It’s nearly the end of the 2017 anime year, a year that gave us some of the best in the medium (as well as some of the worst). Looking back at all the heart-pounding action, tear-jerking romance, adorable slice-of-life, and so much more, what really surprised me was not just how great this year was for shows in general, but also how great it was for incredible openings. These 90-second music videos can draw us into the plot, tone, atmosphere, characters, and the world of the anime and make us return every week if only to watch that mesmerizing opening one more time. From beautiful to energetic, this year did not fail in terms of offering memorable openings, with each season offering a vast array of fantastic songs. With that said, these are some of my personal favorites from the past year, and I’m excited to hear about your favorites as well. Let’s begin!
Kuzu no Honkai – [Uso no Hibana] by 96neko
First on our list is the opening for the beautiful seinen romance, Kuzu no Honkai. A love story with mature and heavy themes, the show’s ability to skillfully handle complex emotional topics was reflected in its opening, 96neko’s Uso no Hibana.
The song, at first listen, is elegant and exciting, with confident guitar chords, fast-paced vocals, and an energetic beat all contributing to an enthusiastic tone. However, perception starts to change when the lyrics are examined; the song is actually about the destructive effects of romance and one’s hidden feelings that painfully rot away. Other details are also revealed when the lyric’s meaning is taken into account. The beautiful vocals hold a hint of pain and sorrow beneath the surface, and the fast pace seems not energetic, but desperate. The visuals of the opening are also quite remarkable, holding numerous symbolic elements for keen viewers to discern. The petals falling behind the characters, blank ink spreading through the white background, subtle facial expressions and body movements: the opening is simply a pleasure to watch for the attentive audience.
Uso no Hibana is a fantastic song to listen to in its own right, but when analyzed carefully, both in lyrics and visuals, the song takes on a whole new guise. Beautiful on the outside but much darker on the inside, this gorgeous opening mirrors the conflicts of the story masterfully and serves as a paramount example of an opening that keeps getting better each episode.
From one of the most successful series this year came two fittingly dynamic openings, each one making an already superb show “Go Beyond… PLUS ULTRA!!!” During some depressing times this year, these songs often came to my aid, giving me the energy to keep moving forward through the struggles.
Let’s go over the first one: Peace Sign by the outstanding singer Kenshi Yonezu. At its core, the song is about finding the motivation and courage to power through struggles. However, I think specific lines in the lyrics hint at something much deeper. For example, the lead-up to the chorus mentions a “cruel fate”, which could relate to Deku’s future as the One-for-All wielder or All-Might’s gradual decline as a hero. More questions rise with lines in the chorus such as “Your eyes are always swollen with tears” and “I’ll throw up a peace sign”. Is this All-Might talking to Deku, who drove him forth through struggles several times already? Or is this Deku speaking to the world, vowing to be a true Symbol of Peace? Heck, it could even be Deku talking to his One-for-All inheritor, which would bring up the entire “Who is Deku narrating to?” theory. Man I love openings like this.
The visuals of this opening shouldn’t be overlooked either. While the shots aren’t very dynamic in the beginning, I thought the almost serene tone of the students training reflected the nervousness and preparation required for the Sports Festival. The heated cinematic shots during the chorus parallel the actual battles in the tournament in this case. Overall, this opening’s visual composition fits the entire Tournament Arc feel quite aptly, complementing the already exceptional vocals.
Adding on to this first opening is an equally exceptional second opening: Sora Ni Utaeba by Amazarashi. While there are many who dislike this one, I personally love it every bit as much as Peace Sign. The passionate, spirited vocals and the energetic guitar made for a fitting opening for a season that tested the true heroic spirit in our characters. Certain shots that foreshadowed upcoming events, fast and fluid character motion, and brilliant animation all made for a perfect opening that succeeded both in visuals and music. I would analyze the opening in-depth here, but for the sake of time, here’s a fantastic video on the opening if you’re interested.
Gamers! – [GAMERS!] by Karen, Chiaki, and Aguri
For the summer season, the bubbly (yet surprisingly complex) romance-comedy Gamers! gave us the aptly named opening GAMERS!, sung by none other than the voice actresses of the main cast. A sure treat for all of the gamers out there, this colorful, reference-filled opening was a standout opening from the season.
Starting with a strong, jumpy chiptune beat, the opening immediately makes the gamers in the audience feel right at home, reminiscing to many older video game soundtracks. Bright colors flash throughout the opening, fitting the colorful cast of characters and their wild adventures in romance. We even get a action-packed fight scene with all of the characters, topping off the already fantastic opening. But of course, how could I not mention all the references! From older games such as Street Fighter 2 and Super Mario Bros. 2 to newer games such as Resident Evil 7 and Battlegrounds, the opening is abundant with game references for avid gamers to spot. Heck, they even reference all the consoles in the title shot!
While it doesn’t hold some existential message about the current state of human society, the opening and overall show of Gamers! is an enjoyable treat for gamers and non-gamers alike. Having us scream at every character every episode, making us wish we could jump into the show and tell them who they’re supposed to date, GAMERS!, the opening, was perhaps the one constant we could always dance too.
Kekkai Sensen & Beyond – [Fake Town Baby] by Unison Square Garden
Spring 2015. The season Kekkai Sensen aired in. The season we all witnessed the rise of one of the best endings in the last decade. This ending, the ED to Kekkai Sensen, Sugar Song to Bitter Step, became a legend the instant it aired, remaining in the Top 100 in the Japanese iTunes charts even two years later to this day. So when the same people behind this ending returned to play the opening for Kekkai Sensen & Beyond, everyone expected one hell of a delivery… and with the opening Fake Town Baby, Unison Square Garden delivered yet again.
Visually, the opening is at peak performance, using dynamic lighting and coloring to display the chaotic nature of Hellsalem’s Lot. Stunning use of digital effects allow quick transitions and panning shots all shown through Leo’s eyes, and Studio Bones yet again masterfully animates fight sequences, making for one hell of a ride during the chorus. Oh yeah, and there’s that one typo as well. But animation aside, the music itself couldn’t be more fitting. Fast and loud with brief moments of calm, the wonderful performance by Unison Square Garden encapsulates the energy and vitality of Kekkai Sensen, as well as the emotional inserts that make every character so memorable. Quite unlike their relaxed, jovial tone in Sugar Song to Bitter Step, this opening is a perfect fit for an episodic season focusing on individual characters in charming, fast-paced individual tales.
Unison Square Garden’s other openings this year have been great too, but it seems their music resonates with the Kekkai Sensen world in particular. While Bump of Chicken and Daoko held outstanding performances in the anime as well, Unison Square Garden’s blood-pumping energy and charismatic vocals easily make for one of the best openings of the season.
Uchiage Hanabi – [Uchiagehanabi] by Daoko & Kenshi Yonezu
For the last on the list, we have Uchiagehanabi by Daoko and Kenshi Yonezu. While it is not an opening per se, it is still the main theme of the new movie Uchiage Hanabi, Shita kara Miru ka? Yoko kara Miru ka? Unfortunately, I have yet to see the movie, and have seen only average reviews at best. However, at the very least, we got this absolutely gorgeous musical piece, accompanied by some beautifully animated sequences. It really is hard to hold my hype down with this masterpiece of a music video being released already.
From sunlight sparkling in the ocean water to fireworks shining in the night sky, Uchiagehanabi contains gorgeous cinematography, using wide shots to establish the setting of the story. Shaft’s impressive lighting work allows for incredible shots of the seaside, and the fireworks never fail to amaze. 3D models are used at times to make smooth and fluid animation. Overall, the visual quality of the music video is remarkable, and hopefully the same quality is seen in the movie. In addition to the art, however, is the incredible song itself by two of my favorite vocalists. DAOKO’s elegant vocals work in perfect harmony with Kenshi Yonezu’s charming voice, effectively reflecting the friendship/romance aspect of the film. The bridge of the song, in particular, is simply extraordinary, with heartfelt exchanges of lines leading to a lovely duet.
While I really don’t know what to expect from the movie, this music video is perhaps the best anime MV I have seen this year. Graceful and gorgeous in both visuals and music, Uchiagehanabi is a song that will stay in my heart for years to come. I hope the movie’s lacking reception doesn’t detract from this fantastic piece.
Kemono Friends – [Youkoso Japari Park e] by Doubutsu Biscuits
Fitting the show’s cute, innocent nature, this show’s jumpy opening makes for a fine introduction to this hidden gem of the season. While the animation is undoubtedly stiff and flawed, the opening itself contains shots that still show off the dreamlike world of Japari Park. Character movements, while lacking quite often, still have heart in them and display the love and dedication put into the show. To top off the animation is the simply wonderful song, capturing the adventurous, friendly vibe of the show. Its a wholesome opening made for a wholesome show.
Love Live! Sunshine!! Season 2 – [Mirai no Bokura wa Shitteru yo] by Aqours
Having shots from both the lustrous Akiba Dome stage and the peaceful Numazu cityscape, this opening is a testament not only to Aqours’s journey, but also to the technical improvement of the Love Live anime over the years. In addition to the lively movements of the 3D models, the seamless transitions between 3D and 2D displayed the undeniable improvement of musical performances in Love Live. This opening is one fantastic example of the potential of 3D animation, and I hope more people can recognize the power of 3D.
(See also [Water Blue New World] from Love Live! Sunshine!! Season 2 Episode 12 and Houseki no Kuni for more 3D beauty)
Other Noteworthy Openings
Mahoutsukai no Yome – [HERE] by Junna
Great vocals and instruments. Fits the show’s magnificent and mysterious vibe.
Shingeki no Kyojin Season 2 – [Shinzou wo Sasageyo!] by Linked Horizon
Another brilliant opening by Linked Horizon that feels like a fierce war-cry from the human forces.
Made in Abyss – [Deep in Abyss] by Riko & Regu
Sung by VAs of the main characters, the song reflects the show’s adventurous outlook effectively.
Just Because! – [over and over] by Nagi Yanagi
Along with impressive vocals, the song has just enough excitement to fit the show’s atmosphere without being too grandiose.
Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryouko – [Ugoku, Ugoku] by Chito & Yuuri
Adorable and fluffy, starring some cute visuals and our lovely main cast. And the dab. Of course.
Inuyashiki – [My Hero] by MAN WITH A MISSION
Database and My Hero, both by MAN ON A MISSION, are said to be capable of resurrecting the dead through sheer hype, forcing them to return from the underworld to sing along.
Blend S – [Bon Appétit♡S] by Blend A
Gave us some fantastic memes to end the year. (The link is the paint version since I couldn’t find the actual one among all the memes)
Sakura Quest – [Morning Glory] by (K)NoW_NAME
Excellent vocal talent with cute character designs makes for a charming opening.
Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon – [Aozora no Rhapsody] by fhána
For giving us this.
Eromanga Sensei – [Hitorigoto] by ClariS
Because ClariS openings always sound beautiful. No, really.
ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – [Shadow and Truth] by ONE III NOTES
Jazzy, stylish, with a touch of cool. Nice animation also never hurts.
Granblue Fantasy – [GO] by BUMP OF CHICKEN
A relaxing, soothing piece that utilizes BoC’s main vocalist and his calming voice perfectly.
Unison Square Garden music somehow makes me want to dance in the streets without giving a damn about anything else in the world. Really takes the show to the necks(t) level (next level).
And that’s about it! Thank you so much for reading, and feel free to tell me your favorite openings from the year (endings are great too). Criticism is always appreciated, and without much else to say, have a happy new year and see you in 2018!