhero anime, but at least someone in anime knew it felt good to hear some mainstream music for a change. Probably the best voice in J-Pop since Hikaru Utada?

13. "Calendrier" - Aki Okui
(Dusk Maiden of Amnesia ED)

I was totally mixed on this ending theme. While the taste of Dusk Maiden of Amnesia as a series was bitter, I thought the songs were rather fitting for a mystery show. Okui, much like Konomi Suzuki on the opener "Choir Jail", has an incredible singing style, but I'm a little disappointed that they tried to make it look like the main heroine is singing. The movement of the mouth may fit, but not once did I believe she was singing. Nice attempt, though, and I hope we hear more of Okui.

12. "Sora wa Takaku Kaze wa Utau" ("The Sky is Clear, The Wind Sings") - Luna Haruna
(Fate/Zero ED2)

What?! How DARE someone not rank a Fate/Zero song outside of ANY Top 10?! Look, the series itself was a terrific onslaught of action and explorations in sociology and politics, but this ending theme didn't excite me. In all likelihood, it's due to not really liking Kiritsugu and Irisviel as characters, and having them do little with movement during an overly dramatic song from Haruna makes it feel like I'm supposed to feel something new about them. Sorry. Not how I'd close an epic.

11. "Stand By Me"- Stereopony
(Eureka Seven AO ED)

I still love me some Stereopony, as they seem to know when to turn on the cute and when to break the knob with punk. The CD cover's photogenic portrayal aside (is that Elastica or something?), their singing style and music makes "Stand By Me" feel like it's meant to be played during a jet's takeoff. So what if it's just a display of the main character running and flying? It feels so much better than most of the ending themes this season. Wonder if they're touring the East Coast any time soon?

10. "Cascade" - Unlimits
(Naruto: Shuppûden ED21)

I've been a little gassed from Naruto recently. Yeah, Hemenway gave us a good closer with "By My Side", but other than that I've been disappointed. Now, if they used "Cascade" as the opener, THEN we'd be talking. Unlimits uncork a pretty good song, while the animation flows into a quick, solid one-on-one match between Naruto and Sasuke. Great to see the animators holding back on presenting every character, and there's some good connection to how Naruto used to be.

9. "Bamboo☆Scramble" - Panda
"Grizzly-san no G☆ROCK" - Grizzly
"Mizuiro" ("Light Blue") - Sasako
(Polar Bear's Cafe ED1-3)

I have to include all three endings, but let's face it. This is all Panda. "Bamboo Scramble" is airy without feeling too much like it's trying to be Chinese, the animation played with stop-motion and go stones. The other two endings are fun too, but Panda's already stolen so much presence already. Give him the ED, too.

8. "Super Step" - Ammoflight
(Phi Brain: Puzzle of God ED2)

For a show that's really meant to make you think (sorta), I appreciate a good song that just closes Phi Brain without anything too complex. No solving some sudoku just to see the end, thank the lord, just a nice rock number with lead singer Koji Tsukui bopping between falsetto lyrics while Kaito and his friends surf (albeit without moving) on blocks. I wasn't expecting the world here, just a good song to wrap things up, but perhaps we are missing a twenty-second brainteaser or something at the end?

7. "White Justice" - Faylan
(Mobile Suit Gundam AGE ED3)

I likely ranked "Dead End", Faylan's opening theme to The Future Diary's second season, way too low a few seasons ago. I'm likely going to make the same mistake now. The song itself is still a pulse-racer meant for mecha, but it's still a talented dance amongst strings and pianos. Even the animation manages to make the most of still-life, transitions in blue that use only a third of the screen. Gundam AGE's songs have been hit or miss, but this one's  scoring at least a triple.

6. "Start It Right Away" - Hyadain
(Kuroko's Basketball ED)

Please. It's Hyadain. Must we say more? Actually, we do. This isn't like a typical Nichijo opener, where the song transitions from one silly tempo to the next. There's actually a good vibe here that fits with a high-paced, high-profile sport like basketball, the characters posing like sports stars. The best thing is that Hyadain is singing like himself instead of resorting to a female voice.

Besides, the video is terrific in its cheesiness.

5. "Sora mo Toberu Hazu" ("I Should Be Able To Fly Too") - Sayonara Ponytail
(Tsuritama ED)

I wanted to rank this quilt-laden ending a little higher, but in the end it was just a patchwork of plush fish sliding across the screen to a drowsy little number. It definitely provides a seaside vibe, as I found my head swaying to the music like seaweed caught in a tide, the show given an exhale instead of any additional energy. Then again, anything really would have been better than Guilty Crown.

4. "Above Your Hand" - Annabel
(Sankarea ED)

I'm stunned that anime hasn't used bowling alleys more often in serious shows. (There was that "Bowling Musume" thing on Excel Saga.) As difficult as Sankarea was a few times last season, the themes were original and outstanding in their choreography. This ED has Rea laying helplessly in the lane itself, glow-in-the-dark bowling balls running about her like lights while Annabel's voice wafts in the darkness. While the anime may have been clunky, this ending feels like a music video.

3. "Subarashiki Sekai" ("Wonderful World") - Rake
(Space Brothers ED)

I feel there's some unseen force that is driving the popularity of Space Brothers, but I have yet to put my finger on it. The ending has only the Nanba brothers frolicking on terra firma and lunar soil, but the transition between the two makes it fun, the child forms of Mutta and Hibito leaping into space and time to land as their adult selves on the surface of the moon. As much as the series has focused on Mutta's sad life, it is still an uplifting one, and it's great to get that vision in animation.

Rake provides a very deep pop number, the slumbering ballad trading places with a serene R&B bop by the end that sings towards the heavens. My guess is Rake has borrowed some influence from crooners like Chemistry, and that's not a bad thing.

2. "Duty Friend" - NIKIIE
(Lupin the 3rd: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine ED)

Considering how utterly confusing the spoken-word Fujiko Mine opener was, I was astounded to get an ending I totally expected from the show. Sultry poses from a (visibly) younger Fujiko don't murmur for the viewer to "come hither", which definitely brings out the tragic confusion in Fujiko as an introductory character. One subtle difference does make this a chilly animation—did you notice the nuclear reactors in the distance about 28 seconds in? Interesting visual.

The song from NIKIIE herself fits the jazz vibe that has long been associated with Lupin the 3rd, but somehow brings a modern style to the series. This isn't a song that smells of cheap cigarettes in a New York club with clashes of hi-hats or the squeal of trumpets that peel off like burnt rubber. This is perhaps an even seedier side of the series, the melted buzz of a piano and the drugged stares from Fujiko making this song feel like it was being played at some 4AM Vegas strip club.

That's not to say this was a bad approach, as this was a series never meant to be brash. Fujiko's character was supposed to look and act completely different from how we recalled her, and this ending caps the action perfectly. 

(Bonus link! Here's the first 90 seconds from the music video. Dare I suggest NIKIIE is the Fiona Apple of Japan?)
1. "Altair" - Motohiro Hata meets Sakamichi no Apollon
(Kids on the Slope ED)

After about a week or two of Kids on the Slope, I truly wondered if I was asking too much for a jazzier opener or ending. This was, after all, a Watanabe/Kanno production, the same that produced the blistering "Tank!" opening to Cowboy Bebop, arguably one of the best openers to anime. Additionally, even with the promotional video, Kids on the Slope was also being advertised as a jazz anime—where's the warm glass of whiskey and the slide of brushes over a snare drum?

Now that the series has come and gone, however, I have adjusted my opinion immensely. This ending was exactly what the series called for.

Even though Hata's last anime song was used as a Naruto Shippûden opener ("Tômei Datta Sekai"), it's apparent from his instrument of choice that he's more comfortable with acoustic guitars. His lyrics patter the scene with tales of confessions never told ("that letter I wrote, left in my textbook pages / it has yet to be delivered to you"), but also of gratitude towards maturity. Yôko Kanno's music fills the gap between Hata's soliloquy with a swarm of violins, lifting the snow from the ground in an instant. The swirl of Ritsuko's ball of yarn in the air, Sentarô's outstretched back as he looks to the sun—all of that gently floats back into a meek scene with Kaoru touching the keys of a piano fondly.

I thought that a show like Kids on the Slope would have to appeal to my tastes to impress me. It turns out that expectations were meant to be defied.

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