kirant’s Top Ten Anime Openings

I posted a fairly short post about what I feel constitutes a suitable opening a while ago.  After some time, I’ve decided to expand that a bit and do the most cliché thing possible: create a list of my favourite openings.

Let’s recap though.  Why exactly should we care about anime openings?  They’re short and don’t really cover much.  You can create a great show without one.  I personally would say that while Martian Successor Nadesico is an excellent anime it has a really lacks a memorable opening.  So why does it matter?

Well, openings are exactly how (most) anime lead off.  Together with an ending song (which typically also occurs…again, exceptions exist), these two provide the book ends for an episode.  They start you off.  With the concept of a battlefield in mind, they are the hard-working troops: first in, last out.

But that’s not all.  They need to instill specific emotions and tie yourself to what you’re going to watch.  In a drama heavy anime you should be prepared for drama.  In a comedy driven anime, it must get you ready to laugh.  Action?  Let’s get that blood pumping.  Slice-of-life?  I want to see the characters and how I’m going to expect them to appear in this narrative.

A good opening will set the stage for the episode or movie; it will put you “in the mood” for the episode.  A good opening may draw in an additional viewer or two.  I know I’ve found new anime to watch purely going by opening.  Conversely, a poor opening may hinder the quality.  I may even go as far to say that a repugnant one may lose a given anime viewers.

But this is enough introduction text.  I’m sure half of you are already bored.  Let’s get down to it then.

The video below is the link to the video of my top 10 openings.  The text below is pretty much if you’re interested in reading more about it.


Ground Rules

First, let’s establish some points about HOW I’ve done this list:

  • This list is personal.  It in no way reflects a generalized “top ten ever” list.  I’m not sure such a thing is possible as top quality anime is a subjective concept.  So if you personally disagree with my choices let me know and post your own list.  It’s always neat to see how person A varies from person B in such subjects.
  • Also note that this also means that an anime’s opening quality does not reflect its overall quality.
  • A single franchise has only one representative.  Its representative is the most favoured opening of the franchise.  For example, a long running series, such as Naruto, would only be represented on the list by one opening from the franchise (in which it has multiple).  The same goes for a franchise spanning multiple seasons/names.  So the same rules would go for, let’s say, Full Metal Alchemist and Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
  • The anime are considered on the basis of quality of song, quality of animation and as an artistic element, suitability of the opening to the anime, and the interconnection of the opening’s elements.  I know this sounds a little vague, so please refer to my older post about openings for more details.
  • I reserve the right to learn and get smarter.  If you have a favourite you feel was not considered due to obscurity or general “kirant is kirant” eccentricities of mine, feel free to post a comment about it.  I had probably 150 entries I catalogued for the purpose of this, about 100 that I numerically estimated a rating for.  But that’s hardly all anime and if you think I missed one that deserves consideration, let me know.

And with that, here we go.


Honourable Mentions

Ten openings are a very short list.  I have a few openings that were close to being in the top ten that I felt deserve a little recognition.


Attack on Titan, Opening 1 (Song: Feuerroter Pfeil und Bogen by Linked Horizon)

Ah, a standard answer to this question in recent months.  It’s not like there’s not reason either; the opening has two excellent elements going for it.  First is the black, white, and red colour scheme early.  It really does set up for a somewhat bleak and dreary story where characters die by the boatload.  This is further highlighted by the single bell strike.  It’s absolutely hollowing if you catch it.  Second is the ten second segment everybody loves.  If you haven’t watched the opening yet, just go to the time 0:47 and watch until 0:57.  I personally don’t like this style of introduction typically but it works perfectly here.  This fits the anime to a T since it focuses on the action while giving you a basic rundown of the characters.  The opening’s pace change in this segment also gives a great mood shift.

Angel Beats!, Opening 1 (Song: My Soul, Your Beats! by Lia)

Alright.  Time for eccentricity confession number one: I absolutely love the use of pianos in anime songs.  There was an opening I seriously thought long and hard about highlighting just for the beautiful piece: …To You by Ayako Kawasumi.  Completely random point aside, Angel Beats! is a perfect example of this bias.  All I could think of during this opening was “needs more piano in it”.  It has such a beautiful melody to work with.  Seriously.  Just sit back and hit play – it’s lovely.  Between this and a heavy consistent drum beat, the latter used to play with the heart beat motif going on in this opening, it’s an incredible listen.  As much as I don’t like to say it, this is one of the openings you don’t even need the visuals to enjoy.

Elfen Lied (Song: Lilium by Kumiko Noma)

Anybody else remember when I pointed to Elfen Lied in my first post about openings?  No?  Well, this will all be new to you then.

This opening has pianos in it.  What a shock for me to like it.  Between the operatic singing, lengthy strings, and the melancholic piano, the entirety of the music points to the nature of the anime.  Actually, that’s a lie.  If you ever read the Latin lyrics from Lilium, it requires a bit more knowledge to really get the deeper meaning.  For most of us who aren’t Latin functional (or who used to know it but forgot), it isn’t as tearful and deep as it is really intended.  But don’t let that take away from the depressing song and stunning Elfen Lied/Klimt paintings.  From a purely artistic perspective, Elfen Lied‘s opening is gorgeous and while opinions sometimes vary on the quality of the anime itself, the opening less cluttered and more effective than many newer openings.

Psycho-Pass, Opening 1 (Song: Abnormalize by Ling Toshite Shigure)

Time for my second eccentricity confession: I love the use of black and white in openings.  An elegant black or white background or a fairly quiet part of an opening can play so well into my good books.

Moving on.  This opening fits more in the “Bond movie” category than a traditional anime opening.  The fist minute in particular is extremely abstract.  But this really does play in its favour as it constructs an almost entirely monochrome animation which is both memorable and expository (though the latter may take a little more consideration).  While it is sometimes a little hard to get past the falsetto vocals, the lyrics themselves ring with a good meaning that carries throughout the first half of the anime.  Put that with contrasting black and white animations and it really does set up as a good piece of animation.

Future Diary, Opening 1 (Song: Kuusou Mesorogiwi by Yousei Teikoku)

Blood red and grey palette.  Multiple languages.  Choir.  Fun artistic choices.  A literal “Deus ex Machina”.  What more do you really need?

No seriously.  The art is crisp and lovely.  The animation team easily could have skipped over all the not-so-subtle changes in static objects.  But they’re added in and create a level of creep obviously intended to go along with the kind of off-kilter atmosphere the entire opening provides.  What becomes even more lovely is that this the timing to the beat.  The opening wastes very few beats in regards to animation.  Combine this with the great thematic choices listed above (especially the blood-red palette aspect) and the high paced nature of the opening creates a heart pumping piece that many can enjoy with or without prior knowledge of the anime itself.  And in all honesty, that is the hallmark of a good opening.

By the way, take this drinking game into watching that opening a second time: tap a sip every time the language changes.  Enjoy.  I’ll have an ambulance on hold for you.

Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG (Song: Rise by Origa)

Okay.  I’ll give some fans a second to chuck stuff at me and tell me they don’t even want to know why I picked this over inner universe.

Done?  So I picked Rise for two reasons: the animation and the integration with the animation.  The first is easy to understand: the animation to the 2nd GIG is actually reflective of the anime itself.  The CGI in the first opening, while great for the time, really didn’t show us too much about Ghost in the Shell itself.  And the second is the timing of the screen jumps.  They almost all are timed to the beats provided.  This timing was incredible and really created a real unified front while viewing the opening.  I personally do like inner universe as a song over Rise but these improvements are impossible to overcome for me.

Also, let’s not forget the unique languages here.  Most of this song is Russian and performed by Origa.  Granted, the same occurred in inner universe, so I’m not sure that’s a shock.  Oh, and just a side note on inner universe: that song also has Latin in it.

10. Soul Eater, Opening 1 (Song: resonance by T.M.Revolution)

I’ll admit going in that I haven’t actually seen Soul Eater in the conventional sense.  You eventually figure the entire series through YouTube clips and TVtropes wandering but I really never did see it in full straight-to-finish as one typically does.  In that sense I never actually did see resonance prior to creating this list.  Watching this opening, however, sets the tone as a whole and really hones in on the fairly impressive action sequences

Many individuals I heard from recommended the second opening, Paper Moon, and I think this comes into a situation reverse of Ghost in the Shell above: one could argue Paper Moon is a better song if you believe that T.M.Revolution’s heavy bass and drum dominance makes the entire song sound uniform.  I would argue the song choice enhances the opening however.  Every aspect of this opening builds around resonance‘s beat, every action builds around keeping time with the song.  Watch Lord Death’s hand’s.  Or Death the Kid’s gunshots.  Every aspect of the opening uses this same basis of design and creates an incredible experience that’s easy to enjoy.

9. Neon Genesis Evangelion (Song: A Cruel Angel’s Thesis by Yoko Takahashi)

Another classic answer many fans will throw on.  A Cruel Angel’s Thesis is always an oddity for me: it doesn’t have the best song in my and is often mocked but yet it typically stands as one of the most famous anime openings (and for good reasons not “The Room of anime openings” reasons).  And I remember it as such too.

What ultimately strikes true for Evangelion‘s opening is how suited the opening is to the anime it introduces.  I’m sure everyone knows but Evangelion is dark, twisted, and somewhat unusual as often occurs with deconstructive anime.  The peculiarities with the opening set this at a pace that works well with the music it utilizes.  I admit I have an eccentric love (third one I’ve admitted now) of flashing many images to a quick, predictable beat.  Combine that with some fairly meaningful images and any opening with that will leave a lasting impression for me.

8. Cowboy Bebop (Song: Tank! by The Seatbelts)

I’ll wait until some people stop throwing stuff for it being “only” 8th.

A fairly standard selection and not a shock to many I know.  This one is well warranted.  About the only way I can describe Bebop‘s opening is as a love affair.  Jazz music is a very niche aspect of the Japanese music industry.  Yoko Kanno (fun drinking game: look at her Wikipedia page and take a shot every time you see something you recognize.  I almost guarantee that you’ll be blind drunk after) and The Seatbelts poured heart and soul into the opening, something clearly evidence in the quality and simple beauty of the piece.  Adding in Tim Jensen, the voice at the start of the song (also the lyric composer for Rise, listed above), is a great touch.  Add in some great and dedicated visuals to support it and you have an excellent standalone opening that really sets itself apart from the standard crop of openings you see time and time again.

7. Clannad: After Story (Song: Toki wo Kizamu Uta by Lia)

The entire Clannad franchise is often known as the “bring tissues” franchise.  Please don’t misconstrue that as anything but one of the most tear wrenching things you’ll ever see.  Continuing off from where its prequel left off, Clannad: After Story deals with one really hard topic in mind: life’s continual march.  One of the reasons the anime continues to rate amongst the elite of all time is because it starts with this message and works out in virtually every facet of design.  The opening is legitimately no exception.

I can say all I want about the clean, clear, crisp beautiful animations.  It reflects what you’ll see in each episode pretty much.  I can tell you how much that song is smooth and fairly well done.  But that’s not why I needed to put it here.  No.  It’s the stellar focus on the message above.  The lyrics are melancholic; I even find them hard to read with this anime in mind.  The tone of the animation is cute and wonderful yet have a haunting tone to them.  That amazing focus is what makes the opening a wonder.

6. Slayers Next (Song: Give a Reason by Megumi Hayashibara)

I make it no question that I love the Slayers franchise.  But that has no bearing here; Give a Reason is probably my favourite anime song from the ’90s point blank.  I’ve always found Megumi Hayashibara a good singer and Give a Reason‘s quiet instruments and synthesizer provide lots of space to highlight her vocals.

From the standpoint of Slayers Next, the animations provide a great sample of the anime’s style.  It’s a hybrid comedy/action franchise but it segregates based on the episode’s impact on plot: the comedy primarily falls on filler episodes (aside: these are sometimes considered their best episodes since it lets the exaggerated characters play in an exaggerated atmosphere) and the opening reflects that by mostly compartmentalizing the sections of the animation segments: the action sequences are clumped together as are the comedy sequences.

5. Eden of the East (Song: Falling Down by Oasis)

I’m sure most people know the story about this song in the international releases but let’s cover it anyways: Oasis is an English rock band and Falling Down was a song from 2008.  Because of differences in licensing agreements, FUNimation Entertainment couldn’t use find the money for this song for every episode without blowing a massive hole in their budget so they kept it for the first episode and replaced the rest.

Now, and I described this in my review of Eden of the East previously, but the imagery of this opening is amazing.  It’s abstract yet easy to comprehend design is unique.  The images are dynamic, fluid, and detailed.  They do not miss in terms of quality in virtually any regard.  There is even space to subtly hide in foreshadowing.  These elements are further highlighted by the use of Falling Down which somewhat tangentially relates to the anime’s story.  That’s not to take away from the song itself, which is a smooth alternative rock song with a strong drum beat.  The opening radiates a strong psychedelic element and creates a great atmosphere.  Add all this together and you end up with an opening which stands out and stays memorable.  It’s really too bad that licensing prevents it from becoming a permanent fixture in the FUNimation translation.

4. Serial Experiments Lain (Song: Duvet by Bôa)

There is not much I can say about this opening that isn’t positive (though I guess that’s a given this high up): the opening deals with pretty much the entire anime’s commentary on Lain.  It first sets the stage for the anime by presenting a pseudo-cyberpunk world, then showing us Lain as an individual who does not fit into the world.  Crows flee her and she only appears either alone or on an electronic device.   She’s never really fitting in or properly part of the world.  And of course are the spliced frames of Lain on a static-filled TV screen.  Not only does this provide a level of complexity but forces the viewer to match up the important elements to the anime.  Having ABe’s unique animation does not hurt either.

I also have to admit that I love Duvet.  I personally prefer smooth songs.  Duvet is light and smooth.  I’m sure the math isn’t too hard to do there.  It is also the perfect song for Serial Experiments Lain.  Credit goes where credit is due here: the opening matches the anime well.  Even more interesting is how an English opening, much like Eden of the East above, acknowledges one of the core aspects of their franchise.  With Duvet, it is to understand, feel, and come to love Lain.

3. Fractale (Song: Harinezumi by Hitomi Azuma)

Let’s get this out-of-the-way to start: no, this opening’s art has nothing to do with the anime in pretty much any regard.  Anything this abstract that really lives in the realm of a homonym to the anime’s name really won’t.  But that being said, it’s absolutely gorgeous.  I can’t think of another way to describe it: rotating, evolving, changing fractals.  Many people call it an acid trip or weird but I find it stunning.  Lots of time and effort went into making this opening what it is.  Add in a smooth song and it is something you can truly sit back without a lick of knowledge about the anime and enjoy.  Honestly, there’s very little else to know about this opening: it has a haunting yet lovely song and some of the best animations I have ever seen.  And I’m not kidding about that last part: the level of detail required to generate this opening is tough to fathom.

Just watch and enjoy.

I guess this would be a great time to point out that I love fractal geometry (eccentricity #4).

2. Texhnolyze (Song: Guardian Angel (Xavier’s Edit) by Juno Reactor)

Guardian Angel is probably one of the most interesting openings I’ll ever hear for an anime.  Done by Juno Reactor it is undoubtedly a foreign opening (Juno Reactor being based in London) but certainly doesn’t lay itself like one.  Much like Tank! above, this opening relies purely on sound instead of having lyrics to work with.  And it works in both of these cases.  For Texhnolyze, a heavily cyberpunk anime, there is probably no better piece of music to work with than Guardian Angel.  Every element of this opening works to this theme from the fast paced music and beats to discord in the longer notes.  Now, Texhnolyze itself isn’t really fast paced but this music hits the genre right on the head as pure, hard, raw cyberpunk.

The real connection comes from the art.  For those who haven’t seen it, Texhnolyze is horribly dark and dreary.  Nobody is really “good” per say and you probably have one of the darkest materials this side of Warhammer 40k.  The combined dark and flashy imagery set to the aforementioned music is an amazing piece to watch and, in my mind, warrants such a high spot.

1. Ergo Proxy (Song: Kiri by MONORAL)

So it’s come down to this.  Number one.

Ergo Proxy’s opening certainly isn’t flawless (and if you’re detail oriented like myself you may find some repetition in it), but I can’t think of another opening that I really want to put above it.  Texhnolyze‘s opening certainly came to mind, hence the #2 spot, but there are some aspects of Ergo Proxy‘s opening that just stand out so much more.

First, the music.  MONORAL, believe it or not, is a Japanese band with amazing English.  That is quite a highlight already.  I admit I really like this song.  I have a bit of a leaning towards alternative rock (though not entire…I’m sure you can look up and down this page for counters to that type of claim) so the unique value of this song being from a Japanese band yet sounding like something I could hear during a car ride in Canada is bonus marks to my enjoyment.

Then there’s the art.  The animation, like all of Ergo Proxy‘s, is exquisite and stunning.  Just try to count the number of ongoing effects: fake film damage, blue flickers, runic circle repetitions, moving text on the sides…and that’s on top of the high animation quality of the anime.  And, like much of Ergo Proxy, it exists on more than a single layer.  Re-watching the opening after watching the anime lets you identify many, many spoilers hidden in the opening.  This is a great aspect of this opening and really makes it amazing.  Oh, and of course this colour scheme is pretty much what you’d expect from Ergo Proxy as a whole.

Again, is it perfect?  No.  I’m never going to claim such a thing.  But it is beautiful, easy to listen to, and reflects the anime it came from.  And that’s pretty much the best opening I can think of.


Now, I’m sure many of you disagree.  I’m always keen to hear other opinions and, like I mentioned before, I’m going to reserve the right for me to become smarter.  If you think I’ve missed something or if you’d just like to share your own lists, feel free in the comments below.  Someday I’ll get to a version two of this…so…maybe things will change by then.


What’s in an Opening?

Just going to take a little time off from writing about moe.  There have been a plethora of different groups with large followers who have posted their various opinions about what openings have been the best (I had intended to put more links in, but I get lazy during my standard writing hours).  It’s one of the favourite things to do when you’re a young kid.  I’ve got my own list, but that is pretty besides the point.  To direct this where I wanted, what I was going to discuss was what exactly makes an anime opening a good one?

First, though, why do we even care about openings?  I mean, they are, at a maximum, two minutes of a 22 minute program.  Four minutes if you add an ending theme alongside this.  It’s obvious that they are quite important or else we wouldn’t be having this conversation.  So what about the theme songs are so important to the show?

One commonly used argument is that themes set the stage.  They, in their short period, become the show distilled down to a single song.  It gives an identity to the show.  It would be excellent to note here that anime isn’t alone in this regard.  We’ve seen people argue about what traditional TV shows have the best openings.  Heck, it isn’t even limited to scripted shows.  We get people discussing which sports show have the best theme.  For example, take the Hockey Night in Canada (old) theme song:

For those of you familiar with the above (and are a fan of hockey), it’s probably going to be easy to describe the emotions tied to it.  For others, think about what the song captures in the short sequence.  It has a sense of tradition in its sway.  It almost feels like a national anthem to some degree in its musical composition.  In fact, this isn’t a rare feeling either…the theme has been, on more than one occasion, called Canada’s second national anthem.  This really provides a fairly strong backing that a solid theme can set the stage for what is to come next…in this case, the theme rings of familiarity, of being part of something that has been going on for a while. Anime is no different.  Theme songs can be used to create a sense of what is going to come.

But this is hardly the only factor.  We also use themes to create emotional bonds with the show.  As one who played music until high school, I’ve always felt that all of us have the ability to have a musical heart.  We can all feel and understand music to a certain degree.  It’s why, in my opinion, we get “earworms”, parts of songs which refuse to leave our heads.  Back to the main point though: a good opening can draw from your emotions.  A song sung with deep sorrow can call forth your own feelings of sadness and depression.  If done right, this can create an even more powerful emotion through the show.  We can draw from famous examples here.  The first thought when I say “depressing anime opening” is probably Lilium of Elfen Lied.

Incidentally, this is probably the same opening you’d have though of had I said “name a Gustav Klimt inspired anime opening”.

Whether or not the show intends to be depressing, this certainly sets the stage for you to think of your own negative emotions.  If the melancholic piano wasn’t enough, the slow pacing, the lack of energy in the opening, and the sorrowful ominous Latin (which, if you understand Latin, are a little creepy on their own) will put you on the side of either creepy or depressing.  And that can set up very well, especially when you start the first episode with a creepy opening sequence…even if you start fading out because blood pressure doesn’t work that way damn it (and because there’s a naked women killing everyone), one sequence there is downright cold and disturbing.

At any rate, this is the other primary draw to an opening: the fact that we reach out emotionally to songs.  This goes double if you understand the lyrics.

With that said, I think there’s a solid point that openings are important.  Now, the other part I wanted to identify was what the key points of an opening are.  And, here, I’ve tried to list some anime openings with quality examples:

  • An effective opening requires a good opening song.  This can be broken further into singer and instrument choices, but I’ll keep them bunched.  A solid song will always benefit an opening, since a good song will be memorable…and, though this should go without saying, a memorable song can improve an opening’s recognition.  I’d consider Slayers NEXT‘s Give a Reason for Life by Megumi Hayashibara an excellent example here.  I’ve made it no secret that I love this song.  Hayashibara’s singing is near pitch perfect for much of the song and, while the synthesizers don’t help, there is very little background music.  This helps put the singing to a forefront, which improves the song in my mind.
  • An effective opening requires lovely art.  Some shows will cheap out on their openings and use easily repeated sequences, much like how filler episodes will use long-range shots or still animation pans.  Some examples of this can be seen in the very popular “Every Anime Opening Ever Made” video.  By contrast, a smooth opening will stand out for this reason.  Much like how a visually stunning sequence in the show itself can stand out, the same can be applied to its openings.  I made mention of this in my review of it, but Ergo Proxy‘s opening is legendary for the amount of effort and detail they put into everything.
  • The suitability of both the song and the art style need to be consistent with the show.  There are a huge number of examples of shows which either provide openings which don’t have animation consistent with the show or a song which pumps you up, but throws a wacky comedy at you instead.  I’m sure you can provide your own here too.  At any rate, while the raw quality of both are important, it’s also very heavily ingrained that they need to lead you in a direction consistent with the show.  This is part of the reason, in my mind, that Cruel Angel’s Thesis (Neon Genesis Evangelion) is so memorable – both parts are suitable.  The animation isn’t exactly the most graceful detail, using almost every trick I mentioned above.  This really sets the stage for the low-budget animation you’ll be watching.  Additionally, the lyrics are symbolic.  Very much so.  And this, again, fits into the mentality of the show.
  • Finally, the three elements have to work together.  A great song which has animation that doesn’t take advantage of a strong beat in the song isn’t going to be memorable since the two parts don’t work together.  Similarly, a song which was chosen for the reason of being great picked for arbitrary reasons may not be suitable for the tone of the show.  Or it may be impossible for the animation side to create something of even comparable quality, making if feel like a waste.  This one is probably the toughest to really show an example of, since the synergy of the three categories is never going to be perfect and is of personal preference.  I personally would point to the second season’s opening for the Haruhi Suzumiya series (Tomare!) as an excellent integration of the song’s naturally stronger beats to emphasis on the animation, while the opening to this blog’s namesake, Serial Experiments Lain, tries to keep the song in mind for both the opening in style and to the anime itself.

At any rate, there we go.  This was meant to be a simple rundown of what I feel an opening is and how to measure it.  Any thoughts and comments are greatly appreciated, since I’m certainly not the authority on such matters.