Gotta give you a bit of backstory before we begin: Haru, L-K, and I founded For Great Justice in the late summer of 2014, but we had actually met each other online and started conversing about two and a half years prior. At the time, Haru and I in particular seemed to hit it off with similar taste, each of us just getting into the whole “watch a ton of shows as they air” trend, and the rest is more or less our site’s modest history. For that reason, 2012 (and its spring season in particular) has continued to hold a deep place in my heart, and lately I started getting nostalgic about those good ol’ days.
Then the epiphany hit me: that was five years ago.
My first thought was “Where the fuck did that time go?” My second was something to the effect of “You know, this would give me a reason to crank out another OPs list,” and that’s precisely what I’m gonna be doing here. If you’re familiar with my previous OP lists, the criteria and rules haven’t changed. If you aren’t, allow me to explain:
These ratings are by and large my own personal opinion (of which you are entitled to yours) and based on arbitrary factors including but not limited to melody, song composition, audio production, visual production, audiovisual sync, originality, relevance to the show (when I’m able to judge that), and my own miscellaneous personal enjoyment. Having seen a show isn’t a prerequisite for its OP to appear here, but OPs for shows I have seen are much more likely to be included and placed higher than those I haven’t, especially in this nostalgia-driven installment. The exact numerical rankings are pretty much irrelevant outside the top 10. OPs to shows which started airing before or finished airing after 2012 are eligible, but only if the OP itself first aired during that year.
Since 2012 marked the start of my anime-watching habits, this will also likely be my last retrospective Top OPs list going forward, so fasten those seat belts, plug in some headphones, and accompany me on this totally self-gratifying trip down memory lane.
HONORABLE MENTION – “Wareta Ringo” by Risa Taneda
Studio: A-1 Pictures
ED1 for From the New World (Shinsekai Yori)
Okay, I’m starting off this OPs list with an ED, sue me. Seeing as From the New World didn’t actually have an OP, this ED was the closest thing we got to a theme song during its first two acts, and it’s too spectacular to exclude from a retrospective of 2012 based on that technicality alone. Chikara Ozaki’s composition is stunning, mixing together glitchy electronics, Shigeo Komori’s striking string arrangement, and that crystal-clear acoustic guitar oh so well. The minimalist, dark/light contrast-heavy visuals are a welcome match for the series’ mysterious tone, and while the rower and Saki’s masked friends’ appearance here could be interpreted in a number of abstract ways, the narrative comes second to the show’s greatest early strength: atmosphere. There’s something cathartic but not entirely “right” about From the New World from the get-go, and this ED was a phenomenal way to reinforce that feeling between episodes.
#25 – “to the Beginning” by Kalafina
OP for Fate/Zero 2nd Season
I still haven’t gotten around to toughing out the Fate franchise, so I don’t have any way to tell how meaningful any of the imagery in this OP is. What I do know is that Ufotable crafts incredible visuals and Yuki Kajiura writes some gorgeous, cinematic music for Kalafina. Together, the two pack a pretty undeniable punch: hell, for what I’ve heard from the group and seen from the studio, I wouldn’t even consider this OP among either of their best work. But it’s certainly respectable, and the Fate fanatics would jump down my throat if I excluded it.
#24 – “Dreamer” by AiRI
Studio: P.A. Works
OP for Tari Tari
Tari Tari’s OP doesn’t really attempt anything outside the generic “believe in your dreams, you can do great things!” message that so many anime of its ilk indulge in, but it squeaks its way in here because of P.A. Works’ lovely visual shimmer, emotive character animation, and my personal attachment to its choir club premise. Not to make shortchange of the song itself either; while it doesn’t do anything amazing, it’s a catchy enough and well-composed tune on its own merit, driven along by its lovely instrumentation and AiRI’s commanding vocals.
#23 – “Choir Jail” by Konomi Suzuki
Studio: Silver Link
OP for Dusk Maiden of Amnesia (Tasogare Otome x Amnesia)
Sure, there’s an exception or two, but it astounds me how Konomi Suzuki has churned out so many fantastic vocal performances on OPs for so many absolutely terrible shows. Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is far from outstanding, and it’s still among one of the better projects her songs have been affiliated with. She really pulls some weight here too, muscling her delivery through messy, tinny mixing and Silver Link’s awkwardly-integrated CG to the extent that it’s impressive the opening isn’t a dud. Yuuko – the series’ titular maiden – sings along with the rising tension, and despite the waaaaay too oversaturated color palette messing with the show itself at points, it fits well here, as the mood shifts from harrowing to playful and back, always maintaining a slight feeling of unease that the song’s lyrics help reiterate. It’s not the most polished product, but what it lacks in refinement it makes up for in effort and a surprising amount of re-watch value.
#22 – “Junjou Spectra” by Zwei
Studio: Production I.G.
OP1 for Robotics;Notes
Of all the semicolon series to date, Robotics;Notes perhaps starts as its most unassuming; its seeds of conspiracy aren’t sown until later on, and unlike say, Steins;Gate, which also takes a while to fly off the rails, this OP doesn’t really indicate much darkness to come. Robotics;Notes’ first act is more about family and engineering, and its human passion and mechanical gimmickry are on display here in both the expressive visuals and “Junjou Spectra” itself, a pulsating, synth-driven pop rock number with a soaring, optimistic hook.
#21 – “Abnormalize” by Ling Tosite Sigure
Studio: Production I.G.
OP1 for Psycho-Pass
Psycho-Pass’ first OP visually acts like more of a mood piece than it does a narrative, opening with dark backgrounds and shots of guns and body cells before transitioning to a rooftop encounter between Inspector and Enforcer. The film noir aesthetic is certainly fitting for Psycho-Pass, perhaps even more so than that of its beloved second OP, but the real selling point here isn’t the on-screen action, it’s the song: “Abnormalize” is the tune that got me into post-hardcore power trio Ling Tosite Sigure, and though lead singer TK found far greater success among anime fans with his subsequent solo project, it’ll always be this song and his material with Ling that impresses me most. It’s not melodramatic like his “Unravel” for Tokyo Ghoul or “Signal” for 91 Days; “Abnormalize” is unrepentant and dissonant, a grimy song for a grimy show, and a downright impressive barrage of sound for a three-piece.
#20 – “Crossing Field” by LiSA
Studio: A-1 Pictures
OP1 for Sword Art Online
Most of LiSA’s anime work since Sword Art Online has sounded re-hashed, like “Crossing Field” lite, but I can’t really blame her for going along with the success; if I had a breakout single get certified platinum by the RIAJ, I’d probably do the same, and so while an OP in this vein wouldn’t be anything to write home about now, back in 2012, it and SAO were regarded by many as the OP of the year, and that wasn’t without some merit. “Crossing Field” is a genuinely moving song, featuring a balanced blend of alt rock hookiness and classical embellishments. As much as I find SAO’s visuals overrated and susceptible to awkward cuts, they sync up perfectly with the tone of the song here at all the vital moments. I’m otherwise game to trash on the show wherever and whenever, but I still gotta give credit where it’s due; this OP is a pretty good time.
#19 – “Make My Day!” by Piko
OP for Binbougami ga! (Good Luck Girl!)
Five years. I went five years assuming the vocalist of this song was a woman. I have never been more blindsided by the truth than I was researching this entry.
Frankly, that sticks out to me as the most unique thing about this OP now, but even before then, I didn’t have a whole lot to complain about. The chorus hook is so goddamn catchy it’s stayed stuck in my head long after everything else about Binbougami ga! slipped out. It doesn’t even matter that the visuals are mostly just the characters running along a pop-arty, filtered background; Sunrise not doing anything crazy on their end felt like the “right” thing at the time and still does, letting the song reign as the champ here while they simply provide an ease into the show’s quirky sense of comedy.
#18 – “Esoragoto” by nano.RIPE
OP for Sankarea
In the hands of almost any studio other than Deen, this could’ve been a top 10 contender. The frame-by-frame animation towards the end of the OP trails off hard though unfortunately, making for a noticeably awkward sequence of movement. That issue aside, while Sankarea’s OP plays things simple visually, it gives the audience a clear notion of what this show’s sensibilities are as well as how all its characters behave. The song is even better; if I were ranking these on music only, “Esoragoto” would for sure shoot near the top. A wonderfully composed and passionately delivered alt rock number with some well-placed keyboard elements, it’s not just a strong song as an opener, it’s also a contender for my favorite nano.RIPE track to date.
#17 – “Spirit Inspiration” by Nothing’s Carved in Stone
OP1 for Blast of Tempest (Zetsuen no Tempest)
Nothing’s Carved in Stone is one of those mainstream J-rock bands I just can’t help but adore. Hidekazu Hinata‘s bass is funky as hell, the whole group is tight, and their English lyrics often stand out as silly for their emphasis more so than their pronunciation. With that brilliantly meme-able line of “You move on with your fist…AND. YOUR. LEGS,” “Spirit Inspiration” gets off to a strong start and obliviously perseveres through its nonsensical moments in part because it’s just such a fun time. The same goes for Blast of Tempest, and the only reason this OP ranks relatively low is because I’m not a fan for the general color palette of the show; the rusty yellows and browns don’t mesh well with the more striking purples and blues. But hey, the cinematography is fine, the sync is smooth, and there isn’t much else to complain about in this OP. “No, I can’t lose!” indeed, man.
#16 – “Nirvana” by MUCC
Studio: David Production
OP for Inu x Boku SS
Unlike a majority of the other shows on this list I haven’t seen, I don’t really have any desire to watch Inu x Boku SS, but I can’t deny how enjoyable this OP is. The stylized art, clever transitions, and wild angles make it a trip to watch, and the loose self-contained narrative of that one guy throwing the paper airplane which eventually makes its way to the protagonist(? – you can tell I haven’t seen this) is an added treasure. Furthermore, MUCC’s “Nirvana” is as solid a rock anthem as they come, backing up the ominous imagery with the more hopeful tone that the OP concludes with.
#15 – “Shiny Tale” by Mix Speaker’s,Inc.”
OP for Daily Lives of High School Boys (Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou)
I normally can’t stand visual kei music. The over-enunciated vocals, the gimmicky outfits, that whole scene just doesn’t appeal to me, and even when the instrumentation is solid, the songs themselves often can’t help but feel corny to me.
Thankfully, Daily Lives of High School Boys is corniness incarnate, so it and “Shiny Tale” are a match made in anime heaven. The visuals here aren’t often gags in and of themselves, but recall to ones from throughout the show, and it’s hard for the Nichibros’ excitement and goofiness to not put a smile on my face. Even more impressive, despite that disclaimer at the start, “Shiny Tale” is a genuinely well-written song too, one not only lyrically in line with the show’s themes, but also the kind of stuff I could envision these perpetual dorks jamming to in their free time.
#14 – “Borderland” by Mami Kawada
Studio: White Fox
OP for Jormungand
With a premise like “arms dealers recruit child soldier and also there’s raunchy comedy,” Jormungand didn’t sound like my kind of show, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. That enjoyment was bolstered spectacularly by this OP, a pulsating banger with a tone as confident as it is ominous; Kawada’s vocal performance is a highlight, as is Tomoyuki Nakazawa’s composition, but they’re supported in turn by White Fox’s visuals, which make up for their relative lack of motion here with efficient shot framing. You get the sense from this OP that Jormungand is taking their potentially sketchy topic and having fun with it without completely dismissing the moral ambiguity of its protagonists’ goals. That’s a tricky dynamic to nail, but this opening tiptoes the line remarkably well.
#13 – “No Pain, No Game” by Nano
OP for Btooom!
Not to downplay Madhouse’s adeptness with style, but Btooom!’s OP really shines due to the music; Nano’s vocal delivery flies high and Kemu Tsukamoto’s composition is tight and well-rounded, making for a textbook example fist-pumping rock song. I haven’t seen Btooom!, but I can’t help but imagine that “No Pain, No Game” feels like a fitting anthem for the isekai (does this count as isekai? Fuck it, close enough) action thriller, and Madhouse brings energy and enthusiasm to the visuals in a similar vein.
#12 – “Rough & Laugh” by Clammbon
OP2 for Polar Bear Café (Shirokuma Café)
Shirokuma Café is one of the few shows here I haven’t seen but actively want to watch, and this OP plays a pretty heavy role in that. Clammbon’s atmosphere in “Rough & Laugh” is playful and charming, boosted by a strong melody and stellar mix that feel right at home with the show’s apparent iyashikei “animals just chill out in the streets bein’ adorable and shit” vibe. The color palette is downright beautiful too, with the muted tones and striking shading coming off as realistic, something a city partially inhabited by giraffes and penguins probably shouldn’t. But hey, if your city were a cageless zoo and everything apparently functioned fine, I don’t think you’d be too critical of the cognitive dissonance either.
#11 – “Yume Miru Sekai” by DOES
Studio: A-1 Pictures
OP3 for Space Brothers (Uchuu Kyoudai)
This may not be Space Brothers’ most flashy opening, but it’s among the show’s best on a “give me the warm fuzzies” basis. One of the series’ central themes is the support the titular bros extend to one another in times of need, and this OP prominently displays that through Mutta losing air in his bike tires, Hibito picking him up for the rest of the ride, and the both of them being there to push the car back once they run the fuel gauge dry. It also acts as a metaphor for the trajectory each of them has taken up until this point and foreshadows some future development to come. “Yume Miru Sekai” doesn’t necessarily thrill you out of the gates, but once it reaches its chorus, it only doubles the inspirational vibe of the visuals, making for one of Space Bros’ strongest dark horse openings.
#10 – “V.I.P” by SID
Studio: A-1 Pictures
OP1 for Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic
Not all “fantasy” shows have their basis in a real culture or pre-existing mythology, but when those that do, like Magi, make the effort to include some of that fantastical vibe in their musical themes, it’s an extra treat. That’s exactly what SID do here, granted not in a way that comes off as cheesy or overbearing; the string arrangement is beautiful, the chord progressions are superb, and the mix is to die for, resounding acoustics, crisp drums and all. And the visuals follow the tone of the song perfectly, with the inspirational, surprised, and foreboding moments on screen all matching their musical cues. Talk about a well-rounded shounen opening, this might be its dictionary definition right here.
#9 – “Q&A Recital!” by Haruka Tomatsu
Studio: Brain’s Base
OP for My Little Monster (Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun)
It’s not uncommon for shoujo anime to feature laid-back, pretty, and fairly calm opening theme songs. “Q&A Recital!” doesn’t want to be like them though, and it makes that clear right away with its blaring brass and upbeat rhythm section. Haruka Tomatsu is no stranger to fulfilling the role of both voice actress and singer, and she performs this song from the perspective of Shizuku perfectly, cluing viewers into the tone of the show and its central romantic questioning. Visually, this is one of the most colorful OPs on the list, but not once does the onslaught of brightness feel overbearing, rather like it’s juuust pushing itself to the limit without going too far. The direction is fairly straightforward for this genre, filled with cast stills, cutesy background shapes and all that, but it’s also got its fair share of bizarre inclusions, mostly courtesy of Haru and the gang’s pet rooster. It’s hard not to feel dragged along for the ride with this one, and even harder to not enjoy it.
#8 – “Escape” by Hemenway
OP1 for Eureka Seven: AO
Considering Eureka Seven is one of my favorite anime of all time and its lengthy first season boasted one of the most consistently solid collections of theme music around, the pressure was high on this sequel when it finally aired.
And as a show, AO did not live up to that hype at all, but at least its first OP did, taking the same spirit of its predecessors and streamlining it with “Escape,” an infectiously catchy rock song that feels firmly grounded in AO’s setting in much the same way that the original series’ hip-hop and dance-inspired tracks did there. While the sequel would eventually fly off the rails, it still got off to a fine start, and this opening showcased all the promise it held at that point; the dizzying battle angles, rifting robots, and angsty teen in a diverse organization were hallmarks of Eureka Seven, and they’re shown off here with just as much enthusiasm and gusto as they’d have to be for a successful successor. Even though the show bombed, my fondness for its first OP remains strong.
#7 – “JoJo ~ Sono Chi no Sadame ~” by Hiroaki “Tommy” Tominaga
Studio: David Production
OP1 for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
As someone who’s put JoJo all but perpetually on hold and hasn’t made it past the single-digit episodes yet, this was all I knew to expect from a JoJo opening for a long time. My familiarity with everything that’s come after it is incomplete, but this is a pretty high bar to set that, from what I’ve seen, it’s never again reached. The visuals make good on JoJo’s long-running manga, stylizing its characters in comic paneling and 3D that pops off the screen while the song (jointly written and performed by Tominaga, Shoko Fujibayashi, Kohei Tanaka, and Kow Otani, a group of iconic composers) proudly declares its manliness with an operatic bravado. When I think JoJo, this OP conjures up everything that makes the series what it is, and you couldn’t ask for much more in an OP than that.
#6 – “Real World” by nano.RIPE
Studio: AIC A.S.T.A
OP for Humanity Has Declined (Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita)
I mentioned earlier that “Esoragoto” was a strong contender for my favorite nano.RIPE song. This is its closest competition. The decision’s pretty damn hard.
Well, musically at least; Humanity Has Declined has Sankarea beat by a country mile and then some as both a series and a source of content for a memorable opening. I’m a sucker for OPs with dances and an ever bigger sucker for ones with dances so goddamn ridiculous that you’d nearly throw out your hip trying to recreate them.
…this is a true story, do not try this at home.
So yeah, besides the visuals being playful and vibrant, the song itself rocks out hard too, capturing a flawless balance of light-hearted silliness and genuinely impressive songwriting. For a series as unpredictable and bizarre as Humanity, it was a joy to get this consistently entertaining and easily digestible OP to start off each episode with.
#5 – “Feel So Moon” by Unicorn
Studio: A-1 Pictures
OP1 for Space Brothers (Uchuu Kyoudai)
Inspirational theme songs fit just about any coming-of-age narrative, but it’s a special treat when one feels right at home in a series about working adults re-embracing their dreams and igniting them in others. Space Brothers is a unique anime not just for succeeding on that premise, but also for how long it kept that spirit alive, with even the show’s most filler-y portions feeling consequential to its characters in one way or another. Those threads of inspiration and motivation ran throughout the entire series and most of its musical themes, but the show’s very first offering may have been its best; “Feel So Moon” isn’t only an uplifting anthem, it’s even filled with imagery and wordplay about space! The composition is tight and catchy, Tamio Okuda’s vocal delivery is seeping with passion, and the visuals are both delightfully cheesy and heartwarming. Space Bros had several fantastic openings throughout its 2-year broadcast, and this one stands tall as, if not its finest, then at least one of its most memorable.
#4 – “Mikansei Stride” by Saori Kodama
Studio: Kyoto Animation
OP2 for Hyouka
I could ramble for hours about how much I adore Hyouka, but I’ll try keeping things concise here and say that its second OP, though I prefer its first slightly more, is still a fantastic effort, and probably has the first one beat on a narrative basis: Hyouka’s long-term goal was to break its lazy protagonist Houtarou out of his shell, and this OP not only serves to establish that mission statement, it directly employs it through visual metaphor that indicates how lonely Houtarou would be if he continued to live as a spectator who never involved himself in anything. In the series’ first OP, we see him squint and frown when the sun peeks through the clouds. Here, he actively seeks out the brighter side of life, looking for a way to escape his surroundings. It perfectly reflects his gradual growth across the show as a whole, with the poppy “Mikansei Stride” coursing through every second.
Oh, and it ends in a brilliantly delivered take on an age-old gag that only KyoAni would have the chops to pull off this well. I’m sorry, the fanboy in me is showing, I know. Let’s move on.
#3 – “Tsurezure Monochrome” by Fujifabric
Studio: A-1 Pictures
OP for Tsuritama
Fujifabric’s “Tsurezure Monochrome” isn’t just one of my favorite anime theme songs, it’s one of my favorite J-pop songs ever. Couple that with Tsuritama being an underdog staple of mine and containing blissful art from one of my favorite character designers in the industry (Atsuya Uki – see Cencoroll, Digimon Tri, etc.), and you’ve got yourself one hell of a hard OP to top. Also there’s silly dancing. Plot-relevant silly dancing, at that. From start to finish, it’s practically unbeatable on any metric I hold dear; I guess there could’ve been a shot or two less about the train and it could’ve ended on a stronger note visually, but at that point, searching for something worthy of demerits here is like looking for a needle in a haystack or an alien in the ocea-
Needle in a haystack is the better analogy, yeah.
#2 – “Yasashisa no Riyuu” by ChouCho
Studio: Kyoto Animation
OP1 for Hyouka
Considering my favorite anime of all time is Hyouka, has been Hyouka for years, and looks like it’ll remain Hyouka for a pretty long time, I recognize there are some serious questions of objectivity to be asked about my placement of its first OP this high up.
Except there aren’t, because fuck you, both its openings are genuinely this great to me as separate components! If we can classify the second one as taking the well-rounded, reasonable approach, this one is its more inconsistent counterpart that powers through its stumbles with an unparalleled emotion that resonates above and beyond. The weak point – and I’m talkin’ the only weak point – is the blurry ripple effect throughout the OP’s first half. The rest of this is utter gold; from establishing the natural beauty of the kids’ hometown to Houtarou’s reluctant but submissive attitude towards embracing action, this opening introduces Hyouka’s setting and goals to the audience perfectly.
“Yasashisa no Riyuu” is just as impressive, if not more. In many ways it’s the most predictable, conventional song possible for a series such as this; emotive and clean with an easy melody and crisp, polished production, but what it lacks in uniqueness it makes up for by being the best possible version of this archetype it can be. When I think back to high school, I remember it with just as much regret for the shots I didn’t take as I do with nostalgia for the ones that I did. In this opening’s world, the potential is still there, the opportunities still available, and while Houtarou spends half this thing stoically moping, you come away from it every time seeing the world around him full of life and possibilities. There’s something magical about that which so many openings of this strain fail to replicate, but this is not one of those. This is the standard to which all of those are measured, and almost always fail.
Well, except for…
#1 – “Sakamichi no Melody” by YUKI
OP for Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Apollon)
While Hyouka is my favorite anime of all time, Kids on the Slope is handily my favorite music anime of all time, so it would’ve been a tragedy if its opening and ending themes were flops. Considering the story is about a couple of budding young jazz musicians, the decision for the OP’s song to be based in a sound that’s very clearly from after the show’s 1960s setting was a bold move that paid off: “Sakamichi no Melody” isn’t rooted within the series like the jazz is, but it feels like the most touching possible ode to the times these characters had.
Yoko Kanno is without a doubt my favorite composer working in anime and her knack for graceful arrangements is evident here just as much as in the show’s music itself, which she also scored. YUKI’s vocals are bold and commanding without coming across as grating, with a tone notably distinct from any other J-pop singer I’ve heard yet. And obviously, no #1 pick can get away with slouched visuals; between the natural beauty of a still rather rural Kyushu and the huge sky mirror that pops up in the chorus with sheet music and notation drifting in and out of focus, this opening is just a marvel to watch. In a year filled with close competition for the title of Best OP, awarding it to Kids on the Slope just feels right. What better way to celebrate the world, animation, and music than with a show so eager to do the same?
If you actually read through all that self-indulgent, irrelevant drivel, then you have my sincerest thanks. Even if you just skimmed it, that’s better than nothing and should at least be enough to let you form an opinion. So what did you think? Agree with much of this list? Wanna hang me for anime treason and not including [insert your favorite absent OP here?] Let me know! Leave a comment, start some discussion, all that jazz. ‘Til the end of the year, this is it for the Top 25 OPs series – I hope you’ve enjoyed it. In the meantime, I’ll be back with some of the guys in a couple weeks for our winter 2017 season final thoughts and our spring 2017 first impressions! See you soon.