(Inspired by Lewis’s earlier article – and the fact that I just can’t get the first ending song from ‘Kyo Kara Maoh!’ out of my head right now!)
In France they call them ‘génériques’. Here we tend to call them the ‘opening’ and ‘closing’ song. Love them or hate them, they’ve been an integral part of the whole anime experience even before the ‘Cha La Head Cha La’ song introduced Son Goku in ‘Dragonball Z’ way back when. Nowadays, being chosen to sing and/or write the song that accompanies the opening sequence can be the start of a lucrative career in the world of commercial music for a young singer or band.
So, what do you do if you’re driven mad by an anime song, but you’re not quite sure how it goes after the first couple of bars? Or you’ve been watching ‘Shaman King’ or ‘One Piece’ in the bowdlerized US versions and you want to hear the original music? You go to www.coucoucircus.org!
I first happened upon the French website Coucoucircus a couple of years ago or so. Nowadays they have a really useful English translation as well. It’s a wonderful treasure-house of génériques, with the Japanese words helpfully transcribed so that you can sing along. It’s a great resource, as long as you don’t want to download the songs. As the good people who run Coucoucircus politely point out, there are other sites set up (and licensed) if that’s your aim. But for hours of happy browsing and listening (and a little karaoke), Coucoucircus is the site to visit. Of course, there is a long and honourable tradition of showing ‘proper’ anime on children’s television in France (anyone remember Club Dorothée?) so, referring back to Lewis’s article, there are plenty of nostalgic theme tunes to be found in their French translated versions on the site (‘Mysterious Cities of Gold’ and ‘Ulysses 31’ to name but two old favourites). Of course, if you’d rather have the lyrics translated into English, then www.animelyrics.com is another really useful site to visit with links to YouTube, also highly recommended.
I’ve often wondered, however, to what extent the appeal of an opening song influences the viewer’s first impressions of a series – and whether those impressions can be blighted by a naff or inappropriate choice of music. The witty mix of traditional Japanese imagery and hip-hop in ‘Samurai Champloo’ was an inspired marriage that led perfectly into the first episode. And Yoko Kanno never seems to hit a false note in setting the scene for what’s to come: from the Seatbelts jazz groove in ‘Tank’ for ‘Cowboy Bebop’ through the raw and restless ‘Stray’ for ‘Wolf’s Rain’ to the upbeat opening for retro fantasy/mecha series ‘Genesis of Aquarion’, she always seems to find the right sounds to draw the viewer in.
Then there’s the closing song. How could the mesmeric ‘Wind’ for ‘Naruto’ have been replaced for Jetix with that tedious guitar jangle (as they roll the credits at triple speed to allow more time for adverts?)
Sometimes I can’t bear to listen to the opening song so much that I’ll skip it altogether. Am I alone in this? Top hate right now is the opening to ‘Spiral’. The singer’s voice is so piercingly off-key that I have to hit fast forward. Another pet hate is the beginning of ‘Gilgamesh’ (and the closing song as well). Liked the series and the rest of the incidental music – loathed the génériques. I also used to hate ‘In the Endlessly Far Sky’, the opening to ‘Kyo Kara Maoh!’ The lead singer of The Stand Up has a voice of such penetrating stridency that it could probably set dogs howling (we have a cat). Yet the ending (same singer?) is one of my all-time favourite anime songs: cute, well-matched to the adorable visuals and so catchy that once heard, you’ll just have to hear it again and again.
And talking of ending songs, some of the best are the cute ones, such as Rie Tanaka singing ‘Raison d’Etre’ from ‘Chobits’ or the ending to ‘Pumpkin Scissors’. As for those that reinforce the poignancy of the episode you’ve just been watching, ‘Mermaid Princess’ from ‘Chobits’ (Rie Tanaka again), Yuki Kajiura’s ‘Path’ from ‘Loveless’ or most unbearably sad of all, Yoko Kanno’s ‘ gravity’ for ‘Wolf’s Rain’. Yet I also love ‘Hey, Jimmy!’ by Hav from ‘Peacemaker Kurogane’; it’s such a brilliant pairing of an aggressively swaggering metal track with charmingly inconsequential domestic vignettes of the characters: Vice-Commander Hijikata smoking his pipe; Soji with Saizo, his pet pig, Tetsu playing with the other children. And the animation has been timed to fit the beat of the music really well; it’s simple but it worked.
I’ve proposed a few of my current favourites and pet hates. Anyone else like to name some of their best – and worst – anime theme songs?