A good opening or ending theme is more important to a show than a lot of people realize. The opening theme needs to get you psyched up to watch the show, and then the ending theme has to leave you happy that you watched it. And the songs need to be paired with good animation – if all you’re showing me is a blank list of scrolling credits, I’m not going to pay much attention to the music. So here are the five best openings and five best endings of 2011. I’ve tried to find video links for all of them, but Youtube has gotten really square recently and taken down some of the more popular OP/ED videos. I guess it’s time for everybody to switch to a different video hosting service. Anyway, here they are – I’ve limited myself to one OP and ED each for shows that changed OP/ED partway through.
The Top 5 Anime OPs of 2011
5. Mirai Nikki – “Kuusou Mesorogiwi”
The song is fun, although I’m not sure how well the random Latin and German fit with the show’s theme. The animation sure fits though. Everything collapses into blood, and Yuno goes completely nuts. There’s a lot of nice touches in this opening animation, but I think my favorite is Yuno falling and then Yukiteru (presumably) reaching down to save her. I ship those two so hard.
4. Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko – “Os-Uchuujin”
Well, I’ll admit, I have a weakness for denpa music, and this song might not be everyone’s cup of tea. (The full version is better than the TV size version, too.) I really like the use of color in the animation, though. It gets across the female lead’s isolation and somewhat distorted perspective on the world clearly. And I like the visual of all the characters swimming against a current of stylized radio waves, although I’m not sure I quite understand what it symbolizes.
3. SKET Dance – “Kakko Warui I Love You”
sket_dance_opening_1 at some random video website
This is a great song and a great video. The animation shows the members of the SKET-dan doing their club activities, helping the other students out in various ways, with a bunch of tiny sight gags thrown in, sort of like a sampler platter for the show. I especially like the parts where the characters are sitting on the edge of the pool kicking their feet and swaying in time to the music.
2. Nichijou – “Joujou Yuujou”
Kyoto Animation knows a thing or two about how to make a minute-and-a-half long video of characters dancing set to music. But what makes this song and video stand out is the sheer energy it has. The music is high tempo, and the animation cuts from scene to scene in pace with it. This lets them show all sorts of aspects of the show and most of their enormous cast of characters. Anything less than this frantic jitterbug of an OP wouldn’t be able to measure up to the insanity of the show’s fast-paced gag comedy.
1. Puella Magi Madoka Magica – “Connect”
clip-3434.html at some random video website
This opening mirrors Madoka’s emotional path in both the video and music. It starts slow, with her idly dreaming about being a magic girl. Then she transforms, and finds in herself the determination to protect the people she cares about (she stares defiantly into the camera! I love it), and the music swells. And then she goes through hardship, running through the rain, as she passionately struggles to uphold her ideas. It’s a mini-epic in a minute and a half, and it benefits from Madoka’s absolutely amazing character design and animation, making it the most visually appealing OP of the year, and the all-around best.
Honorable Mentions: Mawaru Penguindrum, Fate/Zero
The Top 5 Anime EDs of 2011
5. Mirai Nikki – “Blood Teller”
Ending themes are supposed to be slower, more contemplative, to allow you to reflect on what happened in the episode you just watched. In the case of Mirai Nikki, we just watched a brutal survival game, in which someone very likely killed someone else. The animation here brings that home, with slow shots of the NPC diary-holders disappearing into static as they are erased by our so-called “heroes”. It’s easy to get caught up in Yuno and Yukiteru triumphing over adversity, but their win is always someone else’s loss. While the OP might glorify the violence a little, the ED laments it, and that’s a position I can support.
4. Fate/Zero – “Memoria”
Similarly to Mirai Nikki’s ending theme, this song lets you reflect. In this case, you’re reflecting on the nature of the heroic spirits, who have been ripped from their own times, their own heroic lives, to serve various wizardly masters who have little heroic about them. Looking at scenes of the Servants’ past lives drives home the true nature of the blood-sport slavery that is the Holy Grail War. Does Alexander the Great deserve to be taunted like this, or King Arthur? With the carrot of resurrection dangled before them, they dance to the will of the magi that summoned them. And if that’s not enough, there’s always the stick of the Command Spells. It’s a shame the animation isn’t something more dynamic than just stills, but they are very attractive stills.
3. Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai – “Watashi no Kimochi”
This isn’t a “reflective” ending theme, but it’s not like an episode of Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai would have tired you out with all its fast-paced action and complex plot. You can handle a little rocking out at the end. I like this ending because it shows more of the relationship between Sena and Yozora, as opposed to the show proper which mainly showed Kodaka’s harem dynamic. It explicitly shows Sena descending to rescue Yozora. I like to think that they are mutually benefiting from the relationship, but I can’t argue that Yozora doesn’t need it more than Sena does. And one touch I particularly like is Yozora rocking out on air guitar. Of course she’s got an air guitar! Just like her air friend, just like her air satisfaction with her life, everything Yozora has is meaningless vapor, an illusion that wouldn’t fool an outsider for a moment, that she nonetheless vigorously indulges in.
2. Mawaru Penguindrum – “Ikarechimattaze”
This song may have only appeared at the end of one episode, but it sure stuck in my head. This is a seriously well-written rock-and-roll song, and the glitzy, idolly cover it got in this ending just makes it more interesting. This version’s a lot easier on the ears than the original… The animation suffers a bit from a lack of dynamism, although like Fate/Stay Night’s ending, the high quality of the stills can excuse some of that. To the extent that I could figure out what the heck Penguindrum was even supposed to be about, the song seems like a good thematic fit. But that’s not much of an extent. Basically, I just really liked the song.
1. Nichijou – “Zzz”
This song is a perfect fit for Nichijou. It doesn’t have the manic energy that the show proper has, but that’s because by the time an episode is over, it’s expended all its energy. At the end of a fun day, a lullaby is exactly what you want. The song is bright and poppy and gentle and full of love, all of which fit Nichijou perfectly. And the animation that goes along with it works too. You have the closing of the curtains at the end of a show, and you have the characters contentedly walking forward in time to the music. I guess that doesn’t sound impressive, but the animators really sell how contented these characters are. Watch Nano skipping near the end, I’m not sure I’ve been that happy ever in my life. The message is “today was a really good day because I have great friends it’s fun to spend time with, but now it’s time for bed, good night”. And that’s the perfect message to end an episode of Nichijou with.