How Important are Openings and Ending Songs in Anime?

Anime openings and endings (commonly abbreviated as OPs and EDs respectively) have become a staple of most anime in modern days, so it makes sense that the discussion continues to resurface, as there continues to be more and more anime released every year, which in return means more and more openings and endings are released as well. This is a different sort of era than what anime used to be, even from a decade ago, with most anime having the same opening or ending song for more than one season of a show. Even before the 2000s years of anime, OP/EDs specifically were relatively scarce in shows and were vastly different than the ones that we encounter today in terms of song genres, types of openings they are (instrumental or vocal), and most obviously the types of animation processes used in these music clips as well.

There are plenty of people that enjoy these opening and ending clips, but, just like many other things in the sphere of anime, there are many watchers that just skip over them when they’re included in an anime. Perhaps many people just want to watch the anime instead, but I also feel that many people just see the opening or ending songs as a type of filler, something that they can deem to skip past if they see fit or may not personally. While I wouldn’t criticize anyone for what they do in their own time, I personally think it’s a bit unfair to the people that worked on creating the openings and endings for anime just to skip over them, especially because sometimes these can be masterpieces in of themselves. It also isn’t too much of a stretch to say that these anime openings can set the mood for an anime, or change it entirely if it needs to, things that ultimately can dramatically affect the feel of the show in the long run. 

All of these aspects are crucial to the show itself, in my opinion, and there are plenty of times where the anime opening or ending has enhanced my experience of watching the show, and I feel that pushing them aside as a form of “filler” or “a musical promotional clip” can be a bit disingenuous to the show itself at times.

One of the most notable examples of this, and probably one of the most famous ones, is within Puella Magi Madoka Magica, where the ending song itself changed after the dark twist appeared within episode 3. While the opening itself stayed the same as the ClariS song “Connect”, portraying a cutesy, but slightly off-kilter version of the plot that was unfolding in the show itself, the new ending “Magia” by Kalafina really brought out the inner darkness of the show; something that was missing from the initial ending of the show itself. This isn’t even to mention the modern visual effects that made this ending have such an impact, something that studio SHAFT did for the opening and ending songs as well as the show itself, and there likely could be an entire dedicated article written about the visual effects alone. 

This is a prime example of how a well-crafted ending song can influence someone’s perception of a show, considering that very few people could recall the initial ending song of the original Madoka Magica series because of it not having the impact of the ending song suddenly shifting to the much darker, well-known one that is notable for its ties to the twist in the show. This doesn’t mean the initial ending song should be disregarded either, though, as it also played a part in playing into the farce the show initially created for itself. It’s a decision that the original director and animators for the show decided to use in order to enhance an important part of the show through its music, and is equally as important as any of the other sound design and music composition choices made within the anime itself.

Anime opening and endings have had plenty of creative tricks up their sleeves for shows in the past, but studios do not necessarily need to rely on these gimmicks in order for their show to drive home its point. Simply just having a memorable or catchy song as the opening or ending that relates to the show or generates some sort of “hype” for the show in question can be successful in its own way. Many action or sports shows tend to do this relatively often, and when paired with some incredible animation, they can leave the same sort of impact as some of the most important moments within the show, as well.

One of the most popular examples of this would likely be the opening for Yuri!!! On Ice, “History Maker,” by Dean Fujioki. While the opening itself was known for its incredible ice-skating animation and 3D rotoscoping, it’s no question to anyone that’s seen Yuri!!! On Ice that this song wasn’t a banger in any way, shape, or form. I wouldn’t even be surprised if you were shouting the lyrics right now while reading this paragraph because that’s how synonymous that song is with the show at times. It generates the amount of hype and energy going into the show and puts your mind into the proper space to watch the show. This is something that’s shared among many openings, but specifically, ones that have action, drama, or both, and Yuri!!! On Ice has all of them. It’s no surprise that the staff had selected that opening when creating the show, because it fits perfectly, especially paired with the incredible techniques used in the animation process as well. I couldn’t personally imagine trying to watch the show without listening to the opening of each and every episode, and it would feel wrong to me to try and do otherwise because of how integrated they are with each other.

This is something openings and endings are good at within anime; they can create a certain mood or energy for the type of show that they are, bringing a new experience to the show in general. It’s no surprise, though, that when this is not done very well, the experience can become jarring, whether it was the creator’s intention or not. Without being able to know the exact intentions of the creators, however, we’re left a mere guessing game into that matter and are left with some bizarre after-effects.

One example that most people probably aren’t aware of that I’ve seen of this happen is Brynhildr in the Darkness’s second opening by Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas “Virtue and Vice”. For a likely comparable example, it may be easier to think of this like the second Death Note opening song “What’s up, people?!” by Maximum the Hormone that is infamous for all of the same reasons.

In both of these shows, the plots are a bit darker than usual but the first openings come across as more of an exciting twist on the genres at play. Brynhildr in the Darkness is a sci-fi thriller mystery about trying to discover the inner workings of a scientific laboratory and its homunculus-like creations born there, while Death Note is more of a thriller twist on the shounen genre with a lot of supernatural elements involved. These shows’ first openings both reflected that rather well, with Brynhildr using a full instrumental synth opening depicting some of the background elements of the show to set the stage for the mystery at hand. Death Note’s first opening did something similar, showcasing its supernatural elements while also retaining some of the shounen-type battles that were to take place between our two main characters. However, the second openings of both of these shows take the show into a different sort of territory that over-emphasize these elements using the music, which can create some tonal shifts going into the show itself.

These tonal shifts, as started earlier, are a vital part of anime openings in particular. Changing the opening of a show that had a fitting opening to a much different one can create subtle tonal changes in the mindset of the audience going into the show. This can create a jarring experience for the viewer in some cases, as the opening change can sometimes come at an unexpected point in the show which may not necessarily tonally reflect how the plot is progressing in the show. In other cases, it may still reflect the tone of the show, but the tone may be dissonant from the show itself, creating further ambiguity in interpretation of the show’s or opening’s thematic elements. This balance specifically applies to openings more than endings, although as described with Madoka Magica earlier, these shifts can also be used to create new thematic directions using the ending song of a show as well.

This is why these opening and ending songs are important, as they can definitely contribute to the overall thematic and viewing experience of the show in question. Some may view them as a simple way to fill time or that they can be detrimental in giving away key aspects of the show. While this may be true for a minority of openings and endings for shows and are tiny in comparison to the events in the show, there are others out there that feel that these songs have no value in terms of the anime as a whole or are just generic J-pop songs that are there more for advertising purposes of the artist than acting as a solid opening. While, again, this may be true for some shows, especially ones for shows that are more niche for their genres, there are plenty of shows that have been of those genres that have managed to use J-pop songs to their advantage. These openings have managed to go above and beyond in their presentations, showing that even with an opening that may not have a stand-out song, it can be fit into an anime thematically and be used as a strengthening for the overall presentation of the show.

One notable example of this would be opening for Girls und Panzer, a show that’s primarily a slice-of-life show with a bunch of cinematographically cool action sequences that are significantly enhanced by the director’s way of framing the shots in the opening itself. ChouCho’s “DreamRiser” as the background song doesn’t exactly enhance any of the shows themes unlike some of the examples I stated before, however, the song does contribute to a faster-paced opening, which allows the camera shots in the opening to be more dynamic and contribute to generally feeling of the show itself; a show that has focuses around action shots.

This is one of the more common opening types for some of the more unique slice-of-life and romance shows, which can be used to the anime’s advantage as long as the opening/ending director knows how to utilize the songs and design an interesting film piece to go with them. Many of studio SHAFT’s works within the past twelve years contain these types of openings, as they had many works of these genres that have used many popular J-pop artists in their openings, along with having a very stylistic team in order to design openings. One example of this is from the popular romance novel Nisekoi, which had a studio SHAFT adaptation in 2014. While in this show, the openings were both by the popular J-pop group ClariS, the most stand-out part of these openings were not because of the songs themselves, but was the interestingly dynamic opening animation that accompanied them. Looking at Nisekoi’s second opening “STEP” animation-wise just shows why studio SHAFT’s team for this anime was the best choice in adapting this popular rom-com.

I think that, in terms of animation quality and stylistic approaches in photography and camera work, anime openings and endings can be one of the coolest things in animation, especially if accompanied with an appropriate song for the anime’s choice. They can completely change the overall experience of the anime in question and add to the thematic aspects of the show in question, resulting in a more entertaining show or further in-depth analyses of the show’s thematic elements. At the same time, these openings and endings are volatile; if they are used incorrectly or in the wrong way, they can be detrimental to the show’s overall standing of quality, whether that’s apparent at a first glance, or if it’s a more subtle chance over time. These combinations of music and animation should not be overlooked as simply a time-filler or a way for a music publisher to fit their songs into an anime production, as anime openings and endings can be so much more than that.

This is definitely something that I think a lot of people forget, as they simply put these anime song clips aside when watching a show, which can completely alter the viewing experience in question. While one could argue that these alterations in experience may not be extremely large in the grand scheme of the show, the small differences can make the difference between respecting a show more for what it does and disregarding the small quality details that an anime provides to us. Additionally, some shows have completely separate staff members and animators work on the openings and endings in order to make sure they are perfect fits for the show in question. Just as someone wouldn’t skip particular scenes in a show, an opening or ending shouldn’t be treated any differently, as I feel that it can discredit the animators that put valuable work into them as well.

In the future, I hope that we can see more appreciation for the staff and quality of many anime openings and endings in question, as I think many of them deserve a lot more respect, appreciation, and analysis than they’ve gotten in the past. While I have seen some content creators give these openings and endings the appreciation for their roles and contributions to their respective shows, these content pieces are few and far between. It’s unfortunate that some of these song and animation pieces of work that sometimes have individual staff teams can get overlooked in the grand scheme of an anime. Eventually, I would love to see more bloggers’ and content creators focus more on these aspects of anime, as I feel that openings and endings are far more interesting and integral to the shows in question than some may think. 

Next time that you are watching an anime, challenge yourself to watch and analyze the opening or ending and find something to appreciate about it, whether that be something that plays into the show itself or just a cool bit of animation work that was done. You may be surprised as to what you might find.

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