Yata’s Top 25 OPs of 2016

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Hey, everybody, Yata here! Another year down, another Top 25 OPs list to show off! Personally, I found 2016 to be a bit of a weak year for stellar openings, but that just made the “moderately above average” crop even harder to sift through. So sift I did; I whipped up my first draft of this list back in October and spent the next three months re-arranging the hell out of it to the point of absurdity, eventually ending up with this. My criteria and ranking system remain the same as they’ve been for the last three years worth of these things. To recap:

  •  The OP must have debuted in 2016. It can belong to a show that started before 2016 or one that will continue into 2017, but if the OP debuted in an airing season of 2016, it’s eligible for inclusion on this list.
  • If a show has multiple versions of what can be considered the same OP (different animation set to the same music or vice versa), only one will be included; any changes to the OP, if relevant to mention, will be noted in the blurb.
  • If a show has multiple completely different OPs, all of them are eligible as individual entries as long as they meet the above criteria.
  • It’s not a requirement that I’ve seen the corresponding series for each OP on this list, but obviously the ones I have seen (or am at least moderately familiar with) are much more likely to be included because I have a better grasp on what the contents of their OPs mean. This year, there were uncharacteristically 8 (a new personal record!) openings on here from shows I either didn’t watch at all or didn’t complete, so even if you’ve kept up with me throughout the year, there might still be some surprises in store for you below.
  • Unlike the many YouTube channels which rank openings mathematically and solely on their music, I rank these on a non-numerical, totally arbitrary combination of each one’s music, visuals, audiovisual sync, relevance to the show (when I’m able to discuss that), and my own personal enjoyment, with the most emphasis placed on whatever I feel each individual OP was trying to accomplish.

And just a reminder, these rankings are very loose apart from the top handful; there are several entries around the bubble which didn’t make the cut for me (see: Ajin, Flip Flappers, Mayoiga, Orange, Shirayuki S2, etc.), but that doesn’t mean I hated them – there’s just a lot of anime openings each year, guys. I have to draw the line somewhere. In that same vein, the exact numerical placement of each OP is mostly a matter of nitpicky preference, as anything outside the top 4 could have easily swapped places with any other openings in a 4 or 5 spot radius and still felt “right” to me.

And of course, try to remember that these rankings, like any evaluation of art, is massively subject to personal preferences. You are entitled to your opinion just as I am entitled to mine, and there’s nothing wrong with agreeing to disagree. I welcome discussion over this list (as long as it’s civil) and encourage you to comment, or, if you feel so inclined, post a rundown of your own. That’s “great justice,” as they say.

Anyway, with that explanation out of the way, let’s get this OP rumble started!

26-flying-witchHONORABLE MENTION – “Sharanran” by miwa feat. 96 Neko
Studio: J.C. Staff
OP for Flying Witch

My one honorable mention this year could’ve gone to a novelty short like it has in years past, but none of those shows’ OPs really jumped out at me, so I went looking elsewhere, and instead of just using this spot to throw in a bubble-level OP that barely missed the cut, I’m giving the nod to an opening that I constantly felt hesitant to praise too hard but also would’ve felt remiss excluding; Miwa’s twangy little folk pop tune for Flying Witch.

I still have more than a few gripes with it, of course; that metallic sound in the verse is beyond grating, the rainbow transition to the title card looks incredibly out of place, and the song’s flat production in general is pretty crap. However, the chorus this thing features is one of the hookiest I’ve heard all year, and the green outlines on the characters are a nice touch that gives the OP’s visuals an extra pop to offset some of its shakier color combinations. Most importantly, the opening still provides the abundant feel-good vibes I came to love and anticipate from Flying Witch. Opening one of my favorite shows of the year probably helped in its own right, but tiny extra perks like the cast cheerfully clapping along, the mandrake’s sudden, almost jump-scary appearance, and this wonderful meme all cancel out the song’s irritating production and slight visual stumbles enough to let Flying Witch’s OP take home my honorable mention spot for 2016.

25-haikyuu-s2-op2#25 – “Fly High!!” by Burnout Syndromes
Studio: Production I.G.
OP2 for Haikyuu!! Second Season

Well, it finally happened. Several years now into Haikyuu’s stand as one of the most-watched and well-respected sports anime of the 2010s, it’s at last found its way into one of my top 25 OP lists. While I’ve never disliked any of the show’s openings per se, I’ve found most of the songs they feature to be rather generic for sports anime.

…not that “Fly High!!” does much differently by any objective metric, but there’s something about Kazuumi Kumagai’s delivery here that resonates with me far more than the show’s previous work from Spyair and Sukima Switch. As Mother’s Basement and Dan Floyd point out in this incredibly thorough analysis video, the real charm here is the animation fluidity and budget craftiness; for the match scenes, the motion and postures are hyper-realized, streaked with action lines and an almost unreal sense of weight that translates fantastically coupled with the OP’s various creative angles. There’s also supposedly some great symbolic stuff present about shadows and birds that goes over my head but will probably immediately strike any longtime fan of the show. Most importantly, more than any prior OP for Haikyuu, this is the one that came closest to encouraging me to suck up the episode count and go catch up on the series once and for all. If it can have that effect, it’s gotta be at least a little good, and one thing’s for sure here; as far as conventional “pump you up” openings go, this one is among the genre’s best in recent memory.

24-bubuki-buranki#24 – “Beat Your Heart” by Konomi Suzuki
Studio: Sanzigen
OPv2 for Bubuki Buranki (BBK/BRNK)

Considering the OP for Bubuki Buranki’s second season contains the composition work of renowned instrumental rock act té (who I am a huge fan of), it’s a bummer how that OP’s direction and the series’ bright CG art style didn’t lend themselves to the type of intense, foreboding, explosive music the band is righteously known for. Of all the songs I’m bummed to not include in this last, that one (with a stereotypically lengthy té name I won’t even bother trying to transliterate) takes the cake, but oddly enough, in its place is the series’ OP for its first season.

“Beat Your Heart” is by no means a “better” song than its successor, but it matches Bubuki Buranki’s kid’s show-esque “GO FIGHT EVIL” tone perfectly, and despite the lyricism falling victim to generic action show clichés, Konomi Suzuki proves once again that a stellar, heartfelt delivery can balance out tired tropeyness and subpar source material, at least to a non-Japanese speaker’s ears. With the song’s tone more in line with that of the show itself, the visuals in turn don’t feel anywhere near as mismatched as they do in the second season’s OP. While I initially didn’t think it was good enough to pop its way into the top 25, its upbeat energy and earworm quality eventually forced me to reconsider.

23-joker-game#23 – “Reason Triangle” by Quadrangle
Studio: Production I.G.
OP for Joker Game

Man, do Production I.G. know how to make a show look good or what? I doubt Joker Game was a highlight of anyone’s year, but focusing on quick superimposed action shots and moody, colorful character introduction slides, its OP was a great way to introduce people to what they’d get with this one; a competent and enticing, but very surface-level spy story. Likewise, Joker Game’s opening looks and sounds very pretty, but there isn’t a whole lot of substance beneath it. Unlike the show at large though, it can get away with that, especially when it’s got a great jazzy jam spicing things up beneath the card game theming and overlapping sepia-tone vignettes. “Reason Triangle” sounds just like the spy thriller theme music you’d expect from a show like this, and while some might say that’s playing it safe, sometimes playing it safe is truly the wisest move. In this case, it certainly worked in the show’s favor, one of the few memorable aspects of one of the year’s most forgettable “good” series.

22-dagashi-kashi#22 – “Checkmate!?” by MICHI
Studio: feel.
OPv2 for Dagashi Kashi

I won’t mince words; Dagashi Kashi was not a great show, but what it lacked in diversity and maturity it made up for (or at least tried to) in niche originality. If there’s another anime out there solely made for the purpose of advertising Japanese confections, I’d like to see it. When the show was at its best, it leaned away from the stereotypes of its small, rather mundane cast and towards the inherent silliness of its premise.

That premise and the gags which stemmed from it get quite a bit of spotlight in this opening, and coupled with some funky bass licks and spunky vocals, the music is sweet as candy. There isn’t a lot of cohesiveness to the various visual gimmicks it throws in, nor does Studio feel.’s animation make for a compelling watch in its own right, but the wrapping tear-off transitions, the bright, eye-popping use of color, and the self-insert pop culture references give Dagashi Kashi’s OP an unmistakable identity that pairs well with all that the show did successfully. Some minor occurrences of its weaknesses sadly remain too (the male gaze and slight but awkward CG come to mind), but the sunny melody, funky instrumentation, and unwavering confidence the show had to be itself all propel this OP up a notch.

21-drifters#21 – “Gospel of the Throttle” (Kyohon Remix Version) by Minutes til Midnight
Studio: Hoods Entertainment
OP for Drifters

And now for everyone’s favorite Engrish rock OP of the yea-
wait…
this vocalist is from Detroit?

Huh.

There’s not much better at forcing the songwriter in me to wince than a hokey accent thrown on top of some lazy, nonsense lyrics. I’d be more tolerant of it if the singer weren’t a native English-speaker, but in this case…ehhhhhh.

That said, even though I reflexively groan at it, the tough guy “SUTHURN RAWK” accent is a perfect fit for a series as tryhardy macho as Drifters. However, the real star of this OP is French artist Cedric Herole, who animated nearly the entire thing solo. With beautiful line art and a conservative, efficient use of tinted color, Herole’s style here fits Drifters to a T. Even the few points throughout the OP where his work is cast aside fare well, as the saturated shadings and parallaxed motion around the well-rendered 3D characters also feel like a perfect match for the show’s whole aesthetic. The two styles wouldn’t mesh particularly well thrown atop each other, but separated as they are in this opening, Drifters at the very least looks like a fierce, powerful show, and no over-exaggerated drawl and shitty forced rhyme scheme can bring its hooky, beautiful OP down.

20-danganronpa-3-the-end-of-hope-peaks-high-school-despair-arc#20 – “Kami-iro Awase” by Binaria
Studio: Lerche
OPv1 for Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak – Despair Arc

I was surprised I hadn’t heard of Binaria before compiling this list; surprised because “Kami-iro Awase” was absolute dream pop bliss, and I’m usually on top of my game with discovering that shit.

But then I found out they’re yet another musical project with J-pop superstar Nagi Yanagi in it, and everything made a little more sense. The meticulous, ploppy electronics, the whispery vocal harmonies, and the higher-than-average production quality all make “Kami-iro Awase” stand out as a top-tier opening track that only some disastrous visuals would be able to ruin, and thankfully, they hold up their end of the bargain fairly well too. Using the type of brightly-colored, eccentric character designs Lerche adaptations tend to be characterized by, there’s a smooth, calculated, SHAFT-esque sterility to them here which fits the song’s suspicious tone extremely well. The colorization sometimes doesn’t blend all that smoothly, but it’s nothing a little thematic dissonance can’t fix, and this plodding, mysterious approach to a, you know, mystery show, works much better than the first season’s cringy rapping and overambitious visuals. Restraint can pay off for a reason, and this OP proves Danganronpa is 100% better with some.

19-rezero-op1#19 – “Redo” by Konomi Suzuki
Studio: White Fox
OP1 for Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World (Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu)

I may have neglected this series virtually all year long, but it’s hard to turn away from even a mediocre Konomi Suzuki OP, let alone an above-average one like this. Sure, I didn’t watch more than half an episode of Re:Zero, but that and having an internet connection at the peak of its hype were enough to inform me of the show’s main conceit; time travel backwards upon death. The OP plays with that in its near entirety, opening with Subaru jolting awake, walking by his doubles, and ending with the safety of companionship almost in reach before getting attacked and falling back to the ground as the OP literally rewinds itself; if you use the right player, it even restarts from the same frame in a perfect loop!

Beyond the narrative aspect, this thing also certainly indicates it’s a fantasy harem with darker overtones, filled with foreboding color combinations and superimposed, flashing overlays that generate a steady feeling of unease. That unease is copied with “Redo,” a song that spends a fair amount of time on distorted shuffling noises and one repetitive guitar riff before expanding into an unpredictable jumble of transitions and segues. It’s admittedly a little messy (and likely the product of having to condense things into TV size format), but that messiness more often than not works in its thematic favor. I’ve always been an advocate of awarding bad or personally unappealing shows due credit where they call for it, and Re:Zero’s first OP is one such instance where I’d be lying if I tried to claim it wasn’t a good time.

18-kabaneri-of-the-iron-fortress#18 – “Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress” by Egoist
Studio: Wit
OP for Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (Koutestujou no Kabaneri)

I know relegating Kabaneri to a spot this low is sure to disappoint a fair number of people, but this placement has far more to do with my qualms about the series’ general art style than it does the music, and hopefully that’s an understandable enough reason. I mean, let’s face it, the series can get kind of messy-looking. With clashing artistic flourishes and a backdrop dominated by oversaturated, rusty hues, sometimes the show just attempted to do too much on the artistic front. There are several instances in this OP where that’s indeed the case, but fear not, because when you’ve got Egoist on board, the odds are high that the music can make up for any weak links. Sure enough, the throbbing electronics and orchestral heights that “Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress” pack fit incredibly well with the series’ grimdark steampunk aesthetic. There are even several great directorial cuts on display here to offset the show’s inconsistent art and animation, and the sync between the equally-intense music and action is marvelous. A mixture of met and unmet potential, Kabaneri’s OP at least succeeds at being very Kabaneri, and I remain partial to its unparalleled bravado and enthusiasm.

17-concrete-revolutio-the-last-song#17 – “Wareru Doukoku” by ZAQ
Studio: Bones
OP for Concrete Revolutio: Choujin Gensou – The Last Song

Although Concrete Revolutio remains an underwatched and underappreciated gem in my book, there’s one claim I think most people would be able to agree upon: this show is fucking colorful.

It’s not controlled either, no, because control is for stories with a firm grip on their creative sensibilities. As a franchise, ConRevo is all over the place, a clusterfuck of a Cold War fantasy setup with copious back-stabbings and revelations and GREAT JUSTICE. Like any good alternate history series, the stylistic influences it draws from the eras it’s set in are a huge selling point, and this OP knows it. The slightly inconsistent character designs, the bizarre color schemes, the news sequence in the OP’s pre-chorus, all the intentionally not-quite-right flair just reeks of glorified psychedelia with a modern twist, and I can’t help but love it. “Wareru Doukoku” is a deceptively hooky tune too, lyrically echoing the thematic concerns of the series with a roaring vocal melody, spastic electronics, and an ominous bass range rumble keeping everything together. My one major point of criticism would be the messy breakdancing breakdown right before the chorus hits, but it’s ridiculous to the most enjoyable degree and a great representation of how Concrete Revolutio can and often did persevere on style where common sense suggested it would fail.

16-yuri-on-ice#16 – “History Maker” by Dean Fujioka
Studio: MAPPA
OP for Yuri on Ice!!!

If any OP rightfully deserved to become a meme this year, it’s Yuri on Ice’s. Sure, the visuals may consist of some relatively simple skating routines over monochromatic backgrounds, but when paired with an Engrish anthem as relatively well-enunciated and powerful as “History Maker,” it deserves all the credit it can get. Touting that cathartic cry of “WE WERE BORN TO MAKE HISTORY,” the OP debuting within a month of the Chicago Cubs winning their first World Series in over a century felt a little too good to be true, and while yeah, those two things have nothing concretely to do with one another, that immediate comparison speaks volumes for how effective “History Maker” is at doing what nearly all sports anime themes aim to do; get you energized and inspired to root for its cast. This time, that boost of enthusiasm doesn’t come from blaring guitars and burly well-toned men flexing their bare skin on screen, but a symphonic/electronic pop ballad and figure skaters simply animated with grace.

Though I can find something to nitpick about anything and this OP is no exception (the paint splashes feel blotchy and out of place, the animation is obviously recycled at a few points, and the drum machine production is tinny and actively unenjoyable), what’s really important here is that even though Yuri on Ice’s OP may be outside my top 15, it remains one of the year’s catchiest and most adaptable themes, and that’s hardly an empty accolade.

15-battery#15 – “Itsuka no Jibun” by Anderlust
Studio: Zero-G
OP for Battery: The Animation

It’s hard to figure out where to rank this in the grand scheme of things, as while Battery‘s OP itself is a fantastic, emotionally-performed, modestly-directed piece of work, the characters it features ended up being the exact opposite. Normally, I can’t hold the OP accountable for in-show narrative failings, but when the entire appeal of an OP is to be as nostalgic, cozy, and tender as this one is and the show throws a walk instead, there’s very little left to latch onto. Still, for Battery’s first few weeks if nothing else, the collected sincerity of “Itsuka no Jibun” and this beautiful watercolor artwork caught my attention and had me hoping for the best, so that’s got to be worth something.

Zero-G may not have the greatest budget in the world, but they mask it extremely well here by smartly incorporating foreground-changing stills, which let the more ambitious sections pull the weight they need to. Anna Koshino’s delivery and songwriting are just as splendid and have me hopeful that Anderlust will continue to provide great music for many anime yet to come. When the worst thing about an OP is the show itself, the praise may seem backhanded at first, but it’s an acknowledgement that some people worked very hard to sell their product as well as they did. Battery may have been a steaming hot mess, but this OP is simply splendid.

14-shouwa-genroku-rakugo-shinjuu#14 – “Usurahi Shinjuu” by Megumi Hayashibara and Ringo Shiina
Studio: Deen
OP for Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is a tragic period drama, and one glance at this OP can tell you virtually all you need to know about it; from the foreboding percussion and woodwind-driven jazz track composed by superstar Ringo Shiina to Megumi Hayashibara’s ghostly and sultry vocal performance, every millisecond of the song seeps “mood piece,” a theme backed up by the grey and sepia tones, film reel scratches, and photonegative credit stills. The whole thing screams mysterious, conspiring, and dreadful, and while as a show, Rakugo played things a little less on the nose for a majority of its run, the hints of disaster it sowed throughout made it clear that something terrible was going to go down by series end. Including suggestive spoilers and lyrics referencing lust and death, “Usurahi Shinjuu” isn’t a conventional song choice by just about any measure, but I’d be hard-pressed to find one more fitting for the equally one-of-a-kind Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu.

13-grimgar-of-fantasy-and-ash-v1#13 – “Knew Day” by (K)NoW_NAME
Studio: A-1 Pictures
OPv1 for Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash (Hai to Gensou no Grimgar)

Two things massively bum me out about this opening; first of all, (K)NoW_NAME is very much an “anime band,” not a built-up, signed, professional group with a backlog of material already out there for me to check out. That’s a buzzkill, because “Knew Day” is a powerhouse of a theme song, and Ayaka Tachibana’s vocal performance on it is emotive and strong, a compliment shared by pretty much every track her and the group recorded for use throughout Grimgar. The lush string sections blend with the polished, fuller instrumentation extremely well, giving their work just enough fantasy flair while keeping it something immediately lovable and radio-friendly for the alt rock crowd. Musically, there’s virtually nothing negative to say.

The second letdown comes from the visual direction, which is not only somewhat underwhelming in this OP, but even worse in the series’ “official” second one, which swapped out the effort put in here for slow pans of the cast in wetsuits. Not sure who thought that was a good idea, but in this first version at least, there’s beautiful splashes of watercolor, more personality to the animation, more symbolism (MARBLEEEES), and some quick cuts of Grimgar’s widely-praised scenery. In most cases, visuals of this nature wouldn’t even be underwhelming; Grimgar just set the bar so high with its actual in-show backgrounds that seeing them reduced to B-roll feels kind of lame. Still, “Knew Day” and the “hey, here’s our cast!” sequences that make up the bulk of this OP stand tall among the best of its rather packed season, and that carries over to success in the year overall as well.

12-assassination-classroom-s2-op1#12 – “QUESTION” by 3-nen E-gumi Utatan (a.k.a. the cast)
Studio: Lerche
OP1 for Assassination Classroom 2nd Season (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu 2nd Season)

This opening for AssClass’ 2nd season may not particularly excel in any one area, but it’s also a little above-average in every category; a solid jack of all trades, the vocal contribution from each seiyuu involved is bouncy and playful, mixing well with the song’s equally shuffled beat and the series’ general appearance. There’s a great hint of longing in “QUESTION,” inferred through the lyrics and tone, and while I didn’t get very far with AssClass even back in its first season, to me it’s hard not to imagine this song as a plea from Class E to their strange-ass teacher for some kind of explanation. I don’t know the specifics, but that much is obvious with just one watch of this OP, and it’s conveyed with a tangible sense of emotion, something that most cast-sung OPs usually don’t pull off as well as those starring professional musicians. The production is smooth and consistently eye-appealing, making great use of contrasted color and quick transitions. Virtually no cast-sung OPs made the cut for me this year, but the one that did proved itself more than worthy, earning it a stable middle-of-the-pack position.

11-jojos-op-6#11 – “Chase” by Batta
Studio: David Production
OP2 for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable

Well, it finally happened, Pt. II: Unbreakable Boogaloo.

I’m still years away from actually picking up JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, but it’s always annoyed me a bit that for all its inherent style and personality, none of its openings have ever made it onto one of my Top 25 OP lists. In my defense, I feel like the themes for a show like JoJo’s are bound to be exponentially more rewarding for a longtime viewer than a complete ignoramus like myself, and none of them (though keep in mind I haven’t made a 2012 OP list yet, hint hint) really fit the bill as an OP I felt compelled to revisit over and over. Fast forward to about 2 months ago, when Catche and I were lounging around (have I mentioned we’re roommates?) and he was jamming to this OP, immediately perking my ears up.

I inquired something to the effect of “yo, that’s catchy as fuck. Whatchu listening to?”

And the rest was history, and by history, I mean spot #11 on this list. Granted I’m operating on limited knowledge here, but Batta are not only a band I feel represent JoJo’s aesthetic extremely well, they also seem to combine a lot of the grittier, less polished tones that I adore in my J-punk of choice (see Number Girl, 1000 Travels of Jawaharlal, Cowpers, etc.) with a more melodic bent. My one complaint with “Chase” as an OP is that the full version’s ending “CH-CH-CHASE YOU” wasn’t implemented into the TV size version. Everything on the visual front seems JoJo’s as fuck, with some fantastic transition sequences and what Catche insists are wonderfully hidden spoilers. As far as the “style vs. substance” debate goes, I can’t put any meaningful two cents in on the latter’s quality, but I can say that this OP is overflowing with style (as JoJo’s tend to) and contains one of my favorite J-whatever songs of the year, handily earning its spot near the top of the list regardless.

10-march-comes-in-like-a-lion#10 – “Answer” by BUMP OF CHICKEN
Studio: SHAFT
OP1 for March Comes in Like a Lion (3-gatsu no Lion)

Leave it to BUMP OF CHICKEN to return after my favorite OP of 2015 (“Hello, World!” for Blood Blockade Battlefront/Kekkai Sensen) with another masterpiece. The song itself is pretty self-explanatory; there’s not much to hate here between the anthemic hooks, brilliant mixing, and utterly cathartic climax with those bells and twinkly guitars resounding behind a triumphant chorus of (rough translation) “This much I know – I know it.” BUMP OF CHICKEN just fucking get how to write a pop rock hit, guys, and whoever formatted this one to its TV size version did an impeccable job. On the visual front, SHAFT decide to go the conservative route for once, meaning that many of the same shimmery navy blues and oily colors that March… uses to great effect are on display here, where they feel like a fitting reflection of Rei’s depression until the light of connection flickers by. The OP’s extended metaphors of drowning in sadness and searching for solace work on their own merit and in part set up the ED, which narratively continues the same threads. That interplay between OP & ED is something I wholeheartedly adore, and so for what might be the studio’s most tactful new show in half a decade, seeing the same care and restraint exerted here for its OP gives me the warm fuzzies.

9-konosuba#9 – “Fantastic Dreamer” by Machico
Studio: Deen
OP for KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World! (Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!)

KonoSuba’s OP wasn’t one I thought much of back when the series actually aired; maybe it’s because I was lukewarm on the show itself except in isolated spurts, and that carried over into my thoughts on its related material as well. Whatever the reason though, let’s not beat around the bush here; love KonoSuba’s adventure harem parodying or hate it, “Fantastic Dreamer” is the perfect lil’ opening for a show like this. The overly sugary vocal track combined with shots of Kazuma and co. constantly letting their confidence get the better of them and then failing all their missions makes for a truly entertaining package. At the end of the day, KonoSuba arguably worked as a show because its protagonists, facetious as they were, didn’t let their defeats get them down; this “wonderful world” referenced in the series’ title was an infinite playground, so why not highlight that underneath the fact that they rarely achieved anything?

In that sense, this is an opening whose tone was its best quality, but it shouldn’t go unmentioned that Studio Deen’s typically poor animation is up to par here and “Fantastic Dreamer” is fit marvelously for TV size, giving off a great mix of fantasy and conventional pop vibes in one 90-second burst. Even if there are more than a few tit shots and Machico does straight-up forget a syllable in the word “fantastic” twice, KonoSuba’s smirking smugness carries it through here with that same weird charm many have come to praise the series as a whole for.

8-fune-wo-amu#8 – “Shiokaze” by Taiiku Okazaki
Studio: Zexcs
OP for The Great Passage (Fune wo Amu)

Taiiku Okazaki isn’t the typical “catapulted to stardom” pretty boy one would come to expect out of J-pop, and his delivery and lyricism on “Shiokaze” confidently show why; melodic yet bouncy, the vocals flow with a remarkable, almost rap-like quality, and his spitty enunciation dominates his mannerisms, giving the track a distinctly heart-on-sleeve tone over the pulsing, well-mixed electronics. For about half the OP, Zexcs play things safe visually, focusing on variants of a solid background with silhouettes of the show’s characters filling the space in between. Interlaced with these are shots from the design of the actual show, whose inconsistent animation is swapped for some of the production team’s best, even if it’s relatively minimalistic, like the cat jumping around in the morning or the breeze blowing in someone’s face.

The combination may seem weird at first, but together they grant the opening a lot more identity than just one or the other would, and also serve to suggest moments of clarity throughout disheveled protagonist Majime’s daily routine. For a played-straight show about a socially-awkward dictionary editor, The Great Passage’s OP sticks out as entertaining, highly rewatchable, and oddly feel-good, like there’s some brightness in the day-to-day drudgery that can’t go ignored. It may only be a personal underdog favorite of mine, but a spot this high up the list is what I feel it justly deserves.

7-91-days#7 – “Signal” by TK from Ling Tosite Sigure
Studio: Shuka
OP for 91 Days

With TK’s solo effort increasing its output in recent years, he and his highly divisive tenor have been given room to sing, and on “Signal” (as well as a majority of his sweet new record White Noise) he takes advantage of it, largely shelving the erratic yelping of his more frantic Ling Tosite Sigure material in favor of a smoother approach. “Signal” in particular feels incredibly fitting for 91 Days, a slow, pained, dreamy ballad that bursts into emotional agony when its choruses hit. As great as the song is, heart-wrenching strings and all, it’s this OP’s desperate mobster imagery and sly direction that set it above most of the other entries here. Discounting one stiff early shot of Avilio walking along a street of timelapsed masses, the animation and art direction are phenomenal, narratively following our distressed main character reminiscing about his family’s assassination and the gang violence he’s witnessed since arriving in the big city.

Many shots are less than a second long, some just still pictures, but almost every addition intelligently introduces either an important character or setting with personality in spades. The few shots that don’t feature one of the show’s mainstays just further drive home the shifty nature of its cast’s business and the whimsical violence and revenge that erupt throughout the series in its poor Prohibition-era Midwestern town. Some mob media is inherently cheesy, and 91 Days isn’t necessarily an exception to that, but for this OP, the internal catharsis of “Signal,” the show’s muted color palette, and the quick-paced, evocative imagery all create an experience that plays itself completely straight until its referential title card, capping everything off with one final creative homage to The Godfather. Brilliant.

6-my-hero-academia#6 – “THE DAY” by Porno Graffiti
Studio: Bones
OP for My Hero Academia (Boku no Hero Academia)

The type of J-pop rock Porno Graffiti indulge in typically doesn’t resonate with me, but “THE DAY” is absolutely killer in a “perfect for a kid’s superhero show” sort of way. Thankfully, that’s exactly what My Hero Academia is; an underdog tale of a kind soul baring his all for GREAT JUSTICE. Even better, it’s not just starry-eyed protagonist Midoriya giving it his best, but his mentors and classmates too, and that inviting tone clashes with a decent sense of real danger and isolation to showcase in this OP all that the series comprised so greatly during its first cour.

Bones’ visuals, much like “THE DAY” and all its electronic rock fist-pumping fervor, are smooth and smart, showing off the series’ action with an array of flying angles and palpable weight. The sync throughout this opening is just fantastic too, keeping the song’s occasional moments of rhythmic simplicity interesting by say, introducing each character with a title card, or dropping notebooks as Midoriya walks along the cityscape. My Hero Academia is inclusive and endearing without coming off as either too innocent or too overambitious, and for better or worse, there weren’t many OPs this year which perfectly encapsulated the tone of their show as well as this one did while providing a rockin’ good time to boot.

5-sweetness-lightning#5 – “Harebare Fanfare” by MimimemeMIMI
Studio: TMS Entertainment
OP for Sweetness & Lightning (Amaama to Inazuma)

Sweetness & Lightning is one of those shows which just never failed to fill me up with a childish giddiness. Even though it rarely adopted any sort of first-person perspective with 5-year-old main character Tsumugi, instead wisely choosing to show each daily event from a more mature, consistent perspective, the series’ OP decides to lend her control for a bit, and it’s a blast. Slowly opening with some shots of mealtime and daycare, she draws her way into a fantasy world full of cookingware, toy blocks, and the mascot from one of her favorite TV shows. That landscape is her own little dream realm, where she’s able to fly through the forest and into her father’s loving arms after cuts of friends and family bounce across the screen in their own well-timed introductory shots.

Throughout the opening, the same comforting, joyous vibe you’d expect from Sweetness & Lightning is present at all levels, and while it doesn’t overburden itself visually, the move proves a smart choice, as “Harebare Fanfare” and all its spunky, enunciated, pop gold commands the attention. The instrumentation, rounded out with well-mixed synths, bells, and strings, frills up an already irresistible hook that only gets catchier with repeat listens, and much like the show itself, manages to win you over at the start rather quickly too. A solid, very fitting visual piece in addition to one of cutesy J-pop’s best songs in years? I am all for it.

4-kiznaiver#4 – “Lay Your Hands on Me” by Boom Boom Satellites
Studio: Trigger
OP for Kiznaiver

Kiznaiver, stumble and trip over itself as it did, was nonetheless at its peaks a beautiful commentary on the human condition, led by a bunch of eccentrics forced to either empathize with one another or share each other’s pain. How well the show succeeded at getting this thematic thread across will vary wildly depending on who you ask, but I think everyone would point to “Lay Your Hands on Me” as a highlight, a mission statement not just for the show, but for the dying artist who created it as well. 2016 was an especially painful year for music lovers of all genres, forced to watch star after star (Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Phife Dawg, & George Michael all particularly stick out for me) pass away. Some of these were surprises, but one that attentive anime fans should’ve probably seen coming was Boom Boom Satellites’ Michiyuki Kawashima, the guitarist and vocalist of the project since its inception over 25 years ago, and through frequent relapses of brain tumors. Back in April, it was announced this OP’s song would be the lead single off the band’s final release, and indeed it was; Kawashima succumbed to his health troubles in October, but not before getting the last word in on a career supported all over Japan and abroad.

The song’s backstory is enough to tear up a callous soul, but even separated from context, Kiznaiver’s OP is a clear standout; the whirring kaleidoscope designs and quick cuts of a washed out cityscape are a beautiful sight for sore eyes, and the opening’s final sequence, a single cut lasting nearly one-third of the thing’s total runtime, zooms in on one of Sonozaki’s eyes then tunnels its way through to one of Katsuhira’s, every other character being sucked in and rotated in the frame as they sink to the background between. Blending and distorting what appears to be heavily-edited real-world footage with a barrage of lights and motion, there’s something simultaneously robotic and natural to the visuals, a perfect match with Boom Boom Satellites’ inspirational electronica. There are still three absolutely phenomenal OPs from this year yet to come, but I’d be lying if I said I thought this wasn’t perhaps 2016’s most important one.

3-erased#3 – “Re:Re:” (2016 Version) by Asian Kung-Fu Generation
Studio: A-1 Pictures
OP for ERASED (Boku Dake ga Inai Machi)

Whenever I run into a brilliant OP for a show that’s not particularly good, I always end up asking myself the following: “does the fact that the show sucks actively discredit the things that the OP does well?” Most of the time, that answer is “no.”

Then there’s ERASED, where, due to how contrived and predictable its “twist” is and how it predicates about 90% of its runtime on that twist being a shocker, the answer is kind of “yes.”

And I say “kind of” because holy cow, I know Asian Kung-Fu Generation are great, but they almost singlehandedly save this OP and slingshot it to the top with the re-recorded version of “Re:Re:,” a 12-year-old live hit and fan favorite brought back to life. Polished, smoother, and a little more restrained, I’m not sure I’d say I prefer this version over the original released on the band’s 2004 LP Sol-Fa, but the most important part of the song, Masafumi Gotou’s rhythmic and impassioned vocal delivery, remains strong as ever, front and center. With the shuffley percussion work and sublime delayed guitars washing over, the song relays a heart worn on its sleeve with a wish to not forget what happened in the past, at odds with series protagonist Satoru’s mission of going back in time specifically to alter its course. Juxtaposed with the later clips of wild clocks and film reels of crime suspects, the OP actually starts out rather innocently, young Satoru meeting with his buds in the hallway and goofing around outside, but even here, the shot framing is remarkably well-designed, full of empty space, yet positioned so that the viewer’s eyes follow what little change is happening shot-by-shot and are right where they need to be when a transition happens – for more info, see this.

By the time present-day Satoru runs into trouble, the OP is thrown for a curveball, several shots strung together back to back with vivid imagery, a decent deal of which don’t actually amount to anything, but some of which are integral to later parts of the anime. Hell, there’s even a single frame here which, if you can locate it, clearly reveals the identity of the show’s killer some 10 weeks earlier than the narrative confirms. As far as other trickery goes, I can’t forget to mention the episode 11 alteration either, where Satoru quite literally gets erased from the OP and…well, things look incredibly awkward without him, but hey, it got people talking, and that’s what matters! The same logic can be applied to the main OP as a whole too, as the bleak 80’s Hokkaido winter setting contrasts with Satoru and “Re:Re:’s” nostalgic lenses of the past. Thematically, ERASED’s dissonance between memory and reality did more for me than its thriller narrative could’ve ever hoped to, and with that theme highlighted and a killer (pun intended) alternative rock powerhouse backing it up, no stubborn failure on the plot’s part could ever hope to let down an OP this strong.

2-occulticnine#2 – “Seisuu 3 no Nijou” by Kanako Itou
Studio: A-1 Pictures
OP for Occultic;Nine

If there’s one thing I’ve always enjoyed from the semicolon series, it’s that across its generally well-regarded works (haven’t watched Chaos;Head, don’t plan to), each installment has an uncanny knack for making the viewer feel absolutely helpless when shit starts hitting the fan. Despite wonderful work by Kanako Itou with previous hits Steins;Gate and Robotics;Notes, her respective opening and ending themes for those series never quite reached the same intensity that their shows did. They succeeded in other ways, but there was very glaringly a lack of utter dread.

“Seisuu 3 no Nijou” gloriously fixes that track record with a visual accompaniment that sends chills up my spine every time I view it. From the outset, a short character-by-character shot and title card sequence transition into an overwhelming mass of bright patterns and paraphernalia flung about the frame, obscuring each character’s face except for one or two members whose visibility later becomes plot-pertinent. After that, we’re shown a series of dark bedrooms, light glaring off computer screens with cautious hands reaching out towards a blurred picture of a corpse, followed by a couple more brief character shots. By then, the calm ends; the OP’s second half goes on a fucking rampage, distressing visuals flying by so fast you can barely make them out; someone sleepwalking off a skyscraper, a man trudging through flames, elevator buttons lighting up unprovoked, black corridors with shadowy figures at their ends, a girl jolting away from a mirror only for her reflection to stay in place and grin, there’s just so much to unpack and something new to notice on each watch.

As the portrayed events increase in severity, so too does the music, rising from a relatively tender pre-chorus to a cathartic climb that just gets more and more intense until its finale, a slow pan up to the night sky as the song abruptly cuts, leaving nothing but the whoosh of a passing train. Lyrically, Chiyomaru Shikura did an outstanding job matching the instrumental sense of paranoia with lines that deal not in angst or edge, but a pseudo-scientific and philosophical bent that feels right at home with the show’s loads of technobabble. “It is not the length of life, but depth of life” and “Your five senses are the epitome of ambiguity” may sound like field samples from a hippie’s convent, but they’re equally fitting one-liners here, wherein Itou’s delivery ensures they come across as a dire warning to be heeded.

A minor nagging detail or two about some of Occultic;Nine’s character designs and the distortion-heavy mix of the song aside, this OP is essentially a master class in how to raise suspense for a mystery show without even necessarily spoiling any vital plot point in plain sight. It proceeds from perceived normality to discomfort before sliding back to a fleeting feeling of safety which then shatters with a refusal to let off the gas, and it does all that with untouchable pacing in just 90 seconds. Not many times have I seen a mystery or thriller anime nail the formula so well, and with A-1’s spectacular job on the art direction in the series proper, it should come as no surprise that Occultic;Nine’s OP is practically the top of the class in 2016.

1-mob-psycho-100#1 – “99” by Mob Choir
Studio: Bones
OP for Mob Psycho 100

But the actual top of the class has to go to Mob Psycho 100; the show’s opening is just, like, on another level entirely. I’ve long held firm the belief that the best openings are spectacles in their own right, and that fits the bill here too; “99” is specially-written to match the show’s mission statement, a fist-pumping, increasingly tense, and yet irresistibly charming one-of-a-kind type of track that just throws more and more onto itself until both it and Mob looked poised to explode. The counting up to 100 would feel cheesy in just about any other context (especially given how the TV size format forces it to skip dozens of numbers), but integrated into the frantic, freeform design of the visuals and the strident beat of the song, it’s just another outstanding flourish in a joyride that overachieves in every single aspect.

And the visuals, man, what can I possibly hope to say about them that your eyes can’t show you on their own? The angle work and animation is stunning, with a psychedelic pop-art flurry of seemingly ridiculous abstract non-sequiturs littering the screen, each flowing into the next with either kinetic typography or creative transitions. I’ve been informed that a lot of the random junk in this thing is actually a hint in one way or another to events in the manga, but as you watch Mob Psycho, you aren’t able to separate the show’s relevant foreshadowing from the extra stuff. In that sense, this OP is also half filled with – for anime-only viewers like myself, at least – heaps of red herrings, and until you get about halfway through the series, there’s no way to tell for sure if what’s shown will or won’t become something we get any explanation for. Personally, being reminded of that each week of the summer pushed me to the edge of my seat in anticipation for what was to come, so in addition to being technically impressive and outright badass, the very act of watching the OP became an experience in and of itself.

Amazing direction, evocative imagery, and a great musical accompaniment can only help rank an OP so high, and Mob Psycho 100 may not have had a monopoly on any of those categories, but I’ll be damned if the crew behind this didn’t take their chance to show off and gloriously run wild with it. Some great openings thrive in our memory simply because they were the cream of the crop in their airing season or year. Some live on due to an irreplaceable quality and uniqueness nobody can match with as much spirit as the original, and some go down in history as changing or re-defining the game. Just a few months removed from its broadcast, I’m not sure Mob Psycho 100’s OP can stake a claim to that last category just yet, but it’s certainly won the first two, and that’s just about the most I could ask for. Congratulations, Mob! Chow down on some victory foo-

conclusion-gif
oh, right

Well anyway, that’s it for this year’s openings! What were your favorite OPs of 2016? How much did I get “right” here? Feel free to leave a comment below or on Twitter, I’d love to engage in some conversation! You can’t write over 8,000 words about cartoon theme songs without wasting a few precious days from your social life, as the saying goes. Til…whatever article is up next, this has been Yata from For Great Justice. Here’s to an even greater 2017!

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