Yata’s Top 25 OPs of 2014

I assume since you’re here reading this on a site specifically dedicated to our perspectives on anime that you’re knowledgeable enough in regards to anime culture to know what an OP is. That said, assumptions are the mother of all fuck-ups, and I don’t want to blow my chance at making this admittedly long article as understandable as possible. For those new to the community or those completely here by chance, “OP” is an abbreviation that stands for “Opening”, that approximately 90-second clip at the start of nearly every anime that serves as its “theme song” of sorts.

Somewhere along the way, people started realizing that while a good opening was by no means indicative of the quality of a show, it does tend to go a long way into getting a person excited for it. Sure enough, that is the primary purpose of an OP, and that’s why it’s placed towards the start of most episodes. Nearly every anime in the modern era has one – some even have multiple. The fascination of ranking OPs both seasonally and yearly has seemed to come about naturally given people’s desire to assign arbitrary rankings to things of objectively equal value. Here at For Great Justice, we’re no different. That’s kind of our thing, in fact.

Let’s get this show on the road, shall we?

Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 8.53.32 PM

Haha, tricked ya. Not quite yet. Don’t worry, the list is below. The amount of text before the “read more” link was getting too large (if you were linked directly here, that probably seemed completely random – disregard it) and I just wanted to establish a few more things before we have a shitstorm on our hands. Though I described the generally accepted point of an OP above, people may watch or enjoy them for different reasons and as such the methodology of ranking them is unique to the individual. My personal criteria are as follows:

The OP must have debuted in 2014. It can be a later OP to a show that debuted any year prior, but the OP itself must have debuted in 2014.
OPs that contain the exact same animation, music, or both as an OP that did not debut in 2014 are not eligible. Sorry, Log Horizon. (inb4 counteraction rises)
If an OP has multiple versions, it will not have multiple entries. Instead, it will receive one entry, with a ranking as high as my favorite version of that OP would place.
If a show has multiple OPs, they are all eligible as long as they fit the above criteria. Though no show this year happens to have multiple OPs on my list, this is a rule I’ll continue in the future when doing these kinds of lists.
I do not have to have seen a show to include its OP, but OPs of shows I haven’t seen are likely to be ranked lower than they would if I had seen them, as it’s harder and sometimes impossible to ascertain their worth as an opener if you haven’t seen the content they open. In the same vein, OPs to shows I haven’t seen may not appear on the list at all. This does not mean I dislike them. In fact, I wouldn’t know if I do or not, since I haven’t seen them. If you have any questions about why something isn’t on the list, feel free to ask.

And as far as how I judge to determine my rankings? I consider the following five factors, to the most fitting extent I can with regards to what the OP was probably trying to specifically accomplish:

the visuals (Is it artistically creative, impressive or memorable? What about the “camera” panning or other animation techniques? How’s the art style and animation quality?)
the music (How is the song composed? Is it original or cliché? What about the hooks, melodies, mixing, and production? Does it have dull parts and/or end anticlimactically?)
audiovisual sync (How well are the visuals matched to the audio and vice versa? How does the OP flow as a whole?)
relevance to the show (How well do the visuals and music fit the show? Often times the OP’s animation and art style are the same as they are in the show itself. If they aren’t, do they succeed in making the OP its own special creation? Lyrically, does the song fit the show, and if it does, can it do so without resorting to trite overused “theme song”-esque lines?)
personal enjoyment

Objective rankings do not exist. Even so, while I generally try my best to give more credit to things my critical judgment tells me are better, I also blur the lines between quality and personal enjoyment. It can be easy enough as a reviewer to proclaim that liking things of good quality makes subjectivity and objectivity one and the same, but that’s simply not true. Opinions are opinions, and rankings of entertainment and art should not be perceived as hard fact. As such, and though this should go without saying, this is a list comprised of my opinions; there is no correct ranking, only what one feels in their heart and head is correct. This list is more or less what I feel is.

You probably get the point now if you didn’t before, so read onward! Click the text to watch the video in a separate tab, because embedding is ugh but I can at least provide you with pictures! Let’s actually start!

#25 - Mekakucity Actors#25 – “daze” by Jin ft. MARiA from GARNiDELiA
Studio: SHAFT
OP for Mekakucity Actors

Back when it first came out, I was deeply entertained by Actors, before its story became an incoherent mess of an adaption. I also enjoyed its OP a lot back then, but I’m having second thoughts now. The song is still really enjoyable – the switch from Vocaloid software to an actual singer is one of the most pleasing things Jin did with the anime installment of his Kagerou Project franchise. The visuals fit the song, but – as I’m starting to notice as a trend with non-Monogatari SHAFT series – rarely stand out. As a show, Actors at least gave us some really atmospheric, dreamlike, and intensely mysterious scenes, and they were all some of the series’ high points. Little if any of that is depicted here, and while I may have ranked Actors’ OP much higher at some point in the past, the most I feel like I can give it now (and primarily for the song) is an honorable mention at the final bubble spot in my top 25.

#24 - Glasslip#24 – “Natsu no Hi to Kimi no Koe” by Choucho
Studio: P. A. Works
OP for Glasslip

Glasslip is a mess and it made me forget how pleasant this primarily acoustic vocal-oriented opening was. Rather, I completely forgot it even existed. I’m literally typing this on upload after kicking something at the bottom out because it’s so inoffensive. Thank you P.A. Works for proving when you fail at making something with a plot you can still make things that look nice.

That said, like Glasslip, I can barely determine anything that’s going on. I’m gonna presume this OP was simply intended as a scenic character-introducing opener since it’s relaxed and comforting to watch. It’s catchy, simple, and Choucho’s vocals are calm and not irritatingly cutesy. It’s pleasant. Not much else to say. Top 25s are admittedly kind of a stretch towards the bottom.

#23 - Shirobako#23 – “Colorful Box” by Yoko Ishida
Studio: P. A. Works
OP1 for Shirobako

Though it might seem like a simple OP at first, Shirobako’s inspirational charm carries it through for a now more solid spot in my top 25. The song is a bit tame, but nice nonetheless, and considering this is a show about animators, it makes sense that the animation overshadows it. The flow is smooth and some of the visual designs here are really neat. The way it starts with someone drawing a character height sheet is original; how the main girls pop out of it is an even neater touch. The bright and simple color palette gives the OP a modern feel, and the street racing scene…oh man, that street racing scene. Those are some of the most fluidly animated cars I’ve ever seen in anime. The chorus parts where each character’s background zooms out to someone else’s is cool too. The crew that worked on Shirobako put very clear passion into every minute of every episode, and they sure didn’t rob the OP of their creativity or quality either.

#22 - Ao Haru Ride#22 – “Sekai wa Koi ni Ochiteiru” by CHiCO with Honeyworks
Studio: Production I.G.
OP for Ao Haru Ride (Blue Spring Ride)

Yeah okay, normally I can’t stand most shoujo OPs either, but holy cow, is this thing well-animated or what? I guess we can consider it a testament to how well Production I.G. will treat pretty much anything as far as their animation quality goes. Though this show is not their style at all, they still gave their all to make it look stunning, and by “stunning”, I don’t mean there are crazy one-of-a-kind animation techniques or artful masterpieces at work here; it’s really just the typical fluffy shoujo template (you’ve got your watercolory art style, stars, flowers, glitter, etc.) with everything elevated to a more enticing level, and that’s all they really had to do. The song is straightforward but more than pleasant enough for its simplicity to not weigh the OP down – in fact, I consider it one of the stronger J-pop opening songs out there this year. If I were a teenage girl, (and I am obviously not), I might place it even higher, but either way I still have to give some recognition to this one.

Oh, and I laugh at Futaba’s stiff wind-blown Dilbert-esque tie every time. Shit kinda breaks the mood for a second and looks hilarious.

#21 - Parasyte#21 – “Let Me Hear” by Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas
Studio: Madhouse
OP for Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu (Parasyte – the maxim-)

It makes me really frustrated when a band with irredeemably shitty musical gimmicks that I love to hate releases a track that actually has a nice composition. Fear, (what’s up with that comma?) and Loathing in Las Vegas is the epitome of things I loathe about the worst of the scene phase: autotuned vocals, wide-mouthed hoarse screams, and chuggy breakdowns. That’s not even considering how awful their lyrics would be if anyone could decipher them in the first place. I don’t think it matters what language you speak, cause no matter what your tongue is, it certainly isn’t what these guys “sing” in. Long story short, I’ve never cared for anything this group has done.

And then they have to go and conflict me by making this extremely fitting, structurally discernible song with emotional give and take and a (god forbid I say this) actual melody. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s really not that bad of an OP for Parasyte. It certainly provides its own unique style while reinforcing the show’s (initially) surprisingly well-calculated shock value. The visuals aren’t as innovative as some of the fanboys would have you think, but they get the job done just the same. The OP makes frequent use of dreamy dark industrial backgrounds mixed with electronic static and camera shaking, similar to how the parasitic creatures taking over the otherwise physically normal humans’ bodies looks unnatural and disgusting. The theme of connection is there too, represented by the scenes of Shinichi once lost in the aforementioned darkness hugging Murano.

My main complaint (besides all the obvious musical gripes that I feel I should put aside for the sake of the group’s effort this time around) is the OP as a whole loses steam towards the end. The less-interesting visuals are dragged out a little longer and Shinichi landing in the clear background while posing tough with Migi seems like an anticlimactic and overdramatic wasted chance to actually finish off the OP with a bang, but hey, can’t win ‘em all, right?

#20 - Silver Spoon 2#20 – “LIFE” by Fujifabric
Studio: A-1 Pictures
OP for Gin no Saji Season 2 (Silver Spoon Season 2)

I’ve already written more than my fair share about Silver Spoon so I’ll try not to restate things too much here. It’s a wonderful show fueled by its characters’ relatable adolescent determination and confusion that maintains a very homey rural feel due to its Hokkaido location. Over the course of its two seasons, the music in Silver Spoon has also reflected its setting nicely, never feeling alien or out of place. “LIFE” is a chill foot-stomper of a track, breezy and relaxed with a steady beat and bouncy piano. The lyrics reflect modest perseverance, befitting of the message Silver Spoon sends.

Visually it’s another rather simple OP that combines a lot of the good vibes from the show’s good times with some neat artistic stuff here and there (the photo pile, the line of people and animals during the “la la la” bit, etc.). The cast meeting the main character on some cliff watching the sunset is hardly a new thing in OPs, but in Silver Spoon it feels more beautiful than with most, partly because its scenery is just amazing all the time and partly because while it doesn’t actually happen (as far as I’m aware), such a moment wouldn’t feel out of place in a series that takes so much pride and joy in the simple wonders of nature and life.

#19 - SAO II (OP3)#19 – “courage” by Haruka Tomatsu
Studio: A-1 Pictures
OP2 v2 for Sword Art Online II

If this is the OP the SAO franchise closes with, I wouldn’t mind that one bit. It’s my favorite yet, easily surpassing the two Eir Aoi ones and even “Crossing Field” by a slim margin. Its structure is dynamic, well-thought out, and though not really ambitious still without a doubt a step above its predecessors. The vocals don’t quite reach any emotional peak (like SAO, am I right?), but the melodies are far catchier and it’s synced to perfection with the (also SAO-standout) animation. The second version of this OP (the one for the Mother’s Rosario arc) is the one I’m referring to simply because it has more animation to offer and more weight since these characters….aren’t Kirito.

-cue fanboy backlash-

Was that too much or not enough?
Either way, the OP is actually kind of impressive. Give it a watch even if you’ve avoided SAO like the plague. You might be surprised.

#18 - Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun#18 – “Kimi ja Nakya Dame Mitai” by Masayoshi Ooishi
Studio: Dogakobo
OP for Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun (Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun)

It’s so damn fun.

Gotta admit, this is another one that took me a while to appreciate. Funk isn’t a genre that gets a lot of proper exposure in anime, and when it does it usually comes off as totally silly. And yes, it also comes off as totally silly with Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, but in the best ways. The slapped bass is irresistibly enjoyable and the triumphant horns keep the tune elevated above your average OP of this ilk. Masayoshi’s vocals sound so goofy and scattered, but it keeps them in rhythm with the rest of the song’s swing. The quicker pre-chorus lines are a nice touch and the overall vocal performance is filled with an upbeat adorkable swagger.

There aren’t too many animation techniques in this that set it apart from the rest of the competition, but what we do get feels so focused, in sync with the song, and well-paced that it doesn’t really matter. Color has been a huge thing in OPs this year, and this one makes great use of it by assigning each character a color that crops up throughout the OP without excluding the actual designs of each character. Considering this show revolves around a couple of kids that draw manga, most of the background images are or reference canon events, and the manga panels add cool layers to the background on their own merit. That layering goes a long way too; the OP feels very clean, to the point, and apathetic to extravagant frills (besides that one bit where Hori blows up the tanuki with yardstick-sized ruler-blown wind gusts – shit’s rad). Solid colors and simple patterns dominate the art style, and it feels far more polished and naturally lit than a lot of shows that use similar ideas to try and get the same result. Gotta love the eraser and writing utensil soundwave stuff at the end too. Nice work.

#17 - Tonari no Seki-kun#17 – “Meiwaku Spectacle” by Kana Hanazawa
Studio: Shin-Ei Animation
OP for Tonari no Seki-kun: The Master of Killing Time (My Neighbor Seki)

Sometimes the simplest of ideas can leave the greatest of impacts, and if that’s the case, the whole idea behind the 7-minute per episode short Tonari no Seki-kun might as well have formed craters. The show itself thrives on its own minimalism; it’s a daily adventure about getting distracted in class by “that one kid” who kills time in the most grandiose of ways and somehow never gets caught. Seki’s antics drive the lead protagonist Yokoi insane since no matter what she does, she can’t seem to pull her eyes away from his shenanigans until her concentration is broken by getting humiliated in front of their whole class.

The show’s OP is half the length of your average OP since the show itself is so short, and yet somehow with that removed time Kana Hanazawa (Yokoi’s voice actress) manages to say more than some OPs with a full timeslot. And when I say “manages to say more”, I mean she literally says more. The lyrics fly by at a mile a minute and when Tonari no Seki-kun premiered, the OP practically became its own meme, with official adaptions into twelve other languages and a devout fanbase that insists yes, this is the greatest OP of the year.

And that’s the point where I feel I must disagree, but it is one of the most unique by design and one of the most fitting OPs this year. Its simplistic nature is actually one of the few things that holds it back, and as much as the song’s speedy vocals let it stand out, musically it’s nothing more than your average J-pop track and I’d feel like I’m slighting the work of all the other OPs ahead if I were to put it any higher than this. Nonetheless, it’s a must-watch. What are you waiting for?

#16 - World Conquest Zvezda Plot#16 – “Be Mine” by Maaya Sakamoto
Studio: A-1 Pictures
OP for Sekai Seifuku – Bouryaku no Zvezda (World Conquest Zvezda Plot)

Almost a year later, I’m still not sure what to think about Zvezda Plot. The little series that could powered along without any substantial or well-articulated narrative depth, but I’d be damned if it wasn’t one of the most enjoyable pleasant surprises this year anyway. It relied a lot on childish ideals – hell, it’s about a child who attempts to take over the world – and though it brought a lot of eccentric ideas to the table and never capitalized on them, the soul of those ideas was still evident in every nook and cranny of the series.

So make the OP focus on that fun-loving vibe, throw in a pop song with a little more soul than even it realizes, and you’ve got an underdog OP that fits right in with Zvezda Plot. It’ll rank higher on my list than on most others, and that’s totally fine. If I had any critique, it’d be the slightly fanservice-happy section towards the middle of the OP, but even then, it’s stylized well and keeps in sync with the flow of the song. Either I’m missing something here you guys aren’t or nobody really cared about this show, but when it came out in January, I thought its OP would have gotten a little more recognition than it has.

#15 - Re Hamatora#15 – “Sen no Tsubasa” by kz & livetune, feat. Takuro Sugawara
Studio: Lerche
OP for Re:_Hamatora

I did not watch Hamatora or this sequel of it, but damn, what an eye-catching OP. The onslaught of color and motion almost overwhelms. It’s got more hues than a gay pride parade and might as well come with an epilepsy warning. What it lacks in original camera panning it more than makes up for with how constantly active everything is. It’s hard to describe, but it’s easy to tell there was a clear sense of style the crew went for and nailed throughout, kind of what DRRR would look like on acid. The lyrics to “Sen no Tsubasa” are a little cliché, but the melody is strong and the darty visual effects and quick-paced song composition complement each other well. Overall, it’s really solid, though my personal lack of connection to the show prevents me from having much else to say about it and makes me hesitant to put it any higher than this. From here on out the emotional connections start to play a much larger role in where things get placed.

maxresdefault#14 – “Hikaru Nara” by Goose House
Studio: A-1 Pictures
OP1 for Your Lie In April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso)

Your Lie In April is about a group of middle-schoolers looking to attain some kind of goal that will make them feel fulfilled. The show’s main character Kousei was a child prodigy pianist who played as perfectly in sync and soullessly as a metronome, but after some traumatic family issues, refuses to continue using the instrument he mastered. Kaori, a violinist who emotionally lives on the opposite side of the spectrum – just as talented but extremely carefree and improvisational, not a pleasing attribute in the stiff snobby classical world – drags Kousei back into the spotlight of the community he wanted to leave behind, despite probably being able to enjoy the piano for the sake of enjoying it if he wanted to.

April’s OP does a wonderful job of highlighting the idyllic charm and easy-going vitality of youth, using the same light-colored, vibrant and distinct art style the show as a whole does. Sequencing-wise, the OP mainly just introduces us to the four main characters and another guy here or there with some neat setting pieces that reinforce the visual motifs aforementioned. Goose House back it up of course with an idyllic and youthful track that drives along solidly until it reaches a captivating moment at the start of the chorus that keeps the viewer swept in. Bonus points for Goose House themselves being a group of individual musicians that met by chance – their vocal rotation provides a delightful sense of community that clicks with April’s world. It’s a great job all around.

#13 - Tokyo Ghoul#13 – “Unravel” by TK from Ling Tosite Sigure
Studio: Pierrot
OP for Tokyo Ghoul

Welcome to the wonderful rollercoaster that is TK’s vocals. Not really sure what to think of this guy’s off-kilter pained tenor? Don’t worry, it’s definitely an acquired taste and can take some time to get into, and this isn’t the last entry on the list featuring him either. I don’t think it can be argued his style fits a show like Tokyo Ghoul a lot though, with his strained upper register squeaking through or belting out cries of insecurity and societal deprivation. It’s a shame Ghoul totally wasted its premise, but as an episode opener each week, “Unravel” worked.

The animation direction is absolutely superb in this thing, making great use of the glass to reflect the characters’ true natures. The cityscape looks both grimy and gorgeous here – something I wish the show itself would’ve showcased more often. The abstract art renditions of the kagunes emanating from the ghouls is a beautiful touch that can (and should) be compared and contrasted with how Parasyte’s OP wasted its potential to do something exceptional. The OP’s downside is (like Parasyte’s, go figure) its ending, which is basically a slow shot of Kaneki falling into the scenery the OP started with and then staring into the camera as it zooms outward. The animation seems lazy there and the way it comes full circle and escapes from the dark doesn’t actually feel right with the musical conclusion of the song. Overall though, many people consider Tokyo Ghoul’s OP a standout of the year, and while I understand why and might’ve agreed at one point, it’s simply grown off me quicker than I expected it to.

#12 - Amagi Brilliant Park#12 – “Extra Magic Hour” by Akino feat. bless4
Studio: Kyoto Animation
OP for Amagi Brilliant Park

Though Amagi Brilliant Park has been plagued by the emotional inconsistency of some of its episodes that lack the charm that makes the others so special, the OP is overflowing with it. It’s a very well-produced, keenly melodic piece where any number of other OPs would’ve fallen flat into mediocrity. There are a couple highlights; the animated handclaps in sync with the song’s, the neat chord progression in the pre-chorus, the all-around beautiful vocal performance by Akino Kawamitsu, etc., but for the most part this OP is one of general consistency. It captures that silly sense of wonder amusement parks can bring out in people and goes for broke on that idea; the few shots of work being done (excluding Kanie’s) are done in such a way that it makes the park feel like an authentically childish roaming zone, one of joy and splendor. The mascots simply handing out balloons and playing with the kids in the background of shots without showing any of their vulgar antics is a really sweet touch, and it caps off the mood of passionate hospitality (I feel ridiculous writing that phrase given these characters’ personalities) well. “Extra Magic Hour” is a straightforward contribution to a show that seems bent on rejecting such notions, but it’s a splendid one at that.

#11 - Akatsuki no Yona#11 – “Akatsuki no Yona” by Kunihiko Ryo
Studio: Pierrot
OP1 v2 for Akatsuki no Yona (Yona of the Dawn)

And now for something completely different.

The second I saw this for the first time, I knew it was something special. It isn’t too often these days that an OP is an instrumental track, and usually unless it’s an OP for an extremely hyped show, it tends to flop and fail everyone’s expectations, but this…this raised Yona’s bar. The classical arrangement that makes up the show’s primary musical motif throughout various pieces of its soundtrack also serves as its opening, and what a gorgeous melody it has, oh my. Words are not needed and the composition does not fall flat; the strings are riveting, soul-stirring, and gripping. I don’t know what exactly the woodwind instrument used in the song is either, though I assume it’s some kind of Korean flute – regardless what it is, it adds a historical and cultural flair to the show. For a TV Size, the track has a spot-on sense of timing and dynamics, allowing the more tender parts to settle and give the louder crescendos even more bombast than they would have had.

The only thing that nearly kept this OP off the list entirely was its lackluster, mostly-still frame visuals that held back the surge of the song, but lo and behold, even those were changed mid-season to create a much more entertaining experience. The still frame aspects are still present, but they’re layered now with dragon designs and gradient backgrounds that give the OP more depth. Oversaturation can be a cheap trick OPs use to give the visuals more intense color, but here they seem like a perfect fit; the lighting keeps the more suspenseful moments of the song just as mysterious and cathartic. Yona’s OP is a beautiful, vivid experience only let down by the inconsistency of the show it opens.

Top ten up next. Here we go.

#10 - Nagi no Asukara (OP2)#10 – “ebb and flow” by Ray
Studio: P. A. Works
OP2 for Nagi no Asukara (Nagi-Asu: A Lull In The Sea)

In general, anime pop tends to be overtly upbeat, with a goal of being unnaturally cutesy, usually in a way that ends up being way too overbearing to want to listen to again. There are a fair amount of cases where the problem lies on the other side of the spectrum and it isn’t poppy enough, dragged down even further because it tries to continue being upbeat and cute without actually giving any hook. Regardless, most anime themes that fall solidly in the genre of “J-pop” get stuck into one of these holes. Slow J-pop feels like a rarity, and it too can be miswritten into feeling like a dull experience lacking substance.

That is not the case with this OP.

“ebb and flow” is, like Nagi-Asu, a slow and painfully self-contained work, carried along by warm rippling synths and Ray’s beautiful vocals and melodies. The spoken word bit before the chorus is one of the few examples of such a technique in anime themes that actually works. Nagi-Asu was one of this year’s (and last’s, technically) most artistically beautiful shows; a Makoto Shinkai-level thing of visual elegance, where any given moment could be capped and used as a stunning wallpaper. The OP makes great use of lighting to boost the feel of the show’s rustic coastal setting and by the point in Nagi-Asu that this OP premiered, one of the show’s neatest symbols – the salt flake snow – had just started becoming prominent as a plot line in and of itself, and the OP features it all over. It’s also fitting how it blankets a lot of the scenery and holds some of it back, much like how the characters at this point feel held back about discussing their true thoughts on romance, the hibernation, and their futures. It even has some slight changes before and after Manaka’s reawakening, both versions nicely making the most of the show’s slightly different situation before and after that event. It’s a tastefully calm yet emotional track that works beautifully with the visuals it’s paired with. What more can be said?

#9 - No Game No Life#9 – “This Game” by Konomi Suzuki
Studio: Madhouse
OP for No Game No Life

As much as I think No Game No Life was an overrated show that required the viewer to put a lot of interest into its assface of a protagonist and sit through an onslaught of pointless sexual jokes just to get to its good parts, there is something I have to give it credit for; it looks really pretty.

Like, really pretty, and the show knows that’s its biggest strength too. Rightfully, that prettiness is given full time to show off throughout NGNL’s OP. The heavily-saturated purples, yellows, reds, and blues combine with an eye-popping shading job to highlight the scenery porn that is NGNL’s fantasy world, and the careful precise camera panning gives the OP a quick pace and sense of originality among its competition. Lyrically, “This Game” is a little haphazard and falls victim to the “describe what the show is about” trap instead of being its own song that can be used to fit with the show, and it’s more prominent here than in a lot of cases due to how juvenile the nature of NGNL’s content is. Regardless, that’s but a slight scrape considering none of us (presumably) know Japanese at a well-enough level to care, if at all, and the vocal melodies are confident and enthralling enough to suck you in if you don’t know any better. Thoughts about the show itself aside, I don’t think most people would argue against the fact that NGNL produced a wonderful OP for its abrupt run.

#8 - Psycho-Pass 2#8 – “Enigmatic Feeling” by Ling Tosite Sigure
Studio: Tatsunoko Production
OP for Psycho-Pass 2

Return of the TK.

Not regarding the quality of Psycho Pass’ much anticipated sequel, I’m gonna go on record and say this is the best opening the franchise has produced yet. Fans of Ling’s involvement with Psycho-Pass’ first season were more than excited when it was announced they’d be returning for season 2, and with good reason; the band and series match each other so well. The frantic vocals here are a little less shrieky than in Ling’s previous opening “abnormalize”, but TK’s speedy guitar riffs return with a vengeance and “Enigmatic Feeling” bounces with tight grooves instead of sinking into a spacey delay, forcing the OP to rush ahead with what feels like little control, a stark contrast to season one’s more stylistically-focused songs.

But don’t be confused – style it lacks not. The attention to detail has turned to the flow and color variety of the visuals. Though it sometimes ventures into spoilerific territory if you look too closely too early, the amount of distressing scenes that flash by help contribute to a feeling of immediate urgency and mystique, the former of which both of Psycho-Pass’ original season’s openings didn’t have. A couple particularly noteworthy moments include the repetitive motion that occurs three times throughout the OP before changing into something more violent and the way color (WC?) is used to heighten the already uneasy mood. Speaking of uneasiness, whether it was a response to those who complained about possible spoilers or a visual trick in play from the very beginning (which the version linked is from), the OP became layered in static more and more with each passing week when it aired, at times obscuring short clips completely. The OP on its own is fantastic and that trick just makes it even cooler. As more plot details got revealed, the symbolism and hidden foreshadowing increasingly impressed me. What a fantastic job.

#7 - Space Dandy#7 – “Viva Namida” by Yasuyuki Okamura and the spacedandy band
Studio: Bones
OP for Space Dandy

What is one even supposed to say about this?

You know, the first couple of times I watched this OP, I couldn’t stand it at all. The off-kilter funk was too strong. The vocals too eccentric, way off mark. Fun? Someone must have thought it was fun, cause somebody spent their time making it. Whatever the case, I wasn’t feeling it. My thoughts on the show it served as opener to were also similar at first: sure, the stylistic presence all the hype was based on was there. What was the content underneath it? Singular episodes that sometimes veered so off course into experimentalism and heel-face turn plot “twists” that they could’ve only possibly felt finished to their creators?

But then something happened. I warmed up to Space Dandy and its OP, and I’m not really sure when or how.

I think I know why though, and I also think it’s best to look at Space Dandy and anything related to it (such as this OP) through a lens of sheer creativity. Space Dandy is not the first dandy guy in space, and he’s sure as hell not the first time a story’s protagonist is a womanizing, nearly-broke self-righteous “stud” who always somehow scrapes by, but he might be the most stupidly inspirational example of the archetype in recent years. The show thinks it has a very profound message but that message is simply “fuck everything, just go for it”. The team behind Dandy really ended up backing that philosophy up. The show sprawls out, grasping for questions to ask, not for answers to dispel the notion that what you’re watching isn’t mindless entertainment. It is. It knows it is, and what’s more, it knows that if it throws in some scientific mumbo-jumbo every so often, it can satiate the nay-sayers. The trope-filled yet somehow so original it might be before its time show cannot be held in, and it cannot be overthought. It can only be felt, and sometimes that means it won’t touch everybody the same way, if at all.

In retrospect, “Viva Namida” is also an indulgent stupid track that refuses to be held back by conventional standards. The general structure is not unlike something you’d hear somewhere else, but the way the bubbly, fluctuating vocal style and slippery lyrics move on with the steady beat of the song gives it a one-of-a-kind confident sleazy energy. The animation direction and art style of this OP seem to shove all its pride and bravado in your face. It’s unlimitedly colorful and silly. The way Dandy’s silhouette shakes his hips like a maniac, kicks the air, and almost falls over getting his groove on speaks volumes about the show, and it’s fun to watch. It takes a certain kind of brilliance to concoct a work that can be seen as brainless garbage and a painstakingly crafted masterpiece at the same time.

#6 - Aldnoah.Zero#6 – “heavenly blue” by Kalafina
Studio: A-1 Pictures
OP for Aldnoah.Zero

As a tragedy centered on war and the naïveté of the soldiers who fight in it, Aldnoah.Zero managed to find a decent balance between depicting the kids that comprised most of its cast as unassuming and unaware of the real conflicts that awaited them and the painfully grim reality of those who had faced such conflicts and lived to tell their tale. To me, the screenshot above from the closing seconds of this OP still comes to mind as one of the most poignant images from anime in the past year. The pained expression of the princess, how stiff her hold on the gun is, the sea-sky mirror behind it creating a sharp dissonance between the background and forefront of the picture, they all contribute to the creation of a feeling of deep senseless sadness.

Although A.Z had some undeniable problems with proper characterization, the core of its message still permeates enough to make it an interesting war tale, and the choral march of “heavenly blue” introduced the atmosphere of Aldnoah.Zero’s story well each week. Though that screencap was the one that spoke to me most, there are plenty of other well-directed shots in this OP that reinforce the alienating destruction that war creates. The grey of the military uniforms bears all too close a resemblance to the rusty, broken cityscape, nailed from bombardments and attacks, while the more distinctive and colored Vers uniforms recall the age of imperial apathy towards others in the face of self-glory. The princess breaks through both with shots in the aforementioned sea-sky mirror, cleansing in the shallow waters despite never getting her own hands dirty until… well, I’ll save that for those who haven’t seen the series yet and want to. The point is A.Z’s OP from a directorial and musical standpoint is already a frontrunner this year; the way it reinforces the themes it presents simply through careful shot composition and order is a bigger treat for those who have watched it.

#5 - Rage of Bahamut Genesis#5 – “EXiSTENCE” by SiM
Studio: MAPPA
OP for Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis (Rage of Bahamut: Genesis)

Every year there seems to be an absolutely ridiculous nu-metal or metalcore OP and it’s either one of the best of the year or one of the worst. Similarly, any time gratuitous Engrish is thrown in, the result is either laughably humiliating or actually kind of impressive. Rest assured, “EXiSTENCE” is some kind of metal and it’s filled with Engrish, and it’s not a “so bad it’s good” OP. No, it’s just genuinely really fucking awesome.

Any time the song can accomplish both of these things simultaneously makes it that much harder for the animation direction and art to top it, but somehow, they do just that! The art shifts without any hesitation, from sketch-like lines to the normal animation to super-stylized, dark, dusty effects to CG that doesn’t look absolutely awful, and anything is possible with what seems like so little effort. The visuals constantly move, never satisfied with one effect or symbol for longer than a couple of seconds. All of the characters in Rage of Bahamut are as dorky at their core as they are badass, and throwing these sillier sides of their personalities in while SiM’s vocalist is screaming about god-knows-what and the screen is highlighting the more intense scenery of Bahamut’s medieval/mystical world is a hilarious way to create dissonance. The flow throughout the OP is perfect in respect to both the visuals and audio, as is the sync between the two, and it somehow manages to come out as aesthetically impressive, goofy, hardcore, and addicting all at once; a prime example of how to depict the heart of the show before you get to it – the primary job of every OP ever.

#4 - Noragami#4 – “Goya no Machiawase” by Hello Sleepwalkers
Studio: Bones
OP for Noragami

I’ll be honest, a lot of my love for Noragami’s OP comes from its song. “Goya no Machiawase” is a blistering funky rock song whose wonderfully hammy vocal melodies and quick fretwanky guitar parts blend due to a phenomenal mixing job and form an irresistibly catchy track that rings back to the days of old-school action anime badassery. Granted it was one of the earliest anime-affiliated songs to come out this year and has had more than enough time to grow on me, but it’s one of the few I appreciate just as much outside the context of the show it’s affiliated with. Hello Sleepwalkers bring a real tightknit chemistry and intensity to what would otherwise be a typical run-of-the-mill anime OP track – if this isn’t enough to convince you, check out the full version, which is barely a minute longer but moves through a fabulous solo and mathrock-inspired bridge. It’s emotive without being over-emotional, and ballsy without trying too hard or coming off as forced, both things Noragami does very well as a show too.

Where this OP would probably rank lower for most people is in the animation department, and to be fair, in that sense it does take a minimalistic and weighted approach despite the show being very fluid and bouncy. Then again, I’m not most people. For the sake of trying something different, I think there are far worse ways the crew could’ve went about it directing this. The color palette is mostly reduced to solid shades, primarily grays, broken by occasional object-specific fill-ins of blue, orange, purple, and red. The break from overwhelming conflicting hues makes it a far easier sight on the eyes than most of this year’s OPs. The direction really lets the OP revel in its urban jungle setting, the city towering behind and around the characters and placing them amidst floodlights and street signs. It’s not necessarily reflective of Noragami’s more comedic mood, but it sets a tone that does rear its head at some points throughout the show and… and…

…and that damn song. Oh man, it’s so good.

Now that we’re near the top, let me just say everything about these next top three are absolutely phenomenal and I wouldn’t change a single thing about any of them. Ranking them is nearly impossible since they all excel in the same ways through totally different techniques, so if you’re mad #2 or #3 isn’t #1 or vice versa, don’t worry, they’re all pretty much equal in my eyes. Get ready for the best of the best, guys.

#3 - Barakamon#3 – “Rashisa” by Super Beaver
Studio: Kinema Citrus
OP for Barakamon

Barakamon is one of my favorite shows from this year. While the whole cast and the simplistic beauty of its premise are amazing in their own right, the show really works best when it rotates around the wildly different personalities of the internally stiff and socially awkward young adult Sei and the rambunctious carefree child Naru. The chemistry between these two is so fantastic to watch; they bounce off each other effortlessly and help each other grow in the process. While this OP certainly isn’t lackluster in any aspect, its placing this high up on the list is more reflective of its unbreakable curious and positive energy than any specific details it contains.

It’s perfect for a series with such a precise sense of comedic and dramatic timing that everything in the OP is paced with no errors. The song feels like it charges forth despite being a comfortable mid-tempo number, like it can’t be contained. As a whole, it’s one of the best pop rock openings in recent memory; the production and mixing is meticulous, giving each instrument the exact amount of crunch necessary to feel like an inseparable part of the song without overpowering anything else going on. The guitar tones are absolutely sublime and Ryuuta Shibuya’s vocal melodies are simply outstanding, never once slipping out of a catchy hook, and accomplishing a lot of lines for such a short timeframe without feeling like he’s overpowering the song.

And it all blends together with the visuals so well. The sense of timing I mentioned earlier isn’t only applicable to the music. There are a plethora of exact facial expressions in this thing with subtly different moods shown: awe, confusion, pride, frustration, surprise, determination, curiosity, total joy, everything is thrown in and placed at a critical moment where the slightest dip in the vocal’s pitch or the most tasteful of chord progressions aligns perfectly with what’s being depicted. Maybe it’s my overanalytical nature and love for the show that’s talking, but like Barakamon itself, this OP feels like something that can be experienced time and time again without ever getting dull due to its warm, comforting, universal emotion. It’s that special flavor of beauty I wish we’d see more often in openings and shows in general.

#2 - Ping Pong#2 – “Tada Hitori” by Bakudan Johnny
Studio: Tatsunoko Production
OP for Ping Pong The Animation

Have you heard of Ping Pong? I sure hope you’ve heard of Ping Pong. It’s kind of the greatest show this year, and though it’s not as consistently high-octane fist-pumping adrenaline-producing badass as this opening may have you believe, it is filled with soul and ripe with emotion.

Ping Pong is more of a scholarly story about the characters that play the sport than it is about the sport itself, and in a world where sports anime almost solely revolve around some underdog rising to the top while he and his teammates flaunt their “manservice” all over the place, it certainly provides a welcome change. Its opening is unique too; the same ol’ honed-in and emotionless songs with over-exaggerated lyrics about doing your best that seem to dominate sports anime have been absent throughout my list, simply because they all do absolutely nothing for me. At its core, “Tada Hitori” is sort of one of those songs too, but it sure doesn’t feel like one. The dumb passion is amped up to eleven and the flamboyant energetic yells and “WOOOOOOOO-lip flapping-OOOOOOO YEEEEEEAH”s in the background force the song’s big thick ping-pong ding-dong down your throat until you can’t help but shout along to whatever profoundly elementary statements it’s spouting. It captures the “fuck everything” spirit and sound of a surf punk track with playful vocal stylings and gang chants. It’s practically audible testosterone, but in the dorkiest way possible.

And the visuals? Oh man, you’re in for a treat. Abandoning the typical muscular shounen character designs that also seem to have every sports anime within their grasp, Ping Pong’s main characters are designed to appear scrawny and agile. Even the most fit of them look like little lumps of meat half the time, and even that doesn’t stop the OP from making them seem like the most fly guys you’ve ever seen. The art style all throughout Ping Pong is experimental, and the OP spares you none of its idiosyncrasies. Some parts are animated so fluidly you’d think it must’ve been made of water, other parts…well…just look at Peco’s face! Isn’t it gloriously awful? The eraser-esque scene is a new idea pulled off well and the traces of color only showing up only in the title card and towards the end give most of the otherwise grayscale OP a chance to show off its pure animation quality. Ping Pong’s OP is undeniably the most fun OP this year and you’re probably insane if you don’t like i- wait, I said something about my opinions not being fact earlier? Pfffft. Fuck that. Long live the Pong. One more to go, drumroll please.

#1 - Zankyou no Terror #1 – “Trigger” by Yuuki Ozaki and Yoko Kanno
Studio: MAPPA
OP for Zankyou no Terror (Terror in Resonance)

And here you have it folks, my favorite OP of the year. Put aside your thoughts on Terror’s mid-story bumps that may or may not have deterred you from finishing it. I’ve seen a couple OP-of-the-year lists and all most people seem to enjoy about this one is the animation which, while stellar (and I’ll get to that in a minute), is only a fraction of what makes this OP such an experience. I think a lot of people assumed with a word like “terror” in the title of the show that anything connected to it would be wrapped in angst and violence, and this OP didn’t provide much of either of those things. In not taking the show for what it actually wanted to be – a story about revenge ruined by finding fulfillment in human connection instead – people ended up needlessly disappointed. Before getting entangled in its own pretentious mind games and Die Hard-ish chase sequences, Terror held (and arguably by the end regained) an underlying sense of deep sorrow. Nine and Twelve bitterly resented their past as lab rats and didn’t know how to live and love once they escaped. The endless mid-series unease about whether or not they should continue their actions or find solace elsewhere splits the duo apart and fractures the one connection they were able to share.

With that perspective, Terror’s primary mood is one of loneliness and desperation, not one of blind anger, and I think this OP goes about presenting that mood extremely well. The uneven drippy synth patterns envelop the rest of the song in a blanket of loose tension, as the steady drum machine pumps out an identifiable rhythm and the acoustic elements render the air it gives out more tender. Yuuki Ozaki’s vocals are a thing of pure sincerity here, his voice flipping from his smooth chest range to a pained falsetto and back at the drop of a hat. The lyrics only reinforce the thematic points I’ve concluded were the purpose of Terror all along, and if that wasn’t enough to convince you, take a listen to the show’s stunning soundtrack that features a mixed bag of genres all with the same tone this OP has, but none of which stray into the straightforward angry territory I think the show set out to avoid.

And now let’s get to those visuals because holy cow, what an experience. I think just watching it, the quality and effort put in speaks for itself, as objects fade in and out in wisps of pale color. Darkness is something a decent amount of Terror takes place in, with heavy emphasis placed on where characters are looking in key scenes. It’s a motif the show sneaks in constantly, and while the shadows and lighting aren’t as much of a factor in the OP, the lyrical and visual sync more than make up for it. The entire visual direction has a hard to describe sense of give and take and what pieces of the OP that will resonate most with the individual will surely vary from person to person. Either way, I think it’s nearly impossible for this OP to be maligned in any constructive manner, and I feel it’s criminally (no pun intended) underrated on a lot of people’s end of the year line-ups. As much as I’ve enjoyed everything that came before this on my list, there’s simply no way I would feel comfortable placing anything above the audiovisual spectacle that is Zankyou no Terror’s OP. Hats off to MAPPA, Yoko Kanno, and Yuuki Ozaki for making this thing.

And that’s all I’ve got. What were your favorite OPs from this year? What do you think I missed? Any placements or inclusions you’d like to politely debate about? (as if that will happen). Let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading (or skimming, I understand) this ridiculously long article and I hope you enjoyed it. See you next time.

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