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- June 12, 2015 at 2:18 PM #21600
Top 10 Opening Theme Songs
In comparison to western animated programs, anime with its approach to opening themes is distinctively unique by using a good mix of up and coming artists and popular singers and bands in Japan. Some of the songs are popular in a universal appealing sense outside of anime fandom while others are exclusively known as just an anime theme song. A good number of songs happen to have been ranked on the Oricon charts, the Japanese equivalent to billboard rankings.
Plus, they make great for karaoke and maybe some can help with those interested in learning Japanese! Some may also be excellent for exercising. Accompanying the songs are awesome animated sequences which can go well with the lyrics, beat, melody, percussions or any other sound cue. The opening song is the audience’s gateway to the show and to some fans, the opening song can be the make or break of a show’s appeal. Now I will share with you some of my favorites that I tend to listen to on my play list and sing at karaoke.
10. Mach Go Go Go -Mach Go Go Go- by Vocal Shop
Air Dates: February 1967 – March 1968
You remember the Speed Racer theme song? Surprisingly the original Japanese song maintains the same melody though the hook is a bit more militaristic with its percussions. The English song may be a bit more campy but the Japanese version just feels more masculine with it's deeper vocals. Both songs share that racing is a dangerous sport but Speed/Go will pull through and win.
Both versions use the same animation sequence. However, I feel the delivery of the Japanese version comes across more effective with the crashes and explosions while the English version just seems to make light of it.
9. Sakura Taisen -Geki! Teikou Kagekidan- by Yokoyama Chisa
Air Dates: April 2000 – September 2000
Based on the Sega RPG series that started on the Saturn, the anime also uses the theme song from the game (and also was able to achieve the number 15 spot on the Oricon charts) to give it a full feeling of faithfulness to its original source material.
Based on the all female musical troupe called the all female Takarazuka Kagekidan theater group in Hyogo prefecture, comes the Teikoku Kagekidan whose seiyuus also sing this song. Its opening instrumentals reflect the theatrical aspect of the group and the imperial atmosphere of the series time setting of the Taisho era, roughly the 1920s.
The lyrics are pretty much straightforward with the Teikoku Kagekidan introducing themselves and who and what they fight for. The animation itself uses a mix of the characters singing and dancing the song on stage and also gives viewers glimpses of its steam punk with its mech action sequences.
8. Dragon Ball GT
Dan Dan Kokoro Hikareteku by Field of View
Air Dates: February 1996 – November 1997
Granted this installment of the Dragon Ball franchise has fans split over its story telling qualities, I feel nobody can deny its amazing soundtrack, most especially its opening theme, Dan Dan Kokoro Hikareteku, which debuted at number 4 of the Oricon charts. The lyrics blend in with the intentions of this series in wanting to go back to its roots as an adventure centric anime and going back to one’s simple days such as the case of Goku since he is turned back into a child again.
The opening guitars and chorus blend excellently well and I love how the verses go with the drum beats. With the verses, the song is very calm and has this day dreamy feel whole the chorus is a strong Declaration of that person’sintent.
The song may be more romantic in nature, but it expresses a great passion in how far the person wants to express their love no matter what the obstacles. I still feel the song resonates in context to Dragon Ball because no matter what ones’s goals are whether it would be professing your feelings, finding seven magic balls, or defeating the most powerful being in he universe, it takes a certain amount of courage and the right passion to achieve it.
The animation In the opening perfectly uses a mix of comedy, action, mystery and adventure and the song assists in bringing the audience into that world.
7. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Stardust Crusaders -Stand Proud- by Hashimoto Jin
Air Dates: April 2014 – June 2015
Whether it would be the verses or in the chorus, the song maintains a very masculine and intense tone. The song title is a double meaning in reference to the concept of the astral warriors called stands and to stand against one’s enemy. The chorus and the guitar licks go hand in hand with its pacing and wants you to throw your fists and scream ORA ORA ORA ORA ORA!!! The way this song is composed feels a lot like Bruce Lee’s analogy from Enter the Dragon of what a fight is and that it is like a small play done well. This song exhibits what a fight is and if you need an entrance song to the arena for a fight or pro wrestling match, this is the song to pump you and the crowd up. I like to listen to this song when I hit the heavy bag and it always drives me to punch the bag harder and faster.
The animation sequence uses cel-shading graphics in vain of the classic Dreamcast title, Jet Set Radio, like the Jojo franchise, is heavily influenced by music. It is full of imagery that long time manga fans will instantly identify while it will naturally be a mystery to viewers who have never read it. The animation style is more appropriate to the original manga style and that the series for the past twenty years has been popular exclusively as a manga. The psychedelic colorings and the Japanese use of onomatopoeias also perfectly play tribute to it as if Araki-sensei himself had full control of the anime version.
6. Cowboy Bebop -Tank- by The Seatbelts
Air Dates: April 1998 – April 1999
As every fan knows, as eurobeat is the identity of Initial D, jazz is the identity of Cowboy Bebop, and nothing can establish that more than its opening theme, Tank. The composition of this song with its tempo, powerful percussions and calm acoustics beautifully reflect the pace and tone of the series and you're in for one hell of a space ride.
The opening animation feels a lot like a 1970s blaxploitation film and it perfectly reflects its funk with action and women.
Even though the series has no lyrics, the opening monologue of “I think it’s time to blow this scene. Get everybody and the stuff together. OK, 3, 2, 1 let’s jam” is more than enough to provide the audience the fun and yet down to business attitude of the Bebop crew.
5. Slam Dunk -Kimi Ga Suki Da To Sakebitai- by BAAD
Air Dates: October 1993 – March 1996
The first theme song to the hit high school basketball classic. Even at over 20 years old, this series and theme song still represents youth basketball to the Japanese. I have been to a number of high school basketball games in Japan and this song is always used in the opening ceremonies to get the audience and players excited.
The song with its opening chords, guitar licks and spirited lyrics all have incredible energy that pumps your adrenaline and it makes an old man like me go back to my teen years. The song reflects on Sakuragi’s crush on Haruko and that he wants to do his best to impress her, but also improve himself as a human being and embracing his new found passion as his own.
The opening animated sequence with Rukawa, Sakuragi and Akagi dunking go great with the hook and accurately gives the audience what they're going to see.
4. GTO -Driver’s High- by L’arc~en~ciel
Air Dates: June 1999 – September 2000
L’arc~en~ciel isn't just a quality band for the best anime songs, but for J-rock as a whole. Many readers may know them for their contributions to the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime installment and in the first season of Gundam 00. As for my personal favorite, it has to be Driver’s High from GTO which was number 2 on the Oricon charts.
I think every aspect of the song perfectly reflects Onizuka’s character that he has no limits and lives care free. Just the beginning of the song with an engine revving with Onizuka pulling the throttle on his motorcycle makes your heart pumping. The lyrics are about living life to one’s fullest no matter what and that is also what Onizuka is all about. The instrumentals are very spirited and energetic and the guitar licks make you feel like you're on a road trip even if you haven't seen the actual music video to the song. I feel it inspires someone to really go out and have some fun.
The animation sequence to the song is psychedelic but it also has this feel that the audience can immediately understand the nature of Onizuka’s character. We get glimpses of his perversions, his biker background, and that he's overall unorthodox as both his profession as a teacher and as a human being and yet he is content with who he is.
3. Sailor Moon -Moonlight Densetsu- by DALI and Moon Lips
Air Dates: February 1992 – March 1997
Probably one of the top 3 most famous anime theme songs in history. Even though TV series with less than 50 episodes can periodically change opening theme songs, Moonlight Densetsu stayed with the franchise for four seasons. The lyrics share the themes of the series of destiny, teenage romance, and reincarnation for the sake of reuniting with that special person.
The arrangement and melody has been conversed to its other international adaptations including the Korean, Spanish and English versions granted the context of the lyrics do change. The English version has a more rock approach and gives a more action centric feel to the song but captures a distinct catchiness. During my duration as a girls’ high school teacher, I actually used this song as the assigned ring tone for my home room students since we all loved the series.
The version first used in the inaugural season and in R is originally done by DALI and brings a more gospel like tone that compliments the bells in the hook. The animation sequences are more calm and bring shows homages to Vincent Van Gough’s paintings. With the S and Super S seasons, the song is sung by Moon Lips, performers of the Sailor Moon musical which was a.so popular during the prime of the franchise. This version is more upbeat and has a more intense tempo. The animation sequences are more action oriented and go excellently the rhythm.
2. Saint Seiya -Pegasus Fantasy- by MAKE-UP
Air Dates: October 1986 – April 1989
The song has a very explosive guitar opening and makes you wish the guitar player could either duel or play with the likes of Eddie Van Halen, Slash or Jimi Hendrix. The song maintains a very intense tone and its lyrics exhibits themes of heroism, youth, and igniting one’s inner cosmo to make a miracle happen. I will admit when I practice karate, I like to listen to this song during my warm ups.
The animation to the opening and this song were intentionally meant to go together. The poses, the panning, the action sequences and close up are all aligned with the rhythm as if the saints are aligned with the cosmos. Nearly 30 years later in Saint Seiya Omega, this song is covered as a J-pop song by Otaku Queen Nakagawa Shoko and on a French singing show, a young man named Jerome entered the contest singing this song (which you can find on YouTube).
1. Evangelion -Cruel Angel Thesis- by Takahashi Yoko
Air Dates: October 1995 – March 1996
Where would any top anime song list be without this song? Heck, it was ranked on the Oricon charts for 27 weeks straight! Even after 20 years this song continues to be popular with anime audiences. No karaoke party in Japan is complete without somebody singing this powerful iconic tune. If you find yourself at a karaoke party in Japan, impress your new Japanese friends that you can do this song. If you play the Evangelion pachinko game, the song plays non-stop and there is even a highway in Japan that recently played the song as one drives through it.
Anno initially wanted to use Borodin’s Polovestian Dances as the opening but TV Tokyo, the broadcasting channel, felt that using a classic song would be confusing to target audiences and requested an upbeat J-Pop song which was progressively expanding in the 1990s. However, Anno still had input with the tone of the song of wanting it to express the maternal themes meaning he wanted a female vocalist.
The song has a very slow and choral hook but then it explodes to an upbeat dance song.
Despite the dark tone of the series, the percussions are very upbeat and the lyrics are very heroic. It tells the story of one who overcomes their obstacles and the lyrics are a very accurate representation of the series’ themes.
The song goes very well with the opening animation and it perfectly introduces its large cast of characters. It also gives the audience some high intense action sequences that goes well with the powerful chorus which excellently immerses the audience into watching the show.
This was a very difficult list to prioritize so I will bring in five honorable mentions. Inner Universe from Ghost in the Shell, The World from DeathNote (does anybody think it works better as a Jojo song? Or would Za Warudo be better?), Yuzurenai Negai from Magic Knight Rayearth, Catch You Catch Me from Cardcaptor Sakura, and Ai wo Torimodose from Hokuto no Ken. What are your top favorites? What do you like to sing? What do you work out to? Do you use any songs as ring tones? Which songs made you a fan of a series and a fan of that particular artist? Please leave a comment.
By Justin “ParaParaJMo” Moriarty
- June 12, 2015 at 6:49 PM #21601
Woah, this an Ok list but, I feel it is very incomplete compared to all the anime out there. I mean at least Yoko Kanno should be in here!! I mean, I know you made an honorable mention, but her work on GITS is fan favorite for sure!!
- June 12, 2015 at 7:16 PM #21603
035 Alfonso "Fonzy" OrtizKeymaster
This is my favorite right now! Although, there are better ones but this is great. Very nice!
- June 12, 2015 at 8:46 PM #21615
Actually, Kanno Yoko is on this list with Tank from Cowboy Bebop.
- June 13, 2015 at 5:24 AM #21672
This one is personal favorite of mine:
- September 10, 2015 at 9:46 PM #31014
Resonance. Soul Eater. All i have to say.
- September 10, 2015 at 11:13 PM #31041
A man after my own heart.
- September 11, 2015 at 11:06 AM #31155
Death Note Opening Ep. 20 up+ . xD
- April 5, 2017 at 12:18 PM #137186
.....How about Vocal Shop's opening theme to the 1965 Tezuka series "Wonder 3"?
I thought this original Japanese version was so much livelier and more melodic than the American version "Amazing 3"!