Digiboy’s Acadime Award for Best OP

1. Friends – Dance in the Vampire Bund

The song doesn’t do much for me, but in the context of the video it does its job nicely, creating a lively and dramatic tone. It opens with stylized images cut between random pictures of spot-colored flowers that I’m honestly not fond of. However, by featuring so little real animation, what’s seen stands out more, such as Akira looking for Mina in the shadows of an industrial complex.

And then he finds Mina standing beautifully atop the structure, and as the word “sepia” is uttered in the lyrics, a lush golden hue overtakes the images. What follows is, long and by far, one of my favorite animated segments of all time. Mina gracefully dances ballet in and out of the foreground in spectacular defiance of reality. Her outfit is as impossible as her dance moves, but brave and gorgeous.

Just as she leaps forth, thrusting out her arm with a look of complete happiness on her face, she slips, turning instantly to drama as she falls. Akira swoops in to catch her, and the video closes with her burying her head into his chest—a powerful display of affection that speaks so much more dramatically than some lame-ass kiss.

2. Gravity 0 – Star Driver

(Note: This video contains both the OP and ED.) I’m a huge fan of continuous shots (Children of Men and Oldboy are fucking fantastic for this), especially when they follow a character in a side-scrolling video game-like environment. Takuto lazily stalks the technicolor daydream that is the island with a sort of nonchalant enthusiasm unique to his character.

As he takes off into a run up the stairs coordinated with the rising tension in music, the camera has to sort of jerk itself alert to keep up with his sudden burst of speed, which I think is a brilliant touch. Then he flies—at least, his ultra-long legs make it look like he does. The spirited way that he seems to react to the energy of the music reminds me of another favorite OP of mine, Taiyou no Mannake e from Eureka Seven (another BONES anime). After passing by the show’s major characters (and a couple of noteworthy vehicles) in a flash, he finally jumps the rail, summons Tauburn, and flies off, breaking free from the chain of his set path.

I know that some people didn’t like the song because of the singer’s nasally voice, but it didn’t bother me much. That said, I probably wouldn’t listen to the song outside the context of this OP.

3. God Only Knows – Kami Nomi zo Shiru Sekai

(Note: This video is flipped.) I feel it must be noted that the full version of this song is a staggering eight-minute musical suite. The artist it’s credited to is “Oratorio The World God Only Knows” (it’s actually ELISA, who sang the ef openings). The song is meant to be comically pretentious, what with its orchestral sound and chorus of voices. This, I feel, is the people at Manglobe lampooning their own pretentious anime library, much in the way that Kami Nomi lampoons visual novel stories.

Anyway, onto the video; it begins with a slow build and cyber-flavored visuals made to look, I imagine, like the inside of a PFP. The dark visual element lends itself well to the feeling of mystery from the song. Once it blows up into the upbeat portion, we see the more usual anime OP character images, as well as some hilarious Death Note-esque pictures of girls as a flock of angels rising to meet God.

Once the song changes again into my favorite section, the visuals also undergo a complete change, and now feature Keima wandering through life, his head buried in the depths of his PFP. The way that the backgrounds digitally pop in and out looks very cool, and for the perfect climax, Keima lifts his PFP on high, signifying it as a truly holy object.

4. Koko Dake no Hanashi – Kuragehime

Chatmonchy performs the music in this OP, which I know because glothelegend has an utter fangasm at the mention of their name; it’s an enjoyable, cute sort of indie-rock song. In spite of having a weird chorus, I’ve found that it’s a hell of an earworm, sneaking up on me at random times.

The video almost doesn’t need to be spoken for. Cycling through short parodies of classic films, it caught pretty much everyone’s attention right away. It’s held together by Brains Base/Omori Takahiro’s special brand of natural flow that you’ll see again in just a short while.

Even as it parodies all those movies, however, the video is true to its characters, portraying bits of their personalities that can only be caught from watching the show. Getting in that layer of depth without hurting the movie parody energy is what I think really makes this video shine.

5. Kuchizuke – Shiki

Musically, this is my favorite OP of 2010. BUCK-TICK’s gothically-themed music has a definitive atmosphere and the vocals drip like liquid sin from every lyric. I couldn’t have imagined a better song to open up this grinningly dark show every week (which is why I was quite displeased about it changing halfway through).

There’s so much to say about the imagery in this video, starting right off with the little Sunako statue twirling over whatever dead thing’s just been frozen to the screen. Twirling and turning are fixtures of this video, instilling a sense of chaos and fear from the characters portrayed. When their heads are all shown cycling around, a translucent skull appears over them. Blood drips from the screen itself. As the song title, “kuchizuke,” (kiss) is sung, we travel between the lips of a vampiric temptress into dark and strange images.

Why do the characters look so frightened? Why is a red moon, half-filled with blood, in all of their eyes? As the singer croons “come into my arms,” (oide! kono ude no naka), Muroi holds out his arm for Sunako, a nice little piece of foreshadowing. And that’s about when everyone starts getting their flesh burned away revealing their skeletons, blood starts shooting out of trees, eyes appear in the darkness, faces are displayed in stained-glass strangeness, and Gackt Kirishiki invites us all to the carnival that is Shiki. Of course it ends on a skull.

6. Mittsu Kazoete Daishuugou! – Mitsudomoe

(Warning: Video is fucking LOUD.) This was my favorite “normal” anime op of the year; a high-tension comedy rampage that this hilarious series certainly deserves. This opening is packed to the brim with in-references from the get-go (Mitsubasama), character jokes, and fun, without ever stopping to take a breath.

For starters, good luck watching the first running segment on anything that won’t make it tear to hell, seriously. Anyway, my favorite part of the hallway-running segment is the three fangirls in the background of Futaba’s part all ogling the terrified pretty-boy in the front. Then Futaba chops a desk in half just by sort of dropping her arm on it—this moment made me laugh out loud every single time I saw it while watching the series.

The chaotic fun all converges in a dancing flash mob on the track field, and thus begins the weirdest dance sequence in any anime OP/ED. The poor dad can’t even make it through the OP without getting arrested.

7. SOMEONE ELSE – Working!!

I’m automatically biased to love this song, being as omo, TheBigN, and I did a hilarious karaoke of it at Otakon 2010. It’s a hyper-energetic song that definitely takes getting used to, but always grabs my attention.

The video is one of those that every AMV-maker seems to aspire to make, what with all its sleek digital backgrounds and striking colors. The characters have been animated as if the animators’ lives were at stake if it wasn’t perfect. There’s an extreme attention to detail in every single frame that makes me want to watch it again and again just to take in the visual splendor.

It goes without saying that the best part is when an army of mini-Poplars comes marching through, crippling Takanashi with cuteness. (Always keep your eyes peeled for the defective unit!) All in all, this op is visually fun in a way that almost nothing else is.

8. Uragiri no Yuuyake – Durarara!!

When a video opens up on a black motorcycle tearing down the road to a rolling beat, I know I’m in for something great. THEATRE BROOK’s Uragiri no Yuuyake drips with cool, and when it comes to the works of Narita Ryougo, cool is the word of the day.

Like the Baccano OP before it and the Kuragehime OP after it, this video teleports between locations by following random objects as they travel between the characters, for each of whom the camera freezes Guy Ritchie-style to display their name. That brings me to the thing that bothers me about the video, however, which is the weird frame-skipping technique used to make it shudder suddenly between movements. It’s an interesting trick, but it hurts my brain to watch.

Possibly my favorite part of this opening over the course of the show was how it would segue into a recap in the middle of the song, play the wicked guitar solo over it, and then seamlessly melt back into the video. Slick shit.

9. Utauyo! Miracle – K-On!!

(Note: This video is flipped.) I’m not sure where to start with this complex and entertaining OP. Musically, Utauyo Miracle is chaotic, but in a concentrated way that totally works. It captures the feeling of a band that doesn’t really know what they’re doing in terms of songwriting, but the actual songwriters clearly do; they turn out incredible performances on every instrument and form an arrangement that feels equal parts pop, rock, and jazzy. Then we’ve got Toyosaki Aki’s vocals that must’ve been the most exhausting thing to record.

The band plays a gig on top of desks in their classroom, and besides KyoAni’s usual attention to detail in making the girls actually play the song correctly, they’ve also got Yui making up her own little dance moves (which is why I want to karaoke this song SO BAD).

In-between the classroom live, we see the girls doing their usual thing in the clubroom, having way too much fun, introducing themselves and one-another, and generally enjoying life. This video carries the warmth of the entire series in its heart.

10. Venus to Jesus – Arakawa Under the Bridge

Yakushimaru Etsuko’s soft-spoken vocals have this strange quality to them, like there’s an element of mystery to this cuteness; the weird muted part in the middle emphasizes that feeling.

The video clearly takes its key from that cute-yet-strange feeling, matching the floaty music to images that seem to be swimming through empty space; all colored in ultra-light pastels, predominantly focused on pinks, purples, and greens. Beyond just a tonal similarity, the video is also full of literal visual representations of the lyrics, such as Nino in a dress and crown for “princess” (ohimesama), and airplane tickets followed by a plane itself between “tickets” and “air force.”

Nino’s personality is perfectly captured in the animation as she seems completely unaffected and perhaps even at home in the trippy surroundings (whereas poor Recruit has no idea what’s going on). Even her occasional seriousness comes through in a deliciously-animated sequence of her falling from a plane, then later helping Recruit out of the river at the end. And it wouldn’t be right not to mention the assloads of fish.

I loved all ten of the Best OP nominees and would’ve loved to give several the chance of winning (Kuchizuke and Someone Else in particular, not to mention Go!Go!Maniac, which was disqualified by U!M), but really, there was no competition. Utauyo Miracle is easily one of the greatest opening videos in anime, and I’ve been dying for the chance to crack it open for a look at why.

Watching Utauyo Miracle is like watching an entire episode of K-On condensed into a 1.5-minute music video. It goes way beyond introducing the characters and their personalities or showing them do something cool—there are actually narratives running through the video, telling miniature stories of the club’s adventures. I’m going to break each of them down.

When the video opens on its massive bassline, Yui and Ritsu are turning on, adjusting, and posing for a video camera that they’ve set up, most likely to parallel the episode where they tried to make a club video. To start it off, they all face a wall and then spin around to face the camera one at a time, ending with Yui dropping to her knees ultra-cutely. They do a collection of really strange dances for the camera, and of course since there’s no way they’d think to cut parts out, Yui rushing in to stop Mugi’s dance remains.

Yui peeks up at the camera’s eye, then holds up a sign with her name on it and then her Gitah, introducing it. Ritsu, always the expert in these things, poses pleasantly, though her name-board is a mess. Mugi’s naturally has elegant calligraphy of the huge kanji that make up her name. Azu-nyan also writes her name in neat kanji, with furigana on top of it, reflecting her nature as the level-headed one. Mio is too shy for this kind of thing, so they record her playing bass and Ritsu holds up a sign reading “Mio” in English while Mugi points to her.

Next we see the threads of a branching narrative as Yui seems to explain a dance move she wants to try to the others. A little bit after that, the girls are trying to do this move, but they keep messing up and having to re-take. Everyone laughs when Mio, of all people, is the one to mess up. I want to note that Mio laughs too—this isn’t laughter at her expense. Everything in this video is true, lighthearted, joyous fun. Later, they finally get the kick move right.

That’s one thread—next we have the live show that the girls are playing on desks in the classroom. It’s a big fun chaotic mess with confetti flying everywhere and classmates going wild. Here my aforementioned favorite part of the video arrives, with Yui doing her little dance along to the lyrics. It needs to be mentioned that she’s singing into a box of Pocky—not an ounce of seriousness.

KyoAni’s visual technical mastery continues with such spectacular shots as a camera beneath one of Ritsu’s symbols when she plays the symbol-crossing notes at the chorus entrance. The third time Yui does her dance, the crowd seems to have caught on and all of them start doing it along with her. As a frequent concert-goer, I must say that I always love it when and audience catches on to what the front-man is doing at parts (sometimes even mimicking what they saw in the music video). Yui looks extremely happy to see the crowd doing her dance.

Those are the main narratives, but there’s still much more going on in the video. My favorite little piece is when the camera cuts between several of the girls waving their hands around a piece of cake, as if putting a hex on it, and then when Yui goes to eat the strawberry on top, it falls off of her fork. This whole sequence is less than three seconds long. And before I forget, god damn Yui’s face is cute when she says “arigatou” towards the end.

13 thoughts on “Digiboy’s Acadime Award for Best OP

  1. I hate K-On with every ounce of my being, but that’s not why I’m in disagreement with this choice. To be honest, the OP from K-On season one was good. In fact it might have been my favorite of that season, but this one just sounds like a jumbled mess of instruments tangled together with no rhythm whatsoever. I honestly expected a better OP from K-On, even if the show is one of the worst ever made.

    Putting aside my complete and utter bias for both Chatmonchy and Kuragehime, I’d have to go with either Durarara or Shiki. Though I must admit that I liked pretty much every OP nomination, aside from Star Driver, which had awesome animation but I just can’t take Gravity 0.

  2. You know you mentioned the animation in the Working! OP but I’d never really noted it. When I just watched it now you know what I noticed. Goddamn shadows, and good ones at that. Inevitably I compare this OP to Soramimi cake but I never realized the similarity extended as far as the use of shadows. (though I kinda took the Azumanga shadows for granted too)

    Now onto the real meat, Utauyo! Miracle. I’ve got a couple favorite moments in the video. The first is when RItsu does the Running Man dance on the screen in her socks. I would so make a gif out of that if the K-On logo wasn’t embossed across the screen at that exact moment. The second moment is at the beginning of the second chorus the camera flips around and lands on Yui’s finger pointed to the sky right as she sings “Tension” which I feel puts a really strong exclamation point on that line, especially since it takes place at the beginning of the chorus. Right after that they zoom to her face and then her feet. The whole moment is rather like a pan down except in 3 parts but it adds to overall energy of the song.

    Another thing I noticed each girl plays her instrument in character during their introductions. I particularly like Mugi’s sort of care-free plunking at the piano. Meanwhile Ritsu plays willy-nilly, Azusa plunks out a couple of cords, Mio is precise, and Yui doesn’t play at all.

    Lastly, I love the coda. Especially in the context of the show. The echoing “daisuki”s have an aura to them of finality but the visuals are one of eternity. As the song winds down it parallels the fact that it is the end of the last half of the 2nd season of K-On and essentially the end of the show. (movie notwithstanding) In particular the voices in the background are fading and diminishing. It’s actually a technique I feel like I’ve encountered a fair amount but the only notable example I can think of right now is Nagisa~ Farewell at the Foot of a Hill has the same sort of fleeting repetition. The visuals of course show the girls repeatedly hugging and singing together and speaks the unity of the girls but the coda of the song signals the end of era for the girls and for the audience. It makes me :-(

  3. TBH I’m not a big fan of ANY of these nominees. I like K-ON!’s because well, I’m a fan of the show and that moment when part of the crowd starts twirling along with Yui is my favorite part of it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t think it’s superior to Cagayake Girls. As EDs go however… that show fucking owns.

  4. Pingback: 2010 Acadime Awards: Best Actress in a Supporting Role | My Sword Is Unbelievably Dull

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