Yata’s Top 25 OPs of 2020

I vowed to not spend 11 months procrastinating this time around and let the record show I meant it. The winter 2021 premieres are already trickling out, but before I dive headfirst into those, there’s one piece of 2020’s unfinished business to attend to (well, regarding anime, that is). You either love it or love to hate it: the annual rundown of my favorite opening theme songs is back, on schedule for once, and it’s in peak form as it’s ever been.

No, seriously, 2020 was a really good year for OPs overall, so much so that it made the usual slogwatching every opening to debut in the last calendar yearsurprisingly manageable. Some assaults to my faceholes snuck through as always, but for once the issue wasn’t what to add so that I’d reach 25 worth praising, but what to cut. I’ll address some of those bubble entries in a minute, but more importantly, I need to recap the criteria for what’s eligible and valued on these lists:

  • The OP must have debuted in 2020. It can be from a show that premiered before 2020 or that will continue airing after, but the OP in question had to debut this past year.
  • I don’t need to have seen a show in order for its OP to be eligible on the list, but recognize I’m inherently biased towards those I have seen since I’m able to parse additional context from them. OPs of long-running shounen adaptations, kids’ shows, and idol hell tend to be absent here for that reason.
  • Movies are also excluded; these are just OPs from TV anime and ONAs.
  • My rankings are somewhat arbitrarily based on music composition, audio production, lyrics and delivery, visual production, audiovisual sync, originality, and pretty much any other metric you could think of. Some of these aspects are weighed more than others based on what I feel the OP in question was trying to accomplish, but I don’t give these individual metrics ratings of their own during the ranking process. The pros and cons of each still ultimately come second to my personal enjoyment.
  • On that note, never forget that the following is all just my personal opinion. You’re entitled to disagree and I expect that you will. If you decide to reach out asking where X or Y is, just remain civil and don’t act in bad faith. I certainly welcome you responding with your own favorites.

You ready? I’m ready. Let’s get this countdown started!

Longtime readers of these lists will know I give one detailed honorable mention before the top 25, but only one, so to address some elephants absent from the room, yes, big shounen hits like Fire Force Season 2, Attack on Titan Season 4, SAO Alicization Season 3, and Haikyuu To The Top all missed the cut. Good OPs? Yeah. Nothing that blew my mind or had me compelled to revisit them over and over, though.

Less monumental wildcards include No Guns Life Season 2, The Misfit of Demon King Academy, Infinite Dendrogram, and Shachibato. Osomatsu-san Season 3 was up to its usual shit and just missed the cutoff, as did Bungo and Alchemist, whose animation was great but whose song didn’t do much for me. The Millionaire Detective met a similar fate, and Hakushon Daimaou 2020 nearly made a rare appearance for a kids’ show but didn’t have the same staying power as what eventually made the list.

When I start planning for these, I jot down my top 25 OPs from shows I actually watched, then eliminate as necessary when I discover more impressive openings. Those that made that first list but got discarded over time include Golden Kamuy Season 3, The Day I Became a God, Rent-A-Girlfriend, Wandering Witch, Drifting Dragons, Ascendance of a Bookworm Season 2, Love Live Nijigasaki, and Wave, Listen to Me. Enjoy those OPs as I still do, none of them took the dedicated honorable mention spot, though. That honor belongs to…

– “TOP” by Stray Kids
Studio: Telecom Animation Film
OP for Tower of God

As a potential visual spectacle, Tower of God’s OP doesn’t give me much to work with—half the thing is stills of black & white background credits, the other half short clips of its protagonist Bam looking all moody. Devoid of other context beyond the suggestion that this kid’s gotta keep on keepin’ on, it’s almost impossible to tell what Tower of God is about. That’s usually not a good look.

It’s not an inherently bad one, though, and one listen of “TOP” will reveal this package is all about a song that has the gravity to pull the OP’s weaker elements into orbit. For one, there are actually three versions of it, sung in Stray Kids’ native Korean as well as in Japanese and English. I’ll be focusing on the original Korean one for the remainder of this, but in all three, “TOP” is a sound engineer’s wet dream, dynamically pulsating with punchy drums, ambient tones both crystalline and murky, and a downright badass electronic drop towards its climax. The boy band trades off the mic with precision, spitting huskier bars before receding to a tender, soaring chorus melody. It’s just a superb pop banger, and by placing it at the forefront, the Tower of God OP stands out even without a ton going for its visual composition.

– “Kibou Darake no Everyday!” by Fruit Tart
Studio: feel.
OP for Dropout Idol Fruit Tart

Not that I’m like, beholden to pull from a diverse array of genres in these OP lists, but I do try to keep an eye out for enjoyable stuff outside my usual tastes. In a year that gave idol fans more Love Live, plenty of male unit continuations and whatever the hell 22/7 was trying to be, it’s admittedly a surprise to me that the idol OP that most struck my fancy belongs to Dropout Idol Fruit Tart, a show that didn’t strike the fancy of even the genre’s purists.

And it’s not like its OP even does anything wacky, it’s just a charming intro song interspersed with silly character dialogue as the five-piece promotes their misfit collective around town. Well-timed cuts and appealing character designs go a long way, I guess; the opening boasts a polish and bounciness that respectively make it super appealing to my eye and ear. A few of the back-up vocals in the chorus teeter on too sugary for my palate, but on the whole, I’d go so far as to say I’d have willingly checked out the trials and tribulations of Fruit Tart if I’d seen this clip on my own back when the show was relevant. That’s about all I can ask for from an outlier during the annual roundup.

– “Mister Fixer” by Sou
Studio: NAZ
OP for ID:Invaded

My friends know I love me some good math rock, and though I’m not sure “Mister Fixer” falls within its confines so much as the broader movement of Japanese rock inspired by it, at that point the delineation is just semantics; the song’s syncopated drum work, noodly piano, and syllable-heavy delivery aren’t only candy to my ear, they pair exceptionally well with mysteries and thrillers. Ling Tosite Sigure proved as much over the years to the point of pastiche (TK’s OP for Pet this year was, shall I say, not his best work), and I’m never one to shoo away different artists from breaking into a mold I otherwise like, freshening it up, putting their own spin on it.

In a way, the weak link of “Mister Fixer” (and of the ID:Invaded OP as a whole) is that it doesn’t actually bring much of anything new to the table, but it isn’t riding on autopilot either. The song’s quick-paced, questioning energy complements this mechanized collage of browser tabs, geometric figures, and superimposed concept art well enough, like the opening is just the start of hacking into the series’ mainframe, its disconnected elements out of place and just waiting to be strung together. Had I stuck with the series, I guarantee you I’d have enjoyed tuning into this OP every week, looking for pieces of a puzzle it may or may not have finished.

– “Sunny Sunny Girl” by Akane Kumada
Studio: Signpost
OP for Oda Cinnamon Nobunaga

One of the few perks of stubbornly checking out every OP each year is discovering bizarre premises that somehow slipped under my radar during FGJ’s seasonal first impression cycles. For instance, I didn’t know 2020 gave us an anime about Oda Nobunaga and other Japanese history heavyweights reincarnating into house dogs, but now that I do, I’m delighted to announce its opening is very fun!

That’s mostly because it capitalizes on its gimmick in a way that I’m not sure a full-length cour of actual content would (especially for someone not super well-versed in Japanese history or owning a dog), but even so, the man-to-pet character designs are funny and the backgrounds subdued, pleasant, and even occasionally artsy. Cinnamon‘s human protagonist, Ichiko Oda, may have the most milquetoast appearance I’ve ever seen, but her dancing instantly ups the OP’s lasting appeal and her voice actress, Akane Kumada, does a capable job livening up “Sunny Sunny Girl” without getting too saccharine. It’s a fun little package that executes its gag well. Why bother nitpicking too hard?

#22 –
“G.P.” by Yutaka Yamada
Studio: Wit
OP for Great Pretender

If I had to, I could throw a bone to just about any OP solely on the basis of loving its show, and while I don’t have to stretch to promote my 2020 Anime of the Year, Great Pretender’s OP is admittedly fine with prioritizing its utility as a credits sequence. It’s a slick one at least, alluding to each of the series’ four arcs without spoiling the specificity of their imagery until you reach each respective point in the show. Actively keeping its cards hidden, the OP’s actual features include typical double agent fare—mid-air dogfights, auctions, falling dominoes—if not directly indebted to Bond or Lupin, it certainly replicates their vibes.

Since it’s got that going for it, why not go all in, right? I assume everyone saw Yutaka Yamada knocking this soundtrack out of the park in its earliest stages, and a big band jazz tune that escalates from sneaky to in-your-face in the span of a minute is about as perfect a theme for Great Pretender that you could ask for.  Superb use of color and fun transitions are but a welcome bonus.

– “I Got It!” by Mia REGINA
Studio: P.A. Works
OP for Appare-Ranman!

The character beats in Appare-Ranman’s pilot episode didn’t hook me and I just never got around to giving it a second chance, but I remain partial to its supposed combination of steampunk racing, Wild Wild West action, and international competition. It’s an exciting fusion of influences, and the show’s OP does nothing to sabotage what works about it, only lift it aloft with horns blaring, wacky characters sparring, and…

wait, did the Mia REGINA girls just drop an F-bomb? That might be kind of unprecedented! Google won’t confirm or deny my inquiry, as it thinks I’m looking for anime characters fucking instead of saying “fuck” (don’t make the same mistake as me if you’re curious in public), but that’s certainly distinctive, and all the more so because Appare-Ranman and “I Got It” aren’t badass so much as they are silly. Lots of “silly” on the list ahead, but look, I’m typing some of these blurbs as reactionary cultists storm the U.S. capitol. If I want chaos to dread instead of laugh at, I know where to find it, but when the alternative is this bleak, a romp through the desert with a bunch of eccentrics sounds like mighty appealing escapism. Maybe I’ll take a pointer from Mia REGINA, retry Appare-Ranman and not give a fuck that 2020’s behind us.

#20 –
“No.7” by Jibaku Shounen Band
Studio: Lerche
OP for Toilet-bound Hanako-kun

Though it didn’t manifest into a show I consistently cared for, Toilet-bound Hanako-kun contained one of the most unique visual aesthetics of 2020, nailing its vibrant, thick color design better than just about any series I can think of which sought a similar look. It’s on full display in this OP and none the worse for it, indulging in the playful darkness of Hanako and his cohorts’ urban legends. Simultaneously a funhouse and a haunted house, the montage gets the most out of its childish spooks and tongue-in-cheek bravado.

Oh, and then there’s the song, which I shouldn’t have to tell you straight-up rips, but I will, ‘cause it does. A seasoned anisong vet may be able to identify Masayoshi Ooishi and PENGUIN RESEARCH’s Yoji Ikuta leading the vocals, and their deliveries convey just enough bite to suit the shtick without leaning too hard towards caricature. I’ve been informed the lyrics contain tons of curse-related wordplay, which I appreciate on principle even if I couldn’t actually explain it to you, and only the occasional clunky shot or two threatens to sink this otherwise stable OP. With all it has going in its favor, that’s basically irrelevant.

– “Ikouze☆Paradise” by the cast
Studio: Passione
OP for Interspecies Reviewers

However much you’re cringing at me over this, just know I’m cringing more. I don’t think I’ve ever featured a straight-up hentai on one of these theme song lists before, but there’s a first time for everything, and there’s definitely a first time for one with a premise this out there: Interspecies Reviewers is about some adventurers frequenting red light districts and rating their experiences at monster girl brothels. That isn’t the sort of thing I’d ever check out for its own sake, so imagine my surprise when I pulled up its OP out of obligation only to discover it’s basically “Y.M.C.A.” tuned down a semitone with a slightly altered melody.

Fair play, honestly. If you’re gonna make a sex comedy as raunchy and tasteless as this one appears to be, there’s no point in half-measures, and Reviewers’ OP embraces its call to the horny without hesitation. It’s stupid, it knows it, and that doesn’t prevent the team from making a genuine bop out of the song or flexing their chops with some of these visual cuts. This is a better-realized vision than it has any business being and I don’t know how to feel about that. What I do know is that it’s memorable and polished enough to land here somewhere. Nineteenth is as good a spot as any.

#18 –
“Ready To” by Sumire Morohoshi
Studio: Trigger
OP for BNA: Brand New Animal

Not unlike its ED, BNA’s OP is almost over too quickly to make a name for itself, its runtime slashed by 30 seconds compared to the norm and barely squeezing together an intro, verse, and chorus. That I walked away from it wanting more isn’t because of unmet potential, though—the opposite, in fact.

There’s so much to enjoy here; the song is hooky anime theme gold, and though BNA could’ve used some scriptwriting revisions, its cartoony Triggerisms and hot-cold color contrast must’ve made it a field day for the artists. It sure seemed like one if this thing’s transitions are any indication; in just one minute’s worth of content, several cuts had me searching for sakuga credits, from Shirou changing form as he steps out of the shadows to Michiru’s transformations in the closing seconds. When the backdrop of Anima City was still fresh enough to not be bogged down by sloppy metaphor, “Ready To” got me sufficiently pumped to take in what—at points—seemed like one of Trigger’s more “all in good fun” projects. That it ultimately shat the bed on that isn’t the OP’s fault in any case.

#17 –
“Contradiction” by KSUKE feat. Tyler Carter
Studio: MAPPA
OP for The God of High School

The other day I jokingly said The God of High School’s OP reminded me of “a lava lamp trying to fuck a vacuum cleaner.” That statement rightly went ignored. For good measure I’ve just repeated it, but let me clarify: there is a spot on this list for badgood OPs, and the pairing of “Contradiction” and Sunghoo Park’s direction is powerful enough to overcome everything about this package that shouldn’t work on paper.

And that’s impressive, ‘cause there’s a lot that shouldn’t work, from the shrill brostep sirens mixed twice as loud as everything else to the overabundance of flashing neon. Squint closely and you’ll even catch Crunchyroll’s logo as an ad on the side of the ring, because no tacky clip is complete without product placement. It’s all so gaudy and full of hot air it kind of…rules. A less ideal vocalist probably would’ve hammered the final nail in the coffin, but Issues’ Tyler Carter (of all people, right? I know) breaths life into the barrage of noise and pomp with a soulful tenor and hooky melody. Sakuga fans can eat to their hearts’ content without the irony attached, but The God of High School’s OP otherwise made so many poor decisions the final product circled back around to success. It’s a…contradiction.

#16 –
“Theater of Life” by Konomi Suzuki
Studio: NUT
OP for Deca-Dence

Deca-Dence made such an art of keeping tricks up its sleeve I’m almost bummed its OP didn’t contain more of them in and of itself. Almost. Even the show’s initial concept included a setting that raised eyebrows, and when it unveiled a world within that world, complete with alternate avatars and an ulterior enemy, it only doubled down on what made it such an easy sell.

Both the gambit and the reality are reflected in the series’ catch-all OP, which consists of shots basically tailored to look cool or evoke Deca-Dence’s “game” theme. Chaotic action cuts, “band together” group pics, it’s got the bombast to ready a new recruit for war but a visage too bright and innocent to really be as simple as it lets on. “Theater of Life” doesn’t much care for the politicking—it’s a heart-on-sleeve banger that ticks basically every box on my “fun rock” checklist, from the wall-of-power guitar tones to the cathartic refrain. When Deca-Dence’s goal is to get you pumped for structural change or die trying, a battle cry this strong can’t hurt, derivative construction be damned.

#15 –
“Needle Knot” by THE PINBALLS
Studio: Doga Kobo
OP for Ikebukuro West Gate Park

I think being a young’un when bling rap and urban underbellies and drawing those graffiti S things (you know the ones) were the new Edgy™ trend in media permanently altered my perception of that aesthetic, greeting my senses as nostalgic instead of threatening. That’s probably the case for a lot of my generation, and Ikebukuro West Gate Park not understanding that is among the reasons it became a total flop. The story may have originated two decades ago, but too much has changed for its tropes to be approached with stupefying sincerity. Its OP though?

Yeah, I think whoever storyboarded this knew the bigger picture—angsty glares, hordes of hoodied teenagers, eating the “forbidden fruit” and associating with ravers, drug peddlers, and street fighters—it’s got all that and more, flashing by so quickly it doesn’t give us a second to remind them what year they’re broadcasting this in. If I didn’t know better, this opening would have me convinced IWGP takes pride in its era’s counterculture du jour, and I can’t watch it without cracking a smile. Add THE PINBALLS’ old-school rock ‘n’ roll-influenced blues licks and raspy “YEAAAAAHs” to the equation and simply put, this fuckin’ slaps. Whether they got there by accident or intent, IWGP’s opening is cheese incarnate, and y’all should know by now how much I love cheese.

#14 –
“Altern-ate-“ by H-el-ical//
Studio: Pine Jam
OP for Gleipnir

Before a copyright scare convinced me to delete it at its source, I posted a version of this OP with “Altern-ate-” swapped out for early Linkin Park and almost sent Gleipnir‘s bullshit to community-wide attention. Even if that’s giving myself too much credit, the joke seemed obvious and I don’t regret opening iMovie to act on the urge. My only lingering remorse is that I know for a fact some of my friends never ended up hearing the actual OP as a result.

And no, it’s no “Lying From You,” but to be totally honest, the spoof reflects the show I thought Gleipnir would be while the real thing represents what it actually is, a tale of toxic codependency less fueled by anger than a fear of getting in too deep with the grotesque. “Scary” isn’t the right word if you’ve absorbed a proper horror film, like, ever, but Gleipnir’s tale of bad blood and predatory punishment lends itself well to the OP’s evil reds, golds, and blacks. Hikaru’s vocal performance saps some of the edge out of the concept (to its benefit, honestly), and the string arrangement and melody are just to die for. Well, maybe not to literally die for—Gleipnir has enough death already…and I want to live to see if we get the season two it so badly hinges upon.

– “Chiisana Hibi” by flumpool
Studio: Ajia-do Animation Works
OP for Kakushigoto

Sandwiched between two OPs whose worlds you probably shouldn’t want to inhabit, the quaint, bright, seaside setting of Kakushigoto feels even more homely. That’s central to the appeal of the show in general and this OP specifically, a nurturing alt rock number about unspoken love and parental guidance. Kakushigoto isn’t the highest-ranked father-daughter show on this list, but of its ilk, this OP is arguably the one most attuned to that dynamic.

There’s a sentimentality omnipresent in parenting anime with good parents, and though Kakushi’s hardly the perfect dad, his striving to become one at times lands more abrasive than earnest. An opening like this is a glimpse into a more vulnerable mindset, one hardly incompatible with his character but not always shown, and it seizes the wonder and beauty of his surroundings with a wide lens, appreciative of the community and scenery he can pass on to Hime to keep her happy. Though it’s by no means a genre re-defining OP, it attaches firmly to the emotional core of the series and neither Flumpool’s tender musicianship nor the show’s cozy visuals betray that.

Studio: Pierrot
OP for Akudama Drive

Life’s not easy in Akudama Drive’s cyberpunk police state Kansai…unless your life involves flashing cool poses and getting your dick caught in a printers and airhorns. If that’s the case, you’d be right at home in this show’s OP, a hilarious “look how tough we are” montage whose “so extra it’s good” appeal is similar to The God of High School’s and IWGP’s, only with competent storyboarding elevating everything further.

Sure, Akudama Drive did ultimately contain both a point and an emotional narrative, but from the outset its greatest strength was hammy machismo, and this OP captures that essence perfectly. Not content to just stick to it, it even gave us a few mid-series changes to reflect unfolding events and snuck in plain-sight spoilers that no one bothered connecting the dots to until they arrived. There wasdare I say itforesight in this, and without sacrificing any of the instinctual gruffness of its atmosphere. Please, give me more nu-metal anime OPs, especially if you’re gonna commit to the bit and drown them in manic synths and gang choruses. This is indulgence at its finest, and I am a glutton.

#11 –
“Kyouryuu Agemizawa☆” by the cast
Studios: Space Neko Company & Kamikaze Douga
OP for Gal & Dino

Kamikaze Douga does shit different, and their OPs often end up just as wild as their adaptation methods. Gal & Dino seemingly left no stone unturned in regards to the latter, taking an already silly premise and regularly splicing it up with live action to the degree it sometimes completely ceased to be “anime.” That idea carries over into its OP, though it doesn’t necessarily try to break the boundaries of the form to the extent that Pop Team Epic‘s did.

Not that it had to! Some brief cuts of animation and costume-Dino aside, the rapid-fire stills of Dino chillin’ among makeup accessories, sweets, and city landscapes are flashy and in-character enough to work on their own. Fact of the matter is Gal & Dino’s more ambitious gags were relegated to the show properits OP is, for lack of a better phrase, just a fitting OP. When you open something this bold, though, that’s not a backhanded compliment, it’s praise for bothering to keep pace. Even a relatively weak Kamikaze Douga OP remains a mighty force to be reckoned with.

#10 –
“Koi no Uta” by Akari Kito
Studio: Seven Arcs
OP for ToniKawa: Over The Moon For You

Considering ToniKawa is more vanilla than the bowl of ice cream I had for dessert last night, it’s OP seems surprisingly determined to stand out. Sure, lyrics yearning for love are nothing unheard of, but the composition of “Koi no Uta” immediately separates itself from your average arrangement, beginning with a sparse vocal melody and ramping up with a drum machine crescendo as Akari Kito sing-raps over the build. By the time she brings one last verse around after the chirpy bass drop, I feel like I’m in middle school again, both from re-hearing that era’s signature sound and because despite my objections, ToniKawa’s leads find ways to charm in their innocence.

That enthusiasm didn’t always last into the show proper, but you won’t find many puppy love intros more memorable than this, its split-screen pulse offering tons of potential for parodies and prolonged shelf life. I kind of doubt ToniKawa has the reach for this OP to become known as a “classic,” but I also doubted I’d stick around with it until completion, and look how wrong I was once already. It bops. That’s what matters.

– “Daddy! Daddy! Do!” by Masayuki Suzuki feat. Airi Suzuki
Studio: A-1 Pictures
OP for Kaguya-sama: Love Is War?

As I crack the top ten on these lists, I try to weigh distinctiveness a bit morethere are plenty of OPs to enjoy in any given year, but few among them stand out as unique, the kind of package you can meme around with and still recognize the origins of. Last year, I reckon my OP of 2019“Love Dramatic” from Kaguya-sama’s first seasonfit that bill; it was goofy, artsy, transmitted a suave, loungey sound rarely heard among anime OPs, and matched its show’s façade of coolness so well I couldn’t think of anything else that’d work better.

Apparently, neither could the team preparing its second season’s OP. Masayuki Suzuki is back with “Daddy! Daddy! Do,” which replicates all the sensibilities of Kaguya-sama’s first OP but crucially lacks the novelty to be anything besides “more of the same.” That “same” is still very enjoyablethe character animation here is arguably more expressive than the series’ first go-around, and instead of “shots that just look cool,” there’s something of a self-contained narrative this time, a skit wherein the two lovers prepare bento lunches for each other then trip up at actually exchanging them. Props to everyone involved for getting this opening in even the same ballpark as its predecessor.

#8 –
“Mononoke in the Fiction” by Lie and a Chameleon
Studio: Brain’s Base
OP for In/Spectre

Approximately one year ago, I fell head over heels for In/Spectre, but when its accumulative weeks of slow progress became too much to stick around for, its OP was the only thing left for me to miss. If this top ten spot doesn’t make it obvious, miss it I did; Lie and a Chameleon are a new name on my radar and “Mononoke in the Fiction” is a laudable introduction. The song is catchy, licky, and most importantly, propulsive, not allowing the OP to die by the same pitfalls as its parent show.

More bluntly, In/Spectre’s supernatural shenanigans weren’t that compelling for their own sake, but if its character writing were peppier, it might’ve coalesced more gracefully. This OP is a peek into what that might look like: its antagonists and oddities are relegated to mere passing frames like the one-and-done appearances they should’ve had. The “enemy” more persistent on Kotoko and Kuro’s backs is enigmatic, all-encompassing, abstract. The opening’s able to crack a smile in the midst of the melee, though—with riffs and rhythms this restless, the song sets a mood as flippant as it is foreboding, entirely aware its aesthetics are the silly sort of suspenseful but rolling with it anyway. In this middle ground, the OP just works, promoting the best of In/Spectre’s disparate elements and throwing down hard with one of the year’s best anisongs, period.

– “Arigatou wa Kocchi no Kotoba” by Naotaro Moriyama
Studios: Satelight & HORNETS
OP for Somali and the Forest Spirit

I’d argue this isn’t the last of the remaining OPs to conjure a sense of magic, but Somali and the Forest Spirit’s is more overt about it than most. That’s to be expected, I supposeit depicts a pointedly fantastical world and the simple joys of being alive and loved, but that doesn’t make the result any less evocative. The splendor of Somali’s settings is self-explanatory: forests teeming with life, city centers bustling with activity, starry nights where the vast cosmos just dazzles you, the show’s life force is powered by these beautiful scenes and the childish innocence with which its protagonists pass through them. Somali takes some darker turns, because few things are as simple as a kid makes them out to be, but its OP forgoes those in favor of distilled awe.

Well-established folk songwriter Naotaro Moriyama makes his anime debut with “Arigatou wa Kocchi no Kotoba,” and its slow-burning chamber arrangement moves through an intro-verse-chorus structure more reminiscent of classical movements than pop pieces, each disarming the opening of any threat while reflecting the rustic, poetic…magical aesthetics of Somali’s landscapes. Though it’s more of a travelogue than anything else, that in and of itself is a breath of fresh air, especially when it’s brought to our lungs with this much grace. This OP is just plain lovely.

#6 –
“Otome no Route wa Hitotsu Janai!” by angela
Studio: Silver Link
OP for My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom

With its mockery of aristocratic pampering and dating sim tropes, I don’t think My Next Life as a Villainess (Hamefura for short) could’ve picked a better genre for its OP than “corny symphonic pop anthem.” Playing fast and loose with romantic instrumentation and even throwing in the initial motif of Beethoven’s 5th, its sound is simultaneously regal and devoid of self-seriousness, just how Hamefura and its protagonist Catarina were at their best.

As silly and patchworked together as the song is, the OP is most pushed to notoriety by its cast just being themselves: Catarina could carry the show on her own if need be, and both her and her companions’ pre- and post-timeskip selves appear to overview their evolving dynamics. The transitions during these sequences aren’t anything you haven’t seen before, but the motion swipes work and they’re notably free of clutterthe credits are designated to less vital spots, worked into the scenery or attached to objects instead of simply being overlaid onto busier scenes. Most importantly, nothing in this OP saps away at the carefree atmosphere the show fosters; with a little creativity and a ton of charm, Hamefura’s opening is worth many a dumb grin.

#5 –
“Easy Breezy” by chelmico
Studio: Science SARU
OP for Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!

Put aside any qualms you may have about recycled animation. The Eizouken OP is already a certified classic and only the staunchest of contrarians would try to claim it doesn’t deserve to be. That surf rock sample ingrained itself into anime nerds’ heads the second they heard it and if mine is any indication, I have little reason to believe it ever left, even in spite of all that 2020 had in store for our overwhelmed consciences. The dance sequences were just as iconic—it took all of a week for the earliest mash-ups to get posted online, only proving my theory that an anime OP can become a subcultural event if it’s inspiring enough to urge others to put their own spin on it. With a show like Eizouken, an OP gaining name recognition isn’t only a mission statement made real, it’s reaffirmation for the very artistic process the show treasures to begin with. Sakuga frenzy? Who ever said that was necessary to be good? The passion this generated without one was real, and that’s no less worth applauding. If you disagree, just listen to “Easy Breezy’s” “fuck the world, we’ll make what we want to” dissertation.

On a less standoffish note, Chelmico’s rapping actually had me fooled, too—the duo’s voices sound like such dead ringers for the Eizouken trio’s I thought they were the protagonists’ actresses for weeks, and the fact that they aren’t might as well be more impressive. Concentrating the best of Eizouken’s ethos, this is one OP you’ll never mistake for anything else.

#4 –
“Kaikai Kitan” by Eve
Studio: MAPPA
OP1 for Jujutsu Kaisen

Now that I’ve spent a whole blurb saying world-class visuals aren’t the be all end all of what makes a good anime OP, uhhhh, here are some world-class visuals that also happen to amount to a good anime OP! You might say to yourself “huh, Yata, doesn’t the Jujutsu Kaisen OP just do a generic character montage with a paint-by-numbers alt rock song?” Yes. Yes it does. But it looks so damn pretty I don’t give a shit about that.

That’s well within my rights considering how arbitrary this all is anyway, and at the end of the day, you could probably pull aside someone at a (post-COVID) con, play them a snippet of “Kaikai Kitan” and they’d be just as (if not more) likely to correctly identify the anime it’s attached to than the previous entry. The fluidity of these cuts is unreal. Sometimes the seasonal hype machine deals its cards in an especially durable basket, and long-running shounen like this one, spotty as their narratives can get, have a tendency of delivering an initial OP with loads of style and staying power. Time will tell if Jujutsu Kaisen is among them, but my knee-jerk reaction is a confident “yes.” Either way, it eats every other 2020 mainstream sakuga-fest for breakfast.

#3 –
“Welcome to Chaos” by (K)NoW_NAME
Studio: MAPPA
OP for Dorohedoro

Oh, and now’s the part where I should probably mention that by sheer chance, all of this year’s top four OPs were from shows produced by MAPPA. None of them received as much attention to detail as Jujutsu Kaisen (and how could they, given the studio’s inhumane rate of turnaround?), but all of them found a way to stand their ground in some other capacity. In the case of the outlandish, dystopian Dorohedoro, the key to success was sensory overload.

I mean, yeah, a good chunk of the OP consists of Nikaidou preparing gyoza, but even cooking has creepy insinuations in Dorohedoro’s dine-or-die social order, and “Welcome to Chaos” gives your ears no time to relax. The melody and musicianship of the song remain intact, but the ambience that engulfs (K)NoW_NAME’s jam is crazy for anisong standards, a claustrophobic collage of sirens and steam that evokes being surrounded by SWAT helicopters and muddy voices in your head. That’s right at home in Dorohedoro‘s hellscape, as is a mutant dog perilously chasing a bug around the kitchen and a single file line of Caimans marching to their demise not once but twice. It’s a lot to take in, but so are all things Dorohedoro, and I can’t say its OP wastes any of the potential a work as singular as this brings to the table. Itadakimasu.

#2 –
“Into the Blue’s” by ACCAMER
Studio: MAPPA
OP for Listeners

Some might say the best OPs tend to embody everything that makes a great show so special. I’d argue there’s an even higher tier than those, though—ones that pick up the slack of products that aren’t as potent as their pitch. As far as those go, Listeners’ is an all-time great. I probably should’ve foreseen that Dai Sato penning rock ‘n’ roll fan-fiction about encountering doppelgangers of Prince, Kurt Cobain, Sid Vicious and many more would end in an incoherent mess, but last April, when Listeners was riding high off a solid pilot episode and then gave me this? Could you blame me for wanting in on that adventure?

We all know how that story ends by now, but don’t slight me for interpreting this OP as a sign it might’ve worked. “Into the Blue’s” is an anthem of adrenaline reminiscent of the glitzy radio rock that inspired me to pick up an instrument in the first place; riffy, resounding, and crafted to be as poppy as it can be while still harnassing some grit. Your mileage may vary with that, but my tank of it might as well carry me across the country, which is precisely what the visuals here implied Listeners would do too. It is just a credits montage interspersed with brief character clips, so I don’t know why I thought paltry storytelling conventions like (hmph) dialogue or (ugh) themes wouldn’t be able to keep up, but hey, Listeners attempted to give me the adventure it promised. I want a refund on its awful effort, but only because this OP as a promotional tool was such a misleading sell. Putting the reality out of my mind, I still can’t help but smile when I re-watch this and ponder what could’ve been.

#1 – “Shanghai Honey” by the cast
Studio: MAPPA
OP for The Gymnastics Samurai

First things first, “by the cast” is misleading here for a few reasons. Cast-sung anime OPs are almost universally written by professional songwriters, and this one is no exception. But there’s more: “Shanghai Honey” is like, 17 years old, a charting single from Orange Range’s major label debut. Dredging up a back-catalogue hit instead of promoting new material? Yeah, that’s weird for this industry. The anomalies stop there, though, right?

No. Weirdness comes in threes, and this 2020 anisong cover is also better than the original. The mix is punchier, the voice actors’ personalities are more charismatic than the original vocalists’, and to top it all off, in-universe it’s played as karaoke of sorts for a contemporaneous hit. The Gymnastics Samurai is set 17 years ago, and the show and OP contain nods to The Matrix, Blind Melon, Japanese-ified Route 66 signage, and all other sorts of nostalgic references to yesteryear. I am a simple human—I see characters having fun with shit I had fun with growing up, I give them a standing ovation.

But it’s not only nostalgia driving this thing; put all that aside and the OP is still a spectacle of flashing stage lights and goofy poses in tracksuits. Those aforementioned signs and some of the light displays double as credit boards. The color design is top notch. The animation is among the best of the whole series. And it’s dead set on making you crack a smile—even as wacky as GymSam’s cast is on average, the expressions and lip-syncing here show a whole new level of gleeful abandon, and I say this about a character who cancelled a retirement announcement mid-press conference just ‘cause he felt built different that day. As great as 2020 anime OPs were overall, when I think of ones that made me fistpump the air and click replay before moving on to the actual episode, the conversation narrows down to a select few. This was the one that won me over most. Fuck the decimals—Jotaro and the gang get a perfect 10. How’s that feel?

Hell yeah, that’s what I like to see! Well, that and your thoughts. What were your favorite OPs of 2020? Which highlights do you agree with? And what are you disappointed I left out? (there’s always something). Reach out in the comments below or over on Twitter, and as always, thanks for reading this final piece of 2020 coverage from us here at For Great Justice. Our winter seasonal coverage will be smaller than usual despite the abundance of shows, so bear with us on that front, but I’m still aiming to pump out at least a few first impressions in the weeks ahead. Until then, stay safe, healthy, and enjoy the start of the new year as much as you can.

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