Yata’s Top 25 OPs of 2015

Header picWell, it’s that time of year again. The holidays will soon give way to the long dark days of winter and the start of 2016, meaning two things: One: I’ll finally have to learn how to consistently and safely drive through several feet of snow for the first time and two: I have to bring great justice to this past year’s best anime openings! In addition, a post like this offers the ability to touch on a variety of shows from throughout 2015 all in one convenient place, something I greatly enjoy doing to reflect on the year (you know, in addition to the 12 Days of Anime, which I think went well!). If you’re new to For Great Justice, you may not know how I judge anime openings, and if you’re really new to anime in general, you may not understand what exactly an OP is. I’ll sum up my main criteria below, but for a more in-depth explanation, see the start of my 2014 OPs post.

  • The OP must have debuted in 2015. It can belong to a show that started before 2015, just as long as the OP itself debuted this year. In other words, fall 2014 shows that carried over into winter 2015 and used an OP that only aired this year are acceptable entries. In slippery cases where an OVA or something used an OP the previous year once or twice but it was used for a full production this year, I’ll make an exception; just as long as the OP wasn’t counted in the previous list, really. That’s what this point is about.
  • If an OP has multiple versions (either different animation set to the same music or different music set to the same animation), I’ll choose the version I like the most. Multiple versions of what is otherwise the same OP won’t take up multiple entries.
  • If a show has multiple OPs, they are all eligible as long as they fit the above criteria. Both this year and last year it just so happened that no show which aired multiple OPs made it into the top 25 twice, though several shows came close this time, and if this list were extended to a top 30 or 35, series such as The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Food Wars and Durarara!!x2 may have indeed been on the list more than once.
  • I don’t need to have seen a show to include its OP, though shows I have watched are much more likely to be on the list, seeing as I’m more familiar with them and the in-show significance of their OPs’ contents. Doubly so for sequels or long-running series.
  • Unlike the many YouTube channels dedicated to ranking OPs seasonally and yearly based solely on music, I judge OPs on a sliding scale combination of their music, visuals, audiovisual sync, relevance to the show (when able), and my personal enjoyment, with regards given to what I feel the OP was trying to accomplish most. These rankings are very loose apart from the top few. Don’t fixate yourself on the exact numbers too much.

And just a reminder once again that rankings such as these are purely opinionated, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. If you disagree with what I’ve included or where I have or haven’t placed something, that’s okay. We can agree to disagree. If you want to start discussion, at least keep it civil. That’s the justice way!

Anyway, 25 of the best OPs 2015 has to offer plus one honorable mention lie ahead. Let’s get this show on the road.

Click on the links to watch each OP. Apologies in advance if the links break between the time of this post and the time you access it. I try to find replacements and maintain them as best I can, but nobody’s perfect.

26 (HM) - Attack on Titan - Junior HighHONORABLE MENTION – “Seishun wa Hanabi no You ni” by Linked Horizon
Studio: Production I.G.
OP for Attack on Titan: Junior High

This is more of a novelty entry than anything, as I couldn’t figure out a place to put it in the top 25 that felt suitable without kicking something better out. At the same time, how could it be absent? Attack on Titan exploded into the West nearly three years ago with arguably the most impact any anime has had outside Japan since the mid-2000s.

And now we have…this.

The fact that companies are milking the franchise for all it’s worth is saddening but inevitable. The original series was a superbly animated albeit story-wise overrated thriller; Attack on Titan: Junior High is simply a parody of its original work, one planned for years now, yes, but nonetheless kind of irrelevant to anyone not completely engrossed in the Attack on Titan fandom. Yet the OP, as clever as it is, takes this fact and runs with it, offering silly lyrics with the same vocal gusto and reprised melodies from the original series’ OPs while shrunken chibi-fied versions of the characters playfully dart around a schoolyard surrounded by walls (and no, it’s not Prison School – I’ll get to that later). At several points shot for shot, it’s equal parts homage and spoof, and it’s pulled off in such a manner that I couldn’t help but chuckle at it and acknowledge I.G.’s smooth as ever animation quality, even if I have no motivation to actually watch the series.

25 - Noragami Aragoto#25 – “Kyouran Hey Kids!!” by THE ORAL CIGARETTES
Studio: Bones
OP for Noragami Aragoto

Compared to its predecessor OP, “Goya no Machiawase” by Hello Sleepwalkers (ranked #4 in my 2014 list), Noragami’s sequel opening is not up to par. The visual flow is notably more forced, the song’s chorus – as good as it is – kind of cramped and disjointed in the TV size format. The title card in particular lasts an unforgivably long time. All of which makes me wonder; why did I still keep bobbing my head and singing along every time I started another episode of Noragami Aragoto? I’m still not sure where exactly the answer lies – maybe the minimalist art style and conservative use of color and animation still fit better than I want to admit? Maybe it’s cause “Kyouran Hey Kids!!” got stuck in my brain after one listen and set up permanent lodging there throughout the fall season. Maybe I’m just glad to have gotten more Noragami in general. It’s probably due to some combination of the three, but whatever the reason, though Noragami Aragoto’s OP feels like frustrating missed potential at some points, it struck something enticing, enough so for me that I feel more conflicted about leaving it off the list than several of the other openings that fell in this bubble range. If nothing else, the guitar riffs are badass and that chorus is total ear candy. Noragami’s still a hero of a show, and I swear, I respect the hero.

24 - Overlord#24 – “Clattanoia” by OxT (Masayoshi Oishi and Tom-H@ck)
Studio: Madhouse
OP for Overlord

In my brief stint reviewing Overlord this summer, I may have commended the show for its initial effort to put a strong main character and his internal conflict in the forefront of an otherwise derivative MMORPG world, but I ultimately dropped it halfway through because the rest of the show fell oh-so-slightly into stereotypical light novel clichés and dull lengthy periods of poorly-written exposition. So in other words, my beef was this; great idea, but where’s its soul? Where’s its heart?

I went fairly long into the summer season without considering picking up Overlord, but when I finally did give it a shot, the main thing that convinced me to do so and briefly kept me coming back was its OP. “Clattanoia” is your typical Engrish-peppered, half-autotuned anime opening rocker, but where most of those settle for a half-interesting chorus and shrug the rest of the song off as irrelevant, “Clattanoia” gets stuck in your head from start to finish. The chorus will surely be the thing that sticks with you most, but the verse incorporates some wonderfully playful vocal lines and the pre-chorus even gets a bit intense, with a series of descending notes and pounding drums. Furthermore, though Overlord lacked figurative colorfulness, its opening is very colorful. Sure, there are black backgrounds and campy Halloween-esque credits blotches, but the OP doesn’t look all doom-and-gloom or forcefully dark. It’s got energy and passion and even though the show didn’t work for me, Overlord’s opening definitely does.

23 - The Rolling Girls#23 – “Hito ni Yasashiku” by The Rolling Girls
Studio: Wit
OP for The Rolling Girls

Sometimes a show comes along and starts off so confidently you either don’t realize or don’t want to admit when it falters. Last winter, The Rolling Girls was that show for me. It didn’t do anything inherently wrong – just got a little too convoluted and rushed in its later stages – but that was still enough to eventually sink my long-term impression of it a bit. Everything before that was a passionate joyride though, rebellious in tone, endearing in spirit, and bright with vivid, often literally exploding color. The colors used throughout The Rolling Girls’ OP contrast well and the selective patterned unmoving backgrounds give the visuals a nice pop. “Hito ni Yasashiku,” actually a cover of the 1987 single by Japanese punk rock band The Blue Hearts, is dressed up in girly J-rock cast-sung attire here, but the message and literal translation of the song’s title – “be kind to people” – is not lost. Though I was a bit disappointed the show’s leads weren’t actually in a band like this OP led me to believe, maybe that was for the better. Either way, with The Rolling Girls’ evident underlying punk ethos, I’d say this opening’s song choice and visual motif fit, and regardless, it’s hard to deny it’s upbeat, catchy, colorful, and above all, fun. So too was The Rolling Girls. Once you get past its shtick, it just feels a tad empty. So too did The Rolling Girls. But fuck it, there’s a Blue Hearts cover as an opening. Gotta “ganbare!” and take advantage of the little things in life, ya know?

22 - Punchline#22 – “PUNCH LINE!” by Shokotan ♥ Denpa Gumi
Studio: MAPPA
OP for Punch Line

“Pa-Panty Flash, Pa-Punchline”

So the very first line of this opening goes. The main character runs from an oncoming asteroid while a girl’s panties quickly flash on the screen. If you’re not familiar with Punch Line, you’re probably bracing for the worst here, and with good reason. The line repeats. The visuals too. A third time now. Oh no, what have you gotten yourself into? Once more. You’re about to leave. But then Shokotan ♥ Denpa Gumi explode into a gang chorus and the screen moves through several swift layers of wonderfully stylized art. Translated, the rest of the song tells the tale of a girl trying to make sexual advances on an oblivious male, though in Punch Line, that’s ironically not the case at all. Lyrical and visual content aside, moving instantaneously from one catchy as all fuck moment to another, featuring at one point a brass section and hilarious wah-wah’d keyboards, “PUNCH LINE!” doesn’t deserve to work as well as it does. It just fits.

The opening is hardly a slouch for the eyes either; it too ends up all over the place, full of sparkles and floating credits, characterized frames, the characters’ rooms, and even an unending Penrose staircase sequence. To someone unfamiliar with Punch Line, the sheer randomness of what gets thrown in here is bound to confuse; turtles, cinnamon, household appliances, a few armies, wonders of the world, and a fair dose of panty shots? It’s okay to not get it. Getting it would mean you watched Punch Line, and that’s just not worth the effort. Instead, just sit back and enjoy this cluttered and beautifully stupid opening.

21 - Prison School#21 – “Ai no Prison” by Kangoku Danshi
Studio: J.C. Staff
OP for Prison School (Kangoku Gakuen)

Moving on from one of 2015’s lewdest offerings to another, Prison School may have been my biggest surprise of the year. In our summer preview podcast, I mocked J.C. Staff for what I figured would be their inevitable floundering after Food Wars, another show that promised to be terrible yet somehow wasn’t. The odds weren’t in the studio’s favor and they couldn’t keep their dumb luck up forever.

And indeed they didn’t, as they also aired the disastrous Shimoneta during the same season, but I’ll be damned if Prison School didn’t thoroughly entertain. It’s a rare work both irresistibly stupid and oddly calculated, a vulgar pseudo-thriller about manipulation and fucked up sexual encounters framed as a prison break ripe with comedic violence. Somehow, the show’s dark backdrops and menacing content manage to combine with its hammy voice acting and the self-awareness of how purely idiotic it is to create something truly special. Prison School’s opening, sung by the imprisoned quintet’s voice actors, is exactly what the show needed to start off with each week; a melodic hardcore-esque track with a racing pace that strikes the perfect balance of intensity and hilarity the show itself will (or at least should) go down in the history books for. The vocals are stupendously mischievous, almost disguising the fact that the melody is infectiously catchy on its own merit, and where would we be with an opening like this without gang shouts and gratuitous Engrish? I’m still struggling to accept that Prison School was one of my favorite shows this year, and I feel guilty for trying to defend it, but at the same time, I know it’s too late to go back now. I’ve been sucked in by the ai no purizooon for good, and this OP was just the tip of the iceberg to each week’s madness.

20 - Snow White With The Red Hair#20 – “Yasashii Kibou” by Saori Hayami
Studio: Bones
OP for Snow White With The Red Hair (Akagami no Shirayuki-hime)

Now for a show with the complete opposite idea, Snow White With The Red Hair was possibly the year’s most inoffensive romance (whether that’s a compliment or detriment is your call), but either way, it sneaks into the top 20 here with one hell of a dark horse OP. “Yasashii Kibou” is a pleasant, tasteful love song with some subtly powerful drumming and a beautiful string section highlighting Saori Hayami’s soothing vocal performance. The visuals are jaw-droppingly gorgeous; this is a Studio Bones production after all, and the final slow pan up from the castle overlooking the coast of Clarines never fails to get the sceneryporn juice a-flowin’. More impressively, that’s just one of the many shots in this selection that dazzle. Maybe you like or expect a little more oomph in your openings, but Snow White With The Red Hair was not that kind of show. It was pretty. It was delicate. And it was at times a bit forgettable. But this OP remained strong and undervalued the whole way through.

19 - Working!!!#19 – “NOW!! GAMBLE!!!” by Kana Asumi, Saki Fujita, and Eri Kitamura
Studio: A-1 Pictures
OP for Working!!! (Season 3)

Cast-sung openings are always incredibly hit or miss for me. There are so many variables involved, with any one of them being enough to push the OP over the edge. A person who doesn’t sing well, someone who sings a little too uncharacteristically, or even just a weakly constructed song can all sink any OP, but a cast-sung one runs a far greater risk of those accidents than OPs by established musical groups. Working! pulled off two addictively catchy and fun cast-sung openings in its earlier seasons, and true to the rule, this third one didn’t disappoint.

It helped that Working’s cast is a lively bunch in the first place, but this OP’s true strength lies in its triumphant brass section, rambunctious piano, and energized drumming. In typical Working fashion, the artwork and layout of this opening are largely similar to those of its prequels’, featuring bright backgrounds, large yellow credit blocks, and small character montages that reflect each character’s personality perfectly in a few brief seconds. There are even some easter eggs I didn’t notice in here until months later, such as Daisy and Aoi in disguise in the drawn-out clip of Souta trembling at the flock of jumping Popuras. As the series went on and a new character or two were introduced, they too got spots in the evolving OP (though not featured in the version linked), which is always nice. And back to the song for a moment – if all J-Pop cast openings of this intent could feature this sort of bouncy full band sound, the world could be a much better place. All of which goes to prove there’s no gamble in Working’s openings; they’re about as consistently entertaining as they come.

18 - Food Wars OP1#18 – “Kibou no Uta” by Ultra Tower
Studio: J.C. Staff
OP #1 for Food Wars (Shokugeki no Souma)

I feel compelled to overuse the word “anthem” when discussing anime openings. I do my best to reserve it for the few that really mean something to me and have the power to make my heart stir in a way that embodies the raw emotion of how I’m feeling at any given time.

…so it’s a little weird that words besides “anthem” escape me for Food Wars’ first opening, seeing as Food Wars is a show so over the top it’s impossible to realistically connect with on a personal level. But there’s simply no other way to describe “Kibou no Uta” – literally translated, that means “Song of Hope,” and it sure sounds like one. Despite Food Wars’ tendencies to get dirty and throw in a little borderline hentai into its Iron Chef-meets-stereotypical shounen frenzy, “Kibou no Uta” is a clean but powerful rock song about overcoming adversity and rising to the top. The vocals are empowering, the rest of Ultra Tower backing up Kengo Oohama’s delivery with simple but effective work. The song is tasteful, the food looks tasty, and the “show all the characters” approach fits well with Food Wars, which has a large cast that grew even larger after this OP got switched out for the series’ second cour. And while I enjoy that second OP and it’s perfectly respectable in its own right, it never quite matched the beauty and passion of this first one. Don’t need a shokugeki to determine that.

17 - Your Lie in April OP2#17 – “Nanairo Symphony” by Coala Mode.
Studio: A-1 Pictures
OP #2 for Your Lie in April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso)

For both its cours, Your Lie In April produced a perfectly respectable but slightly overrated opening. “Nanairo Symphony” kind of wore off me by the end of winter due to a chorus that felt a little like unmet potential and its glaringly bad Engrish pronunciation of “symphony” as “shimpony,” but upon revisiting it these few seasons later, I was reminded of how much power this OP contained when the show itself was also at its most emotional. While the song is beautiful, the most stunning aspect of the opening remains the visuals; the paneling and shot framing are tasteful, the coloring is fittingly pale and ethereal, and the art as a whole is up there with Sound! Euphonium (shoutout since it’s not on this list) as some of the most beautiful this year. Your Lie In April didn’t always hit the sweet spot it aimed for, but it did when it mattered most, and this heavenly opening was right there alongside it in those moments of perfection.

16 - Comet Lucifer#16 – “Comet Lucifer (The Seed and the Sower)” by fhána
Studio: 8-Bit
OP for Comet Lucifer

Something to know about me for future reference: though I don’t dig her whole kawaii appearance deal, I am an absolute sucker for Towana’s vocals. Any time fhána pops up with news of a new opening or ending theme, my immediate interest is guaranteed to be captured. I’m also a huge sucker for sort-of-mech/sort-of-fantasy coming of age series; look no further than my undying belief that Eureka Seven is one of the greatest television series ever made. But though Comet Lucifer was pretty, it was clearly rough around the edges in design and lacked the originality and spark it needed to really pull me in.

Its OP sure tried though. 8-Bit may be an underdog without half a fighting chance when it comes to stories, but out of nowhere, they appeared not just once but twice (I’ll get to that) this year with an above average opening. Comet Lucifer’s is bolstered incalculably by “The Seed and the Sower,” an uplifting, soulful, and downright impressive pop rock track. Towana’s vocal performance here is among her best to date, and the song is perfectly structured to fit the TV size format. The visuals aren’t as mindblowing, but they’re certainly competent and occasionally pleasantly surprising – hell, even the CG mechs don’t that look jarring! As I mentioned before, the visual design of Comet Lucifer is a bit rough (to be expected from a lower budget studio), but the color palette and audiovisual sync here combine to create an opening much stronger than you’d expect. Without a doubt an under-appreciated goody of 2015.

15 - The Heroic Legend of Arslan OP1#15 – “Boku no Kotoba de wa nai, Kore wa Bokutachi no Kotoba” by UVERworld
Studios: Liden Films & Sanzigen
OP #1 for The Heroic Legend of Arslan (Arslan Senki)

Still not quite sure why Harubro loathes this opening. I’d hardly consider myself a fan of UVERworld, but “Boku no Kotoba de wa nai, Kore wa Bokutachi no Kotoba” (geez, that’s a mouthful) is pretty killer. The mock Middle Eastern slide at the start and the acoustic noodling in the pre-chorus break give the OP just enough flair to match the show’s ancient Persian setting without feeling too cheesy. The rest of the song is certainly solid as well; great vocal lines by Takuya, a bombastic back-and-forth chorus, and a fair balance of symbiosis and individual fills between the group’s musicians. The visuals rarely disappoint; there’s one odd spot of CG when the screen pans over the army to Arslan atop his horse (the bird it follows also appears to fly through some flags and spears – whoops), but that’s but one accident in an opening that otherwise matches its sights to the nuances of its music perfectly. While I find Arslan’s coloring a little tame and underdeveloped, this OP actually features a nice amount of individual color; nothing too forced or saturated, just pleasant, firm, and mood-setting. The show’s second opening deserves an honorable mention too, as it’s still good, just a little less focused and more anticlimactic. This one’s not perfect either, but between the two, it’s where the true praise should be directed.

14 - Himouto!! Umaru-chan#14 – “Kakushinteki☆Metamaruphose!” by Aimi Tanaka
Studio: Doga Kobo
OP for Himouto! Umaru-chan

Oh boy.

There’s always that OP.
There’s always that one OP you just can’t believe actually exists.
You kind of don’t want to like it, but it draws you in, irresistibly. Teasing you, mocking your impulse to keep coming back. And when you do, you laugh and cry and enjoy it.

And then you remember it’s that OP.

This year, the title of that OP undeniably belongs to Himouto! Umaru-chan. The story of the school princess who comes home only to devolve into a slobby selfish hamster cape-toting blob can be perfectly summed up in these 90 seconds. The song moves at a schizophrenic pace, with a chipmunk-cheer beginning and ending, stylized video game nods in an otherwise laid back section, and even a moment of bubbly peace and rest interrupted by Umaru reverting back to true Umaru, because of course she would. This OP is borderline pure sugar; so sweet it’s not even tasty, just overwhelming, except not for the taste buds; the ears. Take that as you will, but among the dozens of forgettable openings we get each year, one thing’s for sure here; Umaru’s OP refuses to be ignored.

13 - Absolute Duo v2#13 – “Absolute Soul” by Konomi Suzuki
Studio: 8-Bit
OP (version 2) for Absolute Duo

I like to think I’m pretty lenient with giving shows a chance.

But you couldn’t convince me to touch Absolute Duo with a ten foot pole.

That is, unless we’re talking about this OP, which I somehow came across and can certainly appreciate! “Absolute Soul” is an electronically-backed synth-driven track that just oozes swagger and hooks, courtesy of Konomi Suzuki’s fantastic vocal performance. Simply put, it’s a really strong song with visuals that fit the mood well. I can’t speak for their relevance or importance with regards to the show, because again, fuck Absolute Duo, but there’s some artistry in this opening that goes far beyond what it needs to. The action cinematography and dance sequence are well thought out and the at moments choppy framerate is but a minor setback; one to be expected, seeing as this is 8-Bit we’re talking about and they’ve been a bit ambitious with openings this year. So yeah, one of 2015’s most derivative clunkers cranked out one of the year’s most surprisingly competent openings, and I have to give that credit where it’s due. Absolute Duo may be crap, but “Absolute Soul” is exactly what it says on the tin.

12 - Gatchaman Crowds Insight#12 – “Insight” by White Ash
Studio: Tatsunoko Production
OP for Gatchaman Crowds Insight

Though For Great Justice didn’t exist back in 2013, I made a personal Top 25 Openings list at the end of that year too, and Gatchaman Crowds’ opening “Crowds” by White Ash sat at the #1 spot. When the news of a sequel came out and it was confirmed White Ash would return for OP duties, I was ecstatic but nervous; the odds of the group delivering something great for their second go were high, but I knew in the back of my head it likely wouldn’t match their work with Crowds’ first season.

And sure enough, that was the case. “Insight” is still pretty great, but while this season of Gatchaman exceeded the quality of the first, Insight’s OP respectively took the back burner. That’s not to say the opening isn’t enjoyable – far from it, considering it’s barely outside my top 10. The cinematography remains superb, the OP opting for a lighter tone than its first season counterpart, reflective in how much less aggressive the guitar tone and visuals are. Where Gatchaman Crowds’ OP’s visuals came off as oppressing and mysterious, Insight’s are inclusive and bright, luring you in with the promise of a kind atmosphere (there’s your thematic nod, enjoy it). The implementation of real-world footage interlaced with the animated bits is still beautiful (I adore that technique virtually any time it’s used), and on the production side there’s very little to complain about. Visually, the OP’s movements are precise and synced well with the song, the emotion – whether it’s hesitance, happiness, or confidence – perfectly matched to the music’s nuances. My main complaint is that in choosing a less in-your-face approach, this opening is a little more forgettable than its predecessor. The chorus’ lead guitar and bass could be a bit higher in the mix too. All things considered though, my expectations for GCI’s OP were hit; “Insight” delivered, and I only sound more critical than I’d otherwise be because of the lofty bar the show and band previously set for themselves.

11 - Charlotte#11 – “Bravely You” by Lia
Studio: P.A. Works
OP for Charlotte

Jun Maeda may not get everything right, but one thing his shows seem to do well enough is open strongly. Charlotte, the much-anticipated return collaboration between Maeda and P.A. Works following their 2010 hit Angel Beats!, impressed early, but devolved into an utter mess in its final third. This OP on the other hand continued to enthrall from the very beginning; P.A. Works’ visuals are always top notch, one of the most consistently beautiful animation studios alongside the unfortunately absent-from-this-list Kyoto Animation. The cityscape, cosmic, and desolate cliff imagery speak for themselves fairly easily, and “Bravely You” is a powerful, stirring track, wonderfully orchestrated and fit perfectly into the TV size format. Lia’s vocal performance here is magnificent, shifting from confident to dreamy to intense in the span of a minute and a half, accompanied by a whimsical and vibrant string section that drives towards one of the best climaxes in any OP this year. For a show that will go down as an unfortunate flop, two things remain true: Jun Maeda is bravely (but foolishly) Jun Maeda, and Charlotte’s OP is several times better than the show it opened.

10 - DRRR!!x2 Shou#10 – “HEADHUNT” by OKAMOTO’S
Studio: Shuka
OP for Durarara!!x2 Shou

When a prestigious show comes back from a lengthy hiatus with a new (well, technically new at least) company backing it up, there’s a pretty big chance that something will go wrong. There’s also the chance that it will play its cards right, but that’s not exactly commonplace.

Thankfully, Durarara is all about rarities being commonplace! There’s always something strange going on, some new development, some new iteration of an old development, and a new character or two waiting in the shadows for their chance in the spotlight. Durarara’s older openings used a distinctive name card style and dizzying camera angles flying around the city to capture everyone of immediate importance in quick succession, usually cut up only for a brief mid-OP series recap sequence. Whether or not you can teach an old dog new tricks is irrelevant here, because the gimmicks Durarara’s OPs already know well are all they’ll ever need to. “HEADHUNT” (and as an honorable mention, “Day You Laugh”, the OP for Durarara!!x2 Ten) would be a return to form if the form ever left. Employing all the same techniques as DRRR’s previous openings with the weight of hype on its side, “HEADHUNT” in particular stands tall alongside Theatre Brook’s “Uragiri no Yuuyake” as potentially the best song of the franchise by doing all it needs to; being a fun, energetic, rockin’ tune to fill in the background as shit goes down. Sounds a bit condescending when phrased like that, but it knows its job and gets it done well.

9 - Oregairu Zoku v1#9 – “Harumodoki” by Nagi Yanagi
Studio: feel.
OP version 1 for Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru. Zoku (My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU TOO / Oregairu 2)

And while I’m on the topic of highly-anticipated sequels made by different companies, I can’t ignore Oregairu 2, and how frustrated I am that this version of its opening got canned after just a few weeks. Its replacement, despite featuring the same song, felt so much more uncoordinated, the visuals just clumsily occupying space. Studio feel. isn’t one that would come to mind quickly when talking about visual beauty, so the fact that they were able to clean up Brain’s Base’s sloppy character designs from season one and make Oregairu look as good as they did this year is still impressive to me. This OP especially gave them the opportunity to show off the characters’ improved looks; the visuals are crisp, the animation is smooth, and the spacious backgrounds are colored perfectly with pale blues, pinks, and golds. Body language was one of Oregairu’s biggest charms, and it’s displayed wonderfully here. “Harumodoki” by returning artist Nagi Yanagi blows her first opening for Oregairu out of the water; her vocal prowess is still commanding and catchy, but this time she’s backed by a relentlessly touching string section, gorgeous piano, and some damn tasty drumming. For a slice-of-life story, SNAFU’s normal situation is pretty fucked up indeed, but the normal situation for the show’s openings is simply pretty. Couldn’t ask for much more with this, its best theme song (OP or ED) to date.

8 - Ranpo Kitan - Game of Laplace#8 – “Speed to Masatsu” by amazarashi
Studio: Lerche
OP for Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace

Ranpo Kitan has to be one of the strangest shows of 2015. I won’t mince words – it’s downright stupid. It tried far too hard to be terrifying and put a unique twist on Edogawa Ranpo’s stories, but it didn’t let go of its more cliché anime attributes to fully work, nor did its tone support the tales it tried to tell. Not to mention for a mystery series, its solutions were based on coincidental guessing and faulty logic. But that’s all irrelevant here – it may have sucked, but its OP sure doesn’t. In fact, sometimes an opening is so high quality it can lead you to assume the show will be too, and that any stumbles one encounters with it will be fixed in no time. That was obviously not the case this time; I dropped Ranpo Kitan four episodes in, and I only made it that far because of the misleading promise of this baby.

Amazarashi’s delivery is hypnotically repetitive, spitting some fantastic mysterious lyricism backed by ominous instrumentation that only escalates in intensity as it presses on. The visuals are a little less coordinated; the OP begins with quick flashes of each character, a relative weak spot though still setting the mood well. When the pre-chorus hits, some real-life footage gets intertwined with the animation, and that’s where things pick up. Amazarashi’s lyrics violently splash on the screen, throbbing with the flow of the song as a crowd inches forward then pauses with each measure. The OP as a whole feels harrowing and stressful, like it has to hit a breaking point but can’t seem to find it; as a butterfly skitters away and the song recedes to static, everything abruptly cuts out. There’s some sort of beauty in how well it’s able to concoct that enveloping anxious mood so quickly and completely. The grainy film segments and near-constant use of autumnal colors further give the OP a sense that this is something old being resuscitated through means that still keep it on the verge of death. Ranpo Kitan never truly got a chance to live or thrive, its setup doomed from the start (cough thanks, Seiji Kishi), but the one place it succeeded at causing intended discomfort was this opening. Probably not exactly the compliment Lerche was hoping for, but hey, if I were them, I would take what I could get. I would also have not made Ranpo Kitan a mess, but that’s beside the point.

7 - Yamada and the Seven Witches#7 – “Kuchizuke Diamond” by WEAVER
Studio: Liden Films
OP for Yamada and the Seven Witches

I admire minimalism when it’s done effectively. Case in point; Yamada and the Seven Witches’ OP is in my top 10. “Kuchizuke Diamond” is a beautiful earworm of a pop track featuring only drums, piano, bass, and strings whirling around Yuji Sugimoto’s emotional vocals. The visuals, aside from a break in the chorus to show some schoolground settings, merely consist of the characters in front of a faded grey background with sepia edges, witch hats flying around as an opening-only motif. Almost nothing actually happens here, the cast primarily introduced in single character frames, but there feels like there’s so much more lying just under the surface. It’s a testament to just how much of an impression an OP that emphasizes body language in sync with the music can leave. Or maybe it’s just me, but whatever the case, I love it.

And I swear the fact that it ended up as #7 is entirely coincidental. Better this than Rokka, I suppose.

6 - Fate:stay night - Unlimited Blade Works Season 2#6 – “Brave Shine” by Aimer
Studio: ufotable
OP for Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works 2nd Season

I’ve been around the OP game long enough to know a few musical acts who have a higher than normal chance of delivering something spectacular. Aimer is one such artist; her vocal tone is downright beautiful, heartfelt, and emotional, not coated in sugar like your average J-Pop artist. She’s always had the ability to craft a moving song with just the right amount of power, and “Brave Shine,” a common contender for OP of the Year for those who rank solely by music, is potentially her apex. I wouldn’t say the visuals are a let down either – they’re done by fuckin’ ufotable, so of course not – but as I haven’t yet watched anything from the Fate franchise, I personally lack the attachment needed to push this OP up into the highest tier. I can’t deny however that this is something breathtaking. The smoothness of the animation, the luscious coloring, the careful weaving of piano and melodic guitar, and my God, that production on both the animated and musical fronts! It’s all standout stuff here. This OP just doesn’t disappoint no matter what you’re looking for.

5 - Subete ga F ni Naru - The Perfect Insider#5 – “talking” by KANA-BOON
Studio: A-1 Pictures
OP for Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider

Though I didn’t get a chance to talk about The Perfect Insider yet this fall, that’s probably for the best, because I can sum up the entire show in one sentence; “A mostly good work that presents a solidly-executed though unrealistic mystery then ruins its narrative potential by indulging in two of its more ridiculous main characters’ pretensions right at the end.” Everything Becomes F would be nothing more than a letdown if only I weren’t so blindly naïve for buying into it to begin with. But at the same time, how could I not? Minor spoilers for the remainder of this paragraph; the whole show seemed to be hinting at Moe pushing Souhei away from his fascination with Dr. Magata and making him drop his overblown philosophical mumbo-jumbo. Moe’s own romantic pining for Souhei was destined to fail, and at least it did, but for Souhei’s dreams to be fulfilled and allow The Perfect Insider to wallow in its own pseudo-intellectual gobbledygook in its climax is nothing but a very abrupt last minute waste of potential.

One thing this show did not waste its potential with were its opening and ending themes. While I personally enjoyed The Perfect Insider’s set design, I’m glad this opening took an alternate visual approach, which aside from 6 seconds at the start in something resembling its traditional character design and two at the end for the text-only title card, consisted of fluid character sketches on a black gridded background, swashes and waves of color popping up in the margins and tracks of previous character movement. Magata’s dancing here is gorgeously animated, and I love the way the OP is able to firmly establish the show’s three main characters’ personalities without spoiling any development related to its core mystery. There is one moment here which I feel could reflect a key in the puzzle, but unless you know what to look for and how to interpret it, you won’t make the connection until after you finish The Perfect Insider, which just makes its inclusion here even more impressive. Either way, the OP is its own special product of animation, and with minor changes in color, scale, and exact movement each week, it found some ways to keep its otherwise minimalist idea fresh. KANA-BOON tops off the whole package by providing a wonderful track, “talking” bouncing back and forth with funky guitar, dancey drums and restless pop vocals. The sync of audio and video is superb and though The Perfect Insider ended up being another disappointment in one of the most mediocre fall seasons for new shows in recent memory, its OP is its own little piece of untainted magic; the perfect opener.

4 - Tokyo Ghoul Root A#4 – “Munou” by österreich
Studio: Pierrot
OP for Tokyo Ghoul Root A

When I listen to Japanese music outside anime-affiliated material (which is fairly often), it tends to be something among the lines of the math-rock or post-rock genres. One of my favorite groups was a short-lived math-rock/emo trio called The Cabs; they released two EPs and one LP over the course of 3 years, then suddenly the guitarist vanished and the group was no more. Said guitarist, Kunimitsu Takahashi, returned and teamed up with haisuinonasa vocalist Ai Kamano to tentatively form österreich shortly thereafter. I never thought these two would do anything related to anime; there are scenes of music that just don’t mix.

But then “Munou” happened.

I was in love from the first piano note. Some people don’t care about technicality in the music they listen to as long as it’s entertaining. I tend to resign myself to that philosophy when it comes to most anime openings (I’d enjoy very few of them if I didn’t), but as I myself am a musician, I appreciate and look for some complexity when it comes to the other music I listen to. Seeing as “Munou” is pretty much unarguably the most technical piece of music to star as an anime opening this year, it resonates pretty strongly with my interests. Much to L-K’s chagrin, I give several less fucks about Tokyo Ghoul, but the minimalist visuals revolving around Kaneki – Rize tethering him to his ghoul fate in front of a blackening backdrop and Hide lifting the mask from off his face and clearing the air around him – are pretty touching in their artful simplicity. The coloring is wonderful throughout, but especially when the chorus hits and the backdrop explodes into a scattering of vibrant flowers. The lyricism is open to interpretation and basic, but still powerful. The Tokyo Ghoul franchise has always had great openings and endings, and though this song’s angular time signatures turn it off to a lot of people, for me this one takes the cake as the series’ best offering. Yes, even better than “Unravel.” Come at me.

3 - Ghost in the Shell - Arise - Alternative Architecture#3 – “Anata wo Tamotsu Mono” by Maaya Sakamoto & Cornelius
Studio: Production I.G.
OP for Ghost in the Shell: Arise – Alternative Architecture

As I discussed earlier this spring, I am a novice to Ghost in the Shell. From what I’ve experienced so far though, I know one thing for sure; this franchise doesn’t fuck around with appearances. The original 1995 film outshines some productions today with technology 20 years less advanced. Arise – Alternative Architecture’s OP also outshines every other opening this year on the visual front; it’s simply a marvel. The attention to detail in the mechanical geometry and superimposed images is simply stunning. I truly have a loss for words. It’s that far ahead of anything else this year. The song on the other hand is sure to be hit or miss; a purely electronic track filled with glitch noises and spliced keyboards, “Anata wo Tamotsu Mono” rewards with repeat listens but inherently favors the musically adventurous and those with experience in sound design. Cornelius’ work here is meticulous and impressive if you know what to listen for, but as evidenced by several other 2015 OP rankings, a lot of people don’t give this song the time to grow it deserves. Maaya Sakamoto doesn’t get the chance to show off her range here, but her fragile, cold tone fits the dystopian nature of Ghost in the Shell and the mindset of her character Major Kusanagi to a T. Criminally (hehe) underrated, this is an OP worthy of much more praise than it received this year.

2 - Death Parade#2 – “Flyers” by BRADIO
Studio: Madhouse
OP for Death Parade

I’d like to believe this one needs no introduction by now. “Flyers” took the anime community by storm as early as January, cementing its place as a contender for OP of the Year while the year was still barely half a month old. It retained that position with good reason; being followed up by the best music video of the year and the band’s own parody of the OP certainly helped, though I can’t grade the actual opening by those bonuses (nevertheless, watch them). “Flyers” also represented BRADIO’s big global break, the first internationally successful hit for the impeccably cheesy funk/soul/pop rock/disco quartet. But enough about the band – the real reason Death Parade’s OP received the notoriety it did was because it felt like it didn’t fit the show at all…and yet it did…or something. I mean, Death Parade was a series that set up two unwitting contestants in battles to the death while they were (plot twist!) already among the departed! It was heartwrenching stuff, its recurring main characters continuously grappling with the morality of what they were facilitating. It drove the show; it was the thematic focus, and it was almost invariably a total fucking downer.

But then they went and started each week with everyone dancing around to “Flyers” anyway, Madhouse’s shimmery production quality boosting what was already an undeniable OP standout by design. It may not be perfect, but I think anyone would struggle to find something more memorable than the seemingly at odds fun-loving spirit of “Flyers”. All I know is that I’d put my hands up and go dancing through the skies in a heartbeat.

But even this, as great as it is, admittedly wasn’t quite worthy of my #1 spot. No, that’s an honor that goes to…

1 - Blood Blockade Battlefront#1 – “Hello, world!” by BUMP OF CHICKEN
Studio: Bones
OP for Blood Blockade Battlefront (Kekkai Sensen)

I feel like I rarely come across an anime that exudes as much pure unbridled ambition as Blood Blockade Battlefront. That of course leads to a few swings and misses; no one who goes for every pitch will get the perfect strike zone throw they need every time; but there’s something admirable in that willingness to try anyway. Framed as a coming of age action thriller comedy romance genre clusterfuck in an alternate NYC, BBB had everything going for it except the fact that it also had all that much more room to crash and burn like an aeroplane in the vicinity of Lucky Abrams. Some people think its delayed finale did, some didn’t (I’m in that camp), but at its best moments, I think we can all agree BBB was empowering in its boldness and fun to tune into – you never knew what you’d get.

So condense the best of BBB – the city’s grimy beauty, the narratively distant interactions, the everyday and the unimaginable merging, the sparkly action sequences, and the courage to step outside and embrace the craziness of your surroundings shouting “hey world, here I am, come fucking get me!” – all of it, and stuff it into 90 seconds. That’s BBB’s OP. That’s my favorite OP of 2015. That’s the one I kept coming back to, the one I couldn’t get out of my head most, the one that lifted both me and its show up the highest. It’s BBB taking home the glory. The shuffling of unsuspecting passersby on the sidewalk, the photographs of memories from daily activities and bashes with buddies, the sudden spotlight on your own personal center stage; it’s all here, and it’s all reflective of both Blood Blockade Battlefront and life itself. BUMP OF CHICKEN provide an instant classic in the anthemic powerhouse of “Hello, world!”, guitar lines dancing around each other and crashing in syncopation with Hideo Masu’s tightknit drumming. Motoo Fujiwara’s vocal delivery is one of the best all year, and I’m not just talking about anime openings. The song has remained in constant rotation in my music library ever since it was released.

“But Yata,” you’ll say, “you just have this here because you love BBB so much. There’s no quantifiable way to measure openings and you can’t prove to me this was the best one this year.” You’re damn right about most of that, mate. Like I said before, you’re entitled to your own opinion. But it’s not just here because I love the show – Shirobako, Sound! Euphonium, Owarimonogatari, and One Punch Man were all also favorites of mine this year, and none of them appeared on this list (that last one probably to many people’s surprise and disappointment – sorry). No, I just genuinely feel BBB’s OP is something one of a kind. Something gold. Something amazing. Something deserving of total recognition. That may not happen, but in my head, I can at least be at peace knowing in this year, an exceptionally strong year for openings, there was still one that stood far above the crowd.

Congratulations, Blood Blockade Battlefront. You earned this one. #1 OP of 2015. Feel free to celebr- oh, you already are. Alright.

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So what did you guys think of 2015’s openings? What did you think of this list? I’m always up for some discussion. Leave a comment below, tell us your thoughts, and if you happen to have your own OP rankings this year, go ahead and rank away! Til’ next time, this has been Yata, once again writing way too many words about Japanese cartoons. But it’s like…for great justice or something, so…

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