Goodreads Review–Her Eternal Moonlight

Her Eternal Moonlight: Sailor Moon's Female Fans In North America, An Unauthorized ExaminationHer Eternal Moonlight: Sailor Moon’s Female Fans In North America, An Unauthorized Examination by Steven Savage

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was one of the interviewees for this book, so I’ve known some of the details and findings for quite some time. Not only was it great to take part in such a project, but it was also fascinating to read about so many different experiences of Sailor Moon.

This is a light-hearted, casual read that serves as a great introduction to one of modern anime’s most fundamental series. The Sailor Moon generation is grown up now, making our own culture and telling our own stories. This book helps explain why. As our generation creates more comics and TV shows, I can only imagine that Sailor Moon’s influence will become even more prominent, and all the experiences captured in this book (mine included) reveal the starting points.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about Sailor Moon’s cultural impact. You don’t have to be familiar with the series at all–in fact, you may enjoy the book even more if you’re starting with little to no knowledge. Seasoned fans, on the other hand, will enjoy the throwbacks to Geocities and fansubbed VHS tapes.

Frequent tense-switching and wordy or passive sentences sometimes makes reading clunky, but the main points still come across clearly. Ultimately, this book is a collection of women telling their stories about their heroes, which are too often brushed aside.

View all my reviews

Anime Challenge #1: Very First Anime You Watched

I’ve been busy over the last few months and that combined with writer’s block has made me ignore blogging for a while. To fix that, I’ve put together some light posts based on a 30 day anime challenge I came across a few months ago.

I won’t be posting every day. Heck no. But I feel like I need to have some new stuff going while I finish watching some series and write some of the deeper posts that I tend to do here.

So without further ado, here’s #1 on my list.

The very first anime I watched? Sailor Moon.

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I was in 3rd grade and I think the first episodes I saw were somewhere between the end of the Dark Kingdom arc and the start of the Doom Tree arc. It was the first thing I remember being obsessed with. I remember creating my own character with her own backstory and powers, the first time I’d ever responded like that to a cartoon. My favorite actual character, though, was Sailor Jupiter because she’s a brunette like me and isn’t super girly.

At some point, I acquired a Sailor Moon t-shirt with all the inner senshi on it, but I never wore it to school because I was afraid that people would make fun of me (hooray for internalized misogyny!). So, I’d come home from school every day, change into my t-shirt, and watch the episodes I’d recorded on videotapes. Sometimes, I got home early enough to watch Sailor Moon as it aired on Toonami. I was hooked and wanted all of my friends to watch it, but they weren’t quite as into the show as I was.

One day, I finally worked up the courage to wear my Sailor Moon shirt to school and hoped that no one would make fun of me for liking something so girly. By 3rd grade, I had already vehemently rejected skirts and dresses and wanted nothing to do with such “boring” things. For most of the day, people either said they liked my shirt or didn’t say anything at all. I remember one girl came up to me and we had some conversation about if Sailor Saturn existed (S had not yet aired in the U.S.).

Then, at after school daycare, a boy who found confidence in hating everything saw my shirt and asked me why I was wearing it in his mopey, there’s-a-giant-stick-up-my-ass tone of voice.

“Because Sailor Moon is cool.”

“Who’d want to watch Sailor Moon and her stupid Sailor Scouts?” he sneered.

That really hurt my feelings because I had been so afraid that someone at school would make fun of me and then it actually happened. I was not at all a confident child, so I had no snarky comeback. Instead, I left and sulked somewhere else.

Thankfully, I had a friend who either saw the whole thing or listened to me tell him about it and he (bless his heart) tried to make me feel better by saying that he thought Sailor Moon was really cool. We played together for the rest of the day, but even so, I never wore my Sailor Moon shirt to school again.

After that, my interest in Sailor Moon waned as I moved on to Pokemon and Thundercats. But it came back with a vengeance in 6th grade when what started as an inside joke between my friend and I about “that stupid show Sailor Moon” became a legitimate obsession, especially when we discovered the uncut Japanese version.

That, my friends, is how I became anime trash.

200_s
Petition to bring back 90s anime mouths.

For the next year and a half, I downloaded and watched all 200 episodes and most of the OVAs and movies (I never saw the Stars movie). My friend bought the manga and I’d borrow the volumes from her. I read through every Sailor Moon website on the Internet, saved every gif and picture, and generally filled my head with as much Sailor Moon knowledge as possible. I wrote fanfiction and original fiction that heavily borrowed from Sailor Moon (which I thankfully never put on the Internet).

I also became a Christian around the same time and got the first taste of my mother’s conservative concerns over my interests and the state of my soul. We had some unpleasant conversations, but they didn’t stop me from liking what I liked. I just learned to be more lowkey about it.

My dad had a more positive view of the whole thing. He saw that I was writing, drawing, learning how to use Windows Movie Maker (for AMVs of course), and attempting to learn Japanese, which, in his mind, were way better hobbies and interests than what other kids my age were getting into.

So, that’s how it all began. 3rd grade me caught Sailor Moon on TV one day and 7th grade me explored it in depth. Now, I’ve seen tons of anime series, been to several cons, cosplayed a bunch, made amazing friends, started this blog and have been interviewed for a Sailor Moon book due to release sometime next year.

Next post: Favorite anime you’ve watched so far. Just take a wild guess, but don’t cut yourself up about it if you’re wrong.

Why Not Both? Femininity and Masculinity in Tenou Haruka

Only 90s kids remember this cute commercial from a couple years ago because only 90s kids remember anything.

90s kids especially remember Sailor Moon and all of the awkward things DiC did to hide the gays, but no amount of “cousinly affection” can hide the fact that Tenou Haruka, AKA Sailor Uranus embraces both masculinity and femininity without experiencing any conflict between the two.

 As I discussed in my previous post about Sailor Moon and feminism, the sailor senshi gain the power to defend the universe exclusively through femininity. Most of the senshi are already pretty feminine in their regular lives, so there’s not a stark change when they don femininity to rid the world of destructive evil.

No really, why not both?

Then, there’s Haruka. She’s androgynous, uses “boku,” and is the smoothest smooth talker in the solar system. She hits on Usagi a little bit in the anime and a lot more in manga. At the same time, she distrusts Sailor Moon for a good portion of the S season and it almost seems like she never fully trusts her for the rest of the series. She and Michiru have a very difficult time accepting that Sailor Moon is a competent heroine.

The complexities of accepting Sailor Moon as her leader and the major issues with the monster-of-the-season trying to take over Earth are what Haruka deals with more than any conflict of her gender expression. There may be a few instances scattered here and there, but they’re not major parts of her story.

What’s interesting about Haruka’s gender expression is that she embraces both the comfort of her masculine/androgynous presentation as a civilian and the power of her feminine presentation as a sailor senshi. The power that comes with becoming more feminine is more apparent in Haruka because of her more masculine presentation when things are peaceful.

Breaching Barriers

This harmony between masculinity and femininity in one character speaks to a dichotomy among gay women that is gradually being broken down: the butch/femme dichotomy.* In one sense, Haruka is clearly the butch in her relationship with Michiru if they’re both walking around as civilians, but as sailor senshi, they’re both feminine (and it’s when they’re sailor senshi that their love really shines. Just remember their death in Stars). This shows that trying to define relationships between women in terms of butch and femme is both subjective and outdated. Butch and femme exist in harmony in Haruka, so which is she? Haruka’s character helps to break down this unspoken sense that a person has to choose whether or not they will always present masculine or always present feminine, especially if they’re a gay woman. Haruka’s civilian masculine presentation establishes her relationship with Michiru as butch/femme, but her feminine sailor senshi form subverts it because, for lack of better terms, the femme exists in harmony within the butch as opposed to only beside it. More generally, Haruka’s character is another way in which Sailor Moon supports different ways of being a girl. Once the plot tension eases between the outer and inner senshi, no one takes issue with Haruka’s gender expression. No one suggests that she should be more feminine to really fit the bill of “bishoujo senshi.” This isn’t even remotely implied.

It may be tempting to view Haruka’s femininity in sailor senshi form as a rejection of her masculinity, especially since it’s with femininity that she gains the power to save the universe. However, this would only be true if Haruka herself viewed her two identities as conflicting, which she does not. It doesn’t occur to her to strip away the power of one part of her identity with another.

Haruka is an example of a character who embraces two seemingly opposite expressions as part of herself. This is important because it shows that people can create their own identities instead of falling into society’s prepackaged expectations. Many people may fit those expectations and even fully embrace them–you could argue that most of the other sailor senshi do–but many do not. Haruka, I think, invites audiences to consider this. In the end, her existence in the series helps to solidify Sailor Moon as a series that really does celebrate women.

*The butch/femme dichotomy was once important for the sake of visibility, especially in the 1950s. For many, it’s part of how they identify today. Problems only arise when people are expected to choose one exclusively over the other when they may not want to.

Lessons From Legend of Korra: The Fading Importance of Gran Gran Katara

Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra wavers between exciting and disappointing. The rocky first season left much to be desired both from a storytelling and pacing standpoint. Although season 2 is more put together, it’s clear that this show doesn’t have the excellent writing that its predecessor had. At least, not all the time and certainly not for all characters. In fact, almost everyone in the cast gets shafted at some point. Is it because the seasons are so short and the creators are trying to cram a 26-episode story into 12 episodes? Have they just lost their touch, or have they gotten lazy because of the success of Avatar: the Last Airbender?

Whatever the case, I would actually consider The Legend of Korra a good learning tool for writers. The story is enjoyable enough to hold your interest, and the problems are obvious enough to show you what doesn’t work. One of the things that doesn’t work is how Katara, now an old woman, is just sort of “there” to occasionally make those of us who have been around since A:TLA feel all the feelings. As an old woman, Katara hasn’t retained even a drop of who she was as a kid. Although Legend of Korra is not about Katara and it’s clearly not intended to have any strong ties to A:TLA, I still believe that Katara’s characterization in Legend of Korra is an example of how elderly characters, especially elderly women, are not important parts of the stories we tell.

At least her brief appearances do their job: they create catharsis for the audience, AKA feels.

On the one hand, Katara’s story is finished. She aided the Avatar in restoring balance to the world and purging the corrupt leaders from the Fire Nation. Along the way, she helped benders in a small village fight for their liberation, got thrown in jail several times, and accidentally became a master of bloodbending. She’s done a lot and we’ve seen that, so I don’t have a problem with her being a static character in Legend of Korra.

What’s odd to me, though, is just how passive Katara is, especially in season 2 when her own people are in a civil war. Although I can imagine that an old Katara is tired and has already passed most responsibilities on to the next generation, I can’t picture her having lost all of her passion, especially when the conflict is so close to her. Not once do we see her even express opposition to the fighting or frustration with the situation.

I can’t imagine that the Katara who vehemently insisted that she will never turn her back on people in need and blew up a Fire Nation factory in the middle of the night would stay silent. She might not want to fight in the civil war between the water tribes, but it would be much more in character for her to at least try to convince someone somewhere that this isn’t a good idea.

I don’t know what it’s like to be an old person because I’m a 20something, but I do know that people don’t lose their passion when they get older, especially not people like Katara. I don’t think her life experiences would allow her to ever be completely passive in the goings on of the world no matter how much she’s relinquished to Korra’s generation. So how did Katara get reduced to a nice grandma who heals people and that’s it?

A lot of people who write a lot of stories that get a lot of mainstream attention are young. Youth is celebrated in media and, especially for women, it’s sold to us as the only desirable way to be. I rarely see recurring elderly characters in anything. If I do, it’s in fantasy and the character is usually male and a mentor to the young protagonist (Gandalf, Dumbledore, Brom). I’ve only seen prominent elderly women in Harry Potter (Minerva McGonagall) and various anime/manga series (Naruto, Sailor Moon, Soul Eater). Aside from Professor McGonagall, all the elderly women I’ve seen who are of any importance to the plot have some sort of magic or skill that makes them look young most of the time.

It’s like when we write old people, we don’t know what to do with them because we have consciously or unconsciously devalued them. We’re fed a very narrow depiction of humanity and that depiction is young. We know how to make complex young characters, but elderly ones are much more of a challenge.

I think Katara has unfortunately become a victim of this “I don’t know how to write old people” problem, which is especially weird given that Uncle Iroh was very important in A:TLA and helped move the plot forward in the second season of Legend of Korra. I know that Katara is supposed to be a minor character in Legend of Korra and that at some point she probably decided that she was done and wanted to keep growing old in peace, but it would be nice to see a little more involvement out of Gran Gran Katara. I mean, we have to remember just what kind of person she was as a kid.

 

 

The Lesson for Writers

Being old doesn’t mean becoming docile, cynical, or passionless. Old people can and should serve more roles in fiction besides the mentor that usually dies so the protagonist can grow up. If you’re writing something where one of your main characters from a previous series is still around as an old person, don’t forget how you created the young version of the character. Just because they get old doesn’t mean they have to fit in whatever we may think is typical of old people.

This is something that I will admit I don’t catch in my own work. The elderly are a more difficult group for me to write about because that experience is in my future. However, I think that understanding the way elderly people are portrayed in stories (or not) can help writers avoid resorting to the same tropes.

Who are some awesome elderly characters you’ve seen or read about? Are they mentors, or do they serve another role? Are they there just to be the token old person, or do they actually play an important part in the story?

My Pink Wand and Skirts Make Me Strong: Sailor Moon and Feminine Feminism

 Sailor Moon is heralded as an iconic 90s anime and for good reason. Besides being an excellent super hero show, it encompasses everything awesome about “girl power.” It’s not just that the central characters are all female or that they all have shiny attacks that set things on fire or occasionally make them explode. It’s that they’re all multi-faceted, well-developed characters and traditional feminine clothing/objects/what have you is a source of strength.

Before I go into aspects of the show itself, I need to clarify my framework because it might get a little confusing.

How feminism and femininity don’t always line up and why that’s a problem.

Feminism has always been about empowering the disempowered and since its inception it has divided into numerous branches as people continue to critique what traditional feminism leaves out. For example, womanism came about due to feminism’s lack of consideration of issues that specifically affect women of color. Egalitarianism, which isn’t exactly feminism per se, rejects the tendency to villainize men and perpetuate fear of them. It focuses instead on building healthy attitudes
toward men and women and dismantles the idea of gender roles that are set in stone.

Social Justice Sally: a hilarious example of how radscum ruins things for the rest of us.

Unfortunately, nobody thinks this is feminism. When most people hear “feminism,” this is what they think:

-man haters

-bra burners

-baby killers

-prudes

-girls who hate anything remotely feminine with every fiber of their being

-oversensitive girls who just want attention

The list goes on. And it’s a problem.

So what I’m looking to address here is the whole “girls who hate anything remotely feminine” thing. Basically, we’re taught that if we’re gonna be good feminists, we should chop all our hair off and never wear dresses again, but you know where this idea comes from? The fact that femininity as a whole is still seen as weak and undesirable, which is exactly what patriarchy does in the first place.

This is why we have so many tomboy characters whose strength and likeability come from spitting in the face of everything girly. Girliness is seen as weak, petty, erratic, and shallow, mostly because it’s portrayed that way.

And trust me, girls don’t want to be any of those things. So, when everything remotely feminine is associated with those qualities, it’s really no surprise that girls who pride themselves on their knowledge and rationality won’t present in a way that makes them look fickle.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to wear dresses or fighting against crippling beauty standards. The problem comes with the idea that we’re conforming to weakness if we choose to express our gender in typical feminine ways.

It’s a fundamental truth of society that the more masculine someone is, the more respect they get. A lot of people probably don’t agree at all, but this is more of a subconscious thought process. That is, most people don’t actively behave in a way that supports that notion, but that doesn’t mean its effects are gone. For instance, it’s not a big deal for a woman to wear pants, not use make-up, and keep her hair short. This is because what is masculine can also be gender neutral. What is feminine can’t. Feminism has done an awesome thing by loosening the standards on how women can present themselves. On the flip side, it is a big deal when a man wants to wear dresses because the underlying question is Why would a man want go backwards? If you’re a person who isn’t expected to be feminine, why partake in any of it at all? It’s more acceptable for a woman to be a man than it is for a man to be a woman because femininity and the feminine are not seen as sources of strength, power, and intelligence.

This is why we need shows like Sailor Moon. As utterly vital as the Katnisses and Meridas are, we need stories and characters that combine strength and femininity.

Jewels, wands, and tiaras: accessories that obliterate evil.

One of the most important plot devices in Sailor Moon is the items that grant power. There are crystals, transformation pens, mirrors and more.

The most powerful item in the entire Dark Kingdom arc is the Silver Crystal, which in the anime consists of seven smaller crystals that span the colors of the rainbow. I wouldn’t expect to see that in a more masculine series. However, this item isn’t just a pretty jewel. It can cleanse any evil in the entire galaxy. Once Usagi obtains it, the Silver Crystal rests in a brooch she pins to her school uniform. Here, power is directly tied to femininity as the Silver Crystal’s container is a decorative accessory. The most powerful jewel in the galaxy could’ve had some intense treasure box as its hiding place with crazy metallic locks and a velociraptor guardian, but it doesn’t. Its presentation and power rests in that which is completely feminine.

Then there are the different types of wands shown throughout the series: the transformation wands and Sailor Moon’s constantly evolving healing and attack wands. Actually, most of them are more like pens, but whatever you call them the fact remains that they’re still pretty girly items. I don’t see the Power Rangers transforming with something like that, you know? But these pens/wands allow our ordinary protagonists to don the power of sailor senshi, the guardians of the galaxy. Even the following transformation sequences display how femininity is equated with power.

Although each sequence is different, there are some common patterns. The inner senshi get an instant manicure and the outers get lips gloss. They might also get long ribbons on their clothes, new earrings, high heels (like Sailor Mars), or a number of other super feminine decorations. Wings, hearts, bubbles, stars–all of this stuff is coming from a transformation item that is ultimately preparing these girls to rid the planet of the next dark organization trying to take over the entire galaxy. The transformations make them more feminine, and the more feminine they become the more power they have. This is especially obvious in Sailor Uranus’s and the Starlight’s cases. Haruka wears men’s clothes all the time, but she can’t save the galaxy unless she’s in her really feminine sailor suit. Likewise, the Starlights are disguised as men in the anime, but they can’t use their power until they’re in their uniforms. Once again, the correlation is obvious.

Finally, there are the tiaras. Although Sailor Moon and Sailor Jupiter are the only ones with special tiaras, the accessory itself is one of the first forms of power we see. Sailor Moon’s renders enemies to dust after only one hit. One hit. It’s easy to watch that and just think “Oh, that monster was weak.” I think that stems from the tendency to portray femininity as weak. If we didn’t subconsciously think that a rather plain looking tiara couldn’t do much, our natural reaction would be “Wow, that’s a strong attack.” Sure, plenty of the generic monsters are weak and the one-hit wonder doesn’t work on everyone, but the fact remains that Sailor Moon wears a tiara that kills things when she throws it. Sailor Jupiter’s tiara is even more awesome because she uses it to summon lightning from Jupiter. She’s basically the Thor of the series. This amazing power is being channeled through a tiara–a feminine accessory.

The Sailor outfit: strength is a pleated skirt

While the senshi’s outfits don’t look much different from regular school uniforms, they’ve become iconic in their own right, so much so that people will see characters from completely different series and say “Is that Sailor Moon?”

As I mentioned before, the main characters become more feminine when they transform. Their clothing isn’t just there to look pretty: they’re warriors’ uniforms. They wear those clothes into battles to protect the planet. For Sailor Moon, uniform changes become more feminine with each power-up. This is especially noticeable in the Stars arc when she becomes Eternal Sailor Moon (wings, shiny white boots, an even more colorful skirt). Also, the more she resembles her past self as Princess Serenity, the stronger she becomes and the better she can use the Silver Crystal.

Like accessories, clothing in Sailor Moon creates a direct correlation with femininity and power. It’s important to recognize and think about this because I think it’s hard even for women to connect the two. We grow up hearing phrases like “you hit like a girl,” which translates to “you’re weak. There’s no way you can hurt me.” This mindset becomes so ingrained into us that it’s extremely difficult to unlearn and sometimes it’s hard to recognize in the first place. Femininity is not inherently weak and Sailor Moon helps us see that.

Sailor Moon Returns in 2013: 3 hopes and dreams for the new series

According to Anime News Network, a new anime adaptation of Sailor Moon is set to air next summer. The only details released so far are that it won’t be a feature-length film and that Momoiro Clover Z, the group that created “Moonlight Densetsu,” will sing the opening for the new series. Rumor has it that this is the new song, but that’s up in the air. CorrectionDALI was the group that created “Moonlight Densetsu” and that link is not the song for the new series, but check it out anyway because it’s cute and catchy. Thanks to beforjess for clearing that up! While the broadcast date is still unknown, the anime will be released on the same date worldwide.

So, this is the part where I fangirl myself into oblivion.

For the past year or so, a Sailor Moon revival has been happening all over the world (which is why we got a new manga printing) in celebration of the series’ 20th anniversary. Needless to say, I’ve been shocked every time something new happens with this effort, mostly because I never see it coming. The Dragon Ball Z revamp made sense; although I never got into the series, I assumed that it was infinitely more popular than Sailor Moon, meaning that of course DBZ gets updated and SM keeps its place in the 90s. Even when the new manga series came out, I reduced the idea of a new anime series to wishful thinking. A brand new anime is probably the ultimate dream come true for us lifetime fans, especially those of us in the U.S. who have DIC’s butchering of the series as their childhood memories, but hey at least it’s better than what these folks would’ve done.

As excited as I am for a revamp, I also have a lot of questions. Sure, the new anime will bring in the fans from the 90s, but will it attract any new ones? Is the magical girl genre, as Sailor Moon defined it, even relevant to contemporary audiences? When we have series like Puella Magi Madoka Magica that put such a dark spin on everything familiar about magical girls, can we go back to the cut-and-dry good and evil that Sailor Moon provides?

I would hope that the answer to all of those questions is “yes.” I believe that Sailor Moon has more than enough status and hype around its name to be a success. So then, this is a list of my hopes and dreams for the new anime.

Less filler.

Let’s be real here. As much as I know we all love the 200 original episodes, there is admittedly a TON of filler, especially in the first couple seasons. Cutting down on some of that could really make for a cleaner dramatic structure where character development is more obvious. In the original series, Usagi didn’t seem to mature much and stay that way until around season 4. Of course, some filler could be useful in drawing out certain parts of the manga that seem to move too fast. I might be alone in saying this, but I liked the Doom Tree arc. I could see each arc containing 26 episodes or less to give everything sufficient development without dragging.

Closer adherence to the manga.

As I’ve been reading the reprints of the manga, I’ve seen that Sailor Moon gets very serious very quickly. Perhaps the revamp could benefit from putting more focus on that seriousness to attract a new audience. Of course, the level of seriousness depends entirely on how the show is being targeted in the first place. Also, there are several places where the plot in the old anime greatly deviates from the manga plot, although I thought many of those changes worked well in the anime. Maybe a mix of adherence and deviance would be best? Plenty of characters later on in the manga got snubbed or completely cut out in the anime, so it’d be great to have them appear.

Stay similar enough to the old series, but implement some vital changes.

I’m talking in terms of art style, character design, and other things along those lines. Some updates are fine, but Sailor Moon is an iconic character and changing her too much would be a bad move. However, there’s at least some speculation that Usagi’s original voice actress might return for the new series. Hopefully that comes to pass and most of the voice actors are able to reprise their roles. Sailor Moon doesn’t seem to be too deeply rooted in the 90s, though. The time period is only obvious when the characters are in street clothes, which doesn’t happen too often. Also, when they get to the Black Moon arc and Sailor Pluto appears, she better be as dark-skinned as she is in the manga.

I’m sure as more information surfaces, there will be tons to speculate on, but for now let’s relish the excitement. What are some of your hopes for the new series? Do you think it’ll be awesome or are you convinced that they’ll ruin it?

Musical Attraction: Anime OPs and the Series They Represent (part 1)

The OP is often the first experience we have of an anime. It’s meant to ease us into the anime’s story and it usually tells us what kind of story we’re about to experience. From the video, we can glean major plot twists and guess how the characters are related to each other. The video aspects of anime OPs are their own subject, but what about the music? In my experience, a good opening song usually indicates a good anime (although this doesn’t hold true for all cases) while songs with terrible vocals or instrumentation indicate a mediocre series. Additionally, several opening songs are so iconic that even if they’re not the best, they’re still well-loved by many anime fans. In this series of blog posts, I’d like to take a look at a variety of anime OPs from several different genres and see how strong the correlation is between good songs and good series. Please keep in mind that most of this will be based on my own personal preferences. I’m not trying to make sweeping generalizations, but I do think there’s something to be said about an opening song’s appeal and the entire anime’s appeal.

 

Iconic songs that even non-anime fans might recognize

Sometimes, an amazing anime has an equally amazing, or at least catchy, song. In some cases, the song is more recognizable than the anime. That is to say, someone who doesn’t know a lot about anime might still recognize some opening songs. Here are some OPs that I believe fit this description.

 

1) Cowboy Bebop–Tank!

Arguably the most recognizable anime song, Tank! sets itself apart from the majority of other opening songs with its fantastic, energetic jazziness. The staccato horns at the start immediately grab our attention and then a quick drum roll leads into a cool yet driven bass line. The horns come back a bit more subdued and build the anticipation by repeating the same phrase, leading to another set of quick, high pitched notes (the musical interpretation of gun shots). Overall, the song has a very adventurous quality to it. You can clearly hear that it’s going in a certain direction and it’s exciting. Tank! is an opening song that really gets you ready to explore the lonely reaches of space, which is a bit ironic seeing as how most Cowboy Bebop episodes are pretty relaxed until the second half.

I have tons of friends who aren’t very interested in anime, or they’ve only seen a few series, but even they have recognized this song when it plays on my iPod in the car. Cowboy Bebop’s run on Adult Swim certainly exposed it to a lot of us in the West, but I certainly think that Tank! helped to embed it in people’s mind. Not many OPs combine cool, classy, and exciting all in one smooth blend.

 

2) Sailor Moon–Moonlight Densetsu

Sailor Moon is an iconic series in its own rights from its popularization of the magical girl genre to its role in the 90s anime boom in America, and this opening has one of those melodies that you can place in an instant. It certainly helps that this song was used for the first four seasons (with some minor changes) and that the lyrics essentially summarize a good portion of the plot. Sure, it’s not necessarily the most exciting song, but for those of us who grew up with Sailor Moon, it evokes all sorts of wonderful childhood memories.

Moonlight Densetsu is a song that’s all about the melody–not much else about it stands out except for the strings at the beginning. Other sounds, especially the bell-like keyboard that plays the melody, give the song a “girly” flair without sounding weak (the ways that Sailor Moon encompasses a lot of good things about feminism is its own discussion). There’s hardly any variation except for the bridge, allowing the same notes to repeat until they stick in our minds. It’s catchy, cute, and a fun, albeit older pop song.

 

OPs that most anime fans recognize even if they’ve never seen the series

Narrowing our focus a bit, there are a good handful of opening songs that most of us know even if we haven’t seen the series in question. Whether through popularity or the prevalence of internet parodies, these are tunes that jump out of their anime’s context and fix themselves in the pool of common anime knowledge.

 

1) Neon Genesis EvangelionCruel Angel’s Thesis

In most other circumstances, a song like this wouldn’t be much to remember, but because Eva blew a lot of people’s minds back in the day, this song has achieved instant recognizability status. Some people love Eva, some people hate it, and some people just love making fun of Shinji, but everyone at least knows the song. Much like Sailor Moon’s opening, this one hinges on the melody to make it memorable, except it’s really just the chorus that sticks with people. Would a different song be just as well-known? Maybe. There’s no way of knowing, but there are plenty of notable series where the opening songs are forgettable. Additionally, it’s clear by looking at the lyrics that this song is tailored to Eva. Not many recent anime OPs do this, which might account for their forgettability. The combination of Cruel Angel’s Thesis and a story that, for better or for worse, defines anime as a mature medium certainly leaves a lasting impression.

 

2) Rurouni Kenshin–Sobakasu

Honestly, I find this song annoying. Squeaky, high-pitched vocals, even in Japanese, are a hit or miss and this one’s a miss. Even so, this song also has a melody that gets stuck in your head and Rurouni Kenshin is such a good example of a well-done shonen anime that I, at least, can get over the grating vocals. It also helps that I remember watching the show on TV back when I first got into anime, but even outside of nostalgia I think this song encompasses the mood of the series’ beginnings–optimistic yet still hindered by the past. It also doesn’t have a very “masculine” tone, which matches Kenshin’s seeming lack of stereotypically manly qualities (a thirst for blood, violence, and power). In fact, having such a “girly” opening coincides with Kenshin’s numerous feminine qualities that he’s not ashamed of displaying. At least the song has some sweet guitar riffs.

 

3) Lucky Star–Motteke! Sailor Fuku

Keeping in line with the annoying theme, we have this gem that’s just as prevalent on the internet as Hare Hare Yukai. It took me until I actually watched Lucky Star to love this song, but even before then I knew it because it was everywhere. Cute Japanese school girls plus an energetic dance equals a major hit with today’s anime fans (it also spawns a lot of frustration with all the moemoekyuun, but that’s a different discussion). Motteke! Sailor Fuku is a prime example of the annoying pop song that drives you crazy when it gets stuck in your head, but then the more you listen to it the more you like it. Like the Eva opening, this song’s sticking power is in the chorus, which is the only part that actually sounds like a song.

To an extent, I think the song is annoying on purpose. I mean, this is Lucky Star we’re talking about. Most of its humor centers around otakuism filtered through cute high school girls who look like they’re five. Therefore, it doesn’t surprise me that Motteke! Sailor Fuku is filled with synth horns and random talking. If you really think about it, the song fits the anime very well (and it’s also a lot of fun to listen to).

 

Final thoughts

All of the above series are ones I’ve enjoyed and they also have good or at least recognizable OPs. They also happen to be very popular series. While I know there are exceptions to this rule (I’ll talk about some of them in another post), I think it’s fair to say that good/catchy music and good anime go hand-in-hand most of the time. Next time, I’ll look at series that have good OPs and good stories (but may not be as popular as the ones I talked about here) as well as ones with good stories and okay OPs (songs that don’t particularly stand out).

In the mean time, I’d like to know about other OPs that you all think are iconic. Link them in the comments section and I’ll mention them in my next post.