A good opening envelops its viewers with a concept, the core idea of the show they’re being introduced. The effort through which openings are planned can require specific directors who focus on their content and aesthetic direction. While a bad opening won’t be the end of a good show, the success of a good opening can speak wonders, making them an amazing marketing tool for the show and musicians associated with it.
In this list, we’ll be evaluating several action anime openings using these 3 main criteria: the effectiveness of how the opening informs the viewer, the synergy between the music and visuals, and the thematic value of the opening. Depending on the opening, an evaluation of the editing, animation, and contextual value will also be noted.
As a gentle reminder, this list should not be seen as an objective list, something factual or concrete. As we go through this list of openings, the hope is to better explain the decision making that went into the openings as well as why they are fine examples of anime openings.
10. “THE HERO!! ~Okoreru Kobushi ni Hi wo Tsukero~” by JAM Project - One Punch Man
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2015 – December 2015
This opening is about setting up an expectation. That expectation is straightforward and adrenaline-filled, a representation of the main character’s view. With a title like “One Punch Man,” the explosiveness of the punch is obvious, it invites the viewer (literally and visually) into the world of the show.
The beauty of this opening rests in the energy it gives, the power it exudes is part of its charm. The setup of a story where any cataclysmic villain can be defeated with one punch, surely the hero would be just as heroic as these depictions! And again, the opening sets up an expectation to be defied. The very premise of One Punch Man rests in the main character being disillusioned by his very own fights. The opening itself is the ideal, the dream of a hero.
9. “To the beginning” by Kalafina - Fate/Zero 2nd Season
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: April 2012 – June 2012
Fate/Zero’s song title is an apt one, “To the Beginning.” Thematically, this opening centralizes on a core idea: a return to origin. From this movement backward is the pathway forward. While this idea might seem counterintuitive, the philosophy behind it makes sense given we’re now at the halfway point of the story and soon the breaking point. The disillusionment moving forward will only get worse as Kiritsugu’s heroic ideals are tested.
Noteworthy about this opening is how it conveys its energy--moving forward, an energy that’s invoked first by creating a reference. To do this, shots are constantly compared when master and servants are reintroduced. The most important element of these shots are the direction of the characters: masters who don’t see in the same direction, an obvious implication that their philosophies do not align. During this re-introduction sequence, characters are never framed looking towards us. The majority looks away from the camera, their direction literally showing us their backs.
After the reintroduction of the cast, the next sequence is Iri gushes out a black mire (an apt clue) that covers Kiritsugu’s tools like blood, and finally drowns Kiritsugu beneath its depths. The halfway point has been reached and after the opening has established its past, it establishes its future. This is the apex of the song, the rise and movement become especially evident. Light now fills every shot, the pathway forward is lit. Henceforth, the thing that breaks Kiritsugu from his lost ideals are the people who share his vision, a reminder of his goal, a return to the beginning.
8. “*~Asterisk~” by Orange Range - Bleach
- Episodes: 366
- Aired: October 2004 – March 2012
Whenever a manga becomes adapted into an anime, there are always a plethora of decisions to be made. One of the major goals of adaptations is to highlight the source material--to make obvious the appeals of the original. It’s for that reason I think this opening stands out.
Tite Kubo’s designs were one of the many reasons fans were drawn to him. His initial debut was colorful, his portrayal of young teenagers felt hip and relatable. Early Bleach made the anime medium seem cool.
Sporting an array of hip fashion and oozing incredible color design, the first opening highlights all of Bleach’s initial appeal. The aesthetic was modern, reminding viewers that while fictitious, the world displayed was one connected to ours. From graffiti street art to the strong, clear rifts of the guitar, the opening focuses distinctly on establishing its identity.
And establishing identity is a relevant concept, especially for a story aimed at adolescents. This is an age where the transition to adulthood and identity is normal. It’s no wonder then that every adjacent shot never has the same clothing, the same color design, or approach. The opening appeals to that search for identity, making it a great example of transferring the aesthetic appeal to a new medium.
7. “ambiguous” by GARNiDELiA - Kill la Kill
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: October 2013 – March 2014
Kill la Kill is a show that is playful with its animation. Characters falling with still animation, cardboard cutouts, purposeful exaggeration of proportions, beautifully choreographed fights, you name it. Studio Trigger goes through the entire spectrum of animation, resulting in a comedic and awe-inspiring effect.
The opening is just as playful as the show. The beginning zooms in on an 8-bit, monochrome Earth, then into a city, then into our main character, and finally into microcosmic scales, revealing the threads of her clothing, the fibers that grant characters their battle suits. After the zoom, the lights shine upon opening credit information, which transitions into the character introductions.
Still borrowing the lights from the credits, this segment is defined by still shots of each character, displaying their many outfits throughout the series. The idea initially seems disconnected, until the next section when the lights reveal two parallel roads, specifically fashion runaways. On each opposing road are opposing characters, but they each lead to a final stage, and goal: the group that controls Honnouji Academy.
After this grand reveal, the music and animation escalate. A confrontation between Ryuko and Satsuki emerges, painting the logo red with their blood. The opening is like an evolution of animation. From one spectrum (still) to the other (beautiful choreography), the aesthetic direction of the show is easily conveyed through its playful, concise, and whimsical opening.
6. “Gun’s & Roses” by Paradise Lunch - Baccano!
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: July 2007 – November 2007
“Baccano! has a brilliant opening” would be an understatement. Its ability to convey information without sacrificing style is remarkable. Baccano!’s story features a wide cast of characters--so many that the story’s allure is to see how they all connect. One action from a seemingly unrelated party has a butterfly effect, its influence pulling strings that the characters can’t see.
To convey this interconnectedness, the opening uses a common type of cut called the match cut, a cut from one shot to another that is matched by action or subject matter, creating a seamless transition. The overall result dispels any notion these characters are disconnected. From beginning to end, the opening cycles through its characters until it comes around full circle, beginning and ending on the initial pair of characters--apt given how the story is non-linear.
The use of Jazz in its opening harkens to the show’s setting, a fictional retelling of America’s Prohibition era. During the Prohibition era, Speakeasies, an illicit establishment that sold alcohol, popularly hosted Jazz musicians, helping spread its music through multiple cities.
With the above understood, it becomes evident why certain design decisions were made for the opening. The use of Jazz, the prevalent amount of alcohol, the mobsters, and even the title itself, Baccano, the Italian word for “ruckus,” all point towards a cohesive, interconnected concept. If there ever was an opening that succeeded in portraying the appeal of its colorful cast, Baccano!’s opening does so with explosive style.
5. “Out of Control” by Nothing’s Carved in Stone - Psycho-Pass
- Episodes: 22
- Aired: October 2012 – March 2013
“Out of Control” is the second opening to the first season of Psycho-Pass. Contextually, this opening happens halfway through the show. By now, viewers have formed their own opinions on the Sibyl System. In stark contrast to the previous opening, “Out of Control” uses a wider color palette, indicative that the black/white morality of the former opening is no longer relevant. The characters and the viewers have grown to see that morality is on a spectrum of color.
As formerly mentioned, the color scheme helps create a distinction. Utilizing a high contrast of light and shadow, an element indicative of noir aesthetics, the setting becomes separate from the characters. This visually illustrates a common concept in media: that these characters are irregular to their setting--their views are not synonymous with reality. At times, this can appear through the use of CG (3d vs 2d distinction), color (color distinction), and other similar methods.
Outside of thematic value, the opening utilizes its music fairly well, breaking the initial black and white with the introduction of the drums and the shot of a gun. The “widening” of perspectives is used appropriately with the colored Akane. By contrast, the distinct closed-off view of Shinya and his black/white color scheme only changes at two spots in the opening: the beginning and the end. Overall, this opening is a great example of how aesthetic decisions can inform and expand a viewer’s understanding of the show.
4. “Kyouran Hey Kids!!” by THE ORAL CIGARETTES - Noragami Aragoto
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: October 2015 – December 2015
“Kyouran Hey Kids!!” is another opening that uses a distinct color direction. Similarly to Psycho-Pass, color helps create a divide between the characters and their setting. This divide illustrates the premise of the show, that these characters aren’t part of normal reality, and fittingly so because the majority of the characters aren’t mortal.
However with divide also comes unity, and the color is used to segment the character introduction into very noticeable factions: those that are neutral, those that side with the God of Learning, God of War, the God of Commerce, and those that are united despite their color: Yato’s side.
Noragami Aragoto’s opening is also keenly aware of how catchy its own song is, timing most of its cut on the beat or on the action, fitting for opening ’s fight choreography and eventual showdown. Perhaps more breathtaking is the opening supplements these fights with foreshadowing of its participant's lesser-known history, invoking viewer energy that something rides on the line and more importantly--that a pathway other than fighting might exist, that former threads of history might bind once more.
3. “My Dearest” by Koeda, Supercell - Guilty Crown
- Episodes: 22
- Aired: October 2011 – March 2012
How one appreciates Guilty Crown’s openings can vary depending on how much emphasis you place on three things: creative editing, the effectiveness of cuts to help inform viewers, and the value of synergizing music with its visuals.
Both openings have their own merits, but for the sake of expressing good editing, I’ve chosen the first. To recognize good editing, one of the major elements is understanding how to cut correctly: cut on action, cut on sound, cutting away, etcetera. The goal is to bring together a video in a way that enhances one’s understanding. Simply put, great cuts make sense.
There is a myriad of examples. The opening sequence draws the viewer in while zooming out from its singer: Inori. To convey connection, we find that the singer of the song is being viewed through a video, her image reflecting in the eyes of the main character, Shuu. The scene zooms further out to multiple televisions displaying her singing, finally going further out to an establishing shot of a city, timed to the lyrics--all of this, with the illusion of “one-take,” as if the entirety of what I mentioned was done without cutting--without a disconnect.
“My Dearest” is playful with how its visuals are timed to its music. When Shuu touches a screen of his classmates, he brushes it down, timed to the introduction of violins. Soon after, the classmates’ faces zoom in, timed to the introduction of a choir, then fades out to white to reveal Inori walking in between the light. Fade once more, and Shuu parallels her journey, running through the data opened up by Inori. His run is desperate as he tries to catch up, the music accelerating alongside him. During this sequence, a foreground wipe is used to hide a cut as we zoom in on his expression, all-the-while being timed to piano’s chords.
There are so many amazing examples of good editing, it’s hard to list them. Drawing viewer attention to a specific spot on the screen to allow for a logical transition of characters, using destruction to unveil the villain through the smoke of war, the playful cuts on music, so much of this opening is enhanced if you can appreciate the design.
2.“Tank” by The Seatbelts - Cowboy Bebop
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 1998 – April 1999
As a show that’s renowned for its distinct style, the opening does not shy away from its Jazz influence. Its opening is more than just an introduction, it’s a gateway into a time period, a synergy of genres, and a beautiful example of the meshing of the audio/visual medium.
If we’re going to talk about the fundamentals of a good opening, Cowboy Bebop has it all. The opening lines introduce the percussion and the main character with the iconic lines, “I think it’s time we blow this scene. Get everybody and the stuff together. Ok, three, two, one, let’s jam!”
Utilizing a high contrast in color, the opening prepares the viewer for the introduction of the characters and their respective archetypes. Spike, for example, using his own cigarette to light his appearance, his background newspaper readings a detective might read. Faye enters onto the scene boldly, her legs being the first highlight of her character, then later her cold exterior, her eyes visibly hidden throughout the opening only until the end. Sexual and in control, the femme fatale.
The blending of Jazz, Sci-fi, and noir elements creates such a strong first impression. Color dichotomy helps bring about a mood that easily sets up the lighting, which in turn further creates a visual composition, which in turn dances to the beats of the music. This opening is so uniquely its own thing: a classic.
1. “BLOODY STREAM” by Coda - JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 2012 – April 2013
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has a masterful array of openings. Amazing editing, powerful visuals that synergize with the music, impressive color and lighting design, so much can be said about JoJo openings that it’s hard to even choose one objectively. If you have a personal favorite, you can place it here, but for the sake of discussion, we’ll bring up the second.
“Bloody Stream” is the second opening to JoJo’s 2012 adaptation. As established by the first opening, the visual blend of manga, 2d animation, and 3d CG develops further in the second opening. In a dazzling display of vibrant colors, the main heroes become emblazoned by their background with CG animation as their figures. In juxtaposition, the archaic villains of the arc are the Pillar Men, a race of extinct super-beings whose ancestry devoured humans. Their visual design is more distorted and dark. Animation-wise, they are depicted with either a smokey exterior or sketch-like waves of 2d animation.
Utilizing animation and color to differentiate things is simple to understand, but how to effectively blend it is not. These visual forms could have easily clashed, producing a strikingly different result. However, from its visuals to its well-timed lyrics, this opening is a superb example of just sheer execution.
Great openings have great design decisions, and part of the fun (and difficulty) of their making is discerning the proper way to convey the meaning of a show. In my appreciation of cinematography and editing, anime openings have constantly been an inspiration.
If you feel that you have a favorite action anime opening, do let us know in the comments. How do you feel about the list? Which action anime openings would you place in your top 10?