Musical Attraction: Anime OPs and the Series They Represent (part 2.1)

We had some great discussion last time in the comments about anime OPs and I got some fantastic suggestions to add to the list.

John Samuel mentioned the OPs for some great older series: Key the Metal Idol, Dirty Pair TV, Record of Lodoss Wars, and Serial Experiments Lain. I’ve heard of all except the first one, but I have yet to watch them. However, the OPs did their job and intrigued me, so I’ll definitely have to check them out sometime.

Angel mentioned “Cha-la-la,” the first DBZ opening. Because DBZ is DBZ, this song is probably a strong memory for many anime fans (but not me personally ‘cause I never got into DBZ. Whoops!).

Thanks for your input, everyone! It’s always nice to hear other’s voices with things like this.

Now, today’s post will cover good OPs for series that simply aren’t as widely known as the ones mentioned last time. Because there are a lot of songs I’d like to talk about in this segment, I’ll be covering them in separate posts dedicated to one or two genres.

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Good OPs for good shows (jazz and techno)

I’d like to start off with two OPs that are similar to Cowboy Bebop’s. I’m no musical genre expert, but I would classify these as jazz/big band songs that you could possibly swing dance to (not jitterbug, but maybe some other styles).

1) Baccano!–Guns&Roses

One of the first thoughts I had when I started watching Baccano!  was “I haven’t seen or heard  an OP this classy since Cowboy Bebop.” I still stand by that statement as there are many similarities between this song and Tank! in terms of its energy. Even the structure lines up almost perfectly. You have the dynamic horns at the start followed by a driving bass line and then a steady build up to the chorus. The song’s jazziness fits in perfectly with the anime’s setting (late 20’s-early 30’s America) in a more obvious way than Tank!. Outer space and jazz isn’t a usual combination, but it still works. Guns&Roses has the advantage of representing a previously established time period and culture in Baccano!, but that doesn’t mean it’s anything less than a great song. It may not garner as much of an emotional reaction as Tank! since Baccano! is a bit of a cult hit and the anime itself is pretty confusing when you watch it the first time, but it still stands out among many other OPs simply because of its genre. Most series play it safe and go with songs in the pop/rock area, but Guns&Roses immediately sets a very specific tone for what we’re about to watch. In a lot of ways, this song helps us feel like we’re actually going back in time.

So, why isn’t this song or this anime as widely known as others? I think there are two reasons for this: the first is that Baccano! only came out four or five years ago and remained under the radar for a couple years until it was licensed. Sure, tons of people know about it now, but it’s still a relatively new series and I don’t think enough time has passed for it to either be marked as a staple in anime or not. The second reason is that the story is hard to follow. Because it jumps around between years, you have to be a careful viewer to keep all of the details straight. Of course, everything comes together brilliantly in the end, but the fact remains that Baccano! isn’t as accessible as other series. It’s also not in a genre that many anime fans are used to seeing. That doesn’t make it any less of a great anime, but even the best songs don’t usually rise above the anime they’re attached to. In other words, it’s unlikely that someone who hasn’t actually seen Baccano! would know this song.

2) Read or Die TV

As far as I know, Read or Die is somewhat under the radar for most anime fans. Not many people talk about it and a good number of those who have seen it weren’t very impressed. Personally, I loved the series and thought the concept of paper magic was pretty neat. Neater still is this opening, which evokes all sorts of spy imagery. Like the previous song (and like jazz in general), this one is built around a driving bass line and horns that lead the way through narrow alleys in foreign countries. There is a sort of classiness to its constant motion and the song seems to fade out just as smoothly as it faded in. It’s bookended in a sense with the simple bass riff at the start and the flange guitar riff at the finish that repeats the main melody for the last time. Among other anime OPs, this one certainly stands out simply because of its genre and it’s a perfect match for the story it prepares us for.

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Now we’ll move on to a couple techno/trance OPs. Although a bit more common than jazz OPs, they’re not the most widely used genres and they usually represent futuristic/sci-fi series. There are three in particular that I think are fantastic songs, and the anime themselves aren’t that bad either.

1) Paprika–Meditational Field

So far, this is the only Satoshi Kon film I’ve seen (sad, I know, but I fully intend on watching the others). My experience with anime films is limited, but Paprika is one of the few I’ve seen with an opening song. And what a fantastic film it is with an equally fantastic soundtrack. Meditational Field seems to capture in music the tone of the entire film. The choir-like vocals, rendered such that they sound synthetic, mixed with driving drums and synthesizer trills create a very dream-like state in the audience (or at least that’s what it’s trying to do). In a sense, the structure of the song can be likened to the stages of a dream. It begins with the treble pieces–the female vocals and light synth melody–which are like the first images of a dream that come before the entire picture is clear. Seconds later, the bass and drum sections come in, filling in the gaps and taking the “dream” in a specific direction. It is both soothing and exhilarating, leading us further into that place where dreams and reality blur. Like dreams, the song even ends abruptly without bothering to finish its statement or create some type of resolution.

Because Paprika is as much a psychological film as it is a sci-fi one, it makes sense that its music captures both of those aspects. However, its themes are what makes it a difficult and therefore less popular film than, say, much of Miyazaki’s work. It is a film that is so deep in symbolism that it completely blows over the majority of the teen anime fans. It takes a close eye and a couple run-throughs to see what’s going on. Even so, this opening is unique enough that, were Paprika more widely-known, it might stand among those songs whose reputation precedes that its anime.

2) .hack//sign–Obsession

I fondly remember the days when .hack//sign aired at midnight on Cartoon Network. It wasn’t part of Adult Swim, but some other late night block that also showed Rurouni Kenshin. I watched it solely because it was anime and I thought it was pretty neat. The opening, of course, got me incredibly stoked to experience a more fast-paced show, but .hack//sign is the opposite of fast-paced. Even so, it takes all of that extra time to talk about things like identity and escapism. Makes sense for a series centered around a video game world.

Anyway, Obsession is one of the few opening songs I know of that’s entirely in English, even if it doesn’t always sound like English. One of the key lines in the chorus says it all: “How come I must know where obsession needs to go?” Here, the entire premise of the anime is summed up in a single statement and the fact that these vocals are surrounded by all types of driving, synthetic sounds can indicate a number of things. The first is that the internet and online games are distinctly unnatural. By “unnatural” I don’t mean “bad.” I mean that almost no part of them occurs naturally in the world. Everything in an online game is a fabrication, a fake copy of things we know from the real world. In many cases, online worlds use the benefits of fabrication to create worlds that are so imaginative and distant from our own that we find ourselves easily lost inside of them. However, there is always that sense of detachment from our actual surroundings–from the “natural,” if you will. .hack//sign at its core is a story that explores that detachment and the consequences of immersing yourself so deeply into another world that you lose sense of who you really are. Obsession’s techno sound and echoey vocals reflect all of that.

While it does a good job of representing the series in a catchy way, its popularity (or lackthereof) hinges on .hack//sign itself, which moves at a snails pace and is more focused on exploring its themes through conversation than action. This limits its appeal to those who can stand to pay attention. Still, those of us who enjoyed .hack//sign know how fantastic this song and the entire soundtrack is.

3) Code Geass–Hitomi no Tsubasa

This is definitely the best opening in season one and it bums me out that they only used it for two episodes because I think it captures the intensity of the series more than the previous songs. Like the other techno songs we’ve looked at, this one employs the same sense of determination and passion. What stands out most to me is the vocal tone. It is predominately desperate and that desperation is fitting with the placement of the song in the series. In the last four-ish episodes, people die, secrets are revealed, and all sorts of other related things happen. The tension is rising as the season comes to a close and this song prepares you for that action. Unlike .hack//sign, Code Geass actually delivers the action that its OP leads you into.

Of course, the reason why this song isn’t recognizable unless you watch the show is because it’s only used for two episodes. Therefore, it has no chance of defining the anime in any way or perpetuating its popularity. To date, it’s part of the fastest OP turnaround I’ve seen.

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Overall, it appears that jazz and techno are limited in terms of the anime genres they’re attached to. The shows I’ve discussed here are definitely great, but they don’t rise to that level of widespread recognition and neither do their OPs. However, the quality of the songs matches the quality of the anime themselves–in general, the music doesn’t give you high expectations only for the show to be terrible.

Next time, I’ll look at rock/pop OPs. These tend to be more versatile genres, so they can represent more types of anime. The songs I’ll mention will also be good songs that match good stories.

Meanwhile, I want to hear from you all! This list is by no means comprehensive and my interpretations certainly aren’t exclusive. What are some other jazz or techno OPs that you know of? Do you feel that the awesomeness of the song matches the awesomeness of the anime?

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One thought on “Musical Attraction: Anime OPs and the Series They Represent (part 2.1)

  1. I can’t think of any jazz or techno pieces off the top of my head (besides the ubiquitous “Tank!”), but I did want to emphasize that John Samuel’s mentions of Lain and Record of Lodoss War are spot on…awesome, awesome OPs.

    Like

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