Thursday, April 23, 2015

Best Anime Openings Part I: Top 10 Favorites of the 1990s (20th Century Edition)

I was absolutely sure I did a post long ago on my top favorite anime openings, since i did one on the Top 10 Best Ending list some years ago. And I realized, being silly me, I had written the draft post at the same time as the Best Ending and never published it. Luckily, I have  not watched a lot of anime over the past several years, hence I don't think my opinion has changed much since I wrote this post. I think the anime you watch when you're younger just resonate with you longer. I still love watching anime, but I just haven't found many shows that hit the right chords with me these days.

For me, good openings 1) seem to tell a story through the animation sequence 2) do some clever (or blatant) foreshadowing of plotlines to come, employ symbolism or imagery, or reveal something about the anime that is not delved into as much in the series and/or make you feel excited about characters shown 3) have a catchy chorus/ riff that makes you anticipate the show 4) can be rewatched again after the show ends, and you still can discover details in retrospective or makes you want to go back to the series again.

I finished writing up this list, the longest time it has ever taken to write a post, and stupid Blogspot deleted the draft, so this is my second time writing it. It's not going to be as thorough as my first post, and I think I am about to hate Blogspot, but here is shot deux. Heck, I've rewritten significant portions of New Trials chapters before and redrawn artwork deleted before, something like this won't daunt me. Actually, it is still annoying finding each song and checking each title and artist all over again. I don't trust this site anymore.

But, luckily, I still did have a draft from my 2009 entry, which I could use as reference. I think things you see/watch/hear/taste when you're younger definitely have a much more impact and a lasting impression. So I was slightly biased when choosing my favorite anime openings for those anime I watched pre-2000, in my childhood years. Thus, I'm going to separate the list into 20th century and post-2000.

In the ye olden days, anime openings were pretty much the anthems of anime; the opening personified the anime. There was less of the generic harem intro pop and more artistic openings in general, in my opinion. For me, the songs below also hold sentimental value and bring about nostalgia for the golden era of anime. Because I could not particularly rank the songs, I decided to go by chronological order.

1. Future GPX Cyber Formula OP -
G-Grip - "I'll Come" (1991)
Cyber Forumla was one of my earliest anime loves. I know. How did I end up liking a shounen anime about Formula-1 driving (from the masterminds behind the Gundam franchise and Sunrise). I have no interest in cars or racing. But for me, it's really not so much what the context is, but the characters, and this anime (and all subsequent OVAs) remain one of my favorite anime till this day. I heard the Korean version of this song first, which was a dub of the Japanese version. It's an uplifting, inspirational song and still makes me smile nostalgically. I might like the Korean version more because the lyrics always resonate with me, especially the opening lines, "Like a waterfall, like a typhoon, race, Cyber Formula. Now you will able to accomplish it, yours and my miracle." Trust me, it sounds a lot better in Korean and makes more sense in its original form. The Japanese lyrics are more love-inspirational.

2. Slam Dunk OP1 - Baad - "Kimi ga suki dago sakebitai" (I want to shout that I love you) (1993)

I think Slam Dunk is the most epic sports manga/anime ever, and Japan probably would agree since Inoue is held in high esteem and Slam Dunk has remained the most popular manga in Japan for many years. Surprisingly enough, the Korean translation of the song pretty much was completely accurate with the same lyrics of "I want to shout that I love you." The lyrics resonate with Sakuragi Hanamichi perfectly, and the video is stunning and brilliant and makes you want to run out and play basketball. This song has a refreshing feel of adolescence, seishun, youth, passion. Take note of the basketball sound effects in the beginning. I never got into another sports anime like I was into Slam Dunk, which was all the rage in Korea. During gym class back when I was in junior high, the girls would sit on the bleachers and we would assign the boys in our class to various Slam Dunk characters. Good old days.   Random trivia: Akagi Arima from my fanfiction New Trials is partially named after Sakuragi's love interest, Akagi Haruno.

3. Magic Knight Rayearth OP1 - Naomi Tamura - "Yuzurenai Negai" (Unyielding Wish) (1994)
I love everything about this opening, the song, the video, that exhilarating electric guitar riff in the beginning draws your right into the world of Cephiros. Magic Knight Rayearth was my introduction to CLAMP anime back in 1996, and the first time I saw the preview for it, I knew I was going to love it just by the 30-second commercial. A key characteristic of 1990s openings is the sound effects that sort of went out of style post-2000. The orchestra version of this song is one of the most beautiful instrumental renditions of an opening song in any anime.

4. Fushigi Yuugi OP - Akemi Satoh - "Itoshii Hito no Tame ni" (For My Darling) (1995)
This is one of the rarer instances where I prefer the Korean opening song over the Japanese song. This opening sequence I would rank as in my top 5 favorite animation sequences as it hows the promise of fantasy and adventure. Everyone looks beautiful, all the action is put to the music on cue, the characters unfold like a story, the romance, the fiery tension, the mythical elements, everything is packaged so well into 1 minute 30 seconds. 

5. The Vision of Escaflowne OP - Maaya Sakamoto - "Yakusoku wa Irenai" (I Don't Need Promises) (1995)
I consider this opening one of the most poignant anime openings of all times because from the urgent chords of the piano opening the song, you are already transported into a mystical world promising adventure, fantasy and high romance. The role of Hitomi and this song catapulted young Maaya Sakamoto to fame in 1996. "Yakusoku" remains very popular to this day and is played in a lot of Yoko Kanno and Maaya Sakamoto concerts. Though it may not be my favorite Yoko+Maaya combo, this song I think marks the beginning of it all. Besides, I think the op sequence animation is stunning, surreal and just epic. While the Escaflowne character-designs might take some getting used to, the animation is stellar, surpassing any CG mecha anime made post 2000. Now that I think about it, I was first exposed to Yoko Kanno's music when I was a preteen (not that I cared about composers or seiyuu or directors or anything of that sort at that age.) But no wonder I've been hooked ever since.

6. Slayers Next OP - Megumi Hayashibara - "Give a Reason" (1996)
Not usually my type of song, but it's the best Slayers opening and a very upbeat, catchy 90s J-Pop representation. My best friend who introduced me to J-Pop in the first place sang it for me back in middle school, and the song always randomly finds its way back onto my playlist every so often. I also recommend Slayers Try opening them song
"Breeze" also by Hayashibara.


7. Record of Loddoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight OP -
Maaya Sakamoto - "Kiseki no Umi" (Sea of  Miracles) (1998)
A hauntingly beautiful song and OP for the only show on this list I have never watched. I didn't know it was sung by Maaya because she sounds more mature here. If I have to be really honest, objectively speaking, in terms of portraying the ambiance of a fantasy adventure, this song is probably one of the best anime opening songs out there (though I have other personal favorites from the Yoko Kanno and Maaya Sakamoto duo). 

8. Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne OP2 - Lastier - "Dive into Shine" (1999)
I like the first opening anime sequence better and the second opening song better. In Korea, they used the second song with the first anime sequence, so it worked out well for me. I especially love the shot where Jeanne is staring at Chiaki on the balcony lit by the moonlight in the first opening sequence. But the second song is a win!

9. Detective Conan OP6 - B'z - "Giri Giri Chop" (1999)
This was the one opening that almost didn't make it to the list. Don't get me wrong, I love B'z--they're my No. 1 favorite Japanese band, and I am thankful to have been introduced to B'z through Detective Conan. The reason I wasn't going to use this OP is because I don't consider it the strongest out of Detective Conan's gazillion openings and endings, and they used recycled animation from previous seasons. My theory is that rights to B'z song must cost more than other artists, hence they have to save budget via cutting down on new animation. Who knows. With the exhilarating pace of the song, the opening is a big of a mess but gets your adrenaline pumping. And this opening does something unique, which is integrating live video clips of the artists, guitarist Tak Matsumoto and vocalist Koshi Inaba, into the animation. It works because of their legendary status. This song marked the start of the B'z and Detective Conan partnership over the next decade and a half, still going strong, and was the first Detective Conan song to reach No. 1 on Oricon (like all other B'z songs, but an impressive feat for an anime single). I chose this song because of what it symbolizes for the ongoing Detective Conan franchise. Plus, I used to listen to this song quite frequently because it was on my workout playlist. This opening was used in episodes 143-167.

10. Card Captor Sakura OP3 - Maaya Sakamoto - "Purachina" (Platinum) (1999-2000)
This song remains high on the Japanese polls' list of most popular anime themes, and rightfully so. Season 3 of mahou shoujo anime Card Captor Sakura transcended the typical magical girl genre anime and became a classic on its own right--and I'm not exaggerating if I say this opening is a testament of the sheer genius and lasting-power of this CLAMP anime. The opening sequence is one of the most beautiful and well-planned sequences in all shoujo anime-dom with its simple yet sophisticated scenario. Sakura's white dress with pink trimmings remains an iconic outfit (kudos to Tomoyo), and I love the way all the characters flit through. I always held my breath to catch a 1-second glimpse of glaring Syaoran in the OP when CCS was broadcasted on NHK-2. CCS Season 3 is the first anime I caught live broadcast on NHK-2 because I was lucky enough to get transmission on satellite TV in Korea. I didn't even know it was a Maaya Sakamoto and Yoko Kanno collaboration until several years later, which is funny because back then, I was pleasantly surprised because OP3 was the only CCS theme song I actually really LOVED.This opening is a stellar because more than a decade later, it still remains classy, well-animated and does not seem dated at all. Plus the lyrics are meaningful as well, written by the third-leg of the Yoko-Maaya combo, Yuho Iwasato. I included this song in the 1990s list because Season 3 began airing in September 1999, in fact, just when I started to write New Trials. 

If I had to pick my top three favorite songs in this list, it would be from Cyber Formula, Magic Knight Rayearth and CCS, partially because of how much I loved each anime but also because I loved the individual melodies. If I had to pick the best opening in terms of song and opening sequence match-up, I would say it's Escaflowne's opening because of the fluid animation and strong, rich images that resonate with the song. Secret confession, I didn't even particularly like any of the characters or understand the plotline completely when I first watched the anime. I grew to appreciate Escaflowne more in later years. Another secret confession: I don't really care for mecha, but would tolerate it for good characters, strong plotlines or good music, such as Code Geass (for CLAMP character designs) or Macross Frontier (for Yoko Kanno music). But I could never tackle the Gundam franchise, though ironically, while I have no interest in car racing, one of my favorite shounen anime remains the Cyber Formula series, from the same creators behind Gundam and the same studio, Sunrise. 

Likewise, I debated including in this list some popular songs such as Evangelion or Cowboy Bebop, but at the end of the day, I decided to stick to my favorites, songs that I would still listen to nowadays. One thing in common with the songs below are that I have listened to them on my playlist at some point in time, so I believe them to be good songs with lasting power. Next, on to the 21st century which will be a lot of fun because of how dynamic the choices are. 

What are your favorite anime openings of the 1990s? Of all-time? Comment below!


  1. Hmm... I know maybe half of the OPs for the series I actually did watch (CCS, FY, KKJ, MKR, Escaflowne), and then I've listened to Slam Dunk's OP song (Goose house cover btw:, as well as Sakamoto Maaya's Kiseki no Umi. My favorite from this group would be Purachina, followed by Yakusoku wa Irenai (both Maaya XD).

    The only other song off top of my head that I like would be the Digimon Adventure 01's Butter-fly by Wada Kouji, in fact, I still listen to his other Digimon songs a lot even now. I also thought of Shaman King's OP1 and 2, Oversoul/Northern Lights by Hayashibara Megumi but it turns out that SK started in 2001. For sure I thought it was older than that, considering that One Piece started 1999... anyways, not a whole lot. Definitely more favorites in 2000s.

  2. I agree with your list, i also like flame of recca theme and voltes V, so old hahaha but it reminds me of my childhood. I'm sooooo old. But actually, the super best one is you wishluv! Posting and appreciating things like these even the anime was already a decade ago is really something. Keep it up please (heart)