Days of Anime 2020: Extra Credits

It’s been a so-so year for anime in my book, but a pretty good year for opening and ending credits. This year I did an ongoing thread on Twitter listing favorite credits sequences of the 2010s, so historicity has been on my mind. Do any of these sequences compare to the greats of the past decade or so? I’m not really sure, but at least a few of these are worthy successors that have been on steady rotation for me. Without further ado, let’s begin!

How the heck do you follow up the opening credits to Pop Team Epic, a super ambitious pop culture mash-up that throws everything at the wall including smashing a real-life television with a baseball bat? With real-life Instagram photography, latte art, claymation, stop-motion food and an actual human being wearing a dinosaur suit rolling around in an apartment. If I was pushed, I’d say that this is the most innovative sequence of the year, a real barn-burner that pushes the boundaries of what anime opening credits can be while still selling you on the tone of what you’re about to watch. If you’re going to watch any one sequence on this list, make it this one! Then watch the show, since it’s reportedly pretty alright (or at least vestenet says it is, I haven’t seen it.)

The Dorohedoro anime was half-and-half for me. I appreciated the love the staff clearly had for the source material, and the fun little details they managed to sneak into the series. But when you’re adapting a comic with a visual aesthetic as obsessively detailed, brilliant and uncompromising as the original comic, it’s very difficult in the current industry to do it justice! Which is to say the show is probably about as good as you can expect in a situation where a great show was impossible.

That said, there’s one thing that Dorohedoro nailed in my book, and that was the opening and ending credits. I don’t know if I’d say that they are definitively Dorohedoro. I’ve seen some folks complaining that the song wasn’t grunge enough, that the focus on visual psychedelia was a half-step away from the manga’s style. But I loved that the anime staff chose to make such a bold swing: to focus their opening sequence not on the standard fights or character introductions you’d see in this kind of thing, but on Nikaido making gyoza! There are plenty of fun hints in the sequence as well, from the Hungry Bug sink serving as a makeshift Door, to the gyoza fairy appearing at the very end. All in all, a fun sequence that captures the comic’s energy without necessarily copying it.

En goes hunting with his trusty mushroom

Dorohedoro Doom! Doom-o-he-doom-o! When I heard that Dorohedoro’s third ending referenced Doom, I’m not sure exactly what I expected. It certainly  wasn’t an aggressively retro sequence where En wanders the hallways of an old-school shooter turning enemies into mushrooms. It’s a hilarious joke that doesn’t really match anything that happens in the manga, but I’m so glad it exists. Is Q Hayashida a fan of Doom? Maybe in the second season of Dorohedoro we’ll have an ending that has the cast dressed in Dynasty Warriors outfits, Hayashida’s true video game love.

The opening sequence that spawned a thousand online parodies. I remember seeing this posted online just before I boarded a plane to Hawaii in January, and being upset the whole time that I couldn’t watch the opening credits to Yuasa’s newest project. I wouldn’t say it’s the absolute best opening credits to a Yuasa show (there’s plenty of competition!) but it’s a ton of fun and sums up the respective personalities of the cast quite well. While Yuasa looks to be taking a break from anime production so as not to burn out completely, I’m excited to see what the collective talent at Science Saru does next! Hopefully it’ll be just as enjoyable as this little gem.

Listeners represents yet another attempt at recapturing Eureka Seven’s thunder with the help of some of the same creative staff, yet it came and went without many people seeming to latch onto it. I imagine that in today’s era of anime where many shows last just 12 episodes, 24 at most, a series like Eureka Seven whose appeal is so bound up in watching a large cast very slowly grow and change over the course of a year is difficult to replicate. Perhaps you could say that as times have changed, the kinds of stories best suited to the medium have also changed? Dai Sato might land on that formula again, but clearly it didn’t work this time.

That’s fine, though, because the opening sequence for this show is an absolute banger. A whirlwind blast of energy that doesn’t so much cut between sequences as flicker between sudden moments of joy, love and terror with the frequency of changing the channel on your television. It effortlessly sells not just the Eureka Seven fantasy of a boy and a girl conquering the world, but the rock star fantasy: playing a piano, doing a goofy dance with your best friend, channeling the power of music through your body like a lightning bolt from the sky. It’s worth comparing this to the Tower of God opening credits–another sequence that switches abruptly between brief flashes of character and staff name cards–and thinking about why the former succeeds while the latter can’t help but feel incomplete.

It’s an open secret in the anime industry that most of the higher-ups at Studio Trigger are all obsessed with western cartoons. So I’m surprised that it took us this long to get something like Brand New Animal’s ending sequence–not just a credits sequence drawn in a different style by Japanese animators, but one created by Canadian artist Genice Chan and her crew at Giant Ant! Chan says in an interview with Otaquest that in storyboarding the sequence, she aimed to create something efficient and doable with the limited amount of time and budget they had. Even so, I found it to be an effective sequence that captures the appeal of the series while at the same time being distinctly different. Shirou is less of a grizzled old man and more of a cool bishounen, for one. 

Brand New Animal had its ups and downs, but I always looked forward to this sequence when it would play at the end of an episode. It’s that quality that to me defines the absolute best opening and ending sequences–when I think back on BNA my first thought isn’t just animal baseball or evil Elon Musk, but the shot of Michiru running through a blue and pink starscape.

This year I wrote a piece about Bleach opening and ending credits, and it had me thinking about how several of the best sequences in that series have little or no fighting at all. Sure, shinigami wearing stylish outfits and going at each other with impractical weapons was cool and all. But Bleach at its strongest, to me, captured the feeling of hanging out with your cooler older brother and his gang of friends. The idea of not just being among peers, but having the privilege of being in the same room with people effortlessly more put-together and stylish than you. 

Jujutsu Kaisen’s opening sequence is excellent, another great work by genius Shingo Yamashita. Plenty of folks online have sung its praises. But it’s the ending sequence that manages to recapture that feeling from Bleach. It reaches through time and space to retrieve that sense of cool, yet is fully contemporary. It’s the kind of sequence that expands the emotional and stylistic range of the source material without feeling like a divergence from it, and (if we’re being practical) likely what immediately distinguishes Jujutsu Kaisen aesthetically from its Shounen Jump compatriots. I’ve seen some decent fan parodies, too! Hopefully folks will keep making them so long as the show remains popular.

When I think of “exciting heist story with great art design that pays homage to Hollywood,” my first thought isn’t “cats singing Freddy Mercury while doing astonishing feats of stunt acting, like jumping out of planes and stealing pancakes.” This is why I am not a genius and the staff of The Great Pretender has a Netflix deal. The kind of perfectly transcendent sequence that makes you think “well, why not?” Essential viewing for all fans of animation and/or cat lovers.

And there’s plenty more I missed. The two-for-two home run of opening/ending sequences for Millionaire Detective Balance: Unlimited! Akudama Drive’s opening sequence, so devoted to its brand of abrasive, neon cool that it has an airhorn in it! Gibate’s OP, a rocking song set to animation that can’t really keep up, but is fairly charming anyway! Unfortunately we’re out of time for today. But please dig into some of the work that’s been done this year, a lot of it is good.

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