Yata’s Top 10 EDs of 2021

Hey, everyone. Yata here. Last time I logged in to post, spring had just sprung, but in the months since, mostly for work-life balance-related reasons, myself and Haru thought it best to put lengthy For Great Justice projects on hold.

Up front, I’ll confirm that hiatus from seasonal coverage will probably continue into 2022, but I still feel motivated to give our readers and friends something after all the radio silence, so my annual wrap-up material—my Favorite EDs, Favorite OPs, and Year in Review/Top 10 posts—will still arrive as usual, spaced out every few weeks before January if all goes well. To kick it all off, why not get the shortest one out of the way first?

You probably know the drill, but if you happen to be new to my yearly ED posts, here’s the criteria:

  • If a show began prior to 2021 or is set to continue after 2021, the ED in question must have debuted and/or been primarily used in 2021.
  • EDs layered over the show like insert songs and OPs used as an ED are ineligible. I’ve also excluded single-episode EDs here.
  • If there are multiple or evolving versions of an ED (i.e. two that share either the same song or a majority of the same animation), they are not eligible to count as separate entries. Furthermore, I am not allowing multiple EDs per show this year, period.
  • Unlike the many YouTube channels which rank openings & endings solely on music, sometimes with complicated algorithms, I rate these on a non-numerical, totally arbitrary combination of each one’s variables—the music, visuals, audiovisual sync, relevance to the show, and my own personal enjoyment all matter, with the most value placed on whatever I feel the ED was most attempting to emphasize.
  • And EDs from shows I have not at least attempted to watch are ineligible from the top 10. That narrows the pool down, but since I was counterproductively invested in watching anime this year despite my absence from blogging, I was still left with over 100 series to pick from—and some obviously had multiple EDs, so say what you will about my taste, but I gave the entry list plenty of due diligence.

Before the “official” honorable mention, allow me to give some shoutouts to EDs that barely missed the cut: Peach Boy Riverside, Scarlet Nexus ED1, KoiKimo, Tokyo Revengers, Those Snow White Notes, Banished From the Hero’s Party, Ex-Arm, and Blue Reflection Ray had solid songs paired with visual packages I wasn’t crazy about for one reason or another.

On the flip side of that coin, Irina: Vampire Cosmonaut, Sakugan, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S2, Selection Project, Dragon Goes Househunting, Girlfriend x Girlfriend, Super Cub, Heike Monogatari, and Jujutsu Kaisen ED2 had noteworthy visuals either let down by or undersold by their attached song.

The EDs of Bakuten, Jouran, Mieruko-chan, Ranking of Kings, Kageki Shoujo, Godzilla: Singular Point, Yuru Camp Season 2, Wonder Egg Priority, Pretty Boy Detective Club, Love Live! Superstar, and Fena: Pirate Princess were more well-rounded overall and came just shy of the list proper. Special props should also be given to the episode 9-only ED performance from Zombie Land Saga Revenge, but obviously that’s ineligible based on my rules and it arguably contains spoilers, so viewers beware. As for the obligatory more detailed honorable mention…

HONORABLE MENTION – “Alchemilla” by Regal Lily
Studio: A-1 Pictures
ED for 86 Part 2

86 has had some of the more forward-thinking (if not particularly subtle) direction in anime this year, including sudden mid-episode cuts between prolonged scenes on the battlefield and those in distant headquarters. It frequently used its ED to double up on that trick, faintly rolling a track in before pausing on a tinted still frame that shifts at the chorus and holds a new visual until the song ends and the show is set in motion again with a post-credits scene. When stripped of context, the two stills that comprise 86’s endings underwhelm as a visual, but in practice many of its ED sequences end up breathtaking, intertwined with cliffhangers or kicking off ominous developments for the following week.

With that in mind, I couldn’t leave the show off the list, so the next question was “which ED do I include?” No offense to one trick pony Hiroyuki Sawano, who admittedly submitted a brooding slow-burner in “Avid” and optimistic bop in “Hands Up to the Sky” for season 1, but season 2’s ongoing ED, “Alchemilla” by Regal Lily, is an outstanding track, building from a hushed shoegazey slumber to a soaring sonic wail with organic flow, immaculate sound production, and a bit of roughness around the edges you don’t typically hear from more streamlined ani-song. It’s been a lovely addition to an already interesting ED direction philosophy and one of my favorite anime theme songs from this year outright.

#10 – “0 (zero)” by LMYK
Studio: Bones
ED for The Case Study of Vanitas (Season 1)

For all The Case Study of Vanitas’ exuberance and creativity, a lot of people seem to agree its best scenes to date are the ones where its characters just get angsty and horny. Read into that conclusion whatever you will, but “0 (zero)” suits the tone despite some historical anachronisms—they clearly hadn’t invented synth pads yet in steampunk France, not like that prevents the listener from sinking into LMYK’s breathy, bilingual romantic pining anyway.

The visual here honestly isn’t much to write home about, based around a handful of stills and slow pans, but “0 (zero)” pulls so much weight; it’s just the young singer-songwriter’s second single, and its studio polish by Grammy-winning producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (most notably of Janet Jackson fame, but among many others) blankets the track’s R&B swing with an intimate chill that further emphasizes LMYK’s emotive vocal performance. Leaning into what Vanitas does best, I couldn’t ask for a much more effective way to exit its episodes.

#9 – “Mahou” by Myuk
Studio: CloverWorks
ED for The Promised Neverland Season 2

If I think about it real hard I can almost make this January feel like it really happened this year, but an age where Bean Dad, the earliest notion of vaccine rollout, and a Wonder Egg Priority That Surely Wouldn’t Fail were the main things on my mind seems so long ago. On that last point, The Promised Neverland’s second season also dropped the ball so atrociously hard that a time I felt invested in any of its content seems like a hazy memory now, but I loved—and can still convince myself to appreciate—this ED.

After all, the anime’s conclusion to this story is but one of multiple, and the cast and world it had previously immersed audiences to are still able to resonate in as many headcanons as there are fans. Before TPN2’s schlocky turns and unearned contrivances, “Mahou” represented a eulogy and prayer in one, a shimmery ballad placed atop gorgeous visuals juxtaposing vibrant cold and warm hues. In hindsight, the abstractions—Sonju and Mujika traveling around, a House mother pacing the halls, disappeared children, the primary cast bathed in light—all foreshadow the lack of vision this season ended up having, but they also allow this ED to be interpreted with open potential for a story—any story—with better payoff than the one it ultimately had. At the end of the day, the song and clip are just really pretty. Sometimes that’s all you need.

#8 – “Petals” by Miho Okasaki
Studio: Silver Link
ED2 for The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated!

I dropped the “always fine, never amazing” Jahy right before its second cour started and I can’t help but say I feel a little called out by this ED in retrospect. Slow, incremental progress that doesn’t really feel like progress can get frustrating—it’s what I battled while absorbing the show’s static pace for three months, and it’s precisely what Jahy herself battles in this self-contained story of an ED, where she’s stuck in a life-sized board game, rolling a die turn after turn and only ever advancing one single tile towards her goal.

The metaphor is beyond obvious, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t effective as a feel-bad-turned-feel-good clip, especially with the side cast chanting her on and a mercy roll on the doorstep of her destination. Storyboard aside, the “lens blur” of the “camera” (for lack of a more accurate technical term) gives the ED’s visual an extra element of depth and makes it look like we’re observing a shrunk-down universe, bolstering the playful atmosphere and sugary charm of “Petals,” which is ultimately just a sorta hooky J-pop track, but hey, it’s no distraction and the music doesn’t inherently have to be the highlight of a given ED. This one had a brain bigger than that. If only Jahy could’ve likewise condenses its skits and got to the point more quickly, I might’ve stuck around longer.

#7 – “Infinity” by Yuuri
Studio: Bones
ED for Sk8 The Infinity

With all the best to singer-songwriter Yuuri, who laid down a breezy, nostalgic, reggae-inspired tune here in “Infinity,” its suggestions to “keep on moving” and the like verge on too cheesy to take seriously.

Thankfully, that’s kind of the energy Sk8 The Infinity glides on, so it takes those words of encouragement and pairs them with an ode to painful skateboarding gaffes, styling injuries as if they were tricks themselves. No matter your level of expertise, nobody’s immune against a flub, ranging from Langa’s deadpan lapse in how gravity works to Shadow and Joe’s spills that make my groin hurt just thinking about ‘em. It’s suggested even Adam, omnipotent as he’s made to be for most of the show, takes a fall here—his bodyguard/butler friend just blocks the shot before we can see him eat shit. Over the course of Sk8, this “all in good fun” ED either reinforced the good vibes or juxtaposed them with the boys’ mid-series depressive episodes. Either way, it was a welcome outro every single time.

#6 – “Mediator” by Masashi Hamauzu
Studio: Brain’s Base
ED for To Your Eternity

As someone who never got huge into video games, I’m not exceptionally qualified to speak on Masashi Hamauzu’s prolific career composing for Final Fantasy titles and the like, but I certainly recognize something unique when I hear it, and To Your Eternity ending its episodes with an abstract instrumental piece was a welcome, fitting surprise on multiple fronts. Considering the series’ main character could hardly speak for a good chunk of the show’s early arcs, orchestrating that journey without language was a clever nod, and its pristine arrangement of strings, faint choral vocals, and tinny percussive elements inject the song with plenty of mystique.

That’s carried over into a symbolism-heavy visual clip featuring key objects, faces, and places from Fushi’s memory cast against dim backgrounds. By the time the outro’s pounding drums arrive, that reel gives way to a stylized montage of friends fallen and battles fought, encompassing without direct spoilers the entirety of the series’ breadth. I waned hard on To Your Eternity’s narrative priorities around its second half, but I can still acknowledge it aimed for lofty goals and in moments such as this ED, almost seemed wise enough to know how to deliver them.

#5 – “Ganbare! Kumoko-san no Theme” by Aoi Yuuki
Studios: Millepensee and Exsa
ED1 for So I’m a Spider, So What?

2021 was one of those anime years that just kept on giving, unrelentingly, a deluge in quantity that made keeping up with weeklies a handful and backtracking to things I missed nigh impossible. One of the earliest victims of that—more for logistics’ sake than any strong inclination for or against it—was So I’m a Spider, So What, an isekai starring an Aoi Yuuki character reincarnated as an arachnid. Sass ensued. Hard.

That’s about all I gathered from its first episode, and that whole episode was rendered moot by one watch of the series’ first ED, wherein Yuuki rap-explains her disappointment about this newfound scenario at a thousand cobwebs per hour to a crowd of raving fans. Shrill, energetic, fundamentally absurd, it’s…an experience, and one whose novelty (there’s even a mid-song kabuki-ish break because why not?) makes it stand out over the series’ similar second ED. Compared to the vast majority of forgettable endings we get each year, one that demands my attention and tears my listening comprehension to shreds is more than worth note; it’s worth praise. So it’s sensory overload for a dumb joke, so what?

#4 – “Strobe Memory” by Maaya Uchida
Studio: Trigger
ED for SSSS.Dynazenon

It’s not the most polished ED here, but Dynazenon’s pulls on the bittersweet heartstrings something fierce. From first glimpse, I’ve loved its split-screen storyboard of overlapping scenes, thematically driving home how no one—the aimless among us, especially—is very far removed from someone else worth getting to know. The characters pass each other by on multiple occasions before eventually meeting at ED’s end. Enjoying Dynazenon as I did, I can appreciate how it doesn’t feel particularly forced either; the cast may have been rounded up to accomplish a goal beyond themselves, but it took time for their trust to expand, making the ED’s final shot less a hokey get-together and more a well-earned “YES. THAT’S THE SHIT” moment. That’s saying nothing of the lighting and color work throughout, which manage to feel bright and muted at once, a realism offset only slightly by the animated characters in their midst.

As for the music, Maaya Uchida returns for ED duties after Gridman‘s “Youthful Beautiful,” and if I had to compare her two songs in the franchise, I easily prefer “Strobe Memory.” Not unlike Dynazenon’s protagonists, it’s a little restrained at first, but it blossoms into a passionate little pop rock number with a chorus melody that’s regularly gotten stuck in my head in the months since the show aired. That final vocal jump in the closing seconds is just icing on the cake.

#3 – “Nai Nai” by ReoNa
Studio: CloverWorks
ED for Shadows House

Without ever really straying too far into macabre horror, Shadows House was often an edge-of-seat experience, confidently crafting a tone more dependent on lurking unknowns and unsettling implications than visceral shock. “Nai Nai” follows suit, utilizing jerky, staccato rhythms, breathy vocal doubling, and those classic “fucked up funhouse” chords to replicate the series’ ever-present paranoia. It’s still a pop song, mind you—the arrangement doesn’t explode per se, and neither does Shadows House—but those traces of familiarity serve to exaggerate the parts of the formula that feel off-kilter, keeping you on your toes while you bob your head.

That balance is in part reflected by the show’s visual aesthetic, pitting cutesy, youthful character designs against its grim, dusty setting. Soot drifts through stills of each pair of main characters, summarizing in one image—and long before we meet most of them—what their dynamics are like without giving away anything specific regarding their attitudes towards the others. Evoking struggles of identity, purpose, and exploitation, the lyrics of “Nai Nai” even tie in perfectly with the images depicted here. If I didn’t know any better, I could be tricked into thinking this was the show’s opening. Anything this well-rounded and representative of its franchise has clearly done something right.

#2 – “Yasashii Suisei” by YOASOBI
Studio: Orange
ED for Beastars Season 2

To say nothing of the fact that, yes, YOASOBI are Kind of a Big Deal at the moment and “Yasashii Suisei” is a plenty decent pop track, Beastars Season 2’s ED is first and foremost a fantastic display of animation, all drawn by a single person, Kouhei Kadowaki, and given tremendous works in post-production to appear like a fluid watercolor scene. The storyboard itself is insane, featuring multiple zooms that play with perspective and swing around characters’ heads. The off-white background punctuated by splashes of color attracts the eyes to the right spots in every transition and undersells just how Herculean an effort this clip must’ve been to make, right down to Kadowaki utilizing huge 3D molds of Louis and Ibuki’s heads to get a grasp on their inhuman contours.

But what’s utterly impressive about this ED is that for eleven episodes straight it presented spoilers in plain sight for one of the finale’s grand confrontations and made so much sense thematically as a standalone piece that I—and presumably most other anime-only watchers—assumed it to be its own neat little one-off reflection. When it came time to present the actual content here, it opened the episode instead, leading directly into the scene that follows it in the narrative. The fucking audacity of that move. I have nothing but the utmost respect for it.

Now prepare to lose your utmost respect for any notion of objectivity you may have (mistakenly) held about me.

#1 – “Shounen Shoujo” by GING NANG BOYZ
Studio: Madhouse
ED for Sonny Boy

Yes, my favorite anime ending of 2021 is just a song.

Actually, hold that thought. Just a song? Those who know know. New GING NANG BOYZ material isn’t as exceedingly rare as it once was, but the punk “band” is effectively no more. The legendary reputation they once upheld together—noisy, abrasive, provocative pioneers of an already noisy, abrasive, and provocative genre—stemmed from a way of life that doesn’t inherently age well, and “growing up” was never GING NANG BOYZ’ M.O. At this point, Kazunobu Mineta is their sole remaining member, refusing to completely let go of the passion that gave him a voice in the first place, and nearly 20 years on from the moniker’s debut gigs, Sonny Boy has effectively given him a new generation of fans to connect to.

After all, individual people will age, but adolescence always isolates someone on this hell of an earth, and Sonny Boy is a series-long retreat from expectation that eventually musters the resolve to embrace uncertainty. That it’s the title that marks Mineta’s first foray into the ani-sphere says just as much about the series’ audience as it does his; “Shounen Shoujo” reads like an experienced ode to young love, torn between the desire for serendipitous bliss and forward progress, arriving less at an answer and more at momentary catharsis.

To address the elephant in the room, yes, the visual clip plays little part in that catharsis. It’s just a black screen with rolling credits and that’s all it has to be. I’d even argue that’s all it should be; Sonny Boy did such a masterful job making every episode a self-contained experience that trying to string them all together with…well, anything else, actively undercuts the resolution of each chapter in its story. The pure adrenaline of hitting [spoiler], [spoiler], or uh, [spoiler] before abruptly jumping into Mineta’s wall of guitar feedback became a showstopping event in and of itself, a “wait, it’s already over?” moment and a gesture to stand for one last raucous cry in instant succession. The best product isn’t necessarily the artsiest – sometimes less is more. And sometimes—like with the whirlwind of effects panning throughout this track—more is more. It’s all in how you use the materials you’ve got. This one uses them in the most Yatacore ways possible. Its status was practically set in stone from the first time I laid ears on it. “Shounen Shoujo” is my favorite ED of 2021, and even when the calendar leaps to next year, I won’t being saying goodbye to it.

There, there, drink up, and remember, more from For Great Justice is on the way in the weeks ahead! Find this at least somewhat agreeable? What were your favorite EDs of 2021? Reach out with a comment below or over on Twitter, and until a much sooner next time, thanks for reading. See y’all again shortly.

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