Saturday, December 29, 2012

Top 25 Opening Themes for Fall 2012

Perhaps it's more due to the expectations I had assigned to the fall season after such a fruitful spring session, but I had high hopes that we'd get some creative approaches to the openers this season. Overall, while I think the music itself has gotten easier on the ear and catchier in the brain, I'm finding myself sighing more after the first ninety seconds of the episode.

I'm uncertain if it is due to the content of the shows. Long-distance hikes such as Space Brothers and Gintama' have resigned themselves to glancing out the window and appreciating the scenery, while shows granted a second season such as Sword Art Online and Medaka Box are sleepwalking, plenty satisfied with their content keeping the viewer's interest. Outside of the eternally-enjoyable Polar Bear Café and the Jojo's Bizarre Adventure remake, all of the shows in the Top 10 are first-time appearances.

The decent shows have managed to make ripples, but I can guarantee you this: the bad shows sank like shrapnel. You won't see To-Love-Ru Darkness and Girls und Panzer in these rankings, but you will see a show I wish we could scrub from the collective fanbase's memory, only for its incredible failure. I'm sure you've already guessed by now.

With that, I give you the hardest rankings I've ever had to sit through—the Top 25 opening themes of Fall 2012.

(Clicking the title of the song will bring you to the YouTube'd OP; clicking the artist will bring you to their PV for the song.)

Worst. "Self Producer" - Minori Chihara
(OniAi OP)

Perhaps the title of the song is meant to be ironic; the opening to OniAi is so purposely bad and egregious that it certainly feels like this opening theme was self-produced. Chihara had a short history of solid songs with her Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere performances, but now she drifts back into idol territory with this flopper. It doesn't help with all the partial nudity and come-hither posing and the gratuitous sexual positioning and the OH GOD JUST STOP WITH THE IMOUTO ALREADY.

25. "Takanaru" ("My Heart Beats") - Maiko Fujita
(Hiiro no Kakera OP2)

This is the part of the rankings where we have a glut of second seasons trying to reinvent themselves through their openers. Nothing's really changed with Hiiro no Kakera's OP, as Fujita, who sang "Nee" for the first season's OP, is kept for the second, and I dare wonder if the show's regressed. Very little movement in the animation, and you get those helpless looks from the heroine, while all the men in the show show off their battle moves and look beat up afterwards.

24. "BELIEVE" - Minami Kuribayashi
(Medaka Box Abnormal OP)

Those who followed the Medaka Box manga knew we were getting into SHOUNEN BATTLE! mode, so the opener is justifiably drearier than the first season's. Retaining Kuribayashi doesn't make the second song more memorable, and I'm not impressed with the animation's attempts to show cross-sections of what's to happen in the season, as the battle poses just don't grab me. All of this is a damned shame, since I'm certain it's more a weakness of the show than of the opening credits.

23. "No Pain, No Game" - Nano

I thought Nano's "Now or Never" was a terrific song for Phi Brain's second OP. I thought the pace, melody and rhythm fit the series, and I suppose the same could be said about her follow-up, the music more of a heavy audiothud to accompany the explosions. I do think that Nano is trying to push her voice too hard in the louder spots when it carries just fine from contrast with the softer areas. And it's BTOOOM!, so of course, boobs.

22. "Open☆Canvas" - Kana Asumi, Kaori Mizuhashi, Yuko Goto, Ryoko Shintani, Chiaki Omigawa, Hitomi Harada (Hidamari Sketch X Honeycomb OP) Too...cute. Can't...think...logically. I mean, the series is nice and all, but it's an audio-visual headache at times, and the song from the Wide-Face Six clashes with my mental state when it comes to the understanding that this is a Shaft anime. Personal biases, I know, but I just can't get into peppy themes without a signature pop, and there's too much variation to grab one. At least YuruYuri provided hooks with their openers.

21. "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" - eyelis
(Hayate no Gotoku: Can't Take My Eyes Off You OP)

The whole Hayate no Gotoku ship sailed without me years ago, so I'm really uncertain about how we should approach this new out-of-the-blue series. Is it comedy or intentional moe? If you were to redact the show itself and present only this opening animation and song, I'd call it art—not in the sense that it's pretty to look at, but in the sense that it's difficult to process. For some reason, the staff has an unhealthy appetite for symbolism, as the Mawaru-Penguindrum apple makes a cameo.

20. "DT Suteru" ("Losing My DT") - Golden Ixion Bomber DT (Ixion Saga DT OP)

How can Golden Ixion Bomber DT sing this song without cracking up? I still feel this is just one big troll of a song towards all the otaku out there trying to lose their virginity through non-traditional means. It's worth a laugh at first, but once I get through the snarkiness, I find the song itself isn't too great. I can hear the Autotune trying to crack the song's shell, and the accompanying fight scenes aren't much to enjoy. Really, it's only ranked this high because of the ZOMG PENIS REFERENCE humor.

19. "Little Busters!" - Rita
(Little Busters! OP)

The good thing about the fall season is that the music has improved dramatically. There isn't a bad song in the bunch from this point on, and I can really feel that with the Little Busters! OP. The animation isn't terrific, random characters turning towards the camera over and over again, but at least this sparkler of a song from Rita is drenched in enough sunlight to make it shine. I love the break away from 4/4 time for the main chorus—something that makes the song more identifiable.

18. "Innocence" - Eir Aoi
(Sword Art Online OP2)

It's pretty difficult to avoid talk about how quickly SAO had jumped the digital shark, but I have a feeling we can see it in the opening sequence. Yes, Eir Aoi does have an incredible voice, but I'm taking offense to how the animation is put together. Showing reflections of online personas in reflections is nice, but such creativity is flawed when people realize who hasn't had their avatar identity revealed. It's pretty easy to put two and two together, and that killed my ability to enjoy Season Two.

17. "Doubt the World" - Minami Kuribayashi
(Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse OP2)

Part of me really wants to appreciate Total Eclipse for attempting to make mecha more stylish, and at least the designs aren't as blocky as, say, Zoids, but it's still distracting that we get more characters introduced in the opening that we know what to do with. At least we're not given intentional butt shots, the cheesecake divided more evenly and kept to a minimum. I also find "Doubt the World" to be one of Kurabayashi's better songs and more fitting of the series at this point.

16. "KINGS" - Angela
(K OP)

I heard the "KINGS" song by Angela before I saw the actual opening to K, so the first stanza, complete with anvil clang, made me wonder if I had uncovered a hidden track from the Bubblegum Crisis soundtrack. I really like the throbbing bass permeating the overall sound, definitely giving it a "Kon'ya wa Hurricane" vibe. The animation itself, however, is too active and jumpy with too many visual tricks and background movement, while the English-language credits hog a lot of the foreground.

15. "Kimi ga Yume wo Tsuretekita" ("You Brought Me Dreams") - Ai Kayano, Mariko Nakatsu, Natsumi Takamori (Pet Girl of Sakurasô OP)

There is a lot to like about this opening in terms of its song construction, violins dominating the melody in the same manner that "Irony" by ClariS did during the OreImo OP, and I really like the breadth of the main chorus and its brightness. Visually, it feels like the animation conks out at bad times. The last 15 seconds feel poorly utilized with barely any fill, as the camera just pans out to the left...and shows a wall.

14. "Junjô Spectra" ("Naive Spectra") - Zwei
(Robotics;Notes OP)

Did I accidentally go onto YouTube and watch the Robotics;Notes opening dubbed with a Gundam AGE opening theme? I absolutely love the charge and intensity coming from Zwei, their "Bokutachi WA~!" possibly serving as a new meme in the near future. (JIBUUUN WOO), but the song doesn't fit the animation with a minor key in the beginning. Listening to the ominous tone of the background music, I was expecting the main character Kaito to be wiped off his scooter by a giant kaiju.

13. "Yume Miru Sekai" ("Dreamlike World") - DOES
(Space Brothers OP3)

The first Space Brothers OP, "Feel So Moon", was a launching pad to the series with its guitar-rocket fuel, and "Eureka" became a head-swinger with the fun dance number in the middle. By now, the show's reached a constant orbit, so there's no real motivation to give it any more thrust. The sequence starts with the Nanba Brothers and comic-relief Apo riding by bike and car and ends with them laughing as they push the empty vehicle and watch a shuttle blast off. Grandiose and simple, but not as memorable.

(Gintama' OP4)

I suppose the same thoughts for Space Brothers could be said for Gintama'. "Let's Go Out" is an okay song, but it doesn't really provide the shove that "Tôgenkyô Alien" or "Wonderland" provided musically. It almost seems too joyous for Gintama, considering the recent alternatives, but it is still a fun listen. I do like the way that the transition from Kintoki to Gintoki was just about flawless, save for the final interactions from Shinpachi and Kagura as the two accept Kintoki, but kick Gintoki.

11. "UNDER/SHAFT" - Maon Kurosaki
(Jormungand: Perfect Order OP)

I went back and forth between the first and second openings for Jormungand to get a sense of how the dominoes were set. The first OP, "Borderland", showed more "calm under pressure", Koko's unit displaying poise like toy soldiers while the song acted as the powder keg, but "UNDER/SHAFT" shows a more mobilized unit, now that the characters have all been introduced. I'm a much bigger fan of this kind of Kurosaki rock song; her last OP for Hakuôki Reimeiroku felt too antique for her style.

10. "Spirit Inspiration" - Nothing's Carved In Stone
(Zetsuen no Tempest OP)

I wouldn't categorize "Spirit Inspiration" as "Engrish"—yes, the song doesn't have a rhyme pattern, but its rambling challenge towards authority is clearly understood as a "spoken word" opener. The animation is heavy on battle and chaos, but the characters are introduced with just enough space and time. If anything, the guitar-rock from NCIS is the brains behind this opener, the 6/4 time signature on display and greatly appreciated.

9. "V.I.P." - SID
(Magi OP)

Looking at SID's past performances on the Oricon charts, I suppose success has come easily to them, but it helps that they've had blistering songs on the Full Metal Alchemist ("Uso; "Rain") and Bleach ("Ranbu no Melody") soundtracks. It's good to hear them finally break out into lesser-known territory, as "V.I.P." is surprisingly cheerful and complex for the band. I can't say the animation itself is anything breathtaking or earth-shattering, but I'd say it sets the scene well with an uplifting song.

8. "Q+A Recital!" - Haruka Tomatsu
(My Little Monster OP)

I haven't been an extreme fan of Tomatsu's songs, but I think that turned around with the "Oh My God" ending to Nekogami Yaoyorozu. The Sword Art Online ending was decent as well, but I'm rather fond of this horns-laced number, the music from the brass so shiny it requires sunglasses. The animation isn't much, as main characters Haru and Shizuku dance awkwardly amongst a flashy background, but the music outdoes Wagnaria's "Someone Else" in terms of a fun ska flashback.

7. "Kamisama Hajimemashita" - Hanae
(Kamisama Kiss OP)

Upon first listen, I can understand why some fans are clamoring happily for this breathe-easy opener from Hanae, a soloist who appears doll-like and fragile in her promotional video. The light breeze from the song does make Kamisama Kiss more playful to the ear, the tone matching the story's comic relief. I can't get over the stillness of the animation, the main character Nanami smiling a bit too much for a role she doesn't prefer, but I suppose it beats OPs that have nothing but running.

(Code:Breaker OP)

I'm going to get flak for expressing my appreciation for the Code:Breaker opener. I'll acknowledge that it's no different than Hiiro no Kakera with the male cast looking cool and aloof while tossing various psychokinetic projectiles, but I'd argue that GRANRODEO's 80's-style keyboards push this OP past the threshold that separates "Ho-Hum" from "Hot damn!" The attacks are lined up well with the main chorus and set the show as a fist-clencher, not a limp excuse of a handshake.

5. "Friendship ~ for Suki'tte Ii Na Yo." - Ritsuko Okazaki (Say I Love You OP)

If the opening theme to Say I Love You sounds familiar to some anime fans, it should. The original was penned by Ritsuko Okazaki and sung by the main cast of Love Hina for a 2001 character album. Okazaki sings this version herself, but it's almost impossible to find the source, as Okazaki passed away from cancer complications in 2004. It's amazing how such a delicate song works for an opener, the soft guitar and piano framing Mei's somber personality while the animation drifts through still life.

4. "Sparkling Daydream" - ZAQ
(Chûnibyô Demo Koi ga Shitai! OP)

If KyoAni has taught us anything in the past few years, it's the fact that they can produce a mean opener that gets people talking. So far, you've seen thousands of parodies taking advantage of eyepatches and split-screen transitions used in the Chûnibyô opening. It makes an interesting debut for ZAQ, who has written songs for Hidamari Sketch (see #22) and Saki: Achiga-hen. The song itself has a fruity bounce to it once you dive into the chorus, but you came here for the finger-spin, am I right?

3. "abnormalize" - Ling Tosite Sigure
(Psycho Pass OP)

I haven't seen that much of Psycho Pass this fall, but I definitely feel the mystery surrounding the series from the opening sequence alone. I'm a firm believer in monochromatic animation, and I like how the animators have dabbled with darkness to produce a photonegative for most of the 90 seconds. At times, it feels like an homage to Ghost in the Shell, the two main cast members tangling with weaponry and biology as they sink in inky water.

Some feedback I have read from others criticizes the OP for the song selection, as Ling Tosite Sigure (a corruption of rin to shite shigure, or "chilly shower") provides a rather creepy rock number where lead singer TK sings in tones that are sometimes inaudible while bassist Miyako hits the higher notes. Electric and eclectic, perhaps, but I think the singing style fits all too well with the tone the show is trying to set. The guitars and drums feel raw and untamed, careening back and forth within their tempo, only to cut the cord for quieter moments. It's not Beethoven or the Beatles, but I like the type of motorbike rock that Ling Tosite Sigure have bred.

2. "Rough & Laugh" - Clammbon
(Polar Bear Cafe OP2)

At first, I was crushed by the weighty realization that "Boku ni Invitation" had outlived its use for the Polar Bear Cafe opening, but a few listens to Clammbon's follow-up, and I had gotten over the anxiety. I was a bit concerned that we would never get the catchy head-bopping melody back, but lead singer Ikuko Harada's lilting lyrics, matched with a jogging drum-track and a dancing melody, lifted my spirits.

While the song plays a vital role in getting the viewer set for a vibrant show, the animation does a terrific job at having the animals and humans catch the viewer's attention without screaming for it. Sasako zips to work on her bicycle, bypassing characters that go about their daily businesses (Full-Time Panda trying to work on his part-time job) and playfully dodge unwanted love interests (Panda tumbling from Rinrin). Blink, and you may miss some of the funnier characters in the foreground. Finish it off with a scene that changes every few episodes with the season, and you have a warm opening just perfect for the light-hearted comedy Polar Bear Cafe has been known for.

1. "Jojo ~ Sono Chi no Sadame" ("Jojo ~ Blood of Destiny") - Tommy Hiroaki Tominaga
"BLOODY STREAM" - Coda (Jojo's Bizarre Adventure OP)

In retrospect, I suppose I didn't need any sort of ranking system for this season. The top spot was predetermined. There was no act, no song, nothing in my mind and matching my rubric, that met what Jojo's Bizarre Adventure brought to the table in terms of volume, melody, creativity and showmanship. This was an all-out overwhelming victory.

First of all, there is no doubt that the best way to approach this series was by following what the manga had scripted before, each "part" to be assigned its own opening sequence, but I wasn't expecting the animation to follow the manga to the point that both were trying to assimilate the other. The "Phantom Blood" opening quickly transitions between two-dimensional manga and three-dimensional artistry, catching the overall story at interesting angles and twists. Coupled with the hearty vocals from Hiroaki "TOMMY" Tominaga, the lead singer for the "brass-rock" band BLUFF, the overall sensation left behind is one of mischief and redemption, Tommy's curdling call for "!" punctuating the trumpet-led crash.

I'm not as big a fan of the second OP for the "Battle Tendency" arc, but I think the animation and music is appropriate for the switch in time, London's chest-beating pride exchanged for New York's swanky glamor. The battles are much more vague, silhouettes in blue and pink dancing in front of a dazzling background appropriate for a fashion capital. The horns are livelier and meant more for a dance floor than a battle arena. Even the credits strut into place, drawn with kinetic fonts that appear to dance from an invisible pen.

There is just no comparison in terms of animation and music. Jojo's Bizarre Adventure came in as the expected champion and left as the reigning champion. It's going to be tough for other shows to rip the belt from Jojo's in Winter 2013 and beyond, and if they try to do so, that show's going to get flattened by an audio steamroller (WRYYYYYYY!).

Next time: The 25 best EDs for Fall 2012!

1 comment: