The Melancholy of Anime Openings

As I imagine is the case with many fans of anime, one of the first things about anime that caught my attention, one of the things that helped make me into a fan, was the quality of openings. Whether it was the music itself or the animation that accompanied it, anime openings felt like they blew the cartoon intros I was accustomed to out of the water, not to mention the dubbed anime openings which populated American TV. This is not to say that anime music is the best music ever, but once upon a time I often felt that way.

Recently I began to reflect on this feeling. What was the appeal? What was different about them? The more I think about it, the more I believe that it has to do with the sense of melancholy, angst, and forlornness that often appears briefly in anime openings.

A lot of anime openings make the viewer feel as if they are privy to the characters’ inner turmoil. In some cases, this is almost the entire point of the opening: see, for example, the “Tsubasa Cat” arc from Bakemonogatari (warning, it’s kind of not work-safe). The Galaxy Express 999 opening above doesn’t even have characters in it. In others, this feeling will be concentrated into a single, perhaps introspective moment. Think of the first Gundam W opening and Relena in the snow, or the Slayers NEXT opening when Lina reaches for Gourry. This melancholy is even mildly present in the opening to Fist of the North Star until it roars into overdrive during the chorus, accompanied by images of Lin, Bat, and the other destitute wanderers.

However, its ubiquity doesn’t end there, as it will appear in shows you might not expect to care about that sense of melancholy in the first place, such as Bistro Recipe (aka Fighting Foodons) and Medarot (aka Medabots). The openings for these anime both feature brief scenes where the main characters appear to be lost on an emotional level, despite the fact that they’re largely absurd comedies vaguely built around the concept of competition. It even shows up in one of the openings to the Japanese dub of the 1990s X-Men cartoon!

On some level, I wonder if openings might be a make-or-break moment for some as to whether or not they become anime fans. It’s the kind of thing that can easily cause someone to exclaim from the rooftops that anime is the best, or to dismiss it for not being as aggressively powerful as, say, the 1990s X-Men opening!

This is not to say that having this quality automatically makes an opening better, even if it is what likely caught my attention every time. Rather, just the fact that so many openings in a whole slew of genres utilize it at least to some extent feels like it speaks to something more deeply ingrained into, if not Japanese society, then how anime is viewed by society. Anime has gone from having openings designed specifically for the show itself to becoming vehicles to promote musical groups and back again, and consists of both shows designed for large audiences and hardcore fans, and yet somehow these melancholic moments have persisted over the years through all of these changes. I can only believe that there is a tacit assumption that anime openings, more often than not, should on some level evoke a strong sense of sympathy in the viewer, and this influences their structure.

3 thoughts on “The Melancholy of Anime Openings

  1. There is DEFINITELY a big difference in anime OP vs. western show OP. There are iconic OP from western shows, but anime OP are a genre onto themselves. A generation of otaku can sing “Moonlight Densetsu”, “Dark Angel Thesis” and “Catch You Catch Me”.

    Annnnndd I just dated myself terribly. But the point stands. Though I tend to think ending themes are terribly underrated. In any case, there is more put into them than strictly neccessary. A LOT is put into the music. Even basically minor anime have good music in their OP and ED. “Sketchbook ~full colors~” is one that particularly sticks out to me.

    Maybe because I’m a musician, the music really sticks out to me. I’ve already spent 30 minutes or so looking up songs on youtube. It’s almost all pop music, but a lot of detail is in there. Like how Madoka had a song that fit perfectly but only after the twist was revealed. Or how even how Cardcaptor Sakura’s OP songs were all fundamentally love songs but referenced Sakura’s role and growing power (“Catch You Catch Me” emphasizing getting the cards, “Tobira wo Akete” Sakura’s awakening to her power, and “Platinum” her having grown into her power).

    And that’s not even going into character songs and the various soundtracks that surround even lesser titles.


  2. Pingback: AniWeekly 1/11/2015: The MikuMiku SubPass Initiative - Anime Herald

  3. Pingback: Japanese vs. English Yu-Gi-Oh!: How the Two End Up Being Almost Two Different Shows | OGIUE MANIAX

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