Openings have a functional purpose: to introduce viewers into the show they’re watching while giving necessary information of its creators. There is a marketing element to openings and thus certain requirements are mainstays of openings. Openings are therefore contained a functional portion of a show. The artistic element of them arises when requirements are met creatively. This synergy of function and art is what we seek to show on this list. The better an opening, the less likely you are to skip it, after all.
10. “Give a Reason” by Megumi Hayashibara - Slayers Next
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Apr. 1996 – Sep. 1996
“Give a Reason” is a renowned opening to an internationally popular series, and Slayers Next is the second season of the adventure, comedy, fantasy anime. Its humor combined with its lovable cast and fantasy appeal elevated it into a fan favorite amongst the great 90s anime. This particular section will be a bit lengthier to explain how “Give a Reason” is a good foundation to understanding anime openings.
“Give a Reason” is emblematic of anime openings, and it deserves its spot on the list for its iconic song and a relevant point of comparison. If you’ve seen your fill of anime, you’ll notice that a lot of openings have similarities in composition, segmentation, and scene portrayals. Aspects of this opening become a good reference point, as it sets up a functional expectation of openings and informs viewers about the content of the show.
Typically in anime openings, the logo is introduced before the song gets fully started. It introduces the name of what you’re watching, so its position is pretty standardized. However, prior to the logo, the establishing shots of the world map zoom into the world itself, then finally into the hands of Lina Inverse, her hands casting a spell that leads viewers into the logo.
Past the logo, scenes are segmented to individually show the cast members. Shots are typically cut on action, and then the next sequence shows another character. With shows that focus on a large cast, how openings handle this can become a difficult but rewarding venture (think: Baccano).
The last thing to mention is how the opening handles tone. With so many cuts on the action, the opening initially has a serious and tense visual look. However, to represent only this would be falsely informing the viewer. More humorous sequences emerge, cut not to action, but to the beats of the now upbeat music. This last sequence of the opening establishes the comedic side of Slayers.
9. “Seven Deadly Sins” by MAN WITH A MISSION - Nanatsu no Taizai (The Seven Deadly Sins)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: Oct. 2014 – Mar. 2015
Now that Slayers has been explained, you’ll understand why its opening was a good foundation. Nanatsu no Taizai’s beginning sequence follows the same formula. The opening sequence contains establishing shots of the world, then when lyrics are first introduced, the camera pans to the sky. The logo appears soon after, and post logo the opening is segmented to introduce the individual main characters.
Thus far, we’re comparing the functional similarities of the opening. In terms of execution, I think this opening does well on hiding cuts with a foreground wipe (transitions with an object in the foreground blocking your vision). The black feathers, petals flowing, gusts of smoke and sand, and slashes of the sword are some examples. The energy of “Seven Deadly Sins” is simple and addicting, contributing to its light-hearted tone. As far as concept goes, this opening executes simply with a vitality that carries the viewer into the show.
8. “gravityWall” by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]: Tielle & Gemie - Re:CREATORS
- Episodes: 22
- Aired: Apr. 2017 – Sep. 2017
One of gravityWall’s strengths is its simple way of establishing tone. Instead of using the sequence before the logo’s to do an establishing shot, we’re greeted with a motion graphic of the show’s white logo. It sits heavily on a black background as the strong bass of the drums echoes.
If you’ve been paying attention, then you know what comes after the logo--character introductions. Just as the logo was focused, the character introductions act the same way. There is no animation during this sequence. Instead, the opening keeps a theme in mind: distinction and division
To complement this, the sequence of character introduction does several things. First, it distinguishes between the foreground (the introduced character) and the background (their history). Second, it letterboxes the background, creating further division. Lastly, colors are divided between the most defining colors of the introduced character then grays, blacks, and whites.
This decision in turn properly introduces the viewer to ideas of the show--that while these characters are defined by their backgrounds, they are now disconnected from the thing that defines them.
There are a lot of small touches in this opening that can easily go ignored, but a lot of the fun of watching openings is seeing these small bits and how the logic behind them contributes to informing the viewer on the show.
7. “Tabi no Tochuu” by Kiyoura Natsumi - Ookami to Koushinryou (Spice and Wolf)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: Jan. 2008 – Mar. 2008
Spice and Wolf’s opening is a little more atypical. It chooses to extend shots to preserve tone. While cuts on the beat are still prominent in this opening, the melancholic and slower melody of its song explains why its shots linger.
There are a few noteworthy shots to this opening. The logo is framed against the bare earth. The transition from the logo is a fade to white, connecting the sky color of the logo to the snow of a midnight sky and a slow gradual revealing of Holo through a white light (this is why a fade to white is used) of the moon.
Holo stares at towards the viewer, a look of longing and loneliness. The scene transitions to the second main character, framed through the isolated back alleys of the city. His look is framed at the viewers. Transitioning from this, these two characters are united in the next shot, revealing that they weren’t just staring into the distance, but at each other.
To further cement the tone and their relationship, the following sequences are quick shots of why they are together: the falling of a bag of money, the rolling of the coin, and a transition to the rolling wheels of a cart drawn by a horse. The opening implies these characters are linked by the quick shots (money, trading, traveling). However, there is more to their relationship, and a sequence of shots are of them together through seasons, timed to the beat of the music.
Through a simplified sequence of images, Spice and Wolf’s opening establishes tone, relationship, and character fairly easily. Its cuts are also simple to preserve the natural feel of the opening--natural, nature, fitting for this show. Without overextending its stay, the opening conveys what to expect from the show while promising more, its final shot a handshake amidst a field of golden wheat.
6. "Database" feat. TAKUMA (10 Feet)” by MAN WITH A MISSION - Log Horizon 2nd Season
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: Oct. 2014 – Mar. 2015
Log Horizon’s second opening using the same song as the former, however, it executes better on its ideas and timing. The opening, “database,” is a high octane, adrenaline-filled song. The song explodes into the opening so strongly that almost every visual is used to complement its infectious energy.
If you prefer openings that are timing-centric, then this opening lives and dies off that. Post logo, the opening opens with, “Yeah, we are ready for the punchline…” Following a quick fade out of 4 characters, an arrow is launched into the horizon, splitting the horizon in two, timed to the line “so check this out!” Just as the arrow splits the horizon in a fiery blaze, the core leaders of the story split into their separate groups in the next shot.
The following sequences are mainly character introductions. As Log Horizon has a gigantic cast of characters, much of the opening wants to establish that aspect of the show, an arduous task. The decision then was to focus less on shots that unveil theme. Instead, they opening wants to connect these characters through a blazing chorus. The very thing that connects the disconnected? The lyrics roar at the climax: “Database, database. Just living in the database.”
5. “TOMORROW” by Machico - Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! 2 (KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonder World! 2)
- Episodes: 10
- Aired: Jan. 2017 – Mar. 2017
If you’re familiar with Konosuba, then you’re probably familiar with how the show subverts your expectations. As a comedy/parody, the show wants to take established norms and present them in a hilarious or new perspective. The opening, then, is very much in tune with the goals of the show.
The opening uses stereotypical sequences in anime openings and satirizes those sequences to showcase what a “normal” adventure is like with this group. The sequence up to the logo introduction quickly establishes each individual character, and then all of them grabbing a quest paper. The logo is presented soon after with them running into the distance, a very standard part of openings. This running, however, doesn’t end, and it is prolonged again and again until the characters actually collapse from exhaustion.
A dance sequence is then used to transition, giving the characters a much-needed break from running, but then they run into a monster and barely survive. The dance sequence returns, but this time they are noticeably more exhausted, and their smiles are more forced than last dance. Thus far, none of these sequences are disconnected, and the opening goes on despite the worried, exhausted look of its cast.
Despite the exhausted cast, in the distance is their goal, a tree with the fruit they must obtain. To get there, the cast is springboarded by an explosion from rocks, which transitions into another yet another parody of anime openings: characters falling from the sky. Despite the dangers of their makeshift plan, they obtain the fruits of their labor and the opening ends with the party celebrating the success of their adventures. This opening’s self-awareness keeps the tone of the show and is a great introduction for viewers.
4. “Gospel of the Throttle 狂奔REMIX ver.” By Minutes Til Midnight - Drifters
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Oct. 2016 – Dec. 2016
Drifters has an opening that mixes seemingly disconnected visual styles: colored sketch animation and still images with CG animation with pseudo panoramic shots. The reason is for this is part of what every good opening wants to achieve, unveiling a premise. The show itself is about “heroes” from different eras coming together in anachronistic settings. Thus, the opening presents itself by meshing distinct styles of animation.
The opening’s artistic merit carries it well. Another element I want to note is how playful the opening is with its tone. The visuals and song imply a heavy, dark show. However, despite the tone implied, characters still find the time to lip sync the song as the opening transitions to various sequences of war. This playful aspect of its opening is pretty indicative of the humor in an otherwise dark show.
3. “EXISTENCE” By SiM - Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis (Rage of Bahamut: Genesis)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Oct. 2014 – Dec. 2014
From the onset, this opening sets the tone. Heavy drums, guitar, and screaming vocals introduce you the logo: Rage of Bahamut. Establishing shots are then presented with heavy editing, to give a fantasy/grimoire feel to the visuals. Cuts are done initially to the guitar (turning of the pages during character introductions), then drums as the opening present minor characters, and finally cuts based on lyrics the song reaches its climax. Timing-wise, the opening transitions to what dominates a particular section of the opening.
So many aspects are fighting for attention: the CG, the sketch animation, the transitions with heavy filters, and the explosive music. The opening takes these high-attention details and sections them off so they don’t overwhelm viewers. Introductions are segmented by page flips. The transition to minor characters is done by drawing the viewers attention to the center with a literal eye. The cogs of a clock that frame the minor characters drops into the water, transitioning into a water droplet that is the focus of our attention. The water is zoomed in, effectively changing the lighting of the following sequences.
As an opening, a lot of my appreciation comes from how this opening conquers a unique challenge. Instead of having animation specific to the opening, it reuses sequences from the actual show. This is something that can come off as uninspired. However, this opening takes a limitation and soars with it. Whereas some openings excel due to strengths of their animators, this opening excels due to the strength of its editor.
2. “Again” by YUI - Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
- Episodes: 64
- Aired: Apr. 2009 – Jul. 2010
Openings are not a sole product of their song. However, “Again” is such a powerful example of what a good song can do for an opening. The beginning has a nostalgic, melancholic feel, a product of the acoustic guitar and piano. To build upon “nostalgia,” the visuals tell you the roots of the characters--where they came from and how they came to be.
Edward reaches forth towards the screen, a foreground wipe with a leaf unveils what he reaches for his mother. As the mother smiles, it cuts to a door closing, encasing the Elric brothers in darkness. The next shot shows the father, stern, uncaring eyes--the implication being he’s closed the door, and thus a connection to them. The shot next is when the music amplifies. A heart is set on fire, and zooming in and then out, we a critical turning point--when the brothers burned their home and thus their past.
When the logo is introduced, instead of accelerating its tempo, the song returns to the same nostalgic melody, but now with the steady pacing of the drums. The logo introduction creates a “before and after.” Post logo, we’re now in the aftermath of their decisions--the present.
Sequences that follow convey a core theme of the show: equivalent exchange. To gain the knowledge they have, they paid a price. As far as music relevance goes, this opening is a shining example.
1. “Brave Shine” by Aimer - Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works 2nd Season
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: Apr. 2015 – Jun. 2015
“Brave Shine” is a common contender for top 10 openings, and a lot of its hype is justified. With beautiful visuals by UFOTable and excellent, awe-inspiring vocals by Aimer, the opening is already set for success.
In terms of timing, the opening layers its editing. The cuts are natural, on beat, and on the action. Camera panning hides jarring transitions, revealing luscious shots of the cast during character introductions. So much of this opening feels like the animators and musician went out of their way to make things synergize. Even minute detail of Ilya landing on her feet is timed to Aimer’s lyrics.
It should come as no surprise then that the song and lyrics were composed specifically for the anime, the synergy between music and visuals are facts enough. Combine this with the relevance of the lyrics to the story, and viewers who understand Japanese will appreciate the build-up to a beautiful tomorrow, a new dawn, a…
There are so many fantastic anime openings out there, and this list struggled to condense them into a top 10. While I tried to remain objective in my list, my personal preference tends to lean on great editing and visual shots.
People who prefer other elements in anime openings may find their opinions differing, but that’s okay! I would love to hear what you think about the list--what you think belongs or doesn’t!