This is a topic loved by many anibloggers, so I’ll take the opportunity to take a look at it, too. My selection is based on the combination of both memorable songs and appealing/ unusual visuals and is divide by decades with the exception of this first installment which covers material until 2000. Note that I’ll always list the titles chronologically as I find it both hard and dumb to choose between favorite children.
This is also a great exercise to get more aware about my tastes but also to pay attention to how animation evolved.
Since I haven’t watched that many series before 2000, I picked pieces that I’m not familiar with as well. You’ll also notice that I’ve made a top 10 of OPs first and foremost since back in the day EDs didn’t seem to have much importance and were probably seen as a hassle to animate (limited budget, resources and so on). Enjoy and comment~
1. Lupin III Part II (1977), 2nd OP. Theme from Lupin III sung by Reatmac Jn.
I have watched Fujiko Mine so I’m acquainted with the characters but I haven’t touched any other piece of the franchise. The theme is upbeat in an adventurous and really distinct, reminiscent slightly of the James Bond theme. It even has this characteristic scene with the target circle -with Jingen in it. I really love the whole pop style, thelimited palettes, the Mondrian touches and the framing of the characters into miscellaneous shapes and objects. It is a product of its time with all these colors but quality wise it doesn’t show exactly due to the style. I find it very interesting how each character’s trait is highlighted: Lupin’s flexibility, Fujiko’s sexiness, Jigen’s skill with the gun, Goemon’s lonely fierceness and Zenigata’s guffiness and persistence.
2. Dirty Pair: The Movie (1987). Safari Eyes sung by Miki Matsubara
This is what a film can achieve! Impeccably pretty and smooth animation. There’s a lot of circular and circuit imagery and most of it moves in abstract grounds but that doesn’t stop it from being awesome. I love all these vibrant colors and highly-detailed drawings. The accompanying music is neither too fast nor too slow and the repercussions keep the beat nicely like giving the listener a wink of naughtiness.
3. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon (1992). Moonlight Densetsu sung by DALI
Ah, Sailor Moon was big part of my childhood as was the case for many others. But even if we turn nostalgia glasses off there very good reasons the original anime series with all the fillers and sappy romance holds well even today. Some of the biggest names in the industry like Junichi Sato and Kunihiko Ikuhara worked on it and made it shine. Now, I’m not sure who worked on the this first OP, but it’s brilliant. It’s spooky, mysterious, poignant, beatifully strong. It’s from the very few OPs I’ve watched even nowadays that have such a perfect coordination of music and animation. The way it starts with the bell tolling and the city in black under ominous clouds always impressed me. The clownishly painted view of the city afterwards only intensifies the initial unsettling feeling. Usagi’s and Tuxedo Kamen’s introduction against patterned collages with roses scattering calm the atmosphere while retaining some tension. The rest of it is permeated by a melancholic surreality with the short interruption of Queen Beryl’s imposing introduction. I can’t tell you how enchanted I am by that giantic fish-like zeppelin, the senshi dancing with colored shawls, the doiles in the background and the Russian-like palace on the moon.
4. Video Girl Ai (1992). Ureshii Namida sung by Noriko Sakai
Video Girl Ai has a very fitting opening both lyric-wise and in the imagery it uses. Since Ai springs forth from a TV screen we see circuits, multiple TV screens and TV static effect at the beginning, middle and end of the clip respectively. They also function as foreshadowing of the heroine’s tragic life. I like how Ai is usually framed by windows like she’s restricted/caged. I also love that one scene where her foot grazes the water then she swirls her pretty red dress and the other one where she spins around the street lamp while the camera zooms in. The frame before the last one where bubbles filled with Ai’s memories outside the window from a low angle enhance the melancholy of an inescapable end to all things.
5. Gunsmith Cats (1995). Gunsmith Cats Theme sung by Peter Eskine
Girls with guns (and bombs) with a fantastic opening to get you into the mood! This antagonizes Cowboy Bepop‘s in its beautiful abstractness and play with typography but it uses more colors and geometrical patterns. The way the camera plays with the zoom and the angles is damn sleek. I also love the dotted comic screentone applied on the characters at time, winking at its manga audience. It screams New York and that’s excellent because the setting is American and the mangaka was influenced by Western cop films.
6. Cardcaptor Sakura (1998). Catch You Catch Me sung by Gumi
Cardcaptor Sakura comes from the powerhouse CLAMP and she’s from the characters considered moe before moe was ‘in’. This cuteness is retained in the catchy OP which breams aurally with energy and most of the time keep things simple visually. There’s a lot of Sakura in her iconic CCS costume walking, hoping around and flying in the sky. We also see her father, brother, friend, love interest and Kero in one-color backgrounds. The parts I like a lot are at the beginning when her foot touches the sakura petal and when she stands next to Yukito and Tomoyo on the three-split background. The scene where she soars on the air on her wand is also pretty nice as far as camera work goes.
7. Cowboy Bebop (1998). Tank sung by Seatbelts
Shinichiro Watanabe is an auteur and Cowboy Bebop is his first child. He chose very wisely Yoko Kanno to dress his baby and she chose jazz. When someone talks about action in Bebop, they talk abot choreography and this is evident in the OP, too. There’s lots of guns, machines, aircrafts and running. Everyone is introduced in silhouettes and black dots giving off a noir vibe while also being funky. I find all these squares and rectangles very interesting as a symbol of compartmentalization that happens in the characters’ lives; I don’t think it’s simply a stylistic choice when we consider how the whole series is played out as pieces of puzzles falling into place.
8. Devil Lady (1998). Devil Lady Main Theme sung by Tokyo Philarmonic Chorus
This one might surprise some because it’s really a slideshow of manga images in psychedelic filters intersperced with bloody red screens with credits. And yet it’s powerful. For the dark story Devil Lady is, it works perfectly and the Tokyo Philarmonic Chorus does an outstanding job at giving the listener the creeps and a sense of something majestic.
9. Digimon Adventure (1999). Butterfly sung by Kouji Wada
One might say that this is a pretty basic OP introducing the characters, showing us the digimon’s evolution and their attacks. It isn’t untrue, but it’s also not the entire truth. It acts as a good summary of the premise: the children fall into the sky, they end up on File Island that is under the mercy of a demonic villain, they get assistance from their new digital companions and they’re determined to win their fights. In Digimon Adventure the setting plays a big role so the OP makes sure we get a tour in the different terrains. Additionally it features some great frames, like the one in the middle above, where kids are encircled by enemies, reminding the viewers that this is an adventure in all its meaning and adventures entail dangers. The ending frame is also glorious with Birdramon opening its wings wide and the rest of the digimon shaping a shield-like battle formation. I find the panning of the camera in the start when we’re shown File Island and then the imposing figure of Devilmon pretty great, too. And of course, Butterfly rocks!
10. Great Teacher Onizuka (1999). Driver’s High sung by L’Arc~en~Ciel
GTO’s OP is almost entirely in black and white and it’s so silly and cool at the same time. I’m not very fond of the random neon fonts here and ther -I could do without them, thanks- but the rest makes for a very interesting directing choice. There’s some hints of melancholy and dramatic situations (see the girl submerging herself in the water) but in the end it’s all about Onizuka being a deliquent and a cool bro to hang out with. The song sounds laid-back reflecting the tone of the series well. It slightly reminds me Queen.
And now it’s time for 3 honorable mentions of EDs.
1. Tokimeki Tonight (1988). Super Love Potion sung by Harumi Kamo
I haven’t watched the series, but in short it’s about a young girl whose mother is a werewolf and father is a vampire and she falls in love with a boy in her class. Her awakening powers and an annoying rival get in the way. Hijinks ensue. The ED is playful much like the series must be, but in all its simplicity is really alluring. Let’s forget for one moment the girl is underage and enjoy her displaying her feminine wiles. It’s amazing for me with that much little animation how fun it can be! It helps that the song sounds like ABBA too. I’ve put it on repeat the last few days~
2. Bakuretsu Hunters (1995). Mask sung by Masami Okui and Kasumi Matsumura
A series I dropped might have a mediocre to crap content but there’s no reason I can’t love its ED. Catchy disco song FTW! The visuals are kinda limited but very sexy and they match the song title. Probably it’s about their dramatic transformations both character-wise and power-wise (they turn into ruthless dominatrixes).
3. Shoujo Kakumei Utena (1997). Virtual Star hasseigaku sung by Maki Kamiya
I couldn’t not have something Utena here, could I? This is the ED with the most imagery and motion from the series. Symbols are still ever present as much as J.A. Seazer’s epic music is, but what I love about it is how it sums up SKU and in particular Utena’s and Anthy’s relationship. It’s tender, it’s sensual, then it’s passionate and at the end it’s hopeful. You can read a very good visual analysis here.