Shounen Opening Pattern

Recently, after years away from the Naruto anime, I decided to check out a few recent episodes of the second series,  Naruto Shippuuden. Watching the opening, I saw the Konoha ninjas fighting off an invasion of their home village, with each character getting their own time in the sun, as if the intro wanted to tell you that each and every character is Important. Given the immense cast of Naruto and the 90 second limit of the opening, this means that each character gets no more than a few moments. In fact, Uzumaki Naruto himself, our titular protagonist, hardly has more screen time than others. All in all, the opening is quite hectic.

Afterwards, I decided to go back and watch the very first Naruto opening, and right from when the orange ninja beckoned me to “C’mon,” I was getting an entirely different feel from  the Shippuuden intro. Instead of the scores of figures that currently populate the series, the first opening features only four characters. Rookie ninjas Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura, as well as their teacher and leader Kakashi are each focused upon extensively, and it makes the newest opening feel almost claustrophobic by comparison.

Part of this has to do with the open-endedness of the first opening. With no specific plot developments to hint at, it’s as if the characters and the intro itself are given room to breathe. You get a real sense that these characters are important, Naruto in particular. In a way, it’s quite relaxing.

I compared Bleach openings, too. Once again, the simple, yet heavy emphasis the first opening puts on Ichigo and Rukia differs a good deal from the almost overwhelming number of characters featured in the current opening. Taking a step back, the sheer contrast between then and now seems to speak towards the character bloat that the most popular shounen fighting series almost inevitably experience. If you go and watch every opening back to back, be it Bleach or Naruto, you can really experience the cast creep.

Having an enormous cast of characters in a shounen title is not anything new. Kinnikuman for example sports so many wrestlers that it can be difficult to keep track of everyone. However, the anime’s openings do not try to partition roughly the same amount of time for every character. They do not try to say that everyone else is almost as important as Kinnikuman himself. And while there are a number of differing factors between Kinnikuman and Naruto, not least of which is the fact that Naruto simply has more openings, I think it also highlights the increased focus on a “pick your favorite” method of presenting characters in anime and manga.

Essentially, I believe the reason that later Naruto and Bleach openings feature so many characters with roughly equal screen time is that they know each character has their own fanbase, and they want those fans to feel that their favorites are getting treated right. While I don’t see anything necessarily wrong with this, it still makes me miss those simpler times, when it was mainly just Ichigo and Rukia.

If you want to check out the openings I’ve referred to in this post, Crunchyroll has the latest episodes of Naruto and Bleach. As for the older ones, I’ve provided links below. Keep in mind that due to copyright policies and such, most of these videos are modified somewhat, usually by making them widescreen when they originally weren’t.

Naruto Opening 1

Bleach Opening 1

Kinnikuman Opening 1

Kinnikuman Opening 4

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12 thoughts on “Shounen Opening Pattern

  1. As someone who’s watched all the episodes of Naruto/Shippuuden and Bleach (minus filler episodes), I know what you mean about the openings. The openings just reflect the fact that most shonen series follow the pattern of gradually introducing new characters until they have incredibly large casts. And I think you’re right that the reason the openings include all the important characters is to appeal to each character’s fanbase.

    Inuyasha is a little different in that the first opening did include less characters than subsequent ones, but not that many (the only exception is opening 4 because that arc involved a bunch of new villains). There isn’t the overwhelming difference in Inuyasha between opening 1 and opening 6 like there is with Naruto and Bleach.

    One Piece is similar – since the series goes through long story arcs, each opening will have the main characters plus arc-specific characters, and obviously the arc-specific characters will change each time. Since opening 6, the opening length for One Piece has increased to 2 minutes and 30 seconds, leaving more time to focus on each character (usually).

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  2. I absolutely agree with you. But that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy these new openings. I like seeing my favorites as well (though it’s a bit disappointing when they’re barely in the arc at all…and both disappointing and confusing when they’re shown to fight an enemy in OP that they don’t at all in the actual anime!) and the quick-moving, action-filled sequences get my blood pumping.

    I will say, though, that the first Bleach opening is my favorite of all time. Hands down. And I miss Rukia – she’s gotten lost in the bazillions of Bleach characters and their ridiculous powers.

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  3. But compare any One Piece opening from the beginning of the series until today and while they will show other characters there is always a strong focus of the Straw Hat Crew above everyone else.

    Do you think that has something to do with the writing of One Piece or just a random case that proves the rule?

    – Hisui

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  4. Unrelated news! Reported by Sankaku Complex (nsfw) here http://www.sankakucomplex.com/2010/09/22/genshiken-returns/ and transcribed below:

    “A continuation of the Genshiken manga has been announced, covering Ogiue’s reign over the club.

    “Genshiken Nidaime” will feature most of the old cast, including the now club president Chika Ogiue.

    The manga will be serialized in Monthly Afternoon magazine starting November – however, the serialisation is described as being “revived for a limited period,” suggesting it will run for a short period rather than be a general restart.

    Earlier in the year the same magazine ran some Genshiken short stories, apparently so well received as to prompt a longer continuation.

    The mangaka responsible, Shimoku Kio, appears to be between titles with his last manga having sunk like a stone – restarting Genshiken may be a tempting prospect, so just whether this will be a strictly limited run or something with the potential to relaunch the series remains to be seen.”

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    • I totally freaked out and started doing a retarded dance when I read that. I was hoping for this ever since that blatant hint of an extra chapter went out. I can’t wait to see more of oguie and su, and more of the trap also.

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  5. shounen likes to sucker you in with a taste, and once your hooked they pour it on thick. merchandising kids, merchandising. claustrophobic was a very apt term to use, cause sometimes it can feel like that. love this blog btw
    t(^_^ t)~~

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  6. Well you have to realize that openings and endings for these shows have their own animators and directors so it’s only natural for the naruto openings to feel so much different. Also, they have to try and capture the current mood in the show during the opening. The very first opening was about a young boy’s excitement during his first months as a ninja. While the first shippuden opening is about a new venture with a more mature cast of characters.

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  7. Pingback: Comparing the Magi OPs | Continuing World

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