Friday, September 28, 2018

Best Anime Openings Part 3: Top 5 Favorites from 2010 ~2018 (21st Century Edition)

My favorite anime openings post-2010 was much easier for me to pick from than previous decades, since it's freshest in my mind, and I've seen less shows in the past several years. I think the only new anime I watched this year was Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Arc. Unfortunately, none of the openings from CCS:CC made this list, despite my love for Maaya Sakamoto. Since this decade is not completely over, I chose five songs instead. This time around, I can clearly rank my favorite songs in order, starting with my most favorite as #1. The others songs have been tested with the passage of time, and I don't know if this will be the case for the songs I've chosen here, but I'm pretty sure I will enjoy these five songs for a long time to come.

I think I can't help having a 1990s taste in anime openings, which featured stronger hooks and a certain level of old school cheesiness. I realized I'm generally not a big fan of chaotic openings, both in terms of music and animation, which I think is more in vogue these days especially for shounen genre anime, not that I don't deny it works for some series. Neither do I like overly cutesy type openings (especially the gratingly squeaky kind), but again, I'm pretty open-minded as the list below probably covers a pretty wide range of anime genres and types of songs. I'm sure I must be forgetting some good opening themes but my rule of thumb for the test of time is if I don't remember it, it mustn't have been that great anyway.   

1. Guilty Crown OP1 - Egoist - "My Dearest" (2011)
This is one of my favorite openings in recent years, and was a chance find on Youtube recommendations. Because I liked it so much, I forced myself to watch the anime, which was not particularly as impressionable as the soundtrack. I wouldn't be able to summarize the plot of the anime for the life of me, but it was nicely animated and the character designs were good. The second opening, "The Everlasting," also by Egoist (of Supercell) is equally as excellent. Something about the vocals, the melody, the visuals all hits the right notes and embodies what the modern 21st century anime OP is all about. I think it'll remain one of the best openings of the decade to an otherwise lackluster anime TV series. Sometimes, the music is the best part of a series (Macross Frontier feat. Yoko Kanno).

2. Shingeki no Kyojin OP1 - Linked Horizon - "Guren No Yumiya" (2013) 
There are some anime openings that are so intense that you forget to breathe. Attack on Titan is probably THE shounen/fantasy anime of recent years, perhaps the only anime that could serve as a successor to the epic gritty shounen fantasy action that Fullmetal Alchemist was (though it will never come close to FMA in my heart). Actually that may be the main difference which sets apart FMA from others in its genre--the heart. The FMA characters, from Ed and Al, to the older military crew and even the side characters and villains are so well fleshed out and likeable. And the titans in Shingeki are just so ugly. In the AoT OP1, the German chanting, the smooth action sequences with detailed, rich backgrounds and the awesome composition by Linked Horizon (of Sound Horizon) make for the perfect anthem to a pretty chaotic anime. I admit, I put off watching this anime for a year before giving in because the opening sequence was so awesome. OP2 "Jiyuu no Tsubasa" is equally superb, with a more uplifting, anthem like tone to it, where as the first OP is urgent and frantic. I don't even remember what Season Two's OP3 was, however, though it had a too similar vibe to the other two. Anyhow, OP1 perfectly embodies the tone of the series in terms of music and animation in every way. 

3. Hanasakeru Seishounen - J-Min - "Change" (2009-2010)
I absolutely love J-Min's voice, and I chose this for the song more than the animation sequence, which is pretty generic limited-budget shoujo fare. My pet peeve over the past decade especially is how little effort goes into making shoujo series look good. You don't need a huge budget, but having consistent character designs and smooth animation and proper backgrounds can't be too hard. I'm not referring to this anime but just cookie-cutter shoujo series in more recent years. I recall enjoying this shoujo anime based off a manga by Natsumi Itsuki (who also wrote Jyu Oh Sei) since it had a splash of romance, political intrigue, a strong heroine, and that cheesy eighties romance novel feel. It is a reverse harem anime of sorts, done right. J-Min is a Korean singer, with a rock vibe, associated with SM Entertainment. This is also the most listenable song in this list.  

4. Magic Kaito 1412 OP2 - CHICO with HoneyWorks - "Ai no Scenario" (2015)
I love this opening song to pieces, and I've always enjoyed the various reincarnations of the Kaitou Kid franchise. Great job by HoneyWorks for writing a catchy, addictive hook. The opening animation sequence appears to have a more limited budget than Detective Conan, but it works well with the excellent song--I actually like the original HoneyWorks MV even more though!

5. Yuri!!! on Ice - Dean Fujioka - "History" (2016)
This was my favorite anime of that year, though I'm not really a sports anime genre fan generally. Ironically, several of my top favorite anime of the 1990s were sports anime ie. Slam Dunk and Cyber Formula. The opening animation sequence and choreography is fluid and beautiful in a minimalist way, which is attractive to me, since it's just Yuri, Yurio, and Victor skating--for a show centering around these characters about figure skating. I especially like it when animators update the opening sequence to progressively fill out with more color. Sometimes, openings have too many flashing images, psychedelic rendering, fan service character shots, random CGs and chaos, which suits some genres, like mecha and action series. But the appeal of this opening is how streamlined it is, how simple, and how well it suits its genre. I also find the singer Dean Fujioka to be a very hot and multi-talented actor as well. This is the most feel-good, inspiring song of the bunch.

Honorable Mentions:

The last last three openings are good and fall in 2010, but at the end of the day, I still prefer Yui's "Again" and Nico Touches the Walls' "Hologram," OP1 and OP2 respectively, as I mentioned in the previous list.Technically, both songs missed out making it onto the 2000-2009 list by just a hair because that decade had such strong contenders. After some consideration, I decided that unlike the previous list, I might like OP1 "Again" by Yui as a song a hair more that "Hologram," though I love all the thoughtful manga reference put into the OP2 animation sequence, such as the Roy Mustang vs. Lust scene. Cumulatively, I still think "Hologram" is the best opening theme of Brotherhood though for its animation sequence and shounen action anime tone in general--parallel to "Ready Steady Go." I could have included an FMA Brotherhood OP3~5 song into the list above, but at the end of the day, the first two songs are better. But I also like the original FMA OST better in general. Truthfully, I was just too emotional drained from the original FMA anime by the time I got to Brotherhood. The difference between the FMA franchise, and many other shounen anime out there, is that I got very emotionally invested in the characters and their life's voyage, and I love that both FMA series tries to imprint very strong visual messages, including the stop watch engraving of "Don't forget," the railroad, the sky, the hand/automail reaching to the sky, and so on. I suppose out of the 2010 opening themes, OP4, Chemistry's "Period" would be my pick as best theme song. It reminds of me of FMA's OP3 "Undo" a bit. OP5 was just depressing and a bit philosophical. 

Angel Beats! Lia - "My Soul, Your Beats" (2010)
This was a heavily music themed anime, and I went in not expecting much, but the OST was good and it was a more heartwarming anime than expected. Yui Makino (TRC's Princess Sakura) plays a character with like five words the entire show. Jun Maeda is like a male version of Tomoyo and does everything one his own from writing the script to composing the memorable music.

Selector Infected Wixoss OP - Kanon Wakashima - "Killy Killy Joker" (2014)
I have not watched the anime, nor have any clue what it's about, but the song is so darn catchy. It missed the top 5 list because I have an inkling I might get sick of the song if I listen to it too many times, but this song made me take another look at Kanon Wakeshima of Vampire Knight fame and her awesome cello skills. 

Umineko Nako Koro Ni (When the Seagulls Cry) - Akiko Shikata - "Katayori no Tori" (2009-2010)
The horror genre is usually not my slice of pie, but I do enjoy a good psychological thriller and mystery, and where as I couldn't watch Higurashi, I was drawn into Umineko initially because of Beatrice's awesome character design. Beatrice reminds me of Yuuko on crack and is likewise voiced Sayaka Ohara (Yuuko from xxxHOLIC). This operatic opening remains probably one of the more memorable openings of 2010, though unfortunately, fans of the original visual the anime was based on heavily criticized Studio Deen's production of the story. The ending is very unusual, a rock opera by Jimang from Sound Horizon, "la divina tragedia ~Makyoku~ and yes, you've heard Sound Horizon because of Attack of Titan.

Truthfully, I don't think this song will make it to my Top 10 list of the decade because I find the song a bit more forgettable than Maaya's other songs, and you all know how much I love her. This song was included for nostalgia's sake and a kickback to CCS OP3 Purachina, which I think is standing the test of time to be my Top 3 best anime opening theme of all time. The best part of the opening sequence is Sakura's feather dress, and I almost like the animated sequence of OP2 "Rocket Beat" by Kiyono Yasuno with the darker tone a bit more. But I found the song a tad bit forgettable and too bright compared to the imagery. Please, another collaboration between Yoko Kanno and Maaya Sakamoto for Season 2 of CCS:Clear Card so that we can close out this decade with another CCS song on the Top 10 list.

I'm pretty confident that my Top 5 best anime opening theme choices for the 2010~2019 decade will not change, but we'll see if I can even draw out a Top 10 next year. I think part of the reason I'm releasing this list early is because deep in my heart, I doubt there's going to be any strong game-changer or any challenger to the Top 5 list I have right now. I actually began writing this list in 2015, when I posted the Top 10 Openings Part 2, and the only new song I added since then was the Yuri!!! on Ice OP.  I'm kind of impressed at the range I covered as well, from Sci-Fi, Post-apocalyptic fantasy adventure, Shoujo, Shounen, and Sports. Truthfully, I can do away with all of the honorable mentions above and not bat an eye, and just have a Top 5 list for this decade. Most of the songs on the honorable mentions list I feel like won't stand the test of time for me, or I just included because they're supposed to be popular. For example, I debated including the opening for "Your Lie in April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, 2014)" because I think it was a very solid, well-made anime about classical music, and I do love Goose house, and the soundtrack was great, but it's a song I would forget in a couple years' time. In the list above, Guilty Crown's "My Dearest" is the best song, but I would say Attack of Titan's "Guren no Yumiya" is the best opening theme of the decade, though it's my least favorite song to listen to on my playlist of the Top 5 because it's too intense to listen to often. 

Please do weigh in and give me your recommendations in the comments below, and let me know if I've been missing out a great song!

Check out my list of:
Top 10 Anime Opening Themes Part 1: The 1990s
Top 10 Anime Opening Themes Part 2: 2000-2009
Top 10 Anime Ending Themes

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Update: Chapter 73.5: The Hong Kong Encounter A Side Completed Version is up! Happy International New Trials Day 2018!

It doesn't seem like a very big update, but, New Trials Chapter 73.5: The Hong Kong Encounter -- A Side: A Birthday to Remember, the complete version is up on! I added it into the previous version, so it might be confusing to find where you left off, so I recommend CTRL+F "July 13 evening" to get straight to the new part! 

When I was writing this special chapter, it was envisioned as a movie, were New Trials an anime, and I realized it's pretty long for a special, but that's becauymose, it's not really a side story per say, but envisioned as a feature film. I had been preparing more, including artwork, (and Chapter 73.5 Side B) but with work emergency situations, I didn't get as far as I intended. But I noticed on word count that New Trials is getting very close to the 2 million mark. I'm pretty sure it might pass it with the next chapter posts. It probably has passed the mark already, if you count the Kaitou Magician Origins and Legacy of the Five Force side stories. Not that length is what matters, but it will be a landmark, nonetheless, because our readers have read over 2 million words of this story! 

This one is in dedication to all the fans of New Trials and Card Captor Sakura, for celebrating the 19th year of this humble fanfiction. Happy International New Trials Day. And let's make next year, the 20th anniversary a big one! Thank your for sticking by this story for all these years and much love to you all! 

Music Spotlight:  

Akeboshi - "Haikyo no Sofa"

I feel like I haven't done a music spotlight in a long time. I've hit another one of those stumps where I've been trying to find fresh music to listen to when writing. I had to go back and dig out a lot of old music I loved as well. I've mentioned multiple times how much I love Akeboshi over the years and included "Akikaze no Uta" in the New Trials OST before. He is one of the rare artists that I own all the discography for. He's probably most famous for his Naruto endings, "Wind" and "Yellow Moon," the best songs in the franchise in my opinion. His songs has been on the NT playlist on repeat for numerous years, since the first album, because his music always puts me into a particular mood. I love both Naruto endings to pieces, but really, I love his whole albums to listen to--you know there are a lot of artists who only their singles are good, but I can listen to all of his discography on repeat over and over again without getting sick of it after all these years. I love the way he blends Japanese and English lyrics as well because he studied music in Liverpool, and I love the Celtic influence in his music as well. The best of "Haokyo no Sofa" is when he transitions seamlessly to Japanese lyrics.

If I had to choose, his first album, the eponymous "Akeboshi," will always remain my first album, but it's really hard to pick.  

Akeboshi - "Green Eyes"

This one may not be my favorite song by Akeboshi--simply because he has too many great songs, but I think the title is self-explanatory.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Update: Happy Birthday Li Syaoran 2018! Chapter 73.5 is up!

Syaoran's Birthday Cupcake
by wishluv on DeviantArt

I'm a little late with this post, because I ended up not getting as far as I wanted to. But I guess it's better than having nothing, so I posted what I could.

Chapter 73.5: The Hong Kong Encounter Side A is up on!

I've been wanting to write fluff for a long time, and Syaoran's birthday chapter might have been written before Chapter 73 was. Actually, it dates back to circa 2015, probably. You may all recognize some of the scenes from Syaoran's Birthday Omake #4.

Some of you might have correctly guessed that was actually not a dream sequence but real! Also, the good news is, I do have more of Chapter 73.5 written, but I just didn't have enough time to finish everything in time for Syaoran's birthday, unfortunately.

Happy Birthday Li Syaoran 2018!!!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Cardcaptor Sakura Clear Card-hen: Episode 22 Review! (Season Finale)

Episode 22: “Sakura’s Clear Cards”
aka "The Forbidden Trials of the Small Wolf and the Nefarious Thief of the Night"
aka "Stop Callin' Cuz I'm Kinda Busy"

So, I hope what we have is a season finale of CCS Clear Card, and that we may have another season perhaps by 2019, giving time for the manga to advance. We’re pretty much caught up with the manga at this point, though I was surprised that this episode slightly diverged from the most recent manga Chapter 24, especially the ending and the cloaked figure reveal, which I’m kind of disappointed in. But I think because it is the end of a season, the animators probably wanted to end on a more positive note, rather than a major cliffhanger. I didn’t really feel much like summarizing this episode, maybe because it’s the last one. So, I’ll just do it the way I do best. 

Rock, paper, scissors shoot!
Akiho: Darnit, I lost again.
Kaito: "There are dreams that are contrary to reality."
Momo: "Masayume" by Spitz, dreams that come true!

Sakura and Akiho shares same dreams of a man’s voice saying “You can never return,” Akiho tell her dream to Kaito, he tells her there are dreams contrary to reality, Momo later points out that there are also dreams that become reality, and Kaito says he will never let that happen. Makes you wonder what the tabooed magic he wants to activate is. I always get paranoid that tabooed magic is bringing back someone to life. I have watched too much Fullmetal Alchemist, perhaps, but that was also a theme in Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle.   

Sakura: I hope Syaoran notices my new hairstyle today.
Kero-chan's best line of the episode: "I'm still hungry because I'm a growing boy!"
Yue: Growing sideways.

Mr. Mike Kant the English teacher teaches nonsense English that will never be applicable to real life to the students, and Sakura shows off her nonexistent English skills, brought to you by the Hope Card, the group has picnic lunch per usual, Yamazaki-kun explains ciao, chow, chau, Kero-chan raves he got Osaka-ben wrong, and Syaoran is tardy again, failing to connect to Eriol, and doesn’t notice Sakura’s new hairstyle again. By the way, Naoko was right in saying, “Maybe it was a bad time for him.” Tokyo and England has an eight hour difference, and since the gang is eating lunch, it should be around noon in Japan, hence a little past 4 a.m. in England. Oh Syaoran.

Mike Kant: "Dream On," feat. Aerosmith.
Cardcaptor Sakura, an English education program sponsored by CLAMP, the College Language Aptitude Mastery Program.
Yamazaki: Chowx3!
Syaoran the tardy boy: Guys, Eriol won't answer my phone call!
Naoko: It's freakin' 4 a.m. in England! Give it a rest!
Sakura: Syaoran, don't you notice anything different about my hair today?
Syaoran: The antennas are blowing eastward, a storm is coming!

Sakura and Chiharu have cheerleading practice while Akiho looks on from the music room like a stalker. Final Boss Tomoyo gets Akiho to practically fess up she’s the cloaked figure, or at that she has weird dreams about Sakura, aka Alice in Clockland. 

Sakura: It took me an hour to dutch braid my hair, baka-Syaoran!
Yandere-Tomoyo: You may think you are the enemy of this season, Minion.
Tomoyo: But never forget, I am Final Boss.
Akiho: Tomoyo-san, I always wondered, are you Kaito-san's long lost evil daughter?
Sakura: Tomoyo doesn't look like Great-Grandfather Masaki, nor Aunt Sonomi. I wonder who she takes after.
At home, Fujitaka is making delish hamburger steaks, Sakura finishes washing up and come out with a cute towel cap, and Touya can’t resist and ruffles up her head, telling her to go to bed before 8:00 p.m. Protective much? It's actually my favorite scene of this episode though. On a second watch, I realized that he washed his hands after making the beef patties and was wiping his wet hands on her towel cap!

Touya: Mario Kart Mushroom???
Beef patty no justsu!
Touya: Meathead complete.
Kaijuu-Sakura: GAOOO!!!

Syaoran tries to call Eriol again in the evening but the call does go through. Syaoran thinks Eriol’s blocking the call with magic, but I don’t think he’s heard of Caller ID block features. He stares at his reflection in the balcony window in the evening, rasinban out and glowing, and swears he will certainly protect her, meaning Sakura, I guess. From what I heard, I think he said “kanarazu mamoru,” meaning he will certainly protect, without a pronoun. He could be meaning Eriol for all we know. Last time we saw Eriol, he was being attacked long-distance by Kaito, after all.

"Telephone" by Lady Gaga, ft. Beyoncé.
Eriol: Hello, hello, baby, you called?
I can't hear a thing
I have got no service
Eriol: Stop callin', Stop callin'
I don't wanna talk anymore
I left my head and my heart on the dance floor

House Elf Kero-chan blow-dries Sakura’s hair, Sakura reminisces about seasons 1-3 of the CCS anime, the cloaked figure appears on a telephone pole against a full moon, Kero-chan transforms into Cerberus but is trapped in the bedroom, and Sakura and the cloaked figure have magical showdown with balls of fire and jets of water. 

Kero-Dobby's product placement of the week: I'll blow-dry master's hair!
Sakura: Tomoyo's going to freak out that I'm going to fight my season finale battle in my pajamas!
 As If Tomoyo would allow the final episode of Clear Card to end with me in pajamas. I guess it's a sign that we will have another season.
Sakura: Was I supposed to call Syaoran when a new card appeared? Whatever. He only calls Eriol.
Cerberus: Tomoyo's going to freak when she finds out I have no video footage of the season finale batle!
Sakura: You're right, what are we going to do, Kero-chan?

Sakura: Thank goodness you aren't Syaoran.

The cloaked figure tries to take away the Clear Cards, Sakura sees Akiho’s face behind the cloak, Kaito appears with Momo and freezes time. He eventually decides to rewind time pointing out that the number of Clear Cards at the moment is not enough to activate the tabooed magic. The process of turning back time, in order to make Sakura and Akiho forget their encounter, does take a bit of a toll on Kaito, just like Syaoran always got drained when he used the Time Card. Sakura declares she is not alone and states her signature “zettai daijobou,” everything’s going to be all right, and the ending credits kick in. We wail in despair before the extra scene kicks in with Sakura leaving for school, her father seeing her off. Syaoran is waiting for her at the end of the road. She calls out, “Syaoran-kun!”

Kaito: Seriously, Sakura? You thought it's okay to enter the season finale in pajamas?
Sakura: Let's rewind time so that this all never happened--Tomoyo's going to go berserk if she finds out she missed the season finale!
Kaito: But we've got to wait another whole year for a supermoon this big.

Question of the year: Who are Tina-chan, Rie-chan, and Triax-chan?
Yandere-Kaito: Fools, I'm the Final Boss!

And I would like to see, “Kero-chan’s Eat Till You Drop" show anytime! Kind of bummed they didn’t have a “See you next season” sort of message at the end of the episode though.  

Sakura: I really want to get Syaroan a mirror for his birthday next month. I catch him looking at his reflection in windows all the time, poor thing!
Kaito: Heavy, heavy, heavy!
Momo: It's all the sweets you make her.
Sakura: Diet is a taboo topic in CCS! Remember what happened to Syaoran last time!
Sakura: Syaoran! Guess what I bought you for your birthday one month from now?
Syaoran: Oh gosh, I know it's a mirror. Thank goodness we're going off air after this episode.
Syaoran: And who knows, I may be Final Boss yet.
Eriol: Not that I don't like you, I'm just at a party
And I am sick and tired of my phone r-r-ringing!
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