The Purpose of Openings

Because I could not find any fitting picture.

If you are new to anime, one of the first things you will notice is the fancy openings with actual singers and not only a short piece of music together with the series logo (or a longer opening showcasing the characters and setting) like here in the West. But are these kinds of openings needed or should they be removed in favour of extra screen time? Warning! Includes many videos!

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a saying that has never felt so wrong when it comes to anime openings in my case. Openings play a big role in how, at least I, perceive the show itself. A great opening will give me the urge to watch the show, while a bad one might turn me off. This is something that perhaps many of you will not agree on, but let me try to explain why openings are important.

(Undine by Makino Yui)

Aria the Animation. When you watch this opening, what do you feel? Do you feel relaxed and happy, forgetting everything that is bad? Do you slowly sway to the rhythm of the music? Are you starting to become one with the world?

Whenever I listen to any opening from Aria, I am washed away by loads of emotions. The openings set the mood before the actual show starts. One thing that is special with the openings of Aria, which you maybe noticed, is that they merge with the episodes themselves, creating a much tighter atmosphere. In almost every other anime the openings are visually superior to the episodes and consists of “random” scenes put together, creating a stark contrast. Aria does not do this and together with beautifully fitting music the opening tells you exactly what the show stands for.

This is how you create a good opening. It represents what the show stands for and puts the viewer in the right mood. In Aria’s case, the purpose is to calm down the viewer. If it were an action show it would be full of adrenaline to pump you up. It has to fit with the overarching theme. Create something unique.

Now, look at these three openings.

(One Reason by Fade)

As you can see, Deadman Wonderland is a very serious show about prisoners trying to survive in a twisted private prison. There is one man toying with the prisoners’ lives, all who we are introduced to in the opening. All very epic indeed.

In all reality though, Deadman Wonderland is a generic shounen mess with superpowers and does not feel very threatening in all, more like silly. The opening is lying, trying to pretend it is something that it is not. It also looks visually better than the episodes.

(Dream of Life by Shohei Itou) New Link

The opening of Bakuman 2 is not necessarily a bad one, as it shows us what it is all about: creating manga. But why is it not using that in its on favour? Use manga panels, rough sketches and much more to fit the theme! It could only become better!

(Harinezumi by Azuma Hitomi)

And Fractale? I have no idea what to feel when I watch the opening. It is a mess and includes all the colours in the world. You cannot even grasp what the show is about when watching it. It is all very random.

(Pre-Parade by Rie Kugimiya, Eri Kitamura, and Yui Horie)

(silky heart by Yui Horie)

If the openings I come across appeal to me in some way, I will most likely look up the show soon after. Toradora is one of those shows. The first opening appeared in the “related section” on Youtube and while it was not that unique, it screamed school, love and comedy with bits of drama. The second opening, however, had a very different tone. It was on the more serious side and had a slightly melancholic feel to it.

By judging these two openings, I could tell that this was exactly what I wanted. And in hindsight, that was what I got. The openings expressed what Toradora was all about.

And this is why I feel that openings are necessary. They represent something. They try to tell something. Instead of being a boring excuse to namedrop the creators and such, they help you adjust your mood. In that regard, anime openings win over Western openings anytime. Here it is either only the logo, or one and a half minute of nothing.

Oh, and Shaft’s openings are just crazy random.

(Ringo Mogire Beam! by Kenji Ohtsuki & Zetsubou Shoujo-tachi)

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16 thoughts on “The Purpose of Openings

  1. seer says:

    I have also often found opening themes to be the perfect trailers for anime, and they are usually what I check to get a feel for the show — as well as reading about them and looking at pictures. Such is their power, however, that I have sometimes skipped any more preliminary research upon just glancing at an OP, as it happened with Xam’d and Zetsubou-sensei. There’s even some openings that I believe outlive their shows (like Denpa Onna and Deadman Wonderland) while there are others that I wanted to fast-forward through: namely, Madoka Magica and the first one from Toradora.

    But ending themes are also important when watching anime: They are commonly the last thing you see and can leave you with a strong or weak impression of the show, and with either anticipation or satisfaction. One good example for this is Gankutsuou, and more recently Penguindrum.

    • Marow says:

      Trailers… that’s a very good explanation. I often find myself checking the openings when I hear about some interesting show.
      The strength in Madoka’s opening is that it’s the complete opposite of what the show actually is, which helps giving off a weird mood. Oh, and who thought that a show with such an opening would feature “you know what”? The ending shows the real nature of Madoka. It was a big troll, basically.

      Originally, I was going to write about endings too, as I also do find them important. But I realised that there would be too many videos, so I decided to save it till some other time. For me, endings should help you reflect over the episode. Meaning, it should fit. *remembers the horrible ill-placed ending in Clannad After Story*

  2. Mushyrulez says:

    I’m not sure whether this post explains why they’re necessary. If an anime OP can set the mood for a show, I’m sure the first two minutes of it can also set the same mood. It does say why they’re /good/ in some aspects, but not why they /must/ be there. Using an OP to set the mood feels like cheating – any good director should be able to effect a mood simply by using the show.

    Two more notes: Bakuman isn’t about /drawing/ manga – it’s about /making/ it, and so the OP makes a lot of sense. Not necessarily a creative way to go about it, but eh. Fractale was an experimental anime – it’d make sense to have an experimental OP. The OP’s used to effect a null mood – a blank slate, if you will – so that we could fully absorb the creativity of Fractale’s direction. Not sure how well that worked out.

    • Marow says:

      I can definitely understand your point, but I’m not too sure I agree. Setting the mood without openings would not, what I believe, be possible in only two minutes. And if it took longer than that, too much time would be wasted. It might be easier if you are doing an original show though, as you don’t have to focus on making a faithful adaptation!

      Openings become a bit iconic for the show, something to look forward to and something you remember afterwards. This is often used in action shows, let’s take Gurren Lagann for example. In a handful of epic moments, the opening plays, and you feel “Aaaaw yeaaaaaaah”. It’s the opening. IT’S AS THE SHOW ITSELF IS SAYING THAT IT ROCKS. Something along those lines~

      Fractale, huh. It was full of bad creativity.

      • Mushyrulez says:

        Haha, that’s because there is no problem. I was merely stating – openings aren’t /necessary/, they can be replaced by simply delving into the show. Although you say that openings set the mood, it doesn’t convince me that they’re necessary to set the mood for the show.

        The post was great, but my stance on this is so woefully biased that I feel the need to argue on any post regarding the matter 😦

      • Marow says:

        Okay, these replies got messed up somehow :p

        Haha, it’s only fun to hear what other people think! I thought more were going to disagree with me actually 🙂

    • Mushyrulez says:

      Yes, they become iconic for the show – but is that a good thing? There’s an OST for a reason. Using the OP’s song (which, really, just sounds like lame pop most of the time – OPs focus on visuals, right?) to highlight an emotional sequence again feels like cheating – any good director should be able to evoke emotions and memorability through a blend of background music and cinematic effects, not simply inserting the OP music somewhere.

      • Marow says:

        Why should they NOT be allowed to use OPs and let them be iconic? What is there to lose? It’s not like it becomes less emotional than some other song from the OST, as it all depends on how they use it. I don’t see the problem?

  3. Yerocha says:

    I agree that openings should try to show what the anime is like, but I’ve also seen far too many cases of an opening spoiling the show itself. You need a good balance in between. One of my favourite semi-recent openings was for Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou, which showed the types of characters and the overall mood without giving anything away.

    • Marow says:

      Yes, some openings tend to spoil us by, for example, showing us scenes directly from the show itself (Bakuman 2 Opening). Luckily, it’s mostly not a spoiler unless you know what happens.

      Natsume Yuujinchou got some great openings, and I really love the one from Zoku! Catchy, fit the theme, sets the mood and so on. Did I say catchy?

  4. AceRailgun says:

    Very interesting read. Yorocha is right in saying that anime opening tend to spoil a lot of plot points now days.

    A good opening is something like Aria opening that give you a feeling for the show and get you on the hook. Or something that leads you to believe something is better then it actually is the Deadman Wonderland opening for example. Without that opening I feel a lot of people would have dropped it sooner rather then later.

    I most certainly will judge a book by it’s cover because if the cover is bad then it reflects negatively on the content 😛

  5. Nopy says:

    Before the advent of Youtube, anime charts, and even widespread anime blogging, I used openings as a sort of trailer to see what a show was about. Nowadays though, I only watch them if I like the song or if there’s some nice animation.

  6. […] though, the serious side becomes more apparent while the comedy takes a rest. I mentioned it in a previous […]

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